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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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