After a year of travel I have learned a few tricks to save money on accommodations. Glad to share it with you here.
I haven’t won the lottery yet, so I looked for ways to save money. Accommodation is always a huge chunk of the budget, at least it used to be.
As we traveled around the world we discovered many less expensive accommodation options.
Hotels are not the only answer to “Where can I stay?” Here you would find a fairly comprehensive list of hotel alternatives along with simple definitions and ideas on how to find these options.
Many sites will tell you to pitch a tent. While it is a great way to save money, it’s not for me. I have inherited my mother’s definition of roughing it: “any motels on the main strip.”
I have standards, although these days they are pretty simple: I want walls, a bed and a bathroom preferably private, but within a short walk is okay. Clean and tidy are pretty important too.
To date I have circumnavigated the globe, visiting 5 continents and 42 countries. We are now a traveling family with two teen girls, although we are currently spending a bit of time in New Zealand.
By finding affordable and free accommodation options worldwide our travel dollars go so much farther than they ever did before. All of my best tips are found on this page.
Whether you are headed out for long term travel, or just going for the weekend, I am sure you can find something here to keep a few more dollars in your pocket.
No longer will you be asking “Where Can I Stay?”
Hotel alternatives you will find here!
#1. Home Exchange
Home Exchange is probably the number one way we afforded our travels.
If you have a home check out this option to swap houses with someone else – we even included our car in some of our trades.
#2. Couch Surfing
If you don’t mind sharing your living space this is a great option. Similar to home exchange, except you stay with the person, sometimes in a spare room, sometimes a spare apartment, sometimes on a couch.
Ideally you open your home to others when they are visiting your area, but I am not sure if this is required.
#3. House Sitting
House Sitting is exactly what is sounds like, you live in someone’s home while they are away. It works great for the traveler as we get a free place to stay.
Are you wondering why someone would want strangers living in their home?
First off, like home exchange there are multiple exchanges of email, contracts and maybe skype calls before a deal is made.
Some people just don’t like to leave their home un-occupied, other need someone in their home to tend to animals, plants, or what ever arrangement is made.
I don’t have much to say about this option as we have not tried it. Truthfully, we only just learned about it from other travelers. What a great idea though. It’s a win-win.
#4. Backpackers and hostels
Backpackers and hostels – Don’t think these ones are cheap and unkempt, they are different everywhere.
We found many offer family rooms with private baths, while others have shared dorm rooms with the bathroom down the hall. Nearly all we encountered were friendly and welcoming, except one we stayed at in Munich where I was told I was a bit old to be staying there (they had family rooms, so who were they expecting?).
Most have shared kitchen facilities which are great for saving money at meal time, and very cheap sleeps. The best thing about these places is usually meeting the other guests and sharing travel tips.
I will be the first to admit, I am not really a huge fan of tent camping. However, campsites worldwide often offer cabins available to rent, or rooms with shared bathrooms.
Like the backpackers and hostels, we get the advantage of a shared kitchen. Not only does this save us money, it also makes it easy to meet people.
Other travelers often have the best tips. If they are heading in the opposite direction then they have just been where you are going.
#6. Take a cruise
Take a cruise and book late . . . really late, or early. We took two on our around the world adventure.
The first to Norway booked six months in advance for a 20-25% savings. The second, a Mediterranean cruise booked 6 days before embarkation for 74% off.
They don’t like to sail with empty cabins, this is when you get your best deals: a bed, transit from city to city, all your food and entertainment often for less then you can stay in a hotel.
It doesn’t work for everyone, as you need to be flexible and in the city of embarkation or last minute air travel might be very costly.
We also love cruising as a multi-generational family holiday. We have done this a few times with our parents and their grandchildren.
We all eat our meals together, yet there are so many activities or rest opportunities that we all do our own thing during the days, thus having completely different vacations from the other, yet we feel as though we have been together.
Most importantly, everyone is happy.
#7. Short Term Rentals / B&Bs
We used Air B&B a few times to find short term rentals or B&Bs. The difference here is you are making your arrangements directly with the owner, yet you have the reassurance that they have been checked out by a known company.
When we get a self contained rental we like the comfort this offers us.
When in a new or unfamiliar area, we prefer B&Bs that offer a room in the family home. We have found both private bath or a shared bathroom down the hall. This is another favorite accommodation for our family.
