Accommodation is one of the biggest fixed costs travelers have and reducing that cost can lead to big savings on the road! I’m sure many backpackers would sleep in a barn if it was the cheapest accommodation they could find! Heck, I’ve slept in hammocks in national parks to save a buck!
But that’s not something you have to do.
No matter what your accommodation tastes may be, one thing everyone has in common is that no one wants to pay a fortune for it. Since you have to stay somewhere every night, reducing this expense can save you a lot of money off the total cost of your trip. Next to finding a cheap flight, finding free or inexpensive lodging will have the biggest impact on your budget.
Cheap Accommodation Tip #1: Stay in Hospitality Exchanges
One of the best ways to get free accommodation is by staying with someone who lives where you’re going. Stay with a local who will give you a free place to rest your head, local information, and someone to hang out with! This is one of my favorite ways to save money and one that nets a really awesome cultural experience too!
Cheap Accommodation Tip #2: Stay in Hostels
Hostels are another option for budget travelers. In , rooms are dormitory-style with all the facilities shared. Many people think of hostels as a “young thing” and are not interested in sleeping in a dormitory. Yet people do not often realize that many hostels offer small rooms, singles, and doubles designed for solo travelers or couples. I have met people in hostels in their 50s and 60s. The myth they are dirty, gross places to stay designed for young people is wrong. Many hostels offer more amenities than hotels and are really clean as young people expect more comfort. These aren’t the hostels you see in movies or have the horror stories your parents talk about. They come with wifi, tour desks, bars, curtains, lockers for your stuff, big bathrooms, and lots more! I am constantly amazed at how hostels get better and better each yer.
I think hostel dorms are the best value for budget travelers. The bigger the room, the cheaper the cost. Yes, you have to share a room with a lot of people, but if you are on a budget, it is your best way to save money. If you are traveling in a group, you could get one of the dorms for your entire group and not have to share with strangers.
While many hostels are geared toward young travelers and set age limits, some of the bigger international chains such as YHA and Hostelling International focus more on older or group travelers. I’ve seen families, tour groups, and older travelers in hostels all over the world. A hostel is really for anyone who wants to meet other travelers, regardless of age.
Hostels are safe, secure, and cheap. Don’t overlook them — even if you’re not part of the young backpacker set.
Cheap Accommodation Tip #3: Stay in a Home Exchange
This probably works best for older travelers who already own a home. These programs have been around for a long time but are growing in popularity due to good marketing and word-of-mouth on the Internet. Home exchanges are just like they sound — for a set amount of time, you swap homes with a family from another country. It’s a great way to live cheaply abroad.
Most people don’t do this because they worry about security — but remember that the other family is trusting you with their home, too. Sites that facilitate home exchanges usually have various levels of verification and security similar to Couchsurfing. Families talk to each other over phone and e-mail, and there’s no commitment if you find that it’s not right for you. Most people who do this are like-minded, so the chances of something going wrong are slim. Moreover, the family sends a few people to check up on you when you arrive. You can get all the comforts of home (hot water, laundry, etc.) while in another city, without paying for it.
Cheap Accommodation Tip #4: Stay in Airbnb
Similar to home exchanges, rentals allow people to stay in furnished apartments while traveling. These apartments are cheaper than hotels and provide many more amenities. They are great if you plan to spend a week or more in one place. You’ll get all the comforts of home without spending a fortune.
These apartments are a nice bridge between a hostel and hotel, though they can get a bit expensive if you are a solo traveler. They are roughly double the cost (if not more) than a hostel dorm room. However, if you are part of a group or a couple and are looking for a respite from the dorms and hordes of travelers but don’t want a hotel room, this is your ideal accommodation option. Another reason to use this method? You get a kitchen, allowing you to cook and reduce your food costs.
Cheap Accommodation Tip #5: Stay on a Farm
Want to live on a farm but not work like you would with WWOOFing? Try a farm stay. Farm stays allow you to stay on working farms, learn how a farm works, possibly get involved in the workings of the farm (milk that cow!), and enjoy a number of organized outdoor activities. Facilities range from basic camping to luxury rooms depending on the farm, but in general, it’s like you’re staying at a bed and breakfast. Prices vary widely depending on where you are in the world but generally, expect to pay the price of a budget hotel (so at least $40 USD per night).
Cheap Accommodation Tip #6: Stay in a Monastery
Want something totally off the beaten track? Stay in a monastery. Accommodation in these monasteries is often very spartan, containing no more than a bed and desk, with simple meals prepared by the monks and nuns. Monasteries are very family-friendly and quiet (most also have curfews). While many monasteries cost at least $50 USD a night per person (many have dorms for half that price), most simply ask for donations or are free, making them an amazing budget option too.
Cheap Accommodation Tip #7: Collect Points!
The best way to save on accommodation is to get it for free. If you don’t want to couchsurf but like free accommodation, travel hack
Collect hotel points through various programs and redeem them for free nights at hotels. I am writing this right now from the Waldorf Astoria in London. Cost to me? $0. Sign up for a hotel credit card, get lots of bonus points, put everything on the card, and redeem! It’s that easy.
And you don’t even need to spend a lot of money because there are lots of ways to earn points without spending money (you don’t have)!