Whoever said you can’t travel without being rich, obviously never tried. Sure, traveling can be expensive, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. We love traveling! It gives us that extra bit of life and we’re certain you know what we mean when we say that. And budget accommodation is one of the most essential keys to cheap travel!
First off. Let us tell you this before you think otherwise, we don’t have cash to splurge when traveling. You can’t categorize us amongst the ‘quit our 9-5 job’ and sold our house to travel the world (meaning we don’t have some huge saving accounts somewhere, we wish). And the cool thing is unless you want to solemnly stay in 5* hotels and eat 3* food, you don’t need to have a 5-figure bank balance to travel. You don’t even need a 4-figure balance (really!).
What you do need is some patience and perseverance to research the best deals, willingness to say yes to quirky adventures and to be open to stepping out of your comfort zone.
Let’s be on the same page concerning the main expenses one makes when traveling (aside from any costs you might be making back home)
- the actual traveling (transportation and the likes) i.e. plane tickets, buses, trains, taxis etc.
- accommodation hotel, hostel, guesthouse, dorm etc.
- food and drinks
- (entrance fees for certain tourist spots)
All other expenses are extra’s, sure they might make the travel more comfortable (foot massages mmmm) but they also make the trip more expensive. Our method, we’re not going to call it our secret – cause honestly, it’s just being smart – is to find ways to make these basic expenses as minimal as possible when traveling on a tight budget.
Today we want to share with you a few deal breakers when it comes to cheap, free and budget accommodation. Somethings might be so logical you’ll want to facepalm yourself as to why you never realized this sooner. You can thank us later.
We won’t have you wait any longer, here are our methods to cheap(er) accommodation whilst traveling the world.
You might also like: The best methods to earn cash on the road.
Research the destination. Is it budget friendly?
Let’s start with the obvious but sneaky one. There can be a HUGE difference in the price of accommodations (and all the other expenses) just depending on the country you’re visiting. A bed in a dormitory in Iceland might just be 10 times the price of a dorm bed in Thailand.
All we can say, if you need to keep an eye out on your budget you’ll want to do some pre-research to the destination you’d like to travel to. Sometimes you just need to approach some expenses differently (we’ll discuss this in a bit) and sometimes you’ll just need to be responsible and shove that destination to a different time in the future.
Don’t be disappointed if you have to do that. You can trust our word when we say that the world has sooooo many amazing places yet to be discovered. There are literally countless destinations where you can eat your travelers heart out.
Where-ever you go, there will be free things you can do. Looking for some inspiration? Check our post on free activities you can do anywhere.
Travel low season and not during local holidays
This one also requires that tad bit of research. For cheaper accommodation traveling in low-season makes sense. Tourism is a season-based economy. Prices will spike when the weather is at its peak, and logically the price will lower when hotels and hostels aren’t fully booked in low-season. Having guests is better than having no guests at all, right?
Then, if we had the words to explain to you how frustrating it can be to travel during a local country’s holiday we would. It can be super fun too if you have the opportunity to celebrate it with locals omg. But if not, things tend to more difficult than usual and they tend to be way more expensive.
Difficult and frustrating how? Shops closed, hostels closed and only the opportunity is to stay in overpriced resorts or ghost hotels (this happened to us in North India). Or how about over-booked, over-priced and over-crowded trains/busses/hotels (hello every Chinese festival).
As you can read, it has happened a couple of times to us and if we can manage our travels to avoid certain dates. We will. #justsaying
Need more reason to travel in low season? True story: We traveled through the Palawan Island (the Philippines) in low-season and had a complete resort to ourselves (including a private beach). And honestly, those couple of rainstorms did not make the trip less worth it. It made it mysterious, adventurous and inexpensive. Triple win.
Ask the locals how they find their budget accommodation or ask them to help you find one
This one is highly recommended. If you find hostel X for $7, most likely a local can book that same dorm bed through a local app for at least 75% of that price or lower (This is more valid in the non-English speaking countries). Tourism is a money-making business, so yes when they can add a couple of bucks (for the unknowing-spending-tourist) here and there, they will.
How? Smile and just ask, you’ll be surprised how helpful people are. You can take it a notch further by asking a local if they maybe know someone or a place where you can stay for a cheap price.
True story: we were traveling through northern Vietnam and wanted to visit the Halong Bay area, ideally stay on one of the hundred small remote islands or on a raft. Online you could book a cute (but simple) lodge on one of these ‘tourist/party’ islands for the price of 4/5* hotel.
What did we do? We approached a lady at the shoreline (it was obvious she had her own boat), showed her picture of a local fisherman raft and were using body language to explain that we wanted to sleep on a raft like that and if she knew someone… She took out her Nokia 3310 (badass!) rang a friend, and we managed to make a deal to stay on a raft (we had a floating private room with a fan) with dinner and breakfast (on the raft) + a private tour to other islands on her boat + pick-up and drop-off for $18 for two people! BEST DEAL EVER!
Oh, and there was no Wifi (heaven) and illuminating plankton! Yaaaaay!
Use the referral options within your booking service
We feel this guide to budget accommodation wouldn’t be complete without adding this tip. Why? Because we’ve been able to have a few free or dirt-cheap stays due to this.
How does it work? It’s pretty easy, if you have an account at one of the bigger booking agencies, like booking.com they provide you a personal link. If one of your friends uses that link to sign up, you (or even both of you) get either credit or discount. Awesome!
For example, due to our account, we can offer you the following deal: if you use this link to book (and stay) at an accommodation through booking.com you and us both will receive a reward of $29 USD / €25 EUR. That amount can easily pay for a couple of nights at a cheap hostel. Awesome right?
