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.
So now you have the right gear, you’ve learned how to set up your camera just right, and you found the perfect spot, with the perfect lighting, at just the right time of day, and you nailed it. You got that perfect, amazing photo you’ve always been wanting.
What next? How do you edit it?
For Instagram, I edit almost all my photos on my phone. I am just now getting into more professional editing through Adobe Lightroom on my laptop which I will cover later.
I have an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) and I edit nearly all of my Instagram photos on this phone including ones taken with my DSLR. I use two apps: Snapseed for basic editing, quick fixes, and dramatic effect; and Lightroom Mobile for more detailed work.
Snapseed is a free photo editing tool now owned by Google and essentially their response to VSCO. While VSCO focuses on softer light and quieter tones, Snapseed seems to excel on bold, deep, dramatic edits especially the very popular HDR.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging and in short tries to emulate to depth of field and clarity seen by the naked eye (with perfect vision). Snapseed has its own adjustable preset HDR filter but also excels at allowing you to create a custom “HDR” setting with their basic manual editing mode.
Snapseed also includes selective mode (select a color on the photo and adjust it), brush mode (use a brush to adjust hues, contrast, exposure, etc), healing mode (“heal” or fix blemishes on your photo), vignette mode (create a vignette or reverse vignette), and more.
Besides HDR, Snapseed offers Drama (dramatic darker HDR effects), Glamour Glow (good for smoothing out faces and skin or creating a mystical slightly blurred effect), Tonal Contrast (adjust specific tones such as lights or darks), and numerous more specific filters (which I never use).
I can edit a photo on Snapseed in about 30-60 seconds most of the time.
Quality is average but by no means perfect. You can clearly see the difference when the photo is blown up to high-resolution compare to one edited on Lightroom.
Update: Snapseed now offers Facial filters, White Balance adjustment, and Text!
Adobe now offers Lightroom Mobile free of charge on Android. This is an amazingly powerful app, nearly as good as the full version of Lightroom itself. It does lack a few key tools such as spot remover (Snapseed to the rescue?), but overall is about as complete a tool as one could possibly need for their phone.
Lightroom allows you to import as many photos as you want and edit them in the program without actually saving a copy of the edited photo unless prompted. My guess is that the app simply saves your adjustments as a sort of mask for the original photo, compiling them into an entirely new .jpg image upon saving. This results in far higher quality even with extensive editing then is allowed by Snapseed.
Lightroom has 6 primary modes: Basic, Tone Curve, Vignetting, Split Toning, Color/Black and White, and Dehaze.
Basic covers all your basic and primary needs including White Balance, Temperature, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation with an Auto Tone setting as well. With just basic I can do 90% of all my editing.
Tone Curve adjusts the hologram for the image with primary color adjustments or focusing on highlights, lights, darks, and shadows. A bit more advance, it does offer far more specific adjustments than basic and is useful if you can’t get that exact lighting you want with the simpler settings.
Vignetting is fairly self explanatory and does what it should do.
Split Toning is something I haven’t messed with much but its supposed to do what the full desktop version of Lightroom does with Gradients. This is useful if you have an overly bright sky and darker landscape for example.
Color/Black and White adjusts specific black and white settings or specific colors. Lets supose you want to bring out a blue sky. You can adjust the saturation and Luminance (essentially brightness) of all the blue hues in the photo individually without turning up the saturation for everything else. Options include Hue, Saturation, and Luminance in 8 colors each.
Dehaze is one of my favorite options. This setting allows you to increase or decrease the “haze” effect created by the atmosphere as objects increase in distance from the camera. It does tend to make the photo overly blue if overused, but can create quite a nice bold dramatic effect that I can’t normally emulate with just the basic settings.
Lightroom takes me much longer to edit in. Partly because I haven’t developed any presets yet (yes it has a preset option for customizable settings!!!) and partly because I lack the skill at knowing exactly what needs adjusting in my photos. I’d guess about 3-5 minutes per photo.
Update: Lightroom now offers Lens Correction!
So there you have it. The two apps I use for just about every photo on my Instagram. Go check them out and tell my what you think. What apps do you use? What settings? Any tips?
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.
We awoke early morning a few weeks ago in a wonderful, clean, picturesque hotel in the Utah Wilderness near the town of Panguitch. The hotel is a Quality Inn by name but appears to be an old western themed mountain resort hotel with numerous small buildings each named after some western theme. The rooms were huge, had a fridge and a microwave, a huge king bed, separate shower, were super clean, and came with a free simple but good breakfast as well: all for about $60/night!
The night before, freezing rain had made our drive a bit nerve racking but we made it safely and by the time we awoke to a beautiful, cloudy day, the roads were clear again.
Today’s adventure: run through Bryce Canyon before making the 1.5 hour drive back to Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon was to be a scouting mission to see if it was worth coming back to.
Snow covered the landscape as we made the journey in. Soon red rocks and pine forests began to dominate the landscape with some snow covered fields and an occasional village completing the scene. We arrived at the park and found the roads snow covered and icy but still passable in a small car. Whipping around curves created a bit of drift which was fun.
Bryce Canyon National Park is quite interesting to enter into for the first time. You are completely surrounded by a dense pine forest with no sign of canyon anywhere. When we finally arrived and parked at Bryce Point, our first overlook, we could still barely see that there was a canyon through the trees.
As we walked down the ice covered gentle slope to this first view, the epic landscape unraveled before us revealing one of the most gorgeous sites of our trip: Bryce Canyon, covered in snow, shrouded in mist, dark moody clouds looming overhead, read and orange rock formations peaking out everywhere beneath us, and stately pine trees both old and new surrounding the landscapes. Soft light snow flakes began to float from the sky and continued the rest of our visit here.
After soaking in Bryce Point, getting close to the icy edge, attempting a few photo-shoots and some jumping shots, and basking in the gorgeous views, we went on to our second stop in the park: Inspiration Point! Inspiration Point is one of the best places to see the famous Amphitheater, one of Bryce Canyon’s most famous formations. It literally looks like the ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheater of even Coliseum.
For the most part there was hardly anyone in the park given the weather which was amazing. However, at this point we did run into a large bus tour of middle age travelers from all over the world (we heard French and Spanish among other languages). When they saw us approaching the edge of the cliff for some epic shots some of them began to completely loose it, yelling and waving their hands for us to back away. We asked one poor fella to take a photo of us, and despite being 20 feet from the edge himself, he was so nervous he couldn’t figure out how to take a photo! He literally pushed every single button on my DSLR except the right one. We found it all quite amusing and did a bit of drifting in the parking lot on our way out to complete their show.
And that was it! Will we be back? For sure! Are there longer trails? Tons of them! I would like to venture down the Fairyland Loop Trail and the Rim Trail my next visit. There is also a ton more to the park than just the area around the main vista points. We were surprised how big the map was. You can see the main parts of the park in a day or even a few hours. But you probably need a good 3 days to truly do it justice.
Before I go, let me highly recommend the National Park Annual Pass. Most parks charge about $20-30 per car per visit (Bryce and Zion are $30). However, with this pass you pay $80 once and go in and out of all national parks as often as you like, with a car full of people, without paying again! And no, this isn’t a paid endorsement. Just some good sound travel advice 🙂
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.