If you’re traveling on a budget, you will want to avoid hotels at all costs (see what I did there?). Instead, look for the cheapest accommodation possible, and save your (very limited) money for a tourist attraction or two.
I’m personally a fiend for hostels (cheaper, stingier versions of hotels…except so much better). And I’m always down for free accommodation through Couchsurfing.
But these are only 2 out of 8 options that you have for cheap (or totally FREE) accommodations.
Check out my handy dandy list below, and decide which accommodation speaks to you (and your wallet)!
Finding the Cheapest Accommodation Possible
ACCOMMODATION FOR FREE
Couchsurfing is a type of hospitality exchange. There are Couchsurfers, and there are hosts. Couchsurfers are looking for a place to stay, and hosts, accordingly, provide that place to stay.
And for the most part, your host will show you their corner of whatever city you’re traveling in. Imagine the insight you’d be gaining!
If you’re interested in Couchsurfing, head over to The Ultimate Guide to Traveling for Free, where I talk more in depth about creating a trustworthy profile on the website, finding a credible host, and requesting said host.
NOTE: Just because it’s called COUCHsurfing doesn’t automatically mean you’re sleeping on the couch.
There are several hosts who provide an extra, private room for you (which is something you can specifically search for on the website).
2. House Sitting
Have you ever slept over someone’s house to babysit their kids? This is the same thing, except take away the kids (and probably add a pet and/or plant).
Or, if you’ve never babysat before, you can also compare house sitting to Couchsurfing. Except replace the host with said pet and/or plant.
Yeah, that really happens.
There are people who will allow you to stay in their house for free, likely because they’re going on vacation.
In fact, you’re doing a service for them, because you’re making sure that their pets and/or plants survive, that the house stays clean, etc.
But you don’t usually get paid, because free accommodation.
Again, I talk more in depth about how to increase your chances of finding a house in need of a sitter in The Ultimate Guide to Traveling for Free.
3. Home Exchange
Similar to house sitting, you can stay in someone else’s house for free. But at the same time, they will be staying in your house.
Simply join a home exchange website (for example HomeExchange), create a listing for your house, and search for another home that you’d like to do an exchange with.
You can send an inquiry (which by no means is a final commitment) to potential matches. Then, if all goes well and both of you would like to exchange homes, you will sign a digital agreement.
While this can seem sketchy, you want to remember that the people doing this are trusting you with their homes as well. Golden Rule 101.
Of course, this means you’d need a house to be exchanged in the first place.
NOTE: There is a 14-day trial period, and then the cost for a full membership on HomeExchange is $150 a year.
I strongly advise that you determine how much you’re actually going to use this exchange before shelling out that amount of money.
4. Stay in a Monastery
Yes, I said monastery.
There are monasteries around the world that allow you to stay in them.
You can’t really expect much luxury (after all, it’s supposed to be devoid of worldly desire). But your room will likely come equipped with a bed and desk.
And you can eat simple meals that the monks and nuns (who actually live there) have prepared for you.
While there are several monasteries that are a bit pricy, you can also find some that are free, or that ask for donations. (Nothing wrong with paying what your budget allows.)
Also important to note: Monasteries are usually rather quiet, and often have a curfew.
To be blunt, if you don’t think you can be respectful of the monastery and/or its rules while you’re there, you should really just go a different route.
And if you’re still interested in staying in a monastery, you can check out Monastery Stays for listings.
5. Hotel (with Points)
I know, I know. I started this whole post telling you to avoid hotels.
Hence the parentheses.
There are certain programs that will allow you to earn hotel points, which you can then cash in for free nights at hotels.
And the best part? You don’t necessarily have to spend more money to earn these points.
Just look at Nomadic Matt, a travel hacking fiend, who earns 1 million frequent flier miles PER YEAR.
Here’s a detailed article on how Nomadic Matt uses credit cards, surveys, and more to cash in on HUGE points and get hotels (and flights) for FREE.
ACCOMMODATION FOR CHEAP
6. Farm Stay
Ever heard of WWOOFing? Farm stays are similar to these types of programs, except you’re not obligated to work on the farm.
(I explain WWOOFing in 13 Legit Jobs that Pay You to Travel, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
With a farm stay, you…well…stay on a farm, where you can learn how the farm works, potentially get involved with farm life (i.e. milk a cow), and participate in outdoor activities.
These “activities” will depend on the location of the farm itself, but some examples are water sports, horseback riding, and golfing.
Although WWOOFing is free, farm stays are not (because again, you’re not obligated to work). Prepare to pay similar to a budget hotel or a bed and breakfast (perhaps $40 a night).
Depending on where you’d like to go, here are some farm stay websites:
AirBnB stands for Air Bed and Breakfast (because old-time AirBnB-ers used to sleep on air mattresses).
Now, AirBnB has evolved to something more similar to house sitting and/or Couchsurfing–except it’s not free.
Essentially, there are people who rent out a private room or their whole apartment/house when they’re not there.
Unlike Couchsurfing, the host is not expected to show you around, or even to be present (although more often than not, I’ve found my hosts very helpful when I need an answer to a question).
And unlike house sitting, you’re not expected to watch any pets or plants.
Simply create an account on AirBnB’s website, spend some time making it trustworthy (add a picture and any relevant info), and search for AirBnBs that suit your needs.
(NOTE: You will definitely want to take some time looking through reviews to make sure that it’s not sketchy.)
Once you find a few potential hosts, send out personalized messages through the website, and wait for a response. They should get back to you within a day or two.
If and when a host accepts you, you can pay through the AirBnB website. It’s also common to exchange contact info before your arrival. (This way, you know who to call if you’re going to be late, or if you’re lost.)
Ahh, the (biased) best for last.
Since a lot of my trips are on the spontaneous side, I often don’t have enough time to send out a bunch of Couchsurfing requests, or for potential hosts to even respond to them.
So, I usually end up in hostels.
Sleeping in the same room as 12 other people–in a building with dozens to hundreds of other people–can sound pretty awful.
But I absolutely LOVE it.
You get to meet so many likeminded travelers (who, to this day, remain my long-distance friends), and you can usually find something to do at any hour of the day or night.
(Disclaimer: there are options to sleep in smaller rooms with less people, but these will be more expensive.)
The hostel staff members are super knowledgeable and hand out maps like free candy (which I collect for souvenirs), and depending on the hostel you book, breakfast may be included.
(If you’re at all like me, this means you can cover both breakfast AND lunch with whatever they’re offering. No shame in taking extras.)
To be fair, I’m probably romanticizing the hostel experience a bit.
You will definitely want to invest in an eye mask and earplugs, because 12 people from different time zones with different sleep patterns in one room isn’t going to be the quietest of all places.
And you will certainly want to check out the reviews before booking the place.
To Find a Hostel
I make sure that they have a good rating (shown as a percentage on hostels.com), and then I dig, dig, dig into the reviews.
And if the hostel has no reviews? Then it’s a no go.
Trust me, you don’t want to be the first person to leave a review warning everyone else about the bed bugs.
Use your carefully budgeted money for experiences during your trip, rather than for an overpriced bed.
When it comes to finding the cheapest accommodation possible, look into these options before ever booking a hotel:
- House Sitting
- Home Exchange
- Monastery Stay
- Hotel WITH Points
- Farm Stay
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