If you follow my blog you know that I am always looking for the best travel deals. I love traveling well (not 5-star but not bunk beds in hostels either) and Airbnb is one of the best sites I know for doing that. I’ve take 8 trips in the last 12 months with Airbnb.
Yesterday I was doing some shopping on Ebay when I stumbled upon this great deal: Buy a $110 Airbnb Gift card for only $100! I went ahead and bought one but am thinking about buying several more since its basically a 10% discount for free! I’m not sure when the sale ends but I wanted to pass it along.
If you have never used Airbnb, its basically rooms or entire houses that people rent out to travelers. So you can stay in a comfortable homey environment instead of a hotel for a price that is normally much better than hotel. I use it a lot for groups of people when we all want to stay together but need a lot of room. If you’ve never used it before use my link for and extra $40 credit on your account for your first booking!!!
There are quite a few other options out there as well. I recently spent a few nights in a rustic cabin in Moab, Utah for $25/night with an external bathhouse (hot running water, heat, showers, etc) to be shared with other cabin campers. It was a cute, cozy cabin with a heater, nice bed, end table, lights, window, free parking, and a chair. The separate bathroom wasn’t far at all and kept quite clean. For the price it couldn’t be beat.
Some people enjoy using Couch Surfers. This is sort of like crashing on your friend’s couch while your in town, except with a stranger. It seems to work well for attractive women as there seem to be many young men willing to host them. My experience is limited but mostly involved emailing 7 people looking for a place without getting a single response. However, I know a number of young single women who have had positive experiences with the community and even the enjoyable spontaneous hook up.
I dislike the lack of safety checks that even Airbnb has (though Couch Surfing has worked to improve these and has a good review system in place), the lack of privacy, and the lack of establishing a means by which to ensure the availability of your stay (if your a stranger offering me a free place to crash, I can’t really get upset if you cancel last minute or stand me up).
If you have a large social media following and influence you can often get places to let you stay for free in exchange for some social media marketing or a good review. Research the place first to make sure you can in good faith give them what they are asking for. I see so many travel bloggers sharing photos on Instagram about their lovely stays at such and such a villa, and I can’t help but feel the knowledge being shared in being diluted by advertising. But if offered, I would certainly do the same while ensuring that my readers knew it was a paid endorsement so as not to be misleading.
Nepal has a lodging option called Tea Houses. These are often small hotels or rooms in people’s larger homes that may be rented by wayfarers and often include meals or have a restaurant associated. During off-season you can sometimes stay for free if you buy your meals from the owner. A private room may only cost your $10, but if probably won’t have hot running water or a private bath. Certainly an adventurous way of travel that I intend to use in the near future.
Outside of friends and family, camping is often your cheapest option. I’ve seen 8-10 people put 3 tents on one $20 camp site and literally pay about $2/each. There are some places you can even camp for free (Iceland and New Zealand are known for allowing people to camp for free on much public land and even the US has some free primitive sites). Being outside with nature is a travel experience everyone should have a least once a year if not much more.
Drawbacks to camping include, cold or hot nights, the need for camping gear, set up and take down, and limited facilities.
To avoid weather extremes, I’d recommend camping in the fall or spring. Bring proper warm clothing and blankets to stay warm. Plan to share a tent in cooler weather and perhaps sleep in a hammock in hotter weather.
Build a collection of camping essentials. These include (but are not limited to) a tent large enough for the group you wish to travel with, a warm sleeping bag, chairs, headlamps and lanterns, cooking utensils, fire starters, lighters, extra blankets, a tarp, a rain fly (if your tent doesn’t come with it), and a large cooler (for food to cook over your cozy fire).
Only camp if you have at least two days to stay at the site. Preferably 3 or 4 nights. While set up and take down may only take a couple of hours, this adds up significantly when you add cooking time and inconvenience of showering off site. If you must pay to camp, look for a spot that offers on site showers, has built in fire places with grills, and allows you to make reservations in advance.
One of the last times I went camping was in California in the Inyo National Forest. There were two of us and we stayed 3 days. It was about 45 degrees at night which was rather chilly, but we had 3 extra blankets and two sleeping bags which helped. Set up and take down was about 2 hours total. We did have a couple of fires and cooked our meals on them which was quite enjoyable. Cost was about $18/night plus $5/night for firewood. We already had all the equipment so that wasn’t a new expense.
If you plan on camping overseas and must fly equipment out there, make sure your cost of flying the equipment is worth the hassle. If you are only planning on camping a few nights and flying your gear is going to cost you $$$’s, you may find another lodging option is more affordable and convenient.
The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.
Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.
There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.
I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?
If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!
How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.
Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.
When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.
Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.
I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.
What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.
Airbnb is a similar concept to staying with friends and family except you are staying with strangers. You can often get the whole place to yourself which is a huge plus. Prices are economical especially if you look hard enough. I recently stayed in a lofted apartment in Austin Texas, 2 miles from downtown, with free parking, for $50/night. Since this was split between two people, it was right at my $25/night budget and extremely private and convenient. I have rented shared spaces for even less.
There are basically 3 types of Airbnb options, shared spaces, private rooms, and entire dwellings. Shared spaces are most like hostels. Maybe a couch, a shared bedroom, or some other public room in the house. You will probably share the bathroom with at least one other person and hopefully get a share of the kitchen.
Private rooms allow you your own private bedroom while not necessarily guaranteeing that anything else is private. Sometimes you can find one that at least has its own bathroom giving you an equivalent to a hotel in privacy minus the sound proof walls 😉
When you rent an entire place you are taking over someone’s entire home. This may be a small loft for two people or a huge 5 bedroom house (I’ve don’t both depending on the group I’m traveling with). I planning a trip to Iceland with several other couples in a large 5 bedroom house with lots of living space, parking, hot tub, and a huge kitchen, that’s going to cost us about $35/person per night. I think that’s a steal given what we are getting. I’ve gotten private rooms in Portugal as cheap as $26/night.
Airbnb is great in the US and more expensive European countries. Its often more personal the hotel and certainly can be much more private than a hostel or staying with friends. The main drawbacks include having to work with someone else’s schedule to check in and perhaps the lack of standards the hotel industry is supposed to have.
When solo traveling, hostels may still be cheaper if you are looking for a bare bones budget, but with two or more, Airbnb is often your cheapest and best bet.
Traveling where you have friends and family nearby is probably one of the most economical ways to find lodging. Your aunt lives in NYC and invites you to stay for a few days. You can have the spare bedroom. Most likely some meals. All free.
However be careful, she may be expecting you to babysit so her and husband can have a night on the town. I think staying with people works best if either you guys have the same agenda for the time you are together OR you have completely opposite schedules and they are simply offering you a place to sleep.
When I first started traveling, I primarily traveled where my friends and family were and stayed with them. It was a good way to start on a college kid’s budget.
Eventually I moved to more solo travel. Staying where I wanted to go and normally traveling alone.
Now, I find that I prefer to travel with people. And then find our own housing. I love my friends and my family and am thankful for all the times so many of them have hosted me. But the freedom of having your own place if hard to beat.
If you want to just spend time with that friend or family member, by all means stay with them. Or if your budget requires you to find a free place, by all means go for it. But if you desire ultimate freedom this may not be your best option.