We love AirBnb. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it definitely has a wide variety budget-wise and in some places, it does have cheaper and more authentic options. We’ve hosted our own AirBnb room and it was such a joy. It was a creative way to earn money and to meet travelers from around the world.
Whenever we have the possibility to host again, we would!
AirBnb also has a great referral platform with which you earn travel credit that pays real accommodation.
If you use this link when booking a trip that equals or is more than $75 USD / €65 EUR you get a credit/discount of $29 USD / €25 EUR! (That’s a booming 38% discount!) In return, we also get some travel credit we can use with our next Airbnb booking (as a thank you gesture for referring you). Once you have an account, you can do the same!
If you are traveling with a larger group AirBnb’s tend to be way more budget friendly. You can save a lot by splitting the bill.
In the US, VRBO seems to be the most popular house rental service. We personally don’t have any experience using their services, but if you are traveling in that area (definitely if you are with a group) you might want to check it out for a more affordable accommodation.
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What’s better than cheap accommodation? Free accommodation! What’s better than traveling alone? Making new friends with locals! It doesn’t get more budget accommodation friendly than this.
If you agree with the above statement. Then joining the couch surfing community is something you will want to do. CouchSurfing is a hospitality and social networking service whose slogan is: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers. The community is so big that the chances are very high that the place you’re visiting (and definitely the more expensive/bigger cities) will have some CouchSurfing possibilities.
Make sure you get in touch with the hosts in time so you can arrange something that works for both of you. Furthermore, we highly recommend you opening your house to travelers in your own hometown when you are not traveling.
Why? To not only get accustomed to how it rolls (it’s more than just offering a bed and a shower) but also to acquire some reviews and what I like to call community-member-credit. Like in every healthy relationship it’s about giving and taking. You can’t just take free accommodation but never give back, right? (It doesn’t have to be a fulltime thing, you can also open your home to receiving guests 2 nights a week)
Become a House Sitter
Does CouchSurfing make your social being feel a bit anxious? But you’d still like to have close to free accommodation? No worries, I got your back. Maybe house sitting is more your piece of cake. That being said, it’s not as flexible (and initially easy) as CouchSurfing.
House-sitting is like babysitting but then a house. In a lot of the cases, they also ask you to take care of their pooch or feline. In return, you get to stay in their house for free, a-ma-zing! Ok ok, for if you didn’t know yet, we are huge animal lovers so having to take care of a cat or dog just makes us happier than we’d usually be.
That being said, every day new offers come online. Keep an eye out for destinations that are on your bucket list. Some are looking for sitters for a week or two, some longer.
Our tip is to make sure to have a clean and trustworthy profile. People check who is going to stay in their house. Write about yourself. Choose a trustworthy profile picture. Tell them why you want to house sit and why they should choose you (because you are responsible, clean, available, you volunteered in an animal shelter etc.).
As accommodation can be a huge part of the budget, sitting a house for a while (whilst maybe doing some online work, exploring the local area and cooking for yourself) can make traveling all of sudden SUPER affordable.
You will need to pay an initial yearly membership, which – fair enough – is to guarantee only serious and committed people/travelers join. If you travel full time (meaning you don’t have your own house back home) we would say a membership is definitely something to consider. If not, weigh out the pros and cons and decide if it’s going to be worth it.
And we’re back to the traditional hotels, hostels and the like.
When we say negotiate, we really mean negotiate. You can do this at any hostel, hotel big and small. Stay friendly, smile, make jokes and reveal your inner higgler.
When you’re traveling in low-season (and not during a local holiday), chances are in your favor that they (the hotels and hostels) will have (a lot of) open vacancies. Have a chat and ask them what their best deal is. Maybe you can cut off breakfast but add another night for a discounted price. Or add breakfast, or upgrade the room, or, or, or. Get creative and put on that negotiating cap.
Small wins are wins nonetheless!
Need some mindset motivation to rock that boss within you? Check out Nomadsoulzz positive affirmations for the creative entrepreneur.
Good ol’ camping. Remember we spoke about Iceland being too expensive earlier on? Visit it during summer or spring and camp! You will reduce the expenses tremendously! Investing a tent (buy one second-hand) will be worth it if you only have to pay a minimum fee for a campsite compared to an overcharged ho(s)tel.
With a bit of luck and/or guts you’ll even find a free campsite (someone’s garden (ask!), the mountains… the world is your playground baby) Also, you can totally use that same tent when you are travelling to other more expensive countries where camping will be much cheaper than anything else.
Travel overnight (sleeper buses, overnight train, etc.)
We’ll admit it’s not the most comfortable choice but if we’re talking cheap – what we are – this one has to be on the list. It makes total sense, paying one fee for both travel and a place to sleep will save you money.
Opening your eyes to be in a whole new place, like waking up in a dream.
Call a spade by a spade > the secret of budget accommodation
For those who aren’t familiar with the above expression. It is a figurative expression which refers to calling something “as it is”, that is, by its right or proper name.
Why is this a tip? It might sound silly but you might just be searching for the wrong accommodation form, or at least, by its wrong name.
Hotel and hostel are pretty well-known. But did you know that when you are in Vietnam you’ll be wanting to keep an eye for homestays and in India for dharamshalas (the cheapest kind of hostel run by religious establishments)? Every place has their own typical spades, do your research and be the winner at poker (lol).
We hope this list has inspired and proven to you that it’s possible to cut the costs (quite enormously) when it comes to accommodation expenses. Be smart, do your research and explore all options. Enjoy the beauty that this planet has to offer.
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