CHEAP PLACES to SLEEP
Cheap travel accommodations are available around the world — you don’t need to pay for expensive hotels. Travel can be very affordable, especially when you use alternative forms of overnight accommodation. Accommodation is one of the biggest fixed costs travellers have and reducing that cost can lead to big savings! Next to finding a cheap flight, finding free or inexpensive lodging will have the biggest impact on your budget.
1. HOSPITALITY EXCHANGES
One of the best ways to get free accommodation is by staying with someone who lives where you’re going. They open up their homes & apartments to travellers for free. Stay with a local who will give you a free place to rest your head, local information, and someone to hang out with! There are a few websites that make this happen:
a. couchsurfing.org is a very large (5 million strong) community of people from all over the world, and the most popular and widely used hospitality exchange. The goal of the site is to help travellers not only save money on accommodation but also learn about the local culture by being able to stay and interact with a local by going to parties, restaurants, and sites that aren’t in any guidebook. They do it to meet interesting people, to share their culture, or to find adventure partners. People who are willing to open their homes to strangers tend to be very open-minded people, and are also usually former travellers. It is safe. Couchsurfing takes many steps to provide security. It offers various levels of verification and allows users to rate and leave comments on people’s profiles.
As a man and an older man at that, finding a host can be a challenge. It gets frustrating sending requests, getting multiple refusals and eventually staying in hotels anyway. Accumulate favourable references and your chances will increase.
When looking for a Couchsurfing host, use the following criteria:
• There has to be a picture with the profile. This just shows me that it’s a real person.
• The profile has to be filled out – It shows they are interested and involved.
• They should have reviews – If other people have stayed with or have at least traveled with the host and had a good experience, you and your stuff will probably be fine. You might not get along with the host but the more positive reviews, the better.
• Verification helps – Couchsurfing offers different levels of verification. People can be verified by other travellers, with a mailing address, or with a credit card. However, if someone isn’t verified but has a lot of reviews, that’s fine.
Pay attention to your requested hosts response rate and don’t bother with those with low rates. Many don’t get back to you and are a waste of time.
No matter what, you need to use your own judgment. Usually, you end up talking with hosts over e-mail to get a feel for them and what they expect. But once you couchsurf for the first time, you see that it is usually a good experience. If you do it frequently, you’ll end up saving hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on accommodation and make friends around the world.
After a hosting experience, both the host & traveler can leave a reference about one another. The misconception that couchsurfers are all freeloaders & bums is simply not true. The community is made up of many ages, backgrounds, and income levels. 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.
My personal experience with couchsurfing has been mixed. As an older male, I receive many declines and few accepts. Now if you are a young woman, you only have to post a public notice, make no specific requests and you receive hundreds of offers. I’m not sure what these hosts are looking for, but I don’t think it is necessarily good conversation. The few times I have actually been hosted have been good experiences. One caveat is that the hosts are often well outside the “tourist” areas and transportation can be a hassle and expensive. I have often cooked meals and find I spend more than if I were staying in a hostel, but I don’t think that is an expected requirement.
e. warmshowers.org – Couchsurfing for bicyclists.
f. affordabletravelclub.net – For people over 40 traveling in America. Host families provide a bed and breakfast atmosphere for a small fee, usually $20. Has a membership fee.
g. facebook.com – Stay with friends or friends of Facebook friends.
Cost: $5 in SE Asia – $35 in Paris or Tokyo
Hostels are safe, secure, and cheap. Don’t discount them — even if you’re not part of the young backpacker set. Rooms are usually dormitory-style with all the facilities shared by multiple people keeping costs low. They are not necessarily a “young thing”, cater to all ages and besides dormitory rooms usually with bunk beds, many hostels offer small rooms, singles, and doubles designed for solo travellers or couples. Many hostels offer more amenities than hotels like a communal kitchen and living area. Personal lockers are available for securing your belongings. A very basic breakfast is usually included.
