How to Save Money on Accommodation
This guide is packed with tips and hacks for finding budget accommodation. Tricks for saving money on accommodation from free accommodation options to a bit of luxury on a budget.
Accommodation, like food, is a necessity whilst travelling and in many cases it can be the biggest portion of your travel budget. We’ve travelled to over 60 countries on a budget and our current trip has no time limit except when our money runs out. So, as you can imagine, it’s pretty important for us to save money on accommodation wherever possible.
We’ve used lots of tricks and booking options over the years, some have worked and others not so much. So I’ve put together this guide to help other budget-conscious travellers get the most out of their money and hopefully save a few pennies along the way. These are all our tried and tested tips for finding budget accommodation around the world.
How to Find Free Accommodation
This is the budget travellers dream and there are a few ways to do this. Be aware that free often means free of payment but may be more of an exchange.
This requires a tent, car or van so does have some initial costs but there are endless possibilities for free camping spots in many countries. This ranges from it being legal to camp anywhere in Scandinavia, the Baltics and many Eastern European countries. To places like New Zealand where there are some government-provided campgrounds free of charge.
Make sure to be a courteous camper and take your rubbish with you, don’t light fires unless in a safe and responsible area and don’t camp on people’s property without permission.
Read More: The best free camping spots in Albania
We have had nothing but awesome experiences with this network both as guests and hosts. It’s a great way to meet like-minded travellers and staying with a local always helps you enjoy a city more. Try to request at least three days in advance although some people prefer a week or two (much harder to do when you’re travelling without set plans!)
It’s nice to bring something to share e.g a bottle of wine or something from your home country. But most people are pretty easy going and welcoming. We often offer to cook if we’re staying more than one night. Most couchsurfers are also budget travellers so hosts don’t expect lavish gifts.
Check out some more Couchsurfing tips from hosts of over 500 guests!
Staying with friends and family
This is where an excellent facebook network comes in handy. Someone always knows someone in every corner of the world so don’t be afraid to ask. Make people aware of your travel plans and they will often volunteer people they know to show you around or host you. It’s also a great excuse to connect with extended family. I definitely plan on staying with my many distant cousins when I finally get to Ireland! Currently, Max’s cousin is staying with my aunty in New Zealand, it’s all about connecting!
Using referral programmes
Booking options such as Airbnb and Booking.com offer refer a friend bonuses. If you can sign some people up then you can make enough to yourself a place to stay for a few days! If you want to get started sign up for Airbnb and get $30 off your first stay!
There are a few websites which connect hosts and travellers where you can find work in exchange for accommodation. These range in time but some are available for just a week. It can be anything from seasonal farm work to childcare to computer work and the work times and conditions vary. We recently signed up to workaway and hope to find some places to settle for longer periods on our trip. We can save on accommodation and get to know some locals at the same time. You can also try WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
It’s also very common for hostels to take on staff and let them stay for free. Accommodation is usually in dorm rooms so it’s not always ideal long term. But if you’re a social butterfly it can be a great way to meet other people and save some money.
We haven’t done this yet but it sounds like the perfect way to save money when you’re slow travelling. It’s a network where people who are going away can find people to look after their house, garden and pets while they’re gone. You get a free place to stay and they get the security of knowing their things are looked after. Win-win!
We’ve been looking into joining Trusted House Sitters but are waiting until we have more time and flexibility in our itinerary.
Sleep at the airport
This is not such a glamorous option but often a very practical one. If our flight leaves early in the morning we hang out in a café or at our hostel and head to the airport around midnight and find a place to nap until check-in. It’s not the best night’s sleep but it’s free! There is also a great website aptly named sleepinginairports.net which rates airports and gives information on the facilities available.
How to Find Budget Accommodation
If you carry a tent with you this is the perfect way to stay cheaply. But even in if you don’t, during the summer months there are many places that have permanent tents or will rent tents. Search ‘camping’ on Google Maps in the area around the city and check out the options. I stayed at a great campsite in Rome with a pool which was way cheaper than staying in the city.
Read More: Best Campgrounds in the Balkans
Hostels, budget hotels and Apartments
When I travelled solo, dorm rooms were my go-to accommodation. Good value for money, easy to meet people and hostels are usually well located and can provide local information about a place. Now that we travel as a couple, private rooms are often cheaper than two beds in a dorm so we take that option. Best of both worlds- benefits of a hostel but the privacy of our own room.
When booking hostels or guesthouses we compare across a range of booking engines. We also use metasearch engines such as Trivago.
