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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.