After transportation costs, accommodations are likely to take up the biggest chunk of your traveling budget. Thanks to alternative travel websites, internet comparison shopping, and travel bundles, there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips to help you make the right decisions! Here are the best ways to score quality accommodations when you budget travel.
Note: This is the third topic in our Travel on a Budget Series. If you missed the Travel on a Budget overview post, check it out first and then come back!
Today, I’m sharing some travel advice that will help you snag accommodations for your trip while traveling on a budget! These travel tips and hacks will cover traditional hotels, as well as private rental companies. I’ll also highlight some outside the box accommodations for you adventurers at heart who are serious about budget travel and saving cash!
My “Don’t Leave Home Without It” Research Tool
My go-to research tool for any adventure, big or small, is TripAdvisor. It’s incredibly thorough, contains more details and reviews than you could ever need, and is a one-stop shop for travel destination information. You can create an account for free to research and build upcoming trips.
Trip Advisor also has a free app, which is great to have on your phone as you are exploring around new areas. Use the “Nearby” map option to scope out restaurants, hotels, or things to do near your current location. Reviews, hours of operations, website details, contact info, and a map to get there are all at your fingertips.
With Trip Advisor, you can compare hotels, vacation rentals, cruises, car rentals, and flights all in one place. Plus they offer vacation packages as well. You can also find things to do, travel forums to ask questions to other travelers, travel guides, road trips itineraries, and their “Traveler’s Choice Best Of…” awards, as voted on by millions of Trip Advisor travelers.
Budget Travel: Snagging Great Hotel Deals
In addition to Trip Advisor, there are lots of other great online travel booking and comparison tools. Gone are the days where you have to call hotels directly and comparison shop (thank goodness!). It’s never been easier to get a good deal on a great place to stay! Plus, with thousands of reviews from customers, you can get a general idea about what a place will be like before you arrive.
Watch for flash sales, daily getaways, and discounted vacation packages on these recommended sites:
- Groupon Getaways
- Travelocity Daily Deals
- Last Minute
- Voyage Private (European market)
- Living Social
- Travel Pirates
Budget travel: outside the box options
Accommodations can be one of the largest expenses when traveling- especially when headed to places where the cost of visiting is high! Being creative with where you stay is a great way to keep costs down when you travel on a budget.
Consider a campervan
A campervan is a great way to get more for your money- you combine a rental car and lodging in one package. This is a great strategy to incorporate into your trip if you want to travel somewhere where public transportation is minimal and traveling expenses are high.
For example, while it’s super cheap to fly to Iceland, it’s crazy expensive to stay there. You can counteract some of these costs by staying in a campervan. My friend Alicia shares her thoughts after road tripping across Iceland in a campervan. Check it out and get inspired!
Stay in a youth hostel
Youth hostels aren’t actually just for kids. Generally, hostels are no-frills accommodations that provide basic comforts for a fraction of what you would pay for a hotel, apartment, or house.
Depending on where you stay in the world, hostels can range from something resembling a rowdy dormitory to a retirement villa, so you do want to do some research to ensure you’re booking the kind of place you envision. Rick Steves has a great guide that offers travel tips for Europe’s hostels.
Hostels are one of the best ways to score cheap accommodations when you’re trying to travel on a budget. Hostels are also a great way to meet other travelers from across the globe. If you’re traveling with family, it’s a fun way for your kids to meet other children from different cultures.
Make travel friends and network!
My first trip to Hawaii, I spent 10 days in Maui for free. I have a dear friend named Brooks who studied abroad in Australia while she was in college. She kept in contact with a friend she lived with there, named Katie. After college, Katie moved to Hawaii and invited Brooks to visit. And, not wanting to go solo, I got a complimentary invite.
While in Maui we housesat for one of Katie’s friends who was out of state. We had to watch her super cool cat, Pupule (Hawaiian for crazy), at her apartment that was a block from the beach. It had a gorgeous pool, a hot tub, and was walking distance to a beach town that had it all. It was rough.
Since that trip, I have enjoyed free accommodations in Germany, St. Thomas, and Spain, thanks to the kindness of friends I know who lived or traveled there.
If you have friends or family that live elsewhere in the country or the world, reach out and ask them about visiting. If they have space, they might even invite you to stay with them. At the minimum, they can offer travel tips or suggestions for visiting their area.
Maybe you don’t know people who live somewhere else, but with enough traveling, you’re bound to meet new people. The more you talk to people and network as you travel, the more likely it is you can build relationships with those you meet from elsewhere. And you never know what kinds of benefits can come from that.
Budget travel: hacks to get more for your money from your accommodations
Rent a place with a kitchen & laundry facilities
Renting a home, condo, or apartment instead of a hotel room can save you loads of cash. By having access to a full kitchen, you can eat many meals at home or warm up leftovers from dinner out the night before. This will really add up if you are traveling with a family!
Booking a place with access to laundry facilities means you can pack a lot less clothing, which will save you baggage fees and the hassle of carrying so much luggage. Learn how to pack light on your next vacation and save the burden of carrying around all of the things.
