Looking for where to stay is one of the biggest struggles that we face as travelers because it makes up a huge part of our expenses. Reducing the cost of accommodation is also important as it can help you to travel more!
That being said, it is definitely possible to find a decent place that fits within your budget.
So, here’s various ways for finding affordable accommodation while traveling and living abroad.
You can usually find free lodging through hospitality exchange websites, which match you with a local host, depending on the dates and destination of your travels and his or her preference and schedules.
Couchsurfing is an amazing platform that provides you the opportunity to stay with a local host (for free). In this sense, not only do you save money on accommodation but you also get to engage in cultural exchange with your hosts and learn more about their culture, experiences and way of life.
Having been a member of CS for over 5 years, I have not only hosted a couple of travelers from all over the world but also managed to stay with local hosts in 8 countries. Some of the hosts I ended up staying with were the same people I hosted in Vancouver before my trip! This may sound surprising but I know half of my circle of friends thanks to CS!
Registration is pretty easy and straightforward. All you need to do is:
1. Register for an account on CS
2. Complete your profile
3. Upload your pictures – having more than one clear picture would not only prove that you’re a real person but may also showcase your personality
4. Make sure your profile is verified either by your phone number, mailing address or with a credit card – this is also to ensure that your profile is a real and valid one!
Although CS is a great way of getting free accommodation, hospitality exchange with your hosts is and should still ultimately be part of your purpose behind staying with them.
Also, while sending out couch requests, it is very important to read through the hosts’ profiles as some of them may require guests to know certain things about and agree with the house rules and may even have some traits that they look for in potential guests. For instance, some hosts prefer to host guests that stay for a longer period of time or contribute to household chores.
I have personally heard about experiences of friends and other travelers whose couch requests were declined because apparently they “merely wrote generic requests” and “didn’t read my profile carefully.”
Having positive references will help to get more responses from potential hosts as they would then have a much better idea of how you are as a person before deciding whether to offer you a couch. So after you have hosted or stayed with someone, take the initiative to write a reference for him and also kindly ask him to write one for you as well.
Aside from free accommodation, you get tips from locals on the CS forum and opportunities to go to local events and parties!
Like Couchsurfing’s case, Hospitality Club (HC) is established on the basis of cultural exchange, and registration for a HC account and access to all features are free. It may not have the most appealing user interface but this is easily made up for by a pretty active and engaged community (especially in Europe) so chances are you will get responses from potential hosts.
The website can also be translated into over 30 languages as seen in the image above.
Like CS, Staydu provides you the opportunity to stay with local hosts and thus forge meaningful connections and long-lasting friendships.
However, you get to choose between 3 types of hosts to stay with:
- Those who host voluntarily for free (blue circle)
- Those who host in return for your help such as farming work and au pair (red circle)
- Those who require you to pay for accommodation and electricity (yellow circle)
Not only do you get to stay with a local host but travel advice on the Staydu forum and the opportunity to connect with potential travel buddies are available as well.
Other hospitality exchange and social networking sites worth checking out are:
Just as the name itself suggests, this site is meant for free accommodation for potential guests. It is designed in such a way that you save time by just sending a mass accommodation request to all the hosts you’re interested in reaching out to simultaneously.
Unlike Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club, Globalfreeloaders doesn’t have the grand vision of hospitality and cultural exchange between hosts and guests. It would probably be a great resource to consider after you have exhausted your efforts on the former two websites.
On TalkTalkbnb, you get hosted by a local for free in exchange for teaching him or her your native language.
Many locals host travelers for free and in some cases, provide meals in exchange for their help. Volunteer work opportunities include but are not limited to:
- Running the hostel
- Farm work
- Maintenance work
- Teaching languages
- Tech-related help
- Household chores
Your host family may include you as part of their own trips or show you around their city, so volunteer work sites, like hospitality exchange ones, are also great ways of knowing and immersing yourself in the local culture!
The general arrangement for Workaway members is to work 5 hours a day for 5 days a week (though this may differ from host to host) in exchange for free accommodation and food.
To gain access to all features of the website, you need to pay USD 29 (as an individual) or USD 38 (for couples or two friends traveling together) each year.
However, you would still be able to browse through the list of hosts for free before deciding if you want to pay for membership.
Helpx works similarly to Workaway in the sense that you can look through the host listings for free before deciding whether to pay the 2-year membership fee (20 Euros for each traveller).
The basic arrangement is about 4 hours per day for free lodging and food.
