Accommodation is the 2nd biggest expense that you will incur on your travels after transportation so it’s vital that you know how to find the cheapest places to stay if you want to travel on a budget!
From comparing all your options to using specific strategies to save even more money, it’s more work than picking the first option you see, but it can mean lots of savings.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Get used to staying in hostels
Hostels go together with budget traveling like peanut butter and jelly. You aren’t a real budget traveler if you’ve never stayed in a hostel before! Designed with the backpacker in mind, hostels are a great way to save money on accommodation while traveling.
If you’ve never stayed in one before, you typically get a twin-sized bed in a room shared with up to 50 other travelers (although the usual size of a room is between 6-12 beds).
Some hostels might offer queen-sized beds (in shared rooms) while others will give you more privacy with curtains or even capsule-style beds. Most will also offer private rooms too (although they can be pricey). It will vary by hostel, but the gist of it is that by sharing a room with other people, you are all saving on the total cost of your stay!
The best way to book your hostel is by using Hostelworld, but you should also be checking for hostels on Booking.com because sometimes, their prices will be cheaper there too. Check out my Guide to Hostels for more information.
2. Use Booking.com to book your standard accommodation
If hostels aren’t your thing and you just want to save as much money as possible on standard accommodation options, then you’ll need to make sure you’re using the right booking site.
Booking.com is the best site you can use to book your accommodation and you can find hotels, aparthotels, guesthouses, vacation homes, resorts, and more in every part of the world at the best prices.
Sometimes you’ll find hotels or guesthouses that are cheaper than hostels so it always pays to check booking.com even if you don’t mind staying in hostels. They also have a rewards program called Genius that gets you up to 15% off + extra bonuses at select properties meaning you can save even more!
Check out my Guide to Booking Your Accommodation for more information.
3. Look for accommodation on Airbnb & Vrbo
Airbnb & Vrbo properties are typically cheaper than hotels and other standard forms of accommodation. Sometimes you can even get a whole property to yourself at a lower price than a hotel room would cost you!
It pays to check for accommodation on Airbnb & Vrbo and should be a standard part of your process when looking for a place to stay in any destination.
If you’ve never stayed in an Airbnb or Vrbo, the experience will be slightly different to that of a hotel. It won’t be like a hostel (although you can sometimes find shared rooms on Airbnb too), but it won’t be like a chain hotel either.
You will be able to find full properties to yourself, but you can also save even more money by getting a private room in someone’s place.
4. Contact properties directly to save even more money
If you aren’t aware, most booking sites including Hostelworld, Booking.com, Airbnb, & Vrbo charge a commission fee, either to the properties themselves or the person making the booking, or both. This commission fee can range from 5% to up to 20%, depending on the booking site, however the typical standard is 15%.
Most property owners do not want to pay this commission fee if they don’t have to and you don’t want to pay it either so oftentimes, you’ll be able to get a discount by contacting the property owner directly and booking it through them instead of doing it with these booking sites.
It’s easier to do with properties you find on Hostelworld or Booking.com since you can find their contact information online without having to make a booking simply by doing a search for the property name on Google.
Check if the price is lower on their website if they have one and if not, just call them up and ask if they offer discounts for direct bookings, quoting the price you saw on the booking site.
Many of them will say yes and give you 10% or so off your room price. Some of them might ask for a deposit or pre-payment for it, but others might simply reserve the room for you and let you pay when you arrive.
However, when it comes to Airbnb & Vrbo, it’s a little more difficult. If you want to try to book directly with a property owner on those sites, you have to first make a booking via the site for their property because only then will you be given their contact information.
You have to make sure that any booking you make has free cancellation so you don’t lose any money when doing so. See if they’re willing to make a deal with you to organize the booking off the platform and if they are, then cancel the original booking and work with the property owner offline.
Keep in mind though that doing this can be risky since there won’t be any checks in place to ensure that both parties live up to the deal meaning that you might get told they gave the room to someone else or they might simply not be willing to work out a deal like this.
Also, Airbnb & Vrbo really don’t want you to do this and if you cancel your bookings often, they will flag your account and potentially ban you from making future bookings with them which is not ideal, so take caution when doing this.
5. Consider couchsurfing
One of my favourite forms of accommodation, Couchsurfing is a really great way to save money while traveling because it’s free! The way it works is that you make a request to a local host in the city you’re visiting and ask if they can host you in their home for your stay.
It’s kinda like asking a friend if they can host you, except with couchsurfing you do it with strangers which might sound scary at first, but in reality, most people on couchsurfing are super awesome and will treat you like a life-long friend!
The beauty of couchsurfing is that it’s all about travelers helping out other travelers by offering a couch or room in their home for free. And it’s not only about getting a free place to stay.
You also get a chance to meet and hang out with a local which is not something you would get to do by staying anywhere else! It’s a totally different experience to staying in a hotel or hostel and I recommend that all travelers give it a try at least once in their lives.
However, you have to keep in mind that not every host will accept your request. You need to make sure you have a good profile, know how to write a good request, know what to expect during your stay, and know how to stay safe while doing it.
In addition, even though it’s free, you typically pay back your host in other ways such as a small gift or gesture like cooking them a meal.
Learn everything you need to know about it in my fully comprehensive Guide to Couchsurfing.
6. Take overnight transportation
One way to save money on accommodation is by not having any in the first place! By taking an overnight flight, train, or bus, it’s like getting a 2-in-1 deal, especially if the transportation option you picked comes with sleeping options like fully reclining seats or even beds to sleep on, which many of them do.
It won’t always be the most comfortable option since you won’t always get a bed and even if you do, you will still have to deal with other people moving around and potentially snoring as well as potential turbulence or bumps in the road.
If you’re a deep sleeper and you can sleep almost anywhere, then you shouldn’t have a problem, but if you have trouble sleeping in moving vehicles, then you may have to have a nap when you arrive at your destination to catch up on the sleep you missed!
Check out my Guide to Transportation to learn all about the different types of transportation available.
7. Go camping
Whether it’s with a sleeping bag and tent or a vehicle like a car or van, camping is the cheapest form of accommodation possible since it’s totally free! Of course, you have to invest in the equipment or vehicle needed to be able to do it, but apart from that initial investment, you can sleep almost anywhere without paying an extra dime.
That being said, some countries and cities have different rules when it comes to camping and you need to be aware of them. Some of them will allow you to legally set up camp pretty much anywhere while others are much more restrictive. Make sure you read up on the laws in the country and city you’re visiting to know if you’re allowed to do it there.
In addition, camping can be risky since you’re outdoors on your own meaning that your sleep could get interrupted both by wild animals and people with bad intentions so you need to make sure you stay safe. You also won’t have access to any bathrooms or other standard amenities that you’d get in normal accommodation.
If you still want to camp, but you also want amenities and safety, you’ll have to stay at a campground that offers them, however you usually have to pay for such privileges. A campground can still be cheaper than other forms of accommodation though!
And that’s all there is to it!
There are lots of ways to save money on accommodation and the best strategy is to mix and match all the options available. Compare all your options when looking for accommodation and pick the one that is the best for you in terms of price and comfort.
Let me know if this guide helped you out in the comments below and if you’d like to get even more money-saving tips while traveling, check out my Top Budget Traveling Tips.