Finding the best cheap accommodation is a crucial part of your trip planning, and it can have an enormous impact on your budget if not chosen correctly.
Besides airfare, accommodation costs are one of the most significant expenses on any travel budget. Thus, finding ways to reduce our accommodation expenses can lead to substantial savings, which makes it one of the best ways to plan a cheap holiday!
Whether you’re a backpacker hopping between hostels or a business traveler staying at a boutique hotel, you want to get the best room possible without spending too much for it.
I’ve already shown you how to find the cheapest airfare, so I’ll show you how to find cheap accommodation. Just mastering these two items will tremendously impact your trip’s budget. And you won’t be Googling “cheap accommodation near me” all the time.
Where you spend the night depends on the type of trip you want to have. Hostels are great for having a social experience and meeting other travelers.
Vrbo is useful for feeling at home while abroad and gaining different experiences not typically had with hotels. And hotels are well-known accommodations with lots of perks and amenities.
Now, ask yourself, what do you want out of your cheap accommodation? What kind of experience do you want? Which type of trip are you planning?
For example, when I want some alone time, I may get a hotel room or stay in a private room at a hostel. When I feel like meeting other travelers, I may go to a hostel and even sleep in a dorm room.
Below I share the most common types of accommodation you can find all over the world and list them from the typically most expensive to the usually cheapest.
YES, hostels are safe! Ignore that bad reputation they got after Quentin Tarantino’s movie.
In my almost nine years of long-term travel, hostels have usually been my first choice when looking for a place to stay. Some of the best hostels have the same amenities hotels do but at a fraction of the price.
Hostels are great for meeting people as they encourage social gatherings and often help you plan activities, from getting to know the city on a walking tour to day tours to main sights and bar-hopping with your hostel mates.
Hostels offer private and dorm rooms, so you can choose how private or social you want to be. And, of course, dorm rooms are much cheaper if you need to save money!
Now that I’m in my 30s, I tend to pick private rooms, but now and then, I do stay in a dorm room just for fun.
Usually, the more centric your accommodation, the more expensive it is. But, I always recommend doing a bit of value engineering to see whether cheap accommodation slightly outside the city is the best option.
Ask yourself, how much time will you spend traveling from your hotel to the city center? How much will that taxi or public transportation cost?
Add that up for the number of times you’ll do that and compare it to the price and convenience of having a centric room.
More popular destinations also typically have more expensive accommodation options. You must understand the cost of destinations before deciding where to go.
Always check the transportation options from your accommodation to see how well-connected you are.
It’s rare for a city to sell out every room, so even during high season, you’ll find a place to stay. But, if you want clean and cheap places to stay in a good location that gives you value for your money, then you must plan.
High-season trips should be planned at least a few months ahead, especially to places like Iceland, which currently has more tourism than the accommodation infrastructure available.
Also, suppose you’re traveling during popular events, like New Year’s in New York City, Koh Phangan during the full moon party, and Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. In that case, you should book your room several months ahead to get the best value.
Now, during the low season, you can wing it. Often you can get last-minute deals when booking at the very last minute. Sometimes I even book my accommodation the night before or the same day I travel during the low season.
To find cheap hotels offering last-minute deals, I use Booking.com. Many accommodations offer a lower price for their available rooms for the same day or next day booking. And, since I’m a frequent user, I also get additional “genius” discounts on many of their listings.
Hotels.com is my second go-to site when looking for last-minute deals on hotels.
Hotel booking sites like Priceline and Hotwire offer great discounts on brand-name hotels. Forget the cheap hotel chains in dodgy areas. These are the real deal. The catch (sometimes) is that you won’t know the exact hotel name until after you book it.
But you’ll know how many stars it has, its quality, amenities, approximate location, and more information to help you choose. It’s a great option to find hotels that are pretty inexpensive.
Also, the hotel booking site and app for Hotel Tonight offer the same kind of discounts for rooms needed on the same night of the booking.
Being able to get the best hotel deals is great, but nothing beats free!
If you have a preferred hotel brand, join their rewards program and try to be a frequent guest to accrue miles and earn reward points with them, which can then be redeemed for free stays.
The nice thing is that most of the time, those reward points and miles can be earned by using your branded credit card on everyday purchases. The more money you spend, the more you’ll save.
This technique is commonly known as Travel Hacking. It’s also essential to have a good travel credit card.
There are many other budget accommodation options that span beyond the cheapest hotels and hostels.
From guesthouses to apartments on Vrbo or Airbnb (or other apartment rental sites, to house-sitting and even Couchsurfing, it’s easy to find cheap accommodation.
