How To Find Cheap Travel Accommodation
Cheap travel accommodation is available around the world — you don’t need to pay for expensive hotels. Check out these affordable (and free) sleep options.
One of the biggest travel myths out there is that you need to be independently wealthy to see the world. This is simply not true. Travel can be very affordable, especially when you use alternative forms of overnight accommodation.
Travel is only expensive if you choose to make it that way.
Fancy hotels have big budgets to spend on plenty of advertising coverage. So we assume those are the only options out there. But in reality there are many cheap, and even free places to sleep when traveling.
Over the past 2 years I’ve tried most of them, and wanted to share my experiences and tips with you.
Backpacker hostels are a popular option for the budget-minded traveler. Rooms & bathrooms are shared by multiple people which helps keep costs low. The average hostel room can hold 4-10 individuals, often furnished with bunk-beds. Personal lockers are available for securing your belongings. A very basic (toast and cereal) breakfast is usually included too.
In addition to being cheap, hostels provide a highly social atmosphere for fellow travelers to interact with each other. A communal kitchen and living area helps facilitate this. Many backpacker hostels have a few private rooms for those who want a little more privacy along with the vibrant social scene.
Backpacker Hostel Tips:
- Avoid hostels that don’t provide lockers for your valuables
- Earplugs & an eye-mask will help with late night noise & light
- Hostel Bookers & Hostel World are good sites to find a hostel
As a solo-traveler, meeting new people and saving money is a priority for me. So I frequently use hostels when I’m traveling. If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of privacy & dealing with some extra noise, backpacker hostels are great.
A guesthouse or budget hotel provides a simple, affordable room without the perks or service of a bigger hotel. Compared to a hostel, you receive a decent sized private room but much less social interaction. All for a slightly higher price. Kitchens may or may not be included. Breakfast may or may not be included.
Just like hostels, the quality these places can vary widely. In some locations hostels are just not available. But there will be plenty of cheap guesthouses around.
Guest House Tips:
- Always ask to see the room first
- Make sure windows & doors are secure
- search in google for cheap guesthouses in your destination area.
Choosing a guesthouse over a hostel really depends on my mood. If I’m feeling sociable and don’t have a ton of work to do, I usually prefer a hostel. But sometimes the privacy of having your own room is worth the extra expense.
If someone has a spare room in their house, or a whole apartment they are not using, they may rent it to travelers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These apartments usually come fully furnished and include a kitchen — all for the price of a budget hotel.
One of the big benefits of staying in an apartment is how it can feel like a home away from home. Regular interaction with local neighbors helps you appreciate what it’s actually like to live in the country, if only for a short time.
- Choose places with a history of reviews from past tenants
- Research the apartment’s location & transportation options
- AirBnB is a wonderful site to find short-term apartment rentals
- If you plan to stay a month or longer, local classifieds provide the best deals
If you’re interested in learning more about someone’s culture when traveling to a new country, homestays can help you do just that. This is when a family rents out a spare bedroom for extra income and a chance to teach you about their lifestyle. A homestay usually includes breakfast and maybe dinner too.
Homestay arrangements are typical with many language schools, but these days any traveler can book one. You don’t need to know the language to reap the benefits of a homestay either. It might be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding.
- If your host doesn’t speak your language, use sign language and draw pictures to communicate. It works surprisingly well.
- Check if your homestay includes meals, and how many
- Be open-minded and willing to learn from your local hosts
- Search Google for “homestay” plus the country’s name to pull up different homestay websites
Volunteer / Work Exchange
Rather than pay for your accommodation, why not work for it? There are countless opportunities to volunteer your time, labor, or expertise in exchange for room & board all over the world. Some examples include farms, schools, shelters, hostels, lodges, ranches, and even sailboats.
Work exchanges can teach you a new skill, provide insight into a foreign culture, and benefit a good cause while you travel. Not to mention helping you save money at the same time.
Work Exchange Tips:
- Check on how many hours of work are required, and if meals are included
- Some organizations charge a small fee to cover costs associated with hosting you
- WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX are good sites to search for volunteer opportunities
If you really want to get close to nature while you’re traveling, you can’t beat camping in the wilderness. Most of the time it’s free, but if you camp in popular tourist locations you may have to pay a bit.
With a tent or camping hammock you can go absolutely anywhere and will always have a place to sleep, allowing you to experience remote areas that other travelers might avoid due to lack of accommodation.
- Try to avoid camping on posted private property
- Make sure you have a water source nearby
- Keep food away from your shelter, preferably up in a tree
- Respect the environment and leave no trace
Cost: $0 Per Night
Homeowners around the world need someone to look after their house while they’re on vacation or away for work. You can be that person. House sitting enables you to live quite well for a few weeks or months in someone else’s place, in exchange for keeping an eye on it.
Sometimes there are pets to feed and play with, plants to water, and other chores. But having a whole house to yourself, for free, is usually worth the minimal effort involved.
House Sitting Tips:
- Provide solid references, maybe house sit for a friend first
- Ensure your responsibilities are written down & agreed to
- Be flexible. You never know when & where an opportunity will pop up
- TrustedHousesitters is a great site for locating housesitting jobs
If you’re not aware of CouchSurfing.org, you should be. It’s a very large (5 million strong) community of people from all over the world who open up their homes & apartments to travelers for free. They may have a whole spare bedroom, or just a couch for you to crash on.
Why do they do it? To meet interesting people. To share their culture. To find adventure partners. After a hosting experience, both the host & traveler can leave a reference about one another. This vouching & verification system works well to prevent misuse of the site.
- Provide tons of information on your profile to gain trust
- Send out personalized CouchSurfing requests, not generic ones
- Make time to chat or do something fun with your hosts
- Join local CouchSurfing meetups to get your first references
- HospitalityClub & WarmShowers have similar communities
A wonderful way to save some money on accommodation costs is to travel at night. Sleeping on trains, planes, buses, and boats takes practice to master.
But when you get good at it, you’ll be able to wake up refreshed and ready to explore your new surroundings. Well, maybe after a shower…
Overnight Transportation Tips:
- Choose a seat/location with a lot of legroom
- Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, water, and something warm
- Secure your valuable items yourself
- Befriend your neighbor so they’ll wake you before your stop
A week’s stay in a hotel might cost $700, a week’s stay in a hostel might cost $140, and a week’s stay with CouchSurfing hosts will cost you $0. Big difference, right?
Travel is only expensive if you have expensive tastes.
If you’re open-minded, there are plenty of cheap accommodation options to take advantage of while traveling.