Rent the smallest feasible space
When my husband and I travel as a couple, we always search for studio apartments or condos first. Renting a studio over a one bedroom can save you a lot of money and often they are comparable in size.
A few years ago, we scored a studio apartment in Princeville, Kauai for less than $80 a day for our anniversary trip. An entire apartment in Hawaii for less than we would have paid to stay at the Holiday Inn back home. Let that sink in.
If you’re traveling with kids, consider if you can get away with a one bedroom with a fold out couch or cot versus a two bedroom place or a house.
If you’re traveling as a large group or extended family, consider if one or two accommodations would better suit your needs. When we were planning our extended family vacation to Florida, we scoured Airbnb for houses that could accommodate our large group. After a lot of searching, we decided to search for two bedroom condos that were available to rent in the same buildings. We found two nicely equipped condos, directly on the beach with ocean views, for a combined total that was less than we would have paid for a single, large house off the beach.
Vacation Rental Options
There are lots of reputable companies online that cater to connecting homeowners with travelers. Our go-to resource for travel accommodations is Airbnb. We’ve stayed in BnBs in Tennesee, Mexico, Hawaii, Switzerland, and Italy. They are a great way to enjoy the comforts of home for a fraction of what a fancy hotel might cost.
New to AirBnB? Use my referral link to score $40 off your first stay + $15 to spend on your first experience!
When we got married in the Caribbean, we booked an oceanside villa in St. John through VRBO. We also have friends that rent out their island home through HomeAway. A lot of island destinations are hooked into these networks.
Extras often included
Additional perks of renting condos, apartments, or homes are that they often cater to larger groups than a single traveler or couple. Family-friendly accommodations often come with board games, books, cribs, high chairs, toys, or beach gear. Not having to buy or rent these things when you arrive, or pay to transport them, can save you a lot of cash (less to pack, less to keep track of, and less to pay in luggage fees). I’ve even seen a few places that came with a vehicle you could use!
Rent with friends
Traveling with friends, other couples, or other families is a great way to travel on a budget. You can find some pretty epic accommodations and turn them into budget-friendly options by sharing the costs. If these accommodations come with a kitchen, even better! Share the costs of groceries and the responsibilities of cooking meals to stretch your dollars without sacrificing on experiences. Just be sure to journey with people you can stand for a weekend or longer. Nothing ruins a vacation quicker than poor company!
Budget travel hack: It pays to be loyal
Consider signing up with regularly used travel sites or companies to take advantage of their perk programs and incentives. Many hotels offer reward programs that can add up to discounted or free accommodations. Loyalty programs can also score you free upgrades or services.
Accommodation Decision: Pay to stay in the heart of it all or stay on the outskirts and commute in?
This is a tricky question to answer because it depends on a litany of factors. It will almost always benefit your budget to stay on the outskirts of your desired area if public transportation is readily available and lodgings are not too inconveniently located, but you have to weigh that decision with the convenience you are giving up. Sometimes the cost difference makes it worth the sacrifice. Other times, not so much.
For instance, when my husband traveled to Teterboro, New Jersey, for business, he made many day trips into New York City. He could catch a bus across from his hotel for $6 and be in downtown Manhattan (Penn Station) in under 30 minutes. No doubt that it was cheaper to stay there and pay $6 to go into the city than to book a hotel downtown and walk to Penn Station.
However, this can also backfire. When we booked accommodations in Cinque Terre, Italy, I opted for a hotel built into the cliffs outside the 5 towns. While we didn’t have a car, the hotel offered shuttle service to the center of each town. In my mind, this was like having public transportation, so I booked it.
Upon arrival, we realized that the shuttle wasn’t on demand, but was scheduled every hour or two. What’s worse, it’s last pick up was 7 pm. After getting stranded in Manarola after an entire day of hiking elevated trails, I definitely regretted not booking a place in town or directly on the train line.
Budget travel accommodation tips:
- Research your upcoming trip on Trip Advisor- score great accommodation deals and learn about what there is to see and do while there
- Watch for flash sales, daily getaways, and discounted vacation packages on travel sites
- Consider suburbs of major cities to get access to city offerings without the lodging premiums
- Consider the type of lodging you will secure and be willing to think outside the box (hostels, campervans, couch surfing) to save some cash
- Determine if an alternative to a traditional hotel could work for you
- Join loyalty programs to earn travel discounts and member perks
- Rent a place with a kitchen to cut down on eating out
- Book a place with laundry facilities so you can travel light
- If the hotel is in a downtown area, be sure you know the daily cost of parking if you are not relying on public transportation
Budget travel: spend money on experiences, not rooms
If you do your research and play it smart, there’s no reason to spend thousands of dollars on accommodations. Remember that the reason you travel is to see and experience new things, not sit in a room. Don’t spend all your budget on fancy digs that you only need to lay your head down at night.
Instead, save money by renting a clean, average space. Take all that extra money you’re saving and put it on experiences.
Years later, no one remembers the specific accommodation details from their travels. They remember the experiences they had there. As a budget traveler, you have limited funds. Invest them wisely in experiences and you will be rewarded with a lifetime of memories