Since it’s free to browse through the host listings on both websites, it gives you a better idea of which one you would prefer before paying for just either one of the two memberships.
ONLINE ACCOMMODATION BOOKING SITES
This may sound very obvious but they tend to offer much more affordable accommodation options as compared to booking directly with the hotels or apartments. So booking through these sites will help you to save more money in the long term.
Also, as far as budget is concerned, some of these booking sites are, in my opinion, better than others though all of them serve the same function of allowing travelers to book affordable accommodation.
In general, these websites offer a wide range of accommodation such as hostels, hotels and apartments and allow you to find your ideal or cheap ones easily by just selecting all the features (such as the price range, laundry facilities and 24-hour reception) you look for in a room.
Booking.com is by far my top favourite and I usually start with it for looking for accommodation options. Here’s why:
- Comprehensive filter system
Although all accommodation booking sites allow you to find your ideal accommodation based on your criteria, booking.com takes it to another level by including extra features such as proximity to landmarks and district area.
This will allow you to save money on transportation since you can probably just walk from your hostel to the sightseeing point.
- Free cancellation option
This allows you to book your accommodation first to take advantage of the deal without having your credit card charged. You can still cancel your booking until a particular date given if you manage to find a better deal.
Because of this feature, I was able to get the best deal of all accommodation bookings made while living in Spain last November.
- Instant notifications
Accommodations that are either very cheap or provide good value for money are usually the ones that are fully booked pretty fast. So it definitely helps to have notifications highlighted in red for hostels that are almost fully booked: “in high demand!,” “only 1 room left!” Also, you will get notified immediately whenever there are people who are also looking at the same accommodation that you’re interested. These notifications will give you the sense of urgency you need to lock in the deal before it’s too late!
- Ratings and reviews
They give travelers a much better idea of what each accommodation is like before deciding which one to book. This is important because while your main concern might be budget, reviews help you to make an informed decision based on other factors such as safety and facilities that you need as well.
You will probably be better off avoiding super duper cheap hostels that are located in sketchy areas.
If you’re looking for an alternative or a site to compare to Airbnb, or planning to travel to Asia, Agoda.com would be a great choice.
It offers special discounts for accommodation in Asia from time to time. For example, I saw a hostel that’s located in one of the trendiest areas (Shinjuku) in Tokyo that costs as cheap as $15 a night for the month of August.
The option of free cancellation is also available for some listings though there may be an extra fee for such service.
Other accommodation booking websites you should also check out are:
SHORT-TERM & VACATION RENTALS
If you’re the kind of person that prefers to have your own privacy while trying to travel on a budget, short-term and vacation rental options are probably the way to go.
Not only are they cheaper alternatives to hotels and apartments but they could also be just as affordable as some hostels (especially if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of convenience such as living further away from the city or without the additional amenities that the higher-priced accommodation options offer).
AirBnB has not only become one of the most popular short-term accommodation booking sites in the world but is also easily my top favorite. These are why:
- Great alternative to Couchsurfing and other free accommodation platforms
When all else fails, at least we have AirBnB to fall back on. It might not be the cheapest option but rates for each night are affordable compared to hotels for the most part.
- Weekly and monthly discounts
This is another major reason for my loyalty to AirBnB as a guest. Many hosts offer huge discounts to those who book a stay that lasts for at least a week or a month.
By taking advantage of the discount for doing long-term stays at an AirBnB listing, you could even save more money than staying at a hostel!
- Referral system
That means more money for traveling!
Basically you just need to refer a friend to AirBnB. Once he has completed his first reservation either as a guest or a host, you earn free travel credits, which can be used for your new reservation while traveling.
This system allows you to earn up to $5,000 USD of travel credit in total. That means accumulating at least 150 nights of stay at the hostel!
- Offers privacy
If you need some privacy and space to do your own things and plan your own activities, living in a shared or private room booked through AirBnB would be a good choice.
- Conflict resolution system
In case there are any misunderstanding or confrontation between you and your host, the AirBnB Resolution team is there to investigate the issue and assess the situation carefully before coming to a final solution. Common issues include inaccuracy of listings and requests for refunds from hosts.
- Forging lasting friendships
Because of AirBnB, two travelers from France and Germany have been my great buddies even now. They hosted me during my trip to Paris and Bavaria last winter season!
- Saving on eating and drinking outside
More often than not, your AirBnB accommodation includes a kitchen so you can get the groceries and cook and drink at home instead of spending more money dining outside. Who knows, but your host may even want to cook and share a meal with you!