We get so much more than just a room. So far 100% of the B&Bs we have stayed at are owned by people who are friendly, welcoming and full of local knowledge. Plus we love the family breakfasts.
#8. Religious Accommodations
While I have no personal experience with religious accommodations, nor do I know anyone who has used this option, I did want to include it on the list.
Many convents, monasteries, churches and temples open their doors for guests. Sometimes for free, often for a small to moderate fee. Sometimes there is a prayer requirement, but not always.
Jerusalem has many, however they appear to be found throughout the world. Accommodation will be clean, yet plain. There may be rules and curfews. You can learn more about this at Monastery Stays.com.
#9. Farmstays and WWOOF
Farmstays and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) are two other accommodations we have yet to try.
From my understanding these are working holidays. In exchange for either free or more affordable accommodation, you help out with certain chores.
However, I have been made aware that many farmstays are more tourist focused, so the rates will be more in line with other local options, but activities like horse riding might be included.
My Best Tips To Get The Lowest Possible Hotel Rate
If you choose a hotel, here are my Best Tips to get the lowest possible rate:
- Walk In without a reservation – This works best with off peak travel, but it generally gets us a much better rate than pre-booking. Especially if it is past midday, as hotels do not make any money if the room is vacant as they don’t want to leave the room empty. This has backfired on us a few times, once in France leaving us with no options for over 100km (we headed to this city unplanned and we were unaware of a huge festival.)
- Use on-line booking sites that advertise having low, or the lowest rates available.
- Join special e-mail list for deals at places like booking.com. Each week we are sent a list of special deals all around the world. It’s easy to filter to where you are heading and we have saved on average 50% this way.
- Call First – If we are booking ahead and find the accommodation on-line, we will check other on-lines options for a given location and make a phone call directly to the site before we book on-line. We have found that many non-chain accommodations will offer their best rate to a friendly voice on the phone, as there is no commission to be paid for this booking. Be sure to ask, “Is that the best price available?”
- Local Tourist Information Sites can often book hotels. We use this if we didn’t plan ahead and can’t find something affordable on our own. As the proprietor is generally paying a commission we book only the one night through this service, then ask in the morning for a better rate for additional nights. This is not fool proof, and we often ended up with nowhere to sleep the second night.
- Location: In or Out of the City: Depending on our reason for selecting a destination and the types of public transportation available, staying outside of big cities or even outside of the main tourist section can be a real cost savings. However, sometimes the fun is in walking the city streets, and being in the center of things. So we weigh this one carefully.
Related Links – Many of the Resources Mentioned on this Page
- Booking.com: 294,223 hotels worldwide. 19+ million hotel reviews.
- Big savings on hotels in destinations worldwide. Browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.
- Hotels: Find Cheap Hotel Deals, Discounts, & Reservations | Expedia
- Cheap Hotel Deals – Discover great hotel prices while planning the right reservations at the best resorts, even if you need last minute rates.
- Reviews of Hotels, Flights and Vacation Rentals – TripAdvisor
- TripAdvisor – Unbiased hotel reviews, photos and travel advice for hotels and vacations – Compare prices with just one click.
- Welcome to Couchsurfing! – Couchsurfing
- Travel the world, explore your city and host new friends. Couchsurfing is the world’s largest travel community.
- Online Hotel Discount booking on 290,999 Hotels worldwide. Agoda REAL-TIME bookings, 24-hr service, fast, secure, LOWEST RATES Guaranteed!!
- Hostels Worldwide – Online Hostel Bookings, Ratings and Reviews
- Online confirmed bookings for backpacker hostels around the world. Hostel reviews, City guides, sightseeing, entertainment and backpacking information for hostels and backpacker tours around the world.
- Home Exchange.com
- 45,000+ listings in 154 countries. A vacation anywhere in the world doesn’t have to cost any more than staying at home.
- Vacation rentals, private rooms, sublets by the night – Accommodations on Airbnb
- Discover amazing, unique accommodations in 192 countries. With more than 10 million nights booked worldwide, Airbnb is the world leader in travel rentals.
- Monastery Stays – Italy Accommodation – Monastery & Convent Rooms
- 500+ hotel quality convent and monastery accommodation in Italy. Search, book with online availability – Room prices, photos, maps & more.