How to Save Money on Travel: 10 Smart Accommodation Options That Save You Hundreds

Image: Hotel room
Paul L under Creative Commons

The number one reason people give for not traveling? “It’s too expensive.”

If that sounds like something you would say, keep reading. We’ve talked before about how to earn frequent flyer miles towards free flights — and now, we’re going to address another big expense: accommodation.

Sure, you can use travel rewards points for hotels, but that means you’ll probably end up in a characterless chain. If you want something more unique — but also affordable — check out these 10 cheap accommodation options:

1. Couchsurfing

Hands down, Couchsurfing is the best way to get free accommodation while you’re traveling. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a cultural exchange program in which a willing host allows you to sleep on their couch for free. You’ll make a new friend, get up close with the local culture and save lots of money on lodging.

Personally, I’ve never had a bad experience with Couchsurfing — but proceed with caution. Only surf with hosts with good reviews, and be sure to tell someone else where you’ll be staying.

2. Short-term Rentals

The sharing economy has made short-term vacation rentals into an easy and affordable option. You’ll stay in someone’s apartment, home or trailer — sometimes occupying a single room, and sometimes occupying the entire space. It’s a great way to live like a local when you’re traveling, and it’ll often save you hundreds off the cost of a typical hotel (not to mention you’ll also be able to cook your meals, saving on food costs).

Though the most popular rental site is Airbnb, similar sites include Wimdu, Roomorama, GowithOh and VRBO. Lastly, there’s BidGo, a new eBay-like site that allows you to bid on vacation rentals.

3. Hostels

Are you afraid to stay at a hostel — either because of a silly horror movie, or because of the spring-break atmosphere? Don’t be. Sure, there are hostels with all-night parties or sketchy security, but there are also lots of safe and laid-back options.

The benefits of staying in a hostel are plentiful: free breakfasts, discounted activities, kitchens to cook in and abundant opportunities to meet other budget travelers. Though staying in a dorm will save you the most money, many also offer private rooms that are still far cheaper than a regular hotel.

When you’re booking a hostel, be sure to read the reviews and make sure it’s the type of hostel you want to stay in (ie: a party hostel or not). Since I’m over party hostels, I tend to look for hostels that score low on atmosphere, but high on cleanliness and safety. (Am I old or what?) Some of my favorite sites are HostelWorld and Hostelbookers.

4. Membership-Only Sites and Apps

If you have your heart set on staying at a hotel, there are several sites that will help you bring down the cost of your stay. My favorite comparison sites are and Trivago — but my biggest savings often come in the form of free membership-only sites.

I love HotelTonight, which offers fantastic deals on last-minute hotels — hence the name. Another rockstar is Travelpony, which is free to sign up for and sometimes has insane deals. (By using that link, you’ll get $35 off your first booking.)

5. Housesitting

Whether you have your own house and want to do a home exchange, or simply want to stay in a house for free, housesitting is a good option. You’ll stay in someone’s home for a period of one week to several months, usually with duties like watering plants and caring for pets.

Some great housesitting sites are Home Exchange, Trusted Housesitters, and Mind My House. If you’d like more information, take a look at the ebook “How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World” by the travel bloggers behind Hecktic Travels.

6. Camping

If you’re a nature lover, camping is the perfect choice. You’ll get to sleep under the stars while also saving money. If you plan on camping frequently, it’s a good idea to bring your sleeping bag and/or tent with you. If you’re only camping for a few days, you can usually rent gear from a local outdoor outfitter.

To find campsites in your vacation destination, check out GORP and Campsite Directory.

7. Homestays

Like Couchsurfing, homestays are a great way to integrate yourself into the local culture by living with a local family. Unlike Couchsurfing, you’ll have to pay — though the fee is usually modest and includes food.

Finding your perfect homestay is easy with the multitude of online resources available, which include, Homestay Finder, Homestay In and Homestay Booking.

8. Farm Stays

Farm stays are an excellent way to support local agriculture, as well as enjoy a unique lodging experience. Accommodations vary widely, but are generally rustic and rural. An added bonus: you’ll get to play with the farm’s animals!

Agritourism World lists international farm stays; and here are directories for farm stays in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Another popular option is WWOOF.

9. Monastery, Temple and Church Stays

In many countries, staying with a religious organization is not only a fascinating experience, but a great way to save money. Stays will often be free or very cheap. Please keep in mind that these stays are not for partying, but rather for quiet contemplation. Depending on where you’re staying, you may get to participate in meals or services.

Good Night and God Bless has a lot of listings throughout Europe; here are specific sites for monastery stays in Italy and temple stays in Korea. This list of interesting monastery stays may also give you some inspiration. (Click to tweet this idea.)

10. University Stays

Headed to a college town? We’ve got two words for you: student housing. Though your room will be small and sparse (it’s a dorm, after all), it’ll also be affordable. Not to mention you’ll be in the university district, which is usually home to the cheapest bars and restaurants in the city.

Though searching for “short-term student housing in X” is often the most effective way to find this type of accommodation, University Rooms has decent listings for several countries.

Your Turn: How do you find cheap accommodation while traveling? Have you tried any of the methods above?