Adoration 4 Adventure’s ultimate guide for finding travel accommodation on a budget.
In addition to flights, one of the biggest costs associated with travel is accommodation. I am always looking for ways to save money and rarely ever pay the full price for a hotel or hostel. This means that I can travel to more places or spend longer in destinations for the same amount.
Here are the methods that I regularly use to find low-cost or free travel accommodation.
Working for food and accommodation
What if I told you that you could get free accommodation by working for a few hours a day? The idea of an exchange of goods or services is not new, however there are now websites that make these transactions even easier to find.
The most commonly known platforms are Help X, Workaway and WOOFing. Each of these usually has a yearly subscription fee but once you sign up, you can then browse for exchange opportunities in the location of your choice. I’ve used another platform called Worldpackers, which charges a small fee for each assignment. By referring friends you can receive discounts off your placements.
Alternatively, you can search for exchanges the old-fashioned way by contacting the host directly. We all have skills that can be valuable to others. Consider your own experience and what could be useful for an accommodation provider then get in touch with them to see if they are interested in the offer.
Jobs can range from manual tasks (such as cleaning and construction) through to experienced (such as website design and photography). Depending on the level of skill required, each job will have different requirements and provisions. The higher the skill you have, the less hours you will need to contribute and the more you can expect to receive in return e.g. meals, drinks, activities, etc. It is important to note that as these are exchanges, usually no money is paid and it is up to you to secure the correct visa for that country.
Paying with points
If you participate in any points programs (hotel or air miles) then you may be able to redeem these points for a stay in a hotel. When visiting Portland, Oregon I used my frequent flyer points to pay for a two nights stay in a 3 star hotel with no extra cost for tax or fees.
Before choosing this option, I would recommend considering the value of the points as there may be better ways to spend them, for example, flights with a greater monetary value.
Discounted hotels and hostels
Last minute booking sites will often give great discounts on hotels. In the U.S.A., I mainly use Priceline or Hotwire however I’ll still shop around at other websites to see if I can find a better deal. By using a discounted hotel website, I was able to stay in a luxurious hotel on the Vegas strip for a fraction of the normal price.
I also like Booking.com because it’s easy to use and usually has a flexible change and cancellation policy (check before you book). While on a 5 week backpacking trip around Europe, I had to cancel 5 hostel bookings which I did with a few clicks in the app and no penalty fees.
When using booking sites, always make sure you check for additional cleaning fees, resort charges and taxes which may not be included the advertised price. I have been caught out before and had an exorbitant cleaning fee waived because it was not obvious when I booked online.
For long-term stays (3 nights or more) I like to use Airbnb. This is a great concept where you pay to stay in someone’s home. Depending on your budget and level of comfort, you can rent a whole house, private or shared room. For my first month in Vancouver I rented a master bedroom with en-suite through Airbnb. It was great because it’s fully furnished and the utilities are included in the costs. I received a a discounted rate because I booked for a whole month.
Airbnb also has a program that lets you earn credits towards your next stay when you refer friends or family. They receive a credit by signing up and you also receive one. By using my Airbnb credits, I was able to rent a private room in Barcelona, right near La Rambla for less than AUD $20 per night.
Most Airbnb property profiles are filled out in full, however you can also read references left by previous guests to get a better idea of the owners and the property. As with the booking sites, check for additional fees before booking.
While on road trips, I will camp as often as I can (weather permitting). There are often free campsites which you can find on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website in the U.S.A. or using the Wiki Camps app in Australia.
Camping in National Parks will often have a nightly fee attached however its a small price to pay to experience the wonder of being close to nature.
Hospitality exchange websites
Hospitality exchange websites are more than just about a free place to stay – it is about a cultural and sociable experience where you will spend time with and get to know your hosts.
Since 2010, I have used Couchsurfing to host over 20 surfers, stay with over 20 hosts, and make countless friends all around the world. Other hospital exchange websites include BeWelcome and Warmshowers, however have not personally tested them.
Before sending a CS request, I would suggest doing the following:
- Make sure that your profile is completed in full. Tell your future hosts and surfers who you really are!
- If you don’t already have references, ask a close friend or family member to give you a personal reference.
- Use the filters when searching for a host. I personally only look for hosts who have their profile set to “Yes” (not “Maybe”) and only contact hosts who have over a 80% response rate.
- Read your potential host’s profile very carefully. Are they someone that you can see yourself getting along with? Do you have interests in common?
- Check their references. Even if they don’t have negative or neutral references, it pays to read the positive references to get more of an insight about the person.
- When sending a request, include a short introduction about yourself and why you are traveling there. Highlight why you think it is a good match. Make references to multiple points on their profile to show that you have taken the time to read it.
- Avoid sending copy and paste requests. And don’t forget to include their name at the beginning!
Once you are accepted by a host, I would also try to take a gift along (such as wine, cake, etc.) as a token of our gratitude. Some surfers will offer to cook a meal instead, to say thank you. Recently I couchsurfed in Ibiza, Spain for three nights and we shared many meals and good conversations together.
Staying with friends and family
One of my favorite things about traveling is the people you meet along the way. I have made some incredible friendship connections which have lasted long-term from a long distance.
While traveling in Europe on a 5 week backpacking trip, I planned the majority of my stops around where my friends were living. I loved hanging out with them in their city and having a personal tour guide.
I have been so lucky to have such amazing friends and been welcomed by incredibly kind hosts, whom I hope we can also return the favor when they come to visit.
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