Let me show you all the most common and popular accommodation options. These are listed from the typically most expensive to the cheapest.
There are many reasons why we want a particular accommodation, be it by nightly rates, location, amenities, ease of booking, type of facility, etc. But we must understand our options and how they differ to make that choice.
One of the best ways to fit expensive destinations into your budget is by choosing suitable accommodation that fits your needs at the best price possible, or even for free!
Here are 12 of the most common accommodations types you can choose from for your next trip. These are arranged from the (usually) most expensive to the cheapest.
This is the most well-known type of accommodation. While it is commonly accepted that hotels are expensive, the truth is that cheap hotels can be an option.
During the hotel search, it is vital to use and compare different search engines, hotel booking sites, and agencies. You will see that finding different rates for the same hotel is very common on each search engine.
Even though many hotels tend to be above the typical backpacker’s budget, it’s still possible to find cheap hotels that won’t break your pocket. There are many hotel discounts out there if you know where to search.
But be careful, because it is possible that either they are far from the city center or they have undesirable conditions. Sometimes hotels can be a cheap option when you travel in a group because accommodation costs can be shared between all the travelers.
You can search for budget hotel prices on some of the most popular search engines like Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Booking.com, and Agoda.com, among others. Many even offer free breakfast options when you book hotels through them.
One of the best hotel booking sites (and highly recommended) to find good hotel deals and unbiased reviews by previous travelers is tripadvisor.com. Check hotel reviews to make sure you’re getting the best hotel deals. Verified reviews will give you the best insight into what to expect.
If you’re staying in a city for a long time, looking for a rental is a good choice. At a rental, you have most or all the amenities of an apartment for less than the price of a hotel.
You can rent from well-established rental companies and from people with a place available to rent. People usually sublet their apartments when they are not using them.
It is a way for the owner to generate some income while budget travelers save money because they’re paying just a portion of the rent as agreed. You’ll also have to pay for your own meals as they usually aren’t included.
Alternatively, you can find rentals anywhere in the world by searching on Google or Craigslist. You just have to search for a “sublet” or a “short-term apartment.”
These properties are typically available by the week at luxury resorts, but they can be a very cost-effective option, especially for those traveling in a group.
Timeshare units are much like hotel suites, except the bedroom is separated from the living room by a door.
They’re also set up with full kitchens that include a refrigerator, stove, cookware, and plates/glasses/utensils, which can make for a great way to save money by not eating out all the time. You just cook your own meals.
B&Bs are generally cheaper than hotels, but more expensive than hostels. This is a good option for couples and families.
B&Bs come in all forms, from traditional homes and apartments turned into an establishment to bigger accommodations offering their “hotel” and breakfast services to a larger number of travelers.
B&Bs offer more privacy than most hostels, and the feel and quality tend to be “warm and cozy.” Usually, with the smaller ones (the homes), you get to interact with the family running the business, as often they also live there.
Again, the booking site, Vrbo, is an excellent choice for finding the best prices on B&Bs.
Hostels are the most accessible cheap accommodation for budget travelers. Hostels have a variety of rooms that go from private to 30+ mixed bed bunks.
The bigger the room, the more people you sleep with, and the cheaper the cost. There are places where you can find a bed for $5.00 a night. Even though hostels are quite affordable, they are well known to be safe and secure.
Usually, the restrooms and showers are shared. If you are uncomfortable using a shared bathroom, you can rent private rooms with private bathrooms, but those are a bit more expensive.
You pay less when you stay in a shared or mixed room, but obviously, you won’t have much privacy. But don’t worry; you have a locker in shared spaces to secure your stuff.
It is common to see a lot of young travelers because it is a really “laid-back” environment where you can meet new travelers.
Most hostels have common areas with a kitchen, tv, games, wi-fi, sitting area, etc.; many even include breakfast in your rate.
Many hostels can have an age limit, but most hostels, like the big chain Hostelling International, accept any age.
One of the best qualities of hostelling is that it is easy to interact with people, find friendly company to walk around the city, and even travel companions for part or the rest of your trip.
Sleeper trains are an excellent option for spending a night or a few nights while traveling. The best thing about sleeper trains is that you are traveling from one place to another while saving time and money. Why?
First, you’re not paying for a night at a hostel, hotel, etc. Second, you save some of your precious daytime by traveling at night.
Sleeper Trains provide different levels of accommodations ranging from private rooms and semi-private couchettes to reclinable seats.
Although this is an excellent choice for travel and cheap accommodation, it is best to use just when needed because many trains don’t have showers and the restrooms are not too desirable, to say the least (unless you are in first-class).