Dorms are the best value for budget travellers. The more beds in the room, the cheaper the cost. Yes, you have to share a room with a lot of people, but usually everyone is well-behaved. Earplugs & an eye-mask will help with late night noise & light
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. A hostel is really for anyone who wants to meet other travellers, regardless of age. Thus they are ideal for the solo traveler.
hostelworld.com – The best hostel booking website. They have the best inventory, interface and a great review system. If a review is over 90%, you are almost always guaranteed that it offers quality accommodation.
hihostels.com – buy a membership for a reduction (usually about 10%).
yhachina.com/d.php?hostID=2 (if want Hostelling International in China).
booking.com – sometimes lists hostels not included in the above.
3. GUEST HOUSES
Cost: $10 – $50 Per Night
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. Kitchens may or may not be included. Breakfast may or may not be included. Just like hostels, the quality of these places can vary widely. In some locations hostels are just not available but there are many guesthouses (India). But there will be plenty of cheap guesthouses around. Choosing a guesthouse over a hostel really depends on your mood. If I’m feeling sociable, prefer a hostel. But sometimes the privacy of having your own room is worth the extra expense.
Always ask to see the room first and make sure windows & doors are secure.
tripadvisor.com is a good site to search for guesthouses.
4. VOLUNTEER / WORK EXCHANGE
Cost: $0 – $30 per night
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. Check on how many hours of work are required, and if meals are include. Some organizations charge a small fee to cover additional costs associated with hosting you
WWOOF.org World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Active for many years, many a WWOOFER has gone round the world, living and working with people that live off the land to experience their food and way of life, and often to learn farming methods they can use later themselves. You can WWOOF anywhere in the world – each country has its own WWOOF list, each with hundreds of potential hosts. Cost to join a WWOOF list is per country and annual, but provides you with some basic insurance (very important) and support.
helpx.net. Work average of 4hrs/day. Premier membership (20E/2years) necessary to contact hosts. If you have a good profile, hosts may contact you and avoid an upgrade. Opportunities on organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats. Also great way to find travel companions.
workaway.info Stay with a host in the country of your choice for opportunities working in local schools, at tourist resorts, in eco-development projects and more. Fee gives you access to all of their hosts globally for one year, but doesn’t provide insurance, it is a smaller fee just to help keep the organization running.
staydu.com. New, it offers hosts who need your help, people who want to offer you a sofa, and sub $20 accommodation. They also have an interesting Travel Companion feature, allowing you to search for other travellers going your way – be they on the road already or planning a trip for next year. Fee is also just to support the effort they put into the site, but is for two years instead of one.
5. HOME EXCHANGE
This works for travelers who own a home and are usually for terms longer than a few weeks. 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. 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 while in another city, without paying for it.
6. HOUSE SITTING
So you want to travel the world but lack the funds? You’re keen to take the kids on the road but need space for them to roam? If you can be flexible on location and duration, house-sitting can be a passport to long-term budget travel, offering free accommodation and the chance to live like a local in a foreign country. Homeowners around the world need someone to look after their house while they’re on vacation or away for work. House sit when saving to travel and on the road. 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, deter burglars, look after and play with their pets (so common a requirement, this type of accommodation might better be called Pet Sitting), plants or garden (and eat from for free), and validate their house insurance. But having a whole house to yourself, for free, is usually worth the minimal effort involved. Often the house is very nice and/or in expensive locations. Often you make good friends with the owners who may provide free food and help with transportation.
A brief survey of house-sitting websites shows that age and experience trump youth and beauty when it comes to securing a gig. Likewise, some homeowners’ reluctance to let little people touch their belongings or terrorize their furry friends may make it a little more difficult for families with young children, but anyone can get a look in with great references and a bit of experience.
If you want to spend a month living on a farm in Tanzania or make like a maharaja in an Indian haveli then you might have a long wait. While opportunities do come up all over the world, the majority are in North America, Australasia and Europe, with a smattering of (mostly expat-owned) homes in Southeast Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
House-sits tend to be on the long side and can last for several months, so choose wisely. Six months in a city with plenty to do might fly by, but the same deal in an isolated location could prove difficult for some, especially as you can’t leave the house to explore other parts of the country.
Being flexible is also important, as is being realistic about what you can get – a house in a suburb with a couple of dogs is a likely proposition. A mansion on a picture-¬perfect beach with nothing to tend to but a cute kitten? Not so much.
What it Will Involve?
