I’m a big proponent of staying in hostels and small guesthouses. I like the communal aspect, the shared dining, and the ability to swap advice and share stories. (Plus hostels can be clean! Just look at the photo of this one I found in Lisbon.)
However, hostels aren’t the only way to save on accommodations. Here are a few ideas that don’t include a bunk bed:
Get in touch with those long lost relatives
Everyone has at least one long lost relative that lives in some really exotic sounding part of the world like Zanzibar, Palikir, or Addis Ababa. You know, that uncle who took a year long sabbatical from his corporate job and then never returned… Yeah, the one that now goes barefoot everywhere. Phone him up! Or maybe drop him an email, that might be a little less intrusive. Suuure, he’s down to host you and your buddies for a few weeks? What else is he doing in Palikir anyway if not providing you with a great pullout couch in…Micronesia!
Fortunately for me, I don’t have to call in favours from long lost relatives because the ones I’m close with already live in some pretty great cities like Rio de Janeiro. Beachfront apartment?! Pshaaaw, don’t mind if I do. Sometimes I think I overstay my welcome, but what’s five weeks with family right?! I mean, I’m South American, I’m supposed to overstay my welcome by three months anyway…
This option involves staying and working with locals. WOOFING is an exchange where you work between 4-6 hours a day on a local organic farm, and in return the host family provides you with food and accommodations. Your daily chores could involve sowing seeds, making wine, milking cows, or harvesting black pearls. Think of this as a job and not a way to get a freebie on accommodations – you’re essentially there to work, and it also helps to have an interest in sustainable farming practices.
Camping on a stranger’s lawn
Yes, apparently this is a real thing! “Camp in my Garden” is exactly what it sounds like; you pitch your tent on a kind stranger’s garden and make yourself at home. Services like these are quickly gaining popularity across parts of Europe and the UK, and according to CNN garden camping is the new ‘it thing’. Personally, I think this particular option comes in handy if there is a summer festival or concert taking place in the outskirts of town and accommodations have completely booked up, but aside from that, I prefer the comforts of a real room even if it’s bunk beds wall to wall. But hey, if you’re ever looking for a yard in Hawaii, those are out there!
Crash with friends
…and then return the favour. My parent’s home back in Canada is affectionately referred to as ‘Hotel Bergner’ because of the number of friends that my sisters and I receive from overseas. Friends from Germany, England, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Argentina, and the United States. We seem to befriend a very international crowd, but that also means we’ve had lots of places to crash when we’ve travelled abroad.
House-swap or house-sit
The first time I heard about such a thing was in the movie The Holiday. You know, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swap properties; a cozy English cottage for a luxurious LA apartment, Jude Law walks into the picture, and then so does Jack Black, everyone falls in love…
If you’re a property owner (which I am not) swapping houses sounds like potentially interesting experience. And if you’re not a property owner, then house-sitting is another idea. I must admit, I kind of like the sound of making myself at home in a total stranger’s house…
This word gets tossed around whenever you mention cheap travel. I personally haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet because I’ve often found that I either know people in the cities that I’m passing through, or I’ve been able to find some really good hostels. However, if you’re looking for more than just a free place to crash and would actually like to connect with locals and discover a side of the city you normally wouldn’t have, this seems like the way to go.
Scour the internet for deals
For travel to Europe and the UK consider using online vouchers which give you discounts when you book your accommodations in advance – like get 1 night free with this deal. This could mean you save money on your stay, or you can splurge on a hotel that would normally be a bit out of budget and get it at a reasonable price.
And the last resort…
Sleeping at the airport / bus / train terminal. I know this sounds totally cheap, but when you’re at the end of that trip and have nothing but a few dollars left to your name, the idea of paying for a room when you’ll have to run out of there at 4 in the morning doesn’t sound all that appealing. Why not go to the airport or train station the night before to catch that early morning ride?
How do you like to save money of accommodations?