Check this Eurail Train Guide to learn everything about traveling Europe by train..
If you’re traveling into the “wild” or are looking for a more sustainable approach to travel, then camping is an option for you. You can spend many free nights in nature enjoying the sounds of the animals.
Camping is usually done in pre-established camping areas. Some of them require a small “camping” fee to allow you to set your tent for an established amount of days.
But there is also “wild camping,” which is when you camp for free wherever the night takes you, as long as it’s legal to camp there.
Also, camping doesn’t have to be that “raw” experience in the middle of nowhere. There’s also “mid-budget” to “high-end” camping or “glamping.”
These are more expensive than traditional camping but are a great gateway to the camping experience for people who aren’t ready to go full into self-sustained camping. You can find some decent options at reasonable prices, though, so it’s still a cheap accommodation option.
This is an excellent way to spend some time out of the hustle and bustle of the city and feel relaxed and surrounded by nature.
Another good cheap accommodation option is Home Exchange. The name says it all; you switch places with another person or family in another country.
This is common among older solo travelers doing home exchange because they are most likely to own a home. Also, this is a great way to live cheaply in another country.
One of the biggest fears of Home Exchange is the security of their home, but think about this, the other family is entrusting you their home the same way you are entrusting yours.
Also, sites that facilitate home exchange have various levels of security and verification that let you know that you are dealing with someone real. You can go to homeexchange.com and find more information about this cheap accommodation option.
Similar to home exchange, you’re staying at someone’s home for free, but in this case, you’re not switching homes. You’re just staying at someone’s home on the condition that you will take care of it, feed and walk their pets (should they have any), water their plants, etc.
Before committing to the house-sitting and/or pet-sitting conditions, you and the house owner discuss them. And in some cases, you are even paid to do the work required while staying at their place for free. Win!
Couchsurfing, apart from being free, is one of the most culturally rich methods of staying in a country. This works by contacting someone in the country you are visiting and asking if they can host you.
Depending on your host, they can offer you a room with a bed, or share a room with them, an air mattress, or couch, etc. One of the best things about Couchsurfing is the direct exposure to the local culture with the aid of your host.
Many hosts spend their time with their guests showing them around the city and pointing out good and not-so-touristy places to go.
It is commonly asked how safe it is to stay at a stranger’s house in another country. While nothing is guaranteed, I can say (having done it myself several times) that it is pretty safe.
People who welcome you to their homes are also open-minded and travelers. They are in for a cultural exchange and the enjoyment of good company.
The safest way to do this is by visiting couchsurfing.org and setting up a profile. You must fill in all the information about yourself (like interests, hobbies, a little bit about yourself, etc.) because your host will want to know a little bit about you before committing to hosting you.
At the same time, you will want to see your prospect host’s information to get an idea of who they are. It is even more desirable if the person is verified using an address, credit card, or by other travelers.
The site also shows reviews of your host from previous travelers. Those reviews give you an idea if this person can be an option to stay with.
Again, primarily young people do Couchsurfing, although you can find couchsurfers of all ages all around the world. In this other post, I share more tips for using Couchsurfing to travel the world cheaply.
Well, now it’s an excellent time to get in touch with your distant family and friends to find that desired free stay. Just be sure to contact them ahead of time, be grateful while staying with them, and keep in touch after you leave.
They are doing you a big favor, so it is courteous to send a thank you note from another place on your trip or after you finish your journey.
Although it is not recommended for many reasons (and on top of the list is security), many laid-back travelers choose to spend a night or two as a vagrant around the city. It’s the only option for totally free accommodation.
Some of the “safest” places to stay are airports, train stations, and bus stations. But you can sleep on benches, parks, beaches, wherever…
Throughout my years of travel, I’ve slept in buses, airports, bus stations, in the car, and even on the sidewalk in front of a gas station (just once in Greece).
Most of the time, I do this to save a few dollars on a night I know I won’t be using entirely at a hotel or hostel, whether it’s because I got there too late or I have to leave too early (to the airport, the bus terminal, etc.).
Although it is highly improbable, there is a slight chance of getting fined or arrested for doing this (if it is against the law in that country).
So far, I haven’t heard of anyone going through that unfortunate ordeal, but it’s good to be aware. And again, this is NOT recommended regularly, but it saves money if you’re short on cash since it is free accommodation.
These are some of the most common accommodation options out there. What do you think is the best one for your trip style and budget? And while you’re busy creating your perfect travel itinerary, remember to avoid these common travel mistakes.
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