Dr Doolittle types will be in their element as many house-sits involve looking after animals, from the family dog to virtual menageries of horses, chickens and goats. Some owners, especially those in rural areas, want people with maintenance skills, while others might simply need their house occupied, their plants watered and their mail sorted.
Whatever the minutiae, you’ll be expected to live in the house full¬-time, keep it clean and tidy, and regularly contact the owners to let them know how their pal Buster/prized rose bush is doing, so jetting off for long weekends is difficult. It goes without saying that wild parties are a no¬-no.
Beating the competition
Writing a stellar profile is key. There are many more applicants than available properties so you’ll need to make yourself seem desirable. If you have experience as a homeowner, say so. Similarly, if you have special skills such as dog grooming, shepherding, or landscape gardening, now’s the time to brag about them. Clear photos – or even short videos – are important, particularly if they show you with animals, or practising the aforementioned handy skills. For an even more personal touch you could point homeowners in the direction of your blog, Facebook page or website, though this should perhaps be avoided if they include pictures of you downing vodka shots in the small hours. References are crucial. If you have no house-sitting experience these can be from a landlord, estate agent, friend or employer. A police check is also appreciated.
House-sits often go to the first qualified sitter to reply to an ad so speediness is essential. Check house-sitting pages regularly or sign up for updates. And make sure you tailor your response; just as you wouldn’t send a generic letter for a job application (which this is, of sorts), don’t do so for a house-sit. Bear in mind that most positions are advertised months in advance.
Before you commit
Get as much information as possible. While that cabin in the mountains may sound idyllic at first, you might change your mind when you have to get up at five in the morning and trudge through the snow to feed the animals. Talk to the owners via phone or even better, via Skype, to go through everything that’s expected of you, the facilities provided, (high speed internet if you need to work, for example), what you’ll need to pay for (bills, household maintenance, pet food, etc), whether there’s transport available, and if you can have guests to stay.
Do some calculations to make sure you can afford the airfare and day-to-¬day living expenses as well as checking out visa requirements for the country concerned.
Where do I sign up?
You could go it alone by advertising on free sites such as Craigslist or Gumtree or by searching expat websites and Facebook groups, but the easiest way is to sign up to an official agency (or several) for a small annual fee.mindmyhouse.com Charges $20 a year. Popular.
trustedhousesitters.com Market leader trustedhousesitters.com is relatively expensive with a minimum outlay of US$7.49 a month, but comes highly recommended and has a wide variety of jobs on offer.
Dedicated country sites include aussiehousesitters.com.au, homesit.co.nz and mindahome.co.uk
travellingweasels.com has lots of house experience in many different countries.
7. SHORT TERM RENTALS
Cost: $10-50 per night
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 and many more amenities, all for the price of a budget hotel or less.
One of the big benefits of staying in an apartment is how it can feel like a home away from home. A kitchen, allows you to cook and reduce your food costs. 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.
You can find a lot of rentals in Europe and Australia, where apartments tend to be rented on a week-by-week basis. They can get a bit expensive if you are a solo traveler as they are roughly double the cost (if not more) of 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.
flipkey.com. Owned by Trip Advisor. Properties less cheap than above; rates often comparable to hotels.
If you plan to stay a month or longer, local classifieds provide the best deals.
7 Things To Bring Along to Enhance Your Rental Experience. Staying in a vacation rental is the next best thing to being at home when you’re on the road, having your own personal space more intimate and immersive then staying in a hotel. But not all apartment rentals come fully outfitted, often missing something you can’t live without – especially in kitchens.
Knife Sharpener. Blunt knives to a home chefs are annoying making it near impossible to cut up ingredients for a meal.
You could bring along your own travel kitchen knife (Zyliss Utility Paring Kitchen Knife with sheath cover, 5.5-Inch stainless steel blade), but the tiny KitchenIQ 50009 Edge Grip 2 Stage knife sharpener is more versatile.
Corkscrew. It’s hard to enjoy that bottle of the local wine if you can’t open it – True Fabrications Truetap Metal, double hinged, easy to use, restaurant waiter quality compact corkscrew with foil cutter.
Google Chromecast. Some apartment rentals provide Netflix but most just have local TV. With a Chromecast, you can stream whatever you want on the tv via your laptop and some wi-fi.