Do check out other short-term rental options too:
You save on booking fees and get access to travel insurance.
It is great for making comparisons between various short-term rental sites simultaneously and easy to navigate. Also, you get to sign up for alerts on accommodation deals in your destination.
It gives you the added sense of security with its comprehensive verification system. For instance, hosts need to be verified and you will be provided a six-digit code to be shown to your host upon check-in.
ASK YOUR FOREIGN FRIENDS FOR ADVICE AND HELP
Reach out to your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Couchsurfing or any other social networking site you are on, and ask if they could host on the dates of your travels. Even if you guys may not be on very close terms or you don’t think they may be available to host, give it a try nonetheless! It never hurts to ask.
If they are, by chance, able to host, you can always do the favor of hosting them in the future.
A Japanese friend I met briefly from a language conversation event in Vancouver hosted me at his place in Kyoto for over two weeks last summer. It really helped me save a substantial amount of money for my trip in Japan and Korea!
Even if they really can’t host, they may be able to give some tips on affordable or free accommodation in their countries.
If you love or don’t mind doing farm work or have always wanted to experience the rural lifestyle, farmstays will be right for you! Depending on the farm itself, accommodation could be pretty basic or very comfortable.
Not only do they provide free or affordable accommodation but you also get to learn a lot from the farm work. Typical tasks include but are not limited to:
- Spinning wool
- Sustainable farming
- Caring for the animals
- Gardening chores
- Maple sugaring
As part of your farmstay, you might get invitations to take part in activities organized by your hosts or advice on how to get around the surrounding area.
For more information on farmstay opportunities across the world, check these out:
It is a way of life whereby the owner of the house provides you (the entrusted person) with free accommodation (while he is away) in exchange for your responsibilities such as:
- Household chores
- Looking after his pets
- Keeping trespassers away from the property
- Carrying out the day-to-day general maintenance duties
All you need to do is to pay a small membership fee for unlimited benefits (which includes contacting the owners). You can still browse through the list of housesitting opportunities for free before paying for the membership fee though!
Some of the popular ones are:
- Great for pet lovers as your free lodging is provided in exchange for taking care of the owners’ pets
- Over 300 new housesitting assignments each month
- Easy to navigate
- Daily email notification system in place to inform you about new opportunities from the last 24 hours
- ID verifications and criminal background checks are required for sitters
- 1-year membership costs $11.58 per month (with no additional or hidden fees)
- Annual membership – $20 USD (definitely one of the cheapest fees around!)
- Free of charge to join, browse through listings and receive housesitting alerts
- $50 CAD annual membership fee
- You have the choice to stop over at another destination and housesit there (usually for a night or two) before traveling to your final one
- Membership is either free (with limited access), $35 USD for 3 months or $89 USD for a year. Fees are also listed in Euros and Australian dollars
- Membership fee of $40
- Choice to receive emails or text messages about new housesitting opportunities
- $25 annual membership fee
RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION SITES
Ever thought of experiencing a different lifestyle or environment while traveling?
Try staying in a religious site such as a monastery or church! You may be glad to know that generally accommodation at such places could be pretty cheap (even more so than some hostels) or dependent on only donations.
Every religious site has different requirements and expectations from travelers but some of the things you generally need to know about staying there are:
- The need to maintain and observe the silence (so that also means to make it a point to keep your cellphone on silent mode!)
- Some monasteries and temples provide only vegetarian meals. So you will need to make do with it or cook on your own
- Credit or debit card payment is not necessarily accepted, so it’s safer to bring some cash along
- You might need to bring your own sleeping bag, water bottle and other necessities (as some monasteries or temples don’t actually provide a bed itself and may only offer water during meal times)
- Be respectful towards their religion (regardless of what yours is)
- You are not expected to participate in their religious activities and routines
- The ones in Asia are especially catered towards travellers who want to get into the practice of meditation, study Buddhism, ordain as a monk for short periods of time or just immerse themselves in the religion a little more. Then again, it’s not necessary to take part in their religious activities and practices
Here’s the resources you may need for accommodation (especially in countries like India, Nepal, Scotland and Thailand):
Your accommodation makes up a huge portion of your travel expenses, and there is no way to avoid that. But, that will definitely not stop you from traveling! At least you can save a lot of money on accommodation by checking out and using one of these resources listed here!
So, give yourself enough time to plan and do research on them before embarking on your travels! You can also check out the Resources page for a list of recommended sources for finding accommodation.