Cheap Alternatives to Hotels: Save Money On Lodging!
The most expensive part of travel is often where you rest your head at night. But not to worry, there are plenty of options for inexpensive lodging and accommodations. And it’s not limited to just hostels. Read on to see how to save money on lodging when traveling!
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Through years of traveling and tons of learning through others, we’ve compiled several tips and hacks to make traveling a bit easier and less expensive!
Hotels to Hostels: Travel Lodging Options
Where to Lay Our Heads at Night
Close your eyes and envision someone who’s backpacking across Europe. Of course, the days vary from place to place, but think about the nights and where this person sleeps.
What did you think of?
Most envision an early 20-something moving from hostel to hostel each night.
Next, think of someone older telling you that they’re going to be traveling across Europe for a year, sightseeing, and going on adventures.
What do you think of now? Where are they sleeping?
Likely, you’re thinking of someone in the second half of their life, retired, or on a vacation and they’re probably staying exclusively at hotels.
Not Your Average Couple
Neither one of these describes us fully. We’re in our 30’s and fortunately, a bit more established in life so we can choose where we’ll lodge.
We don’t want to spend tons of money on where we sleep though.
Naturally, we want somewhere safe and comfortable (this is relative of course) to stay. If you think about it, you spend most of your time in the evenings sleeping with your eyes closed and little attention is paid to your surroundings.
Travel adventures and making memories generally happens during the day. So why spend precious dollars on lodging?
We see more value in spending our money on daily adventures and attractions. But saving on lodging doesn’t have to mean hostels.
If you plan ahead, the options can be numerous and even nicer, more comfortable, and more fun than the average hotel stay! We have a list of options we’ve put together and we can choose from hotels, AirBnBs, Homestays, CouchSurfing, house sits, help exchanges, WOOF’ing, and hostels.
Our tool box is full of resources! From travel hacking to house sitting, digital nomad jobs to privacy and security, financially independent retire early (FI/RE) to entertainment, plus travel hacking (credit cards, miles, points, and rewards), and much much more…
Hotels are the easiest option for most travelers. However, without planning they can be very expensive and consume most of your budget.
Hotels offer many of the conveniences of a home, if not more. And while the retail price tag is high, there’s a way around it!
There are two ways to pay for a hotel room: cash or reward points.
We’ve spent years earning and saving reward points, vouchers, and gift cards for hotels. Therefore, when we do choose to stay at a hotel we spend relatively very little on hotel rooms.
Hotel ‘hacking’ It’s a bit of a game! If you're not up for the tracking and earning of points, we recommend searching and comparing hotel prices!
There’s many blogs out there outlining how to do this, but here's a brief overview:
Credit Cards and Earning Hotel Reward Points:
There are two ways to earn points from credit cards.
For every dollar spent on the card, you’ll earn points that you can redeem for nights at participating hotels. When using a card to earn points, it’s wise to be aware of how to earn bonus miles.
Most cards will offer additional points per dollar if you use the card at the branded hotel, through their shopping portal and partners, or in select types of merchants, such as grocery stores or gas stations.
Be sure to check the terms of the card for all the specifics and promotions.
Credit Card Sign Up Bonus: The fastest and most profitable way to earn hotel points is to apply and get credit cards that have large sign-up bonuses.
Some cards give you points just for being approved, others grant points after a first purchase, still others, grant points with a minimum spend in a short period of time.
The best offers typically give you a large signup bonus when you spend a few thousand dollars in the first three months of having the card.
Be sure to pay attention to the promotion details because it’s common place for banks to offer a few thousand extra points for adding an additional user on your newly obtained credit card.
Tip: We use our Hilton Ascend American Express for everyday purchase to earn points towards free nights at Hilton! Use our link and we'll both get a bonus! You'll earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership and an additional 25,000 Bonus Points after you make an additional $1,000 in purchases with your new Card within your first 6 months.
Using Hotel Reward Points:
So, you have an account full of points you’ve earned. If you book a night at the first hotel you find you’ll probably get a poor redemption value. There’s a big difference between a hotel in downtown Manhattan or Paris, versus the outskirts of town.