Power Strip. Many apartments lack outlets, especially older ones and enough to two people. Get one that is small and portable and has USB plugs in addition to traditional ones.
Your Own Spices. Most rental kitchens salt and pepper at most. To cook something special, you need to scramble around to buy the spices necessary, and then carry them with you. The GSI Spice Missile. is designed for camping, durable, waterproof and can be expanded to add more.
Coffee or Tea. If you need a caffeine fix most mornings, carry your favourite teabags or good instant (Starbucks is actually very good).
Fuzzy Blanket. Not convenient to bring on a plane, but if traveling via car, think of cozy blankets for cuddling up on the couch, the only thing you may want to do after a long day of extroverting in a new place. Koyou super soft plush velour Borrego Blanket Throw for queen or full size bed
8. FARM STAYS
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).
9. LOCAL HOMESTAY
Cost: $10 – $50 per night
If you’re interested in learning more about a new country’s culture on a whole different level, rent out a spare bedroom from a family. You are treated like a member of the family. A homestay usually includes breakfast and maybe dinner too.
Homestay arrangements are typical with many language schools, but 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. Check if your homestay includes meals, and how many, and be open-minded and willing to learn from your hosts. Search Google for “homestay” plus the country’s name to pull up different homestay websites
Cost: $0 – $10 per night
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 always have a place to sleep, allowing you to experience remote areas that other travelers might avoid due to lack of accommodation.
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. Travel with a camping hammock, and try to camp at least once or twice a month. Some of your most memorable adventures may include some camping. It allows you to experience places not possible otherwise.
11. OVERNIGHT TRANSPORTATION
Cost: Ticket Price
A wonderful way to save some money on accommodation costs is to travel at night. Sleeping on trains, planes, buses, and boats can take practice to master. Trains are the best with sleeping berths and a smooth ride. Sleeping buses work well when the bed length is adequate. On boats, it is often possible to get away from the crowd by sleeping on the top deck. 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…
Choose a seat/location with a lot of leg room and away from the bathroom. Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, water, stuffable pillow case, and something warm like a sleeping bag. Secure your valuables to yourself. Befriend your neighbour so they’ll wake you before your stop.
12. PUBLIC PLACES
Booked an early flight, bus, or train ride and don’t want to pay for a hotel room you’ll barely use? Just sleep in the terminal/station. If you have luggage and look relatively clean, you probably won’t be bothered by security.
Transportation terminals have bathrooms, food, and are usually open all night. If you’re lucky, you might even get free WiFi. I sleep in airports often especially with middle of the night flights. Find an area away from heavy foot traffic and the toilet. Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, water, pillow case that can be stuffed with clothing and something warm like a sleeping bag. Secure your valuables to yourself.
Some airports are very sleeper friendly (Singapore) and provide reclining lounge chairs.
Squatting is when someone lives on property that’s owned by someone else without their permission. You’d be surprised how many people do it. Some estimates suggest that 1 in 7 people worldwide are living as squatters!
This includes shantytowns where families build shacks on land that they don’t own. However in many countries squatting is illegal.
Squattheplanet.com is a good source for more information on the squatting community.
14. MONASTERY STAYS
For something totally off the beaten track, monasteries offer spartan accommodation, often no more than a bed and desk, with simple meals prepared by the monks and nuns. Monasteries are very family friendly and quiet and most 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.
Resources for finding a monastery stay:
15. AIRBnB and PRICELINE
In places with expensive hotels, these offer usually much cheaper accommodation. And you get a kitchen and all the amenities of a home.
16. HOTELS ONLY – Budget to Luxury Resort
Cost: $50 – $1000+ per night
You might have a hard time rationalizing spending a lot of money on hotels because the same amount can enable you to travel longer or participate in amazing activities. Why waste that cash for one night in a fancy bedroom? But sometimes it’s nice to splurge a bit and stay somewhere more luxurious for a change. They give privacy but fewer amenities than many of the above options. There is little opportunity to meet other travellers.
Many sites waive the booking fees if the booking is done between 2 and 5 AM (plus internet speeds usually much faster). Also erase your IP address after each search. As the sites see you returning and thus more likely to make a booking, the prices may mysteriously increase.