Hostelworld – This has the biggest range of hostels and a fairly accurate reviewing system. You can filter the results by price, rating, location etc. It’s very difficult to search based on price for two people though.
*TIP* Always check with on the hostels own website for prices. Sometimes they cost more on Hostelworld to cover the fees they have to pay.
Booking.com – Has a complete range of hostels, guesthouses, apartments and hotels. The search filters are easy to use and there is even a function which shows the best rating to price value.
*TIP* Once you make several bookings using Booking.com you become a ‘genius’ member which means they offer you discounts and deals. Often it’s 10% off and they can end up being a great deal.
Airbnb – We often find an entire house for the same price as a double room. It’s the perfect solution if we need to do some washing or want a bit more space. They are usually a little further out of the city centre but you can view the options on a map.
*TIP* Watch out for the extra fees with Airbnb. They quote the price per night in the search but there is always a service fee and sometimes a cleaning fee which gets added on.
Getting overnight trains and buses are a great money saver. If you can sleep on them! Usually cheaper than a night’s accommodation but it includes your travel too. Plus you don’t waste any time travelling, you wake up and you’re there! We’ve taken overnight transport in Europe, Russia, Asia, the Middle East and South America with varying degrees of comfort.
The only downfall is if you don’t sleep you end up needing to nap the next day. We were often lucky and were able to check in at our hostel when we arrived and grab a couple of hours sleep before exploring the city.
Guest houses or homestays
Unfortunately finding genuine local homestays can be difficult online. We often turned up in places and had a look around for signs. This led us to some great homestays in Cuba where there are only over-priced tourist places online.
How to Find Luxury Accommodation on a Budget
So you’ve been travelling a while and feel like a splash-out but the ever-budget-conscious traveller in you still wants a good bargain. I know the feeling. So when we’re looking to treat ourselves with a little bit of luxury here’s how we do it.
Last minute booking sites
Lastminute.com and other similar ones sell hotel rooms for really cheap prices if you book, you guessed it, at the last minute. We’ve never actually booked anything from here as they tend to be expensive hotels to begin with so we always find something cheaper. But if you’re looking for luxury there are huge discounts available.
This site offers deals for all kinds of things, from restaurants to massages but it also has a holiday packages section. Sometimes you can be lucky and find a deal that’s valid during your dates. I once used this for a seafront guest house in Fiji and it turned out cheaper than most hotel rooms.
General tips for saving money on accommodation
Stay in big cities on weekdays
Weekends are almost always the most expensive time to stay in cities. If your schedule is flexible, try and plan to spend the weekends in smaller places and come to the cities mid week when there are no local tourists.
Often accommodation costs change depending on the day and availability. If you can go a day later or arrive sooner you might be able to save a bit of money.
Read travel blogs
In places that don’t offer so much accommodation online make sure to read up on blog posts about the area and see if they recommend good places to stay. You can often find a top travel tip.
Factor in transport costs
If you find really cheap accommodation but it ends up being way out of the city centre you could end up spending more on transport than the difference of a room in the centre. Plus you waste a lot of time. This isn’t always the case though, we’ve stayed in some great budget places where transport was cheap and easy like Sofia and Pristina.
Hostels often have discounts for longer stays and if it’s not advertised it doesn’t hurt to ask. This is also the case with local accommodation, they will often discount your stay or give you a free night if you stay longer. With Airbnb you can save more this way as the cleaning fee is a fixed amount so splitting it over several days saves you paying it for multiple bookings, there are also properties that have weekly and monthly discounts.
Do some research
It can get very time consuming when you travel full time to be constantly looking up accommodation options. But if you take some time to research the area and look at some different booking options you’re much more likely to find a good deal and a place that is good value for money.
Take the reviews with a grain of salt
The reviewing system on almost every booking site can be very useful or very misleading. Make sure you read a good range of them and take into account who is writing them. Often people of different ages and cultures have different expectations in accommodation and different perspective on what is good value for money. For example, somebody from London may think a place is really cheap but someone from Albania may think it is over-priced depending on what they are used to. Also bear in mind that people are more likely to write about a bad experience than a good one (unless it was exceptional).
Use an incognito window
Google is really clever about remembering your recent searches and you may find that you can no longer find that awesome deal you found two days ago. It may just be gone but it might also be that the search engine knows you're interested and has hiked up the price. Check again in incognito!
So that's everything we know about finding budget accommodation, now you're ready to find great accommodation at budget prices! If you have any other tips or hacks, let us know in the comments!