So think of points as cash and use them wisely. We’re careful to only stay at high-end, high category/tier hotels on special occasions. More often than not, we search the area for lower redemption rates so we spend less points per night and get a better value or Cost Per Mile/Point (CPM/CPP). This allows our points to last longer and therefore affords us more nights at a hotel.
In essence, this increases the cash value of each point.
Earning Points in Multiple Hotel Reward Programs
If you’re able to accumulate points at multiple hotel brands, you’ll have options that’ll allow you to choose the room with the best value.
Tip: Being budget travelers, we seek out the best redemption values when staying at hotels. This means we generally stay at category one or two hotels, with the occasional category three. If you're like us then you're tired of searching for the best award redemption value hotels on each branded website. So, we made it a whole lot easier and made an inclusive map of all United States and international Hilton, SPG/Marriott, Radisson, and Hyatt, category one, two, and three hotels!
When we were growing up, couch surfing was something you did on a friend’s couch when you had nowhere else to go. Now, couch surfing is part of the shared economy living.
As described on their site, “Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”
This isn’t for the timid, but it’s something we’ve been doing for years. It’s a way of meeting new people and immersing yourself in the local community.
Just like other shared economy sites, Couch Surfing is a community that runs on user reviews, references, and levels of verification that are optional.
The system works by having both hosts and surfers. Anyone can get on and list their room, couch, or some type of sleeping area, and anyone can get on and request a stay. The site is available worldwide and has thousands of opportunities.
It’s free for all users and hosts don’t charge for staying with them. However, the expectations are that you’re not just looking for a place to crash for the night, you’re looking to spend time with the hosts.
We highly recommend checking out the site for details on how it works and getting a feel for it. We’ve had amazing experiences using this site as surfers. We’ve met people from all over the world and created great friendships!
Don’t miss our Ultimate Gear and Packing Lists! Whether you’re traveling long-term or going on a short vacation, we'll show you how to travel with a single carry-on. We share our packing lists (his and hers!), packing tips, and our favorite gear. Plus, we discuss what we don’t carry and why!
There are many websites that offer house sitting services by bringing homeowners and house sitters together. Most of the sites have a fee to sign up, which in our opinion is a good thing, because it weeds out those people who may not be serious about the opportunities. There are niche house sitting sites that focus on luxury house sits or sites that are all inclusive.
House Sitting Websites
We've personally had great success with Trustedhousitters.com! From our experience it has the most house sit opportunities listed daily all around the world.
With that said, don’t shy way from taking a look at the different sites and seeing what fits your needs.
Trustedhousitters.com – one of the largest sites that is focused on United Kingdom and European house sits. This site is easy to navigate and use, but is also very popular. This means there are many more opportunities on this site but also more competition for each opportunity.
Housecarers.com – opportunities are all-around and can be found in Australia, New Zealand and North America. However, the user interface can be a bit more challenging to navigate, at times.
MindMyHouse.com – this is the first site we used because it has one of the lowest signup fees and has a large amount of opportunities in the United States.
Nomador.com – The focus of this site is Europe and it’s a bit smaller than the others. A unique feature of this site is that in addition to house sitting, it also offers stopovers. Stopovers are similar to couch surfing, they’re listings by homeowners that allow/invite travelers to stay at their home even when they’re not traveling themselves.
LuxuryHoussesitting.com – Focused on luxury homes. This is a site where competition is high and requirements by the homeowners are higher than most. It’s usually recommended to have some house sitting experience to be successful on this site.
Caretaker.org – This site requires paying a fee to sign-up before you can see the opportunities. This is the granddaddy of house sitting sites because before it was a website, it was a newsletter. It’s been around for over 34 years. Now when you sign up, you’ll get an email (or a print issue if you prefer) of available opportunities focused in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Types of House Sitting Opportunities
Getting a house sitting opportunity can open the doors to a variety of experiences.
There are homeowners who are looking for house sitters to take care of their home and their pets for various lengths of times, from a couple of days to several months (we’ve seen listings for a year or longer!). You may be taking care of a dog or two, or a farm full of animals. You could be taking care of a studio in city center or a huge home and farm in the countryside. The terms can range from free room and board, to free except for utilities, or at a cost to the homeowner or the sitter.
How House Sitting Works
The website listing the homeowner puts up should explain most of the duties, requirements, and expectations. As a house sitter, your profile will be an overview of your experience and what you offer, along with references if you have them.
