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Can You Sleep on the Cheap?

Can You Sleep on the Cheap?

    When you’re budgeting for travel, there are three major costs: the actual cost of getting from Point A to Point B, the price of the food need along the way and the cost of a place to lay your weary head. It can take hours of searching and comparing prices to find a hotel room, and even then you can get stuck in a hotel that is less than stellar.

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    You can, of course, rely on the friend, business or conference that you’re travelling for. They might find you an amazing rate on a room. Then again, they might choose the most expensive hotel in town — the one with the ‘special rate’ about $100 over normal costs. Even if you’re pretty sure that you’ll go with someone else’s recommendations, it’s worth looking into housing options on your own. You might consider using these tools to find a few better options.

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    1. SideStep — Everyone knows that major airfare sites like Hotwire and Orbitz also list hotel rooms, often at very low prices. But you can skip searching every single one of those sites to find the best deal. Just use SideStep to search; this search engine goes through all those other sites in one go.
    2. TVTrip — Want to check the quality of your prospective home away from home before you book? Use TVTrip to see a video of your hotel.
    3. TravelPost — It can be hard to find unbiased reviews of hotels from real guests. But TravelPost does just that, putting together independent reviews from people who really stayed in hotels (and without the preferential treatment that professional reviewers might get).
    4. Hostelworld — Horror movies to the contrary, most hostels are clean and comfortable places to stay. They’re also cheap. Using Hostelworld, you can search over 17,000 hostels around the world to find a good place to sleep.

    Still not finding a room at a comfortable rate?

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    If you just aren’t able to find a hotel room at a price you’re willing to pay and you’ve gone through your whole Roledex in search of a distant relative or college buddy with a spare room, I have five suggestions that might help you find an affordable place to crash on your journey.

    1. Couchsurf — The power of the internet can provide you with a free couch to sleep on. CouchSurfing is probably the best known site. Just by registering, you can connect with individuals who live in the area of your destination and make arrangements to snooze on their sofa. Hosts can pick and choose their visitors, a necessary fact if everyone’s going to feel safe with the whole “sleeping on a stranger’s couch” thing. But there’s no cost and thousands of people have had good couchsurfing experiences.
    2. Rent an apartment — If you’re staying somewhere for more than a few days, keeping the meter running on a hotel room can really add up. But you can often get an apartment for far less — and you can get the benefit of a kitchen and other homey luxuries while you’re at it. Think about it this way: a nice hotel room can cost $100 a night. Depending on the city, you can find a studio apartment (similar in size, even) for $400 a month. If you’re staying more than 4 days, it’s cheaper to go with the apartment, even if it’s sitting empty for part of the month. Many landlords say that they prefer a longer lease, but if you’re willing to pay cash up front and are cool with the landlord showing the apartment while you live there, many landlords will relax lease requirements. You should probably limit your search to furnished apartments, though.
    3. Vacation rentals — A vacation rental is a more formalized version of my third suggestion. It’s a rental property (usually a house or an apartment) that is furnished and rented out to travellers. Pricing on vacation rentals can be fairly hit or miss: some can be much cheaper than hotels, while others can be significantly more expensive. Both Domegos and WeGoRound have good search tools for finding vacation rentals.
    4. Camp out — Pitching a tent under the night sky isn’t just for Boy Scouts. Many park campgrounds are free to use, and private campgrounds have much lower fees than a hotel room. If you’re backpacking anyhow, I’d suggest skipping the hostel on clear nights and saving your money. ReserveAmerica offers listings of campgrounds in the U.S. and many guidebooks list campgrounds for a given destination.
    5. Bed and Breakfasts — Small bed and breakfasts are rarely listed on hotel sites, so you’ll have to search out the ones where you’re headed on your own (BedandBreakfast.com is a good starting point). They’re worth the effort, though. When I was travelling in Ireland, a night at a bed and breakfast cost me a fraction of the price of a hotel room, plus I got a hearty breakfast. My food costs were probably half what they would have been if I had stayed anywhere else.

    Budgeting for a vacation seems to be getting a lot harder. The actual cost of traveling — airfare and gas prices — eat up a big chunk of a budget. Food prices aren’t much better. But that doesn’t mean that travel is impossible. It’s just become a matter of cutting other costs and your sleeping arrangements may be just the place to do it. If you’ve had luck with any other tools that have helped you ‘sleep on the cheap,’ I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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