When you travel, most of your budget will be spent on accommodation. After organising flights and transport, you’re going to need to book a place to rest your head at night.
No matter whether you’re a luxury traveler who likes to stay in fancy hotels, or a backpacker who would prefer to stay in hostels, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like to save a little bit of money here and there.
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “It’s just a place to rest my head at night and I’ll barely be in the room anyway”?
If you can save money on accommodation, then you can significantly reduce your travel budget.
I have stayed in all types of accommodations on my travels. I like to stay in nice hotels once in a while for a bit of luxury and pampering, but I have also been known to sleep in airports just to save some money on one night’s accommodation!
Whatever your travel style, I’m going to show you how to get cheap accommodation and save some cash!
If you’re traveling by yourself, then hostels are one of the cheapest options. Hostels usually have several dorm rooms with bunk beds and shared facilities such as a kitchen, TV room and laundry facilities. You will be sharing a dorm room with other backpackers, but at the same time you will save money!
Hostel dorm rooms can vary in size; I have stayed in 4, 6, 8, 10 or even 20 bed dorms! Generally the rule is; the bigger the dorm room the cheaper the cost. Usually there is the option to choose between a mixed sex dorm room or an all-female dorm, which is great if you’re a female traveling solo. Sometimes there are even private rooms, which are a bit more expensive but make sense if you’re traveling as a couple or you want some privacy.
Thought hostels were just for people in their 20s? I have seen people of all ages in hostels…even families! Obviously some have reputations as being “party hostels” and cater to young people who want to party, so I suggest you check user reviews before you pick your hostel.
Whatever the case, staying in hostels is a great way to meet other people, socialise and make new friends. If you’re traveling alone, I highly recommend staying in hostels so you can meet other travelers.
Some people ask me “are they safe?”. Yes, hostels are safe. In all my time staying in hostels, I haven’t had one bad experience. A lot of the hostels require you to show your key as you enter the building at night, so that strangers can’t just walk in. If you’re worried about leaving your bags in a room with other people, most hostels have lockers in the rooms. I don’t actually use them very often because I’m so trusting of other backpackers, but they are there to use if you have brought your own padlock.
In fact, as travelers are beginning to expect more from hostels, there are new luxury hostels popping up all over the place. Check out Budget Traveler’s guide to the luxury hotels of Europe for hostels that look even nicer than hotels!
I always book my hostels on Hostelworld and I have done for years. Their site makes it really easy to book hostels and I even have their iPhone app so I can book accommodation on my phone. If for some reason the hostel cannot find your reservation, Hostelworld will give you $50 credit towards your next booking.
I love staying in hotels but I don’t like paying over-the-odds for a hotel room, so I’m always looking for discounts and deals.
My favourite way to get discounted hotel rates is to use what I call the “secret hotels” option where you don’t know the name of the hotel until after you book. Sites that are great for this include Expedia, Lastminute.com, Priceline and Hotwire. You pick a general area and the star-rating, but you don’t know the name. I have saved SO much money on hotels this way and often it is pretty easy to guess which hotel it will be through a little Internet research.
If I’m going for a named hotel, I use hotel comparison sites like Trivago to find the lowest rates on the Internet. I check all the main websites such as Hotels.com, Expedia, Priceline and Booking.com, then come to a final decision.
Before you book a hotel, always go to their website to check that it’s not cheaper to book with them directly.
Priceline- Priceline has something called “Express Deals” where you don’t know the name of the hotel, but you can choose the area and star-rating. Since hotels can be expensive on a weekend in Las Vegas, I used their “Express Deals” for a 4-star hotel South of the Strip. I got the Tropicana for $105 a night, which was a good deal considering decent hotels on the strip cost anywhere upwards from $150 on weekend. You can also try “Name Your Own Price’ where you bid what you would like to pay for a hotel room. If your offer is rejected, you have the option to increase the bid or include more areas to increase the chance of your bid being accepted.
Hotwire- Hotwire and Priceline are very similar. I like the big maps on Hotwire that show you where all the hotels are located. For help with using either of these sites, I suggest checking out a site called Better Bidding.
Expedia– I’ve used Expedia several times for hotel bookings, including the Secret Saver deals for a hotel at Oktoberfest! They also do some good deals and sales. I am also part of their rewards program, so I get 1 point per $1 I spend on hotels with them.
Lastminute.com- This isn’t my favourite for booking hotels, but they do Top Secret hotels where you can save up to 35%.
Agoda- I like to use Agoda for accommodation in Southeast Asia. I use them for booking guesthouses and hotels when I’m in Southeast Asia because they have a large inventory and the best deals.
Booking.com– Booking.com is really easy to use and I like their interface.
