Booking Accommodation: How To Get the Best and Cheapest Room

Booking Accommodation: How To Get the Best and Cheapest Room

Finding the best 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 is one of the largest expenses on any travel budget. Thus, finding ways to reduce our accommodation expenses can lead to significant 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 now I’ll show you how to find the cheapest accommodation. Just mastering these two items will have a tremendous impact on your trip’s budget. 

Antigua, Guatemala

How to Find the Cheapest Accommodation?

1. First of all, Know the Type of Place You Want

Where you spend the night depends on the type of trip you want to have. Hostels are great for having a social experience and meet other travelers. Airbnb is useful to feel like at home while abroad and gain different experiences not typically had with hotels. And hotels are well-known accommodation with lots of perks and amenities. 

Now, ask yourself, what do you want out of your 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 go to a hotel or get 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. 

Norbert in a capsule hotel
At a capsule hotel in Tokyo.

When I feel like meeting locals, I may couchsurf or rent an Airbnb room. And when I feel like I want to pamper myself, I may use points or miles to get a premium room at a hotel for a fraction of the price. 

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 typically cheapest. 

2. Don’t be Afraid to Search for a Hostel

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 to meet people as they tend to 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 both private and dorm rooms, so you have the flexibility on how private or social you want to be. And of course, dorm rooms are much cheaper if you need to save money!

Budapest, Hungary
Drinking at the hostel in Budapest with new friends I met there!

Additionally, many hostels have kitchens you can use to cook your meals, providing you another way 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.

To book hostels, I recommend using HostelWorld, and in this post, I show you how I always pick the best hostels in every city I visit.

3. Location, Location, Location

Usually, the more centric your accommodation, the more expensive it is. But, I always recommend doing a bit of value engineering to see if cheaper accommodation slightly outside of the city is the best option or not. 

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. 

Always check the transportation options from your accommodation to see how well connected you are. 

4. Plan Ahead if You’re Traveling During High Season

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 a cheap and clean place, in a good location, and gives you value for your money, then you must plan ahead. 

High season trips should be planned at least a few months ahead, especially to places like Iceland, which currently have more tourism than the accommodation infrastructure available. 

Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Also, if 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, to name a few, you should book your room at least 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 when I’m traveling during the low season.

For last-minute deals, I use Booking.com. Many accommodations offer a lower price of 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.

5. Avoid Paying Full Price for a Hotel Room

Sites like Priceline and Hotwire offer extremely good discounts on brand name hotels. 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. 

Save Money

If you’re not picky about which hotel brand you’ll stay at, then I highly recommend giving Priceline and Hotwire a try.

Also, the site and app Hotel Tonight offers the same kind of discounts for rooms needed on the same night of the booking.

6. Earn and Redeem Points and Miles for Free Stays

Nothing beats free! 

If you have a preferred hotel brand, try to be a frequent guest to accrue miles and points with them, which can then redeemed for free stays. 

The nice thing is that most of the time those miles and points can be earned by using your branded credit card on everyday purchases. This technique is commonly known as Travel Hacking. This post, while focused on travel hacking airfares, can be applied to travel hacking hotel stays.

This other post shows you how to find a good travel credit card.

7. Look beyond Hotels and Hostels

There are so many other accommodation options out there that span beyond hotels and hostels. From guesthouses, apartments on Airbnb and other apartment rental sites, to housesitting and even Couchsurfing, the options to have budget-friendly to free accommodation are endless. 

Let me show you all the most common and popular accommodation options. These are listed from the typically most expensive to the cheapest.

Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba

12 Of The Best Types Of Accommodation For Your Trip

There are many reasons why we want a particular accommodation, be it by price, location, amenities, ease of booking, type of facility, etc. But to make that choice, we must understand our options and how they differ from each other.

One of the best ways to keep your trip budget under control is by choosing the right accommodation that fits your needs at the best price possible, or even for free!

Marrakech, Morocco

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.

1. Hotels

This is the most commonly known type of accommodation. While it is commonly accepted that hotels are expensive, the truth is that hotels can be a cheap option.

When looking for a hotel, it is important to use and compare different search engines and agencies. You will see that it is very common to find different rates for the same hotel at each search engine.

Zhiwa Ling, Bhutan
The Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, Bhutan. Designed with Bhutanese traditional architecture. One of the most beautiful hotels I’ve stayed at.

Even though hotels tend to be above the typical backpacker’s budget, it’s still possible to find a cheap hotel that won’t break your pocket.

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 costs can be shared between all the travelers.

You can search for hotels on some of the most popular search engines like Expedia.comHotels.comBooking.com, and Agoda.com, among others.

