Accommodations take a huge chunk out of the travel budget. What’s sad is that the way I travel, I’m not even in the room that much. I’m always exploring the area I’m visiting and am only in the room to sleep a few hours at night and then I’m back at it again.
So this article is all about how I find places to stay at a reasonable price. If you’ve stumbled onto this page then be sure to check out the first post in my Travel Planning Simplified Series all about how to budget for your trip.
Best Sites to Use to Find Cheap Places to Stay
- Airbnb.com – If I want a unique place to stay or more privacy than a hotel room then I’ll opt for Airbnb. Many people like it because it also gives you a more local experience.
- Booking.com – This site is great for comparing hotels in the area and you can also find B&B’s or some condos that are listed on VRBO.
- Agoda.com – I’ve never personally used this site, but I found it when Nomadic Matt recommended it and at first glance it looks like they have some great deals on hotels.
- Hostelworld.com – Now don’t cringe at the word “hostel.” When I took a five-week trip through Europe, I stayed in multiple hostels and liked them better than the hotels I stayed in. On Hostelworld you can find some of the best hostels all over the world.
- Couchsurfing.com – This is also one that can get a stigma. Again, I’ve never personally used this site but have heard great things from those who have. If you’re a people person, then couchsurfing may just be for you especially since it’s insanely cheap.
The Method I Use to Find Places to Stay
- Initial Research – Pull up your favorite booking websites and leave those tabs open. My preference lately has been Airbnb, Booking.com, and Hilton Hotels. Next time I plan a trip I will likely also look at Agoda.com. In each tab search your destination plus the dates and scroll through the pages to get an idea of the cost.
- Narrow Down With Price – Once you get a general idea of the price range, figure out what a good price is for a decent hotel. For example, prices can range from $100 – $650/night so I’ll likely look at something like a Hampton Inn or a whole house on Airbnb for $175/night. My top dollar would be $200/night. Then enter that in the price filter.
- More Filter Preferences – These will be unique to your travel style. On Airbnb I typically choose “whole house” and “Superhost.” On Booking.com I’ll choose “Breakfast Included” and “Very Good: 8+” for the rating. This helps to narrow down the options further.
- List Out Your Favorites – Is there one that has a hot tub and that’s a top amenity on your list? What about a glamping experience? Maybe you found a home that’s beautifully decorated or has a porch with a view? Whichever ones stand out to you, make a list of 3 – 5 that you love and the full cost of each.
- Map Them Out – Check out each place’s location on Google Maps. Some things to look for are whether you would have to pay for additional transportation or if you can walk to everything, what kind of restaurants or shops are in the area, is it a residential or commercial neighborhood, and is it in a safe area.
- Make Your Choice – Once you have all this information you should be able to choose the perfect place to stay for your vacation. You’ll be a pro in no time on how to find places to stay!
Cheap Alternatives to Hotels & What You Should Know
This is probably my favorite alternative to hotels because you have so much privacy, no one running down the halls at 4am, and you get a kitchen! However, all of these perks are only when you rent a whole house.
The cheapest options on this site are to rent a private room and sometimes you will still have your own kitchen but you just don’t have the privacy of an entire house to yourself. I do love renting rooms in Bed & Breakfasts because they’re usually so unique and the innkeepers are always so nice.
Personal Tip: Look for good reviews and preferably those who are Superhosts. You can check that as a search filter option. Don’t be fooled by the per night price. There are taxes, cleaning fees, and sometimes other, additional fees that are added to the price you see in the search results.
Get outdoors! If you aren’t ready to go full-on backcountry camping (which you can do for free in many places) there are plenty of campgrounds with cheap campsites that have bathhouses. This is a great option if you already have a tent or an RV.
If you’ve never been camping and are a little uneasy about setting up a tent there are many outfitters that offer guided trips. Do some research in the area that you’re visiting. Another option are rustic cabins that can be rented at many campgrounds.
Glamping is a fun alternative to a hotel but you’ll usually pay a comparable amount.
Hostels are very similar to hotels but with more communal spaces and the option for dormitory rooms or single/double-occupancy rooms that are exactly like hotel rooms. The communal spaces are typically a place to hang out, kitchen, laundry room, and a bar/restaurant.
Hostels are known for catering to a younger crowd and get a bad reputation for being grungy or unsafe. This has not been the case at all in my experience. When trying to find a place to stay in any type of accommodation always check reviews and the same goes for hostels.
Personal Tip: Look for hostels that include breakfast. If you don’t mind staying in a room with strangers then a dorm room will allow you to make some new friends while you travel.
I am a huge fan of credit card points. I use the Hilton Honors card and get Hilton rewards points for all my purchases. In all honesty, I probably don’t use them to get the maximum reward possible but I still get many free nights per year.
Tyler and I go to a lot of concerts (not now of course, thanks COVID) and I’ll usually use my points so we can stay at a Hampton Inn near the concert venue. I’m in love with Hampton Inns – clean rooms, comfortable beds, free breakfast.
Personal tip: Find a brand you like and stick with them. If you’re able to, open a credit card with great travel rewards so you can earn even more points.
If you’re traveling solo then this is definitely one of the cheapest (even free) ways to go. You might literally be sleeping on the couch, but you’ll meet a local or two and have a unique experience for sure. This is another one where it’s important to check the person’s profile, reviews, and rating.
Check out Jessie On a Journey’s video about her craziest couchsurfing story. Be sure and watch until the end though!
Sites like MindMyHouse or HouseCarers match you with people who want someone to watch their house while they are gone for vacation, work, or whatever other reason.
These sites do charge a small fee per year to be listed as a house sitter, but you’ll have free accommodation if you’re flexible with the location you want to travel. In some cases you will also be pet sitting for the owners.
This is a hit or miss option. Sometimes you’ll find a great deal and you can stay on a working farm and other times the price will be even more than what a hotel would cost you.
Check out Farm Stay USA for some unique places to stay on farms across the United States. They have guides that show you all the options in each state.
How I Find Places to Stay When Traveling
There you have it, some of the ways I find places to stay and then a few extra that I’ve never done before. My preference when traveling is to not go for bottom dollar accommodations, but to make sure I’m paying a reasonable price for wherever I stay and that it’s still safe.
Like I said before, I don’t usually spend much time in the room anyways. I do love a good balcony where I can drink my morning coffee though. Figure out what’s important to you and then update your budget and these methods accordingly.
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