When a house sitter finds a listing for a house sit opportunity they want to do, they can apply for it. If the homeowner agrees that it may be a good fit, conversations can begin.
Finding and Having Great House Sits
As each house sit is different, we always ask questions ahead of time to make sure it’s a good fit and that all expectations are on the table. Communication, kindness, and appreciation on both ends is imperative to an all around good experience!
Tip: With all of the positive being said, keep in mind that it's not all rainbows and butterflies! House sitting comes with its fair share of challenges and hard work. Although, some will have you believe it's free lodging! It’s by far, much more than a free place to sleep while traveling.
Airbnb is a site where homeowners or even apartment renters can list their place for travelers to stay at.
Accommodations vary by listing and can be a private room and bath, a shared room or couch, or even a whole apartment or house. Owners of the house or space control the cost and amenities.
Often times an Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel, especially in big cities and touristy areas.
Check the listings closely to see what the cost is and what amenities are included. When you do a search for an area, use the filters to narrow down the results to what you’re looking for. Also, make sure you’re getting a good deal by comparing Airbnb prices to hotel prices in the same area.
A word of caution, Airbnb listings can be hands off and leave you with a ton of privacy (think private hotel room), or the homeowner can be involved and talkative.
Use our link and get up to $40 off your first stay! We'll get a credit as well, and we appreciate your support.
And if you aren’t traveling, Airbnb can be a great way to make extra money on your spare room and bed!
Help Exchange and Woofing
The general category of help exchanges is pretty straight forward; in exchange for helping someone out, they give you something in return, usually room and board with the possibility of food and travel.
Help Exchange - HelpX
Each opportunity listed on Help Exchange should be clear on what is expected of the helper and what will be given by the host. Usually about four hours of work will be exchanged for free accommodation and a meal or two. Opportunities are across the board and can be just a homeowner looking for a little help to a more official business or farm needing assistance.
While we haven’t taken advantage of this site yet, we’re excited to do so. This isn’t only a lodging opportunity, but a chance to help out on a variety of work, learn practical skills and possibly do things we otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – WWOOF
Similar to HelpX, WWOOF is an exchange of work for food and accommodation, but is strictly for organic farms around the world. You can find yourself working with the land, planting and harvesting, or making cheese and building fences.
Rather than sign up for one main site that maintains host listing around the world, travelers need to sign up for the site dedicated to the country/region they wish to do an exchange in. Each site typically has a fee to sign up and you can find the local sites through the main wwoof.net website.
London, San Francisco, Paris, New York City, Athens and more?! Trusted Housesitters has allowed us to travel the world on a budget, but more importantly given us an opportunity to make new friends and have cute and cuddly companions along the way. Sign up and start your next great adventure!
Hostels are commonly known as inexpensive places to sleep for backpackers and travelers in Europe.
Hostels are less expensive than hotels in the same area and generally range from a few dollars to $50 a night. The accommodations vary from hostel to hostel, but are usually humble with no frills. Expect communal sleeping that ranges from bunk beds to mats lined up on the floor with the occasional opportunity to book a private or family room in advance.
As a couple we found that hostels were about the same price as hotels because reservations at hostels are usually made per person. This means that we each pay for a bed, which often ends up totaling around the same cost as a hotel or Airbnb for a private room. Likewise, our experience with private rooms at hostels is that they’re similar in cost or more expensive than other accommodations in the area.
Anecdote: We had a friend who stayed in a hostel in Spain who was asked upon arrival if he snored. He said yes and was thrilled to be given a smaller room than the big common one and to be the only couple in the room. He thought he figured out the secret to a better room. However, he quickly regretted his decision because as the evening progressed and as more people checked-in, all the people who snored were given this same room and it made for a loud evening of ‘sleeping.’
With so many options for lodging, we’re not short of places to lay our head at night. We view each option as a tool in our tool box that we’ll use when most appropriate (think best value). So, we’ll first look for opportunities to house sit and couch surf in private rooms, followed by the lowest tier of points for hotels. We’ll save help exchanges for times we want a new experience and don’t have our days booked with activities.
The best part is, lodging will be low on our list of expenses and allow us to allocate more money to adventures!