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!!!
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.
I feel like hostels are the classic travel option for backpackers around the world, particularly Europe. People that want to see the world but don’t necessary have a lot of money love this option. It is also the favorite option of people looking for new friends, solo travel, and trying to party their way around the globe.
My personal opinion is that hostels are not a great option in the US. I’ve heard of people paying $70/night to stay in a dirty hostel in San Francisco. I stayed in one hostel in Chicago that was full of families and people in their 70’s. Nothing wrong with them trying to save money, but it really messes up the hostel vibe. In any more expensive country (US, Norway, Iceland), you are often better off with another options ESPECIALLY if there are more than one of you.
However, eastern and southern Europe, Central and South American, and (from what I’ve heard) Southeast Asia, are all excellent hosteling choices. A bunk can often be obtained for as little as $10/night. Of course you can always pay a bit more and get a private room as I did with my girlfriend in Madrid. We got all the benefits of the social environment of a hostel, still paid a total of about $50/night, and got a clean, quiet, private room with a bathroom as well!
Hostels really are the prime social environment. Mix numerous young enthusiastic travelers, often solo, with an environment that forces you to be in close contact and gets you out of your comfort zone. Add in the frequent party atmosphere, planned or readily available events, and cheap alcohol, and you have a great recipe for new friends, adventure, and hopefully a few wild late night stories. All for a couple of dollars a night.
My last few hostel stays (at the age of 30) I’ve felt that I’m starting to out grow the full hostel scene. In the future I’d see myself staying in a lot more hostels but focusing on smaller more intimate ones with private room options and perhaps a more mature crowd. I stayed in a wonderful hostel last year in Budapest, Hungary, that was full of happy young people cooking and mingling together and actually building relationships which is what travel is all about. Later that same trip I got wild at a famous party hostel in the same city. I don’t remember much of that but the intimate hostel will never be forgotten.
In the future, I hope to review some tips on hosteling and also to suggest some good ones that I’ve enjoyed.
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.
By far the best way to get around Iceland and see all that it has to offer is to rent a car. In the winter I’d recommend a 4 wheel drive or if you desire to go up the mountain into the national park or the glaciers even in the summer. However, from late spring to early fall, you can literally drive around the entire country in the most budget of cars without too much difficulty. How do I know? I’ve done it. In a Chevrolet Spark. Even over some treacherous gravel mountain passes!
Of course, there is public transportation in the main city, and then you can take bus tours of the popular tourist sites for sure. And there are frequest flights from the main city to smaller ones via small aircraft for a fee if you are willing.
But if you really want to get a feel for the beauty of this place, you need to rent a car. These run from about $25/day for an off season economy car with limited milage to over $200/day for an off road capable SUV.
Gas is expesnive in Iceland however. Fule can be up to $8/gallon.
The Famous Blue Lagoon:
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the country of Iceland. It is formed from the run off hot spring water used to pwer a geo thermoal electrical plan which is then funneled into a natural looking man made pool with mud baths, massages, and bars surrounding it.
While this place is increddibly touristy and actualyl quite man made, it can be a relaxing place to visit.
Id recommend buying tickets in advance as they usually sell out. bring some snacks and sneak some alcohol in if you can as things are ridiculously expesnive inside. Get the basic package and then go enjoy a good full day in the park. There are steam rooms and saunas to enjoy as well as the beautiful pool with varying temperatures of water. There is plenty of mud to go around for skin cleansing and good facilities to clean up afterward. Tickets range from $40-55.
Food varies greatly in Iceland depending on iff you are are eating out or shopping at the super market. There are several discount super markets with prices as good or better than food costs in the US including Bonus and Kronan.
Eating out is very expensive. I imagine this is because of labor costs being high. I’m sure there are some more economical choices and from what I hear there are a few delicious restaurants that one must try. However if you are on a tight budget you may wish to forgo this option.
One note about food in Iceland. Some people will tell you that to truly experience Iceland culture you must try whale meat. While the Icelandic people have at times eaten whale, it is primarily a tourist attraction and completely unnecessary for your enjoyment of the Island. Please be humane and refrain from eating these highly intelligent beings and don’t eat at restaurants that serve whale meat.
Iceland uses the Krona which is valued at 110 per US dollar at the time of this writing.
Most places take credit cards but do keep a few thousand in bills just in case.
Cell phone service
T-mobile has 4G service throughout Iceland as good or better than in the US. Your T-mobile plan allows you your normal data allowance and unlimited text in Iceland with no changes or additional charges. Calling is extra.