In the first article in our series on budget travel, we looked at low cost airlines, which can help you get to your destination for as little cash as possible. After air tickets, the next biggest line item in your travel budget is accommodations. Depending on the length of your trip – and your taste in hotels – you could easily spend more on your accommodations than on your airfare! If you’re looking to maximize your trip and minimize your expense, we’ve got some alternatives to hotels that may save you some dough.
Rent a Room or Apartment
Vacation rentals are nothing new, but the internet has made it easier than ever to rent a room or a whole private home instead of booking a hotel. AirBnB is one of the best-known ways to rent a place for your next trip. On their website, you can search for rentals in destinations all over the world. You’ll find lots of options, from large luxury homes to shared rooms in small city apartments. AirBnB is far from your only option, though. Other websites like VRBO.com, HomeAway.com, and even TripAdvisor offer similar rental listings. We even know travelers who have found vacation rentals through Craigslist!
Vacation rentals are an especially good budget travel option for families and groups. The more people you have sharing the cost of the rental, the less each one of you will pay! Families may also find that renting a home or apartment is more comfortable than staying at a hotel. It’s awfully nice to let the kids have their own room, without having to pay a fortune for extra hotel rooms.
Beyond the potential savings, renting a room or apartment allows you to experience your destination in a whole new way. You really get the chance to “live like a local.” You can stay in residential neighborhoods, rather than just in tourist areas. You can shop for food at local markets, instead of eating all your meals at restaurants. You can get a feel for the pace of life, as your neighbors go about their days all around you. It’s a fun way to travel!
Hostels: The Budget Travel Classic
When you hear the word “hostel,” do you automatically think “youth”? Think again! Although some hostels are specifically for young travelers, many others accept travelers of all ages. Some hostels even cater to families, offering private rooms with multiple beds, big enough for the whole family. Hostels are a great option for budget travelers who want to meet other travelers from around the world.
You’ll find a wide range of accommodations all calling themselves “hostels.” They range from bare-bones dormitories, where you’ll bunk with strangers, to places much more like a traditional hotel with private rooms for guests. Many hostels offer both dormitories and private rooms, at varying price points. What all hostels have in common is that they are less expensive than hotels, and won’t offer all the amenities of major hotels.
Our favorite site to find hostels around the world is the aptly-named HostelWorld. When booking a hostel, it’s important to read the fine print to find out exactly what is included. Will you get a private bedroom or a bunk in a dormitory? Are there restrictions on who can stay, like a women-only hostel or one that doesn’t accept children under 18? Is there a bar, a restaurant, or a kitchen you can use? Do you need to provide your own linens or towels?
It’s also a very good idea to read reviews of the hostel from other travelers and do a bit of research on the neighborhood. You don’t want to book a super-cheap hostel only to find that it’s in a crime-ridden neighborhood, or way out on the outskirts of town with no transportation!
Would you like to be able to stay somewhere for free on your next trip?
Yes, we said FREE.
House swapping or home exchange programs make it possible to stay somewhere for free. The basic premise is that you’ll find someone in your dream destination who wants to visit your town, and you can arrange to swap houses. They’ll come stay in your house while you stay in theirs! When it works, it’s the ultimate in budget travel accommodations.
You’re likely to have the most success with house swapping if you live in a desirable location that many people want to visit. If you’ve got an apartment in Manhattan or a beach cottage in Florida, you’re likely to find plenty of people who would like to trade houses with you for a week.
The best way to go about house swapping is to sign up with a program like
HomeExchange or HomeLink. You’ll then have access to their network of other potential house-swappers, and you can search for a match based on where you want to visit. You will have to pay a membership fee – HomeExchange charges $150 per year – but that’s a small charge compared to the expense of a hotel!
If you’re devoted to budget travel, you’ve probably already spent plenty of nights crashed on the sofas of your friends in other cities. It’s great to visit a new place when a friend already lives there – you get a place to stay, someone to hang out with, and a built-in tour guide to show you the sights! But this only works when you already have a friend who lives in the place you want to visit.
What if you had a way to make new friends, anywhere you wanted to go? Everywhere in the world, you could have a new friend waiting for you, ready to open their home and let you stay over. That’s where Couchsurfing comes in.
Couchsurfing is a social network for travelers. When you sign up, you agree to host travelers in your own home, and in exchange, you can stay with other Couchsurfing members when you travel. You don’t even have to have a guest room to offer in your home – as the name suggests, all you have to have is a sofa where your new friends can sleep!
This is a great budget travel option for solo travelers, or at least for outgoing solo travelers who enjoy meeting people. If you’re an introvert who needs to be totally alone to recharge at the end of the day, it’s probably not a great fit for you.
Are Budget Travel Alternatives to Hotels Worth It?
There’s no doubt that you can save a lot of money by CouchSurfing, hosteling, house-swapping, or AirBnB-ing on your next trip. But is it worth it? That’s subjective. Budget travel accommodations are never going to give you the same experience you can have at a luxury hotel, an all-inclusive resort, or a fancy spa. You’ll be giving up daily maid service, chocolates on your pillow, and towels twisted into the shape of swans. But on the other hand, you might gain new friends and a greater insight into how the locals live. If you’re more into exploring and making connections than relaxing and being pampered, give these hotel alternatives a try on your next trip!