The online experience is important – the amount of time it takes each site to process your searches, and then to process the personal information and payment. Some sites are particularly pleasant to use, in both superficial and substantive ways, others a pain.
tripadvisor.com. Has good reviews of hotels and tour companies, but you can’t book through it as it links to booking sites. Tends to list pricier options.
1. trivago.com. Searches many web sites for the best deals. This is a subsidiary of Expedia but the Expedia site often gets me the best hotel deals
2. booking.com. Sometimes find places not listed on the above sites.
3. hotwire.com. Provides access to last-minute deals for hotels.
5. airbnb.com. Offers spare rooms, apartments, family houses, villas and treehouses. Simple and easy to use, with lots of photographs, user reviews and star ratings for short stays in 34,000 cities. Not liked by hotels because it undercuts local hotels as they don’t have the expenses of normal hotels. Its rapid rise has come under fire from authorities in New York and San Francisco (both with expensive housing and rent controls) who want to prevent homes from being turned into hotels and being unlicensed and untaxed. Hosts with more than one property on the site are especially under fire. Prices will rise as jurisdictions require hosts to live in the property 75% of the time, register with the city and pay the hotel taxes (14% in New York City).
6. travelpony.com. Offers 30-70% discounts. Mostly US but expanding lists of hotels. Must register. Links to Facebook account.
7. agoda.com. Good for hotels in SE Asia (the only site for Myanmar). But can’t cancel. Interface slow and sometimes difficult to navigate.
8. Business hotels in Japan. I often stayed in Business Hotels costing in the $45-60 range, relatively cheap for Japan. They are usually close to train stations and thus very convenient for travellers with a JR Pass. Join their program for 10% reductions in cost.
9. oyster.com. A refreshingly honest booking site that sends its own investigators to review, rate hotels and take honest photos. Coverage is not extensive, but excellent on big cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and New York.
10. lastminute.com. Finds five-star hotel deals at three-star prices (you only see the hotel’s name once you’ve agreed to pay). Also has good flight and spa packages.
11. mrandmrssmith.com – Finds and road tests the most stylish boutique hotels, all a treat.
12. tripadvisor.com. Still the daddy of hotel review websites with restaurants and tourist attractions that are generally reliable. Its smartphone app is particularly good too.
13. slh.com (Small Luxury Hotels of the World) Vets boutique hotels and its membership scheme provides extra perks.
14. thehotelguru.com. Instead of thousands of suggestions, it cherry-picks what it considers to be the best on offer with random ‘ideas to inspire you’ countdowns (e.g. top 10 chic London hotels, or cheap and charming Parisian dives).
15. tingo.com. Automatically rebooks you at the lower rate if your hotel drops its price – and then refunds the difference.
16. C-trip.com. Useful for hotels in China.
17. i-escape.com. – Find out more about a destination, or try out one of its eclectic selection of recommended hotels (it tends to favour the quirky over chain properties).
18. bookingnow.com. Owned by booking.com to find accommodation with less than 48 hours and up to 50% off.
ONLINE TRAVEL AGENTS
For those who want to book an entire trip — flight, hotel, car rental, activities, tours, cruises, deals — in one place, the traditional sites will definitely save you time. Most of the traditional sites are all dependably similar, their lowest offerings rarely differing more than a few dollars.
1. expedia.com. I have often got my best deals here.
3. travelocity.com – Unpleasant interface.
5. onetravel.com – Very easy to navigate and pay.
6. skyscanner.com – Not as good for hotels as it is for flights.
1. priceline.com. Has an opaque bidding system that works well with hotels when you do not require a specific hotel — can often save 30 to 50 percent on hotels by placing an absurdly low bid and allowing the site to charge your card before stating exactly which hotel you are paying for. You name the part of town you need, the hotel category, and the rate you’re willing to pay, and Priceline either accepts or rejects your bid. To find out the lowest bid it will accept, go to biddingfortravel.com to find out what bids Priceline accepted and rejected for specific hotels on specific dates.
Accommodation costs shouldn’t get in the way of your travel dreams. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive hotels to see the world. Travel is only expensive if you have expensive tastes.
The best places to stay when traveling are Hostels and CouchSurfing. Especially as a solo traveller, they are cheap and offer the best way to meet other people.