Hotels.com– I like Hotels.com because they give you a FREE night’s hotel stay for every 10 booked. They don’t charge cancellation fees, and they offer a Price Match Guarantee right up until the hotel’s cancellation deadline.
Sometimes you just want a place that feels like home, so short-term apartment rentals are a great alternative.
They can be cheaper than hotels and definitely a great option if you are planning to stay somewhere for more than a couple of days. If you’re traveling solo then hostels tend to be cheaper, but short term apartment rentals are great for couples or friends if you can split the cost.
The best thing about staying in a short term apartment rental is that there’s usually a kitchen, which means you can cook and save money on food.
Vacation rentals are usually very spacious, which also makes them ideal for traveling with a group. There are usually a lot of amenities in a vacation rental that help make you feel at home, such as small things like seasonings for food (so you don’t have to buy them, or lug them with you), washers and dryers, and some even have soap, and other toiletries.
Air BnB- follow my referral link to get Air BnB credit.
While I haven’t personally tried housesitting, I know a lot of people love it and you can read more in this article on yTravelBlog called “How to get started with house sitting“. Basically the idea is you look after someone’s house and do the cleaning while they are away. If they have pets you will be required to feed and look after them.
The sites below are all trusted websites:
If you want to know more about house sitting, the folks over at Hectic Travels have written a house sitting ebook you can read.
Have you ever seen the movie “The Holiday” starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet? If you haven’t then the general plotline involves them doing a home exchange so Cameron Diaz goes to a little country cottage in England, and Kate Winslet winds up in a mansion in Los Angeles.
This isn’t going to work for backpackers straight out of school, but if you’re a bit older and have your own home, then you can definitely consider doing a home exchange. For a certain period of time, you swap homes with a family in another country, meaning essentially your accommodation is free.
Check out the site Home Exchange if you’re thinking about doing it. You start by listing your home/apartment on the website and then browse through listings of homes in places you’d like to visit. If one catches your eye, you can message the owner online to get in touch with them. If you’re both satisfied, you can go ahead and home exchange!
Working in hostels
Another way to get free accommodation is to work in a hostel in exchange for a bed on your travels.
If you’re staying at a hostel and you want to stay longer, simply ask the hostel staff if they are looking for anyone to work there. You might find yourself making the beds, doing the cleaning, working on reception or taking the guests out on the town.
I once worked in a hostel in Portugal where I did the “night duty” which basically involved staying up all night and opening the door to anyone who came home. Of course I was sober and had to deal with a bunch of drunken backpackers, but I received free accommodation, food and a small allowance.
WWOOFING & Farm Stays
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opporunities on Organic Farms. Basically it’s a volunteering opportunity where you live with your host and are expected to help with the day-to-day activities on the farm in exchange for food and accommodation. You act as an extra pair of hands on the farm, so you might find yourself gardening, planting cutting wood, milking, feeding or wine making. You can negotiate the length of stay with your host before you go; your average WWOOF stays are between 1-2 weeks, but some might be as short as 2-3 days or as long as 6 months. Visit wwoof.net for more information.
Want the rural experience but you don’t think you’d be up to the work? Try a farm stay. Farm stays involve staying on a working farm where you can learn how a farm works by watching demonstrations and possibly get hands on with the chores if you want to. With a farm stay the lodging varies; some farms offer rooms directly in the farmhouse, others have converted old farm buildings, while others let you camp in a tent on their land. Most farms offer lodging on a bed and breakfast basis.
Check out these sites:
Craigslist and Gumtree
Craiglist and Gumtree are both sites I have used to find accommodation. They are both listings websites so a house of people can advertise for roommates or people can list their homes/apartments for rent. Gumtree is fantastic if you’re looking for accommodation in Australia or Britain, while Craigslist is best for anywhere in the USA.
I have used both these sites to look for short-term accommodation with roommates. If you want to stay somewhere for a year, they are also great for finding long-term apartment rentals in major cities.
Timeshare resale rentals are a great way to get cheap accommodation. You can get a week in a timeshare in Orlando or Vegas for as low as $250. They’re a great way to experience elegance and luxury on a vacation without the long-term commitment of a timeshare purchase. Timeshare rentals usually offer superior facilities to hotels, such as larger, condo-style units, full kitchens and in-house laundry facilities.
Staying with friends
I have made many friends on my travels around the world, and even though we might not see each other for months or years, I know I have a space on their couch if I ever need it. Making new friends is a great way to stay some place for free! For instance, people wonder how I manage to travel in the USA or Australia for such long periods of time, but mostly I stay with friends in each place for 2-3 weeks. I love staying with friends because they can show me the cool, non-touristy things to do, and I can cook for them at home!