One of the best websites (and highly recommended) to find good hotel deals and unbiased reviews by previous travelers is tripadvisor.com

2. Apartment Rentals

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 as well from people who have 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 the traveler saves money because he is paying just a portion of the rent as agreed.

Today, the go-to site for rooms or apartment rentals anywhere in the world is Airbnb. I use it regularly and I highly recommend it. You can search Airbnb with the widget below.

 

With this link, you get $40 off your first booking with Airbnb.

Friends in Easter Island
My friends and I in front of our Airbnb rental on Easter Island. We rented the entire house.

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”.

 

3. Timeshare Rentals

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 very 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 refrigerator, stove, cookware, and plates/glasses/utensils, which can make for a great way to save money by not eating out all the time.

4. Bed & Breakfast

B&Bs are generally cheaper than hotels, but not as cheap as hostels. This is a good option for couples and families.

B&B come in all forms, from regular homes and apartments turned into an establishment, to bigger accommodations offering their “hotel” and breakfast services to a larger number of travelers.

Sharing with hosts in Japan
With my hosts and friends in Japan.

B&Bs offer more privacy than most hostels and the feel and quality tends 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, Airbnb is an excellent choice to find b&bs.

5. Hostels

Hostels are the cheapest and most accessible 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, the cheaper the cost. There are places where you can find a bed for $3.00 a night. Even though hostels are very cheap, they are well known to be safe and secure.

Hostel

Usually, the restrooms and showers are shared. If you are not comfortable 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, in shared rooms you have a locker 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.

Wombats City Hostel at Naschmarkt in Vienna, Austria
My private room with a private bathroom at the Wombats Hostel in Vienna. This can easily be a hotel!

Most hostels have common areas with kitchen, tv, games, wi-fi, sitting area, etc.; and many of them even include breakfast in your rate.

Some 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 a friendly company to walk around the city, and even travel companions for part or the rest of your trip.

Some of the best hostel booking sites are HostelWorld, HostelBookers, and Hi Hostel.

This post shares many tips on how I pick the best hostels at each destination.

Wombats City Hostel at Naschmarkt in Vienna, Austria
The bar at the Wombats Hostel. Great place to meet other likeminded travelers!

6. Sleeper Trains

Sleeper trains are a good option to spend a night or a couple of nights while you travel. 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 are saving some of your precious daytime by traveling during the night.

Sleeper Trains provide you different levels of accommodations that range from private rooms, semi-private couchettes, to reclinable seats.

TrenHotel second class cabin
My second class cabin at the TrenHotel sleeper train from Madrid to Lisbon.

Although this is an excellent choice for travel and accommodation, it is best to use just when needed because many trains don’t count with showers and the restrooms are not too desirable, to say the least (unless you are in first-class).

Check this Eurail Train Guide to know everything about traveling Europe by train.

7. Camping

If you’re traveling into the “wild” or are looking for a more sustainable approach to travel, then camping is an option for you. In fact, some countries or regions, like Patagonia, Iceland, and the Himalayas, among others, are best explored when hiking and camping.

Camping in Turkey
Camping in Turkey during the Mongol Rally.

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.

Camping at the Darvaza Crater, Gates of Hell
A yurt-like tent in Turkmenistan.

This is a good way to spend some time out of the hustle and bustle of the city and feel relaxed surrounded by nature.

8. Home Exchange

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 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 accommodation option.

9. Housesitting

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. 

The conditions are discussed between you and the house owner before committing to it. And in some cases, you are even paid to do the work required while staying at their place for free. Win!

Two good sites to find these housesitting opportunities are housesitter.com and trustedhousesitters.com. Like with Airbnb and HomeExchange, you need to create an account and verify your profile.

10. Couchsurfing

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, or 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 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.

Couchsurfing in Berlin
With my Couchsurfing hosts in Berlin.

People who welcome you to their home are pretty open-minded and are travelers as well. They are in for the cultural exchange and the enjoyment of good company.

The safest way to do this is by going to couchsurfing.org and setting up a profile. It is imperative you fill all the information about yourself (like interest, 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 he/she is. 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 can give you an idea if this person can be an option to stay with.

Again, mostly young people do Couchsurfing although you can find couchsurfers from all ages all around the world. In this other post, I share more tips to use Couchsurfing to travel the world cheaply.

11. Staying with Friends and Family

Well, now it’s a good 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 trip.

12. Being a Vagrant

Although it is not recommended for many reasons (and on top of the list is security), many laid-back travelers choose to pass a night or two as vagrant around the city.

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).

Sleeping on the Sidewalk
Sleeping on the sidewalk with some friends I met that day.

Most of the time I do this is 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 on a regular basis, but it saves money if you’re really short on cash.

These are some of the most common accommodation options out there. What do you think, which is the best one for your trip style and budget?

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