Travel accommodation is one of the biggest expense a traveler incurs on a daily basis (on average 40-50% of the daily budget). However, using simple practices and making small sacrifices a traveler can really extend their travel budget. Here’s some practices I have learned through by experience on how to save when it comes to your travel accommodation:
1. Never Book in Advance
When we book online a certain percentage of the prices goes to cover costs such as commissions, site maintenance, and transaction costs. So to avoid them I do my best to arrive at my destination during daytime and shop in person. My first stop is a tourist office that has a list of the accommodations in town and their rates. I select 4-5 in my area of preference and within a target budget. I visit each hotel until I find the one I like the best and the one that gives me the best deal. A hotel’s management wants all of its rooms occupied. So if you feel the hotel might have a lot of empty rooms empty, negotiate. You will be surprised at the deals you can snatch by booking in person!
2. Research in Advance
A day before leaving for my destination I pull up Google Maps and websites related to tourism in the region. I map the attractions I would like to visit during my stay in the city. Then using a hostel or hotel booking website I search for the accommodations near the places I am likely to visit. Over the last 7-months the site I have used most often is hostelbookers.com but every now and then I would also use hostelworld.com and expedia.ca. By finding a place near the attractions I want to visit I can often cut back on the cost of transportation within the city. The research also gives me an idea on which neighbourhoods might be more affordable than others. You can also read the reviews to find out others experience at the hotel or neigbourhood. If I am arriving during night hours or if I find an exceptional deal I book online at least one night. I can always negotiate subsequent nights once I am there.
3. Make Friends – Share
Sharing a hotel room can significantly lower costs. If you’re traveling as a pair you can always find a third to occupy the extra bunk in the room. Or if you’re traveling alone find a friend, sharing and split the cost. Independent travelers are always happy to save some bucks and have some good company. Once in Morocco I had no choice but to take a double room. Luckily right after checking in I ran in to a fellow I met the night before at the reception. I told him that I had to book a double room with separate beds. Before I could finish, he happily offered to take the second bed and split the cost of the room.
Cooking Indian food for friends
in Madrid, Spain
4. Stay with a Friend or Friends-Friend
You wouldn’t know it but you’re connected to more people than you know. Whenever I can, I checked to see if I know someone in the places I plan to visit. If I don’t then I would ask people I know if they know someone who lives there. Social networks like Facebook has made this very easy. Need something? Write a post. Go to sleep. Wake up and voila! You have 15 comments with leads. Normally it will cost you nothing to stay with a friends-friend but it’s always good to check. Either ways it’s always good to contribute in some way. I like to cook a meal, buy a gift before leaving, or treat my host(s) out on a sightseeing tour with me.
5. Travel Overnight
Many travelers opt to do the “actual traveling” over night, especially when covering long distances. An 8-12 hour bus or a train ride is a great way save money on a nights accommodation. Almost every hostel or hotel will allow you to keep your luggage in safe storage after you check out. So before embarking your night transportation you can go for a final visit of the city or town. I like to treat myself to a nice meal, stock up on snacks and water. Once satisfied, I return to the hostel, collect my belongings and head over to the terminal and embark on a relaxing (in most cases) ride through the veil of night. My favourite night journey so far has been a train ride from Nairobi to Mombasa on Kenya’s historic railway (also known as the “Lunatic Express”).
6. Rent Long Term Accommodation
If you’re planning on staying somewhere for an extended period of time – anywhere from a couple of weeks to months – I suggest looking for long-term accommodation. Even a mid-range apartment might cost far less than the cheapest hostel on daily basis. Alternatively, negotiate a reduced price for long-term stay at your hostel or hotel. You might have to pay a certain, if not the entire amount, in advance. So just be sure of your plans and whether or not you like the accommodations. I rented a large, fully-furnished apartment in the center of Timisoara, Romania, that cost me a bit more than a third of what I had been paying for a month at hostels in a month.
7. Sleep Under the Open Sky
In many places in Europe and North America this is possible. Find yourself a park bench or roll out the sleeping bag on a picturesque beach. While my only experience has been sleeping in a tent in Canada, I know many people who have opted to sleep under the open sky on their travels. Wherever you are though, be vigilant. Make sure you either sleep with your head on top of your backpack or while hugging it. When sleeping on a park bench be sure to sleep near a working light post and try and be aware of your surroundings.
View from my room at a guesthouse
in Finisterra, Spain
Many times NGO’s will offer you free or subsidized accommodation during your volunteer term with them. Volunteering is also a great way to explore and learn about places from many different perspectives. You can find volunteer placements by visiting websites of specific organizations you’re interested in working with or through organizations like CUSO and VSO, amongst many others. Because I have worked as a Not-for-Profit Management Professional for over 8 years, I was able to find volunteer work by reaching out to my professional network. You may consider reaching out to family or friends who work in the area of international development.
There are plenty of ways to cut back on travel cost. Plenty more for finding affordable travel accommodation. Couchsurfing, traveling with a tent, and knocking on strangers doors are just a few more examples. Just remember one thing – the most valuable thing is your time and experience.