How to NOT Spend Your Life Savings on Travel Accommodations
Traveling can be expensive. Like, crazy expensive. Especially if you don’t do your research. People ask me all of the time how I’ve managed to travel around the world, and assume that I must be getting some type of financial help – but that’s not the case.
I’ve learned how to travel smart, and I’ve made it work for me. My first two years working in Spain I was only making 300 euros a month (pathetic, I know)… and yet I visited 10 countries during that time.
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is the cost of where you’ll sleep – which, to me, is the least important part of the trip. Sure, if you’re on your honeymoon or on a romantic getaway, it can be nice to have a lovely room or apartment to stay in because you’ll be spending a lot of time there. But if you’re like me, when I travel to a new city or country, I try to stay out of my room as much as possible so that I can really get to know the area. I literally am only there to sleep. So why does it matter if the room is fantastic?
Of course, each person is different. Some people require higher levels of comfort and a minimum number of stars with a brand name hotel or resort. If that’s you, perhaps this article isn’t for you.
But, if you’re looking for some good ways to save money, and aren’t super picky with your accommodations (don’t get me wrong, you can still find super nice places to stay using my advice below), you can save a lot of money using the following sites:
1. Find amazing rooms or even entire apartments on Airbnb.
This is definitely my go-to site whenever I’m planning a trip. If you spend some time comparing your options, you can almost always find a cheap yet clean and sometimes even super stylish room or apartment in your city of choice (sometimes even better than a hotel!).
It isn’t always the cheapest option available, but you have to evaluate your needs on every trip and see if a little bit of extra money is worth it for you. It becomes even more affordable if you travel with friends or family, because you can share the cost (be careful that when you make a reservation, you say exactly how many people will be staying there, the cost can sometimes change a bit depending on the number of people).
When I was traveling alone or with a friend or two, I’d generally find a cheap hostel to stay in (see #2 below) because I didn’t need anything fancy and it was a great way to meet fellow travelers. When my now-husband then-boyfriend and I began traveling together, we’d pitch in a little bit of extra money and get a private room using Airbnb, and then realized it would only be slightly more money to have an entire apartment to ourselves. Now that is the only way we travel.
If you opt to only rent a room in someone’s house, you need to keep in mind that the owner/family will probably be there a lot of the time, and you need to be respectful of their space and property. I’ll admit that a couple of the times we stayed in a room, we felt a little bit awkward or as if we were walking on eggshells around the rest of the family. Don’t get me wrong, all of our experiences were lovely and we met a lot of great hosts, but you have to bear this in mind before you go. If you’re looking to party or stay up late, Airbnb is not for you.
Another bonus of Airbnb is that it is quite common to have access to a kitchen, and this can save you a lot of money as well. You can go to the grocery store and buy food items for breakfast, snacks, etc and have a fridge to keep things cool. But, of course, for me half of the fun is going out to different restaurants and cafes, so this isn’t a useful addition for some travelers.
- can have an entire apartment to yourself
- kitchen, so you can save money and cook for yourself
- sometimes you have access to washing machines/dryers
- you can get some good advice and ideas on things to do from a local person (your host)
- if you opt for a room, you don’t have as much privacy
- can be a little more expensive than other options
- you’re staying in someone’s house/apartment, and therefore need to treat it with more care and respect than if you were staying in a hostel/hotel
- it isn’t as easy to meet other travelers
If you decide to try out Airbnb for the first time, sign up here. You will get a 25 euro travel credit to go on your first trip! You can sign in with Facebook, Google or another email. You need to provide a photo, an “about me” and some verification of your identity (such as your passport or ID). It may seem a little strange at first, but it makes sense – if you stay in a hostel or a hotel, they also need to see ID. It is super simple to sign up, and you can start searching for places to stay right away!
2. Stay in a hostel.
If you’re from Europe, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “well, duh.” It is super common for young people to stay in hostels throughout Europe because they’re super cheap and you can find them in abundance in almost every city. But if you’re a fellow American, this might be slightly out of your comfort zone – we don’t even really have hostels in America, and those that I’ve seen were awful and overpriced. Then add on top of that the 3 “Hostel” horror movies… it’s enough to make you swear off ever staying in a hostel.
I remember I was terrified of staying in a hostel for the first time (read about my experience on my old blog here). In fact, my first experience wasn’t fantastic, but hey… it was eye opening. But hey, at least I didn’t die (movie reference)! You just have to be prepared for it, especially if it is your first time. Check out my tips for first-timers at a hostel here (coming soon).
Hostels are especially great if you’re travelling with friends. For example, if you are traveling with 3 other friends, it is super common for hostels to have a room with 4 beds, so you can reserve all 4 and in that way you don’t have to worry about sharing a room with strangers. To be safe, always email the hostel to be clear that you want all 4 beds together, in the same room!
Staying in a hostel can also be a good option for solo travelers, because it helps you meet people. They often hold events or tours so that you can get to know other travelers, or even organize outings together so that you don’t feel so alone. I’ve met a lot of great people this way!
- almost always one of the cheapest accommodations available
- sometimes there is breakfast included (or for a very small fee)
- there’s generally many hostel options available in every city
- they can provide you maps and other useful information
- they often hold social events and tours
- not a lot of privacy
- sometimes not the cleanest or most comfortable (always check reviews!)
- you never know who you’ll be stuck in a room with, and sometimes people aren’t very considerate
- noise from roommates or nearby rooms
If you decide to stay in hostels, I recommend the sites HostelWorld and Hostels.com. I’ve used both of these sites many times, and find it very useful when comparing various hostels. They make it easy to compare prices and reviews, and to visualize where in the city they are located.
3. Find locally owned hotels.
If you have a little bit of extra money to spare and want more comfort/privacy, you can stay in a local hotel. These hotels are generally cheaper than big, name-brand hotels and resorts but can still offer the same comfort. It is also very common for them to provide breakfast and tours.
My favorite website for booking hotels is Booking.com! They make it easy to compare prices, reviews, and amenities, and have discounts all the time. If you’re planning your trip last minute, they often provide even more discounts! If you’re planning your trip more in advance, they generally offer free cancellation 24 hours in advance and don’t charge you until you arrive, which can be nice in case your plans change. It is free to sign up.
- cheaper than big brand hotels
- often provide breakfast, maps, tours, airport shuttles, etc
- easy to book (and cancel, if need be)
- amenities (if you’re lucky a pool, restaurant, etc)
- more expensive than a hostel
4. Try out couchsurfing.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find free accommodations on CouchSurfing.com. Yes, I said free. This option definitely isn’t for everyone, though. The idea of the site is for local people who have extra space in their homes (whether that be a couch or extra bed) to invite travelers to come and stay with them for free. These are generally people who enjoy meeting people from other cultures and who enjoy exchanging stories and advice.
If you’re staying in a place for more than a couple days and would like to see and learn about the city from a local’s perspective, this is a great option. But if you’re only staying for a day or two and plan to be out exploring all day, perhaps you’re better off paying for a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb. Hosts on CouchSurfing don’t like to be treated like a hotel, and are generally only offering you a place to stay in exchange for some quality company.
Of course, you also have to feel confident and be smart about staying with strangers. I’ve personally never done this option, but not because I haven’t tried (hosts just weren’t available during the times I was travelling). If you’re a carefree, easygoing spirit, give it a try and let me know how it goes for you! I’ve had friends who have done this and said it was one of their favorite travel experiences, so definitely don’t knock it until you try it.
- great way to meet people
- local’s perspective and advice
- sometimes can be difficult to find a willing host during specific dates
- you have to expect to spend time with your host, not just crash on their couch and leave