One of the biggest areas to save money when traveling is considering where to spend the night.
Spending every night in a hotel is not conducive to long-term travel or the bank account.
For me, I either couchsurf, camp outside, stay in hostels and depending on the trip, take overnight trains, bus rides or flights. There are a lot of other options out there as well. Here’s a list of resources and ideas that I use or have looked into myself.
Couchsurfing is an amazing community of generous people offering up their, “couch” and sometimes extra bed for free. There is no catch, you don’t have to pay any membership fees and you don’t owe anybody anything. The idea is more of what goes around comes around. If people are open and kind to you then hopefully you pass it on or perhaps host a surfer of your own at some point!
Now I know that people freak out with this one. Staying at a stranger’s house does not sound like a good idea. Surprisingly, with close to 6 million members, couchsurfing is fairly safe.
It’s like a Facebook and Yelp hybrid. Everybody has their own profile with information about who they are and what they’re into. On top of that, when one surfer meets another, they can write a sort of review about the person. This allows you to get the opinions of others to get a better feel for the person.
There is also the option to be verified as a member. Anybody with a green check mark on their profile has made a small donation and verified who they are and where they live.
I’m not going to say everybody on the site is nice and safe. Of course there have been and will be problems. The cool thing though, is that whenever there is a bad experience with somebody, the individual is put on blast by the local community. Unruly people do not last on couchsurfing.
I’ve surfed a couple of times with no problems. One time I was given a spare key to the house and was told to come and go as I please. This shows the trust and the people in the community.
Of course, if you find yourself checking this out, it’s always nice to bring something to the table. Maybe consider buying or making dinner. Depending on the host maybe bring a six pack of their favorite beer.
Staying at a hostel tends to be my go to option about 90% of the time.
Hostels are a budget form of accommodation. Imagine a hotel room, but stuff it with a few to several bunk beds. Instead of paying more for a room by yourself, you split the room with sometimes up to 20 people.
Hostels tend to be super inexpensive. Hostels in Central America average probably around $5 a night and often include a pancake breakfast. The most I’ve spent was $13 a night for a hostel in Nicaragua. That got me a view overlooking the ocean, pancakes for breakfast plus an infinity pool to swim in. A splurge when it comes to hostel but well worth it in my book.
Contrary to belief, there are hostels in Unites States as well. There aren’t as many but most of the major cities have them. From what I’ve seen I would say they average between $20 – $30 a night which isn’t too bad.
I will warn you though, hostels are not for everybody, many times they can be kind of grimy. If you think about it though, generally it’s backpackers who have been traveling for who knows how long with the same pack of stuff. Also, some don’t come with air conditioning or hot water (at least in Central America). If that’s a must, perhaps consider another option.
When looking for hostels I check out a couple of different options. Hostel World and Hostel Bookers tend to be the better sites. Hostel World I believe has at the moment the largest selection of hostels. Check both though as they sometimes have different selections and different prices.
If I find a hostel I like I’ll check it out on both sites, read the reviews and see if one has a better price.
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
This is for curious people looking to learn and help out. In exchange for volunteering on organic farmstays you get free housing.
I’ve looked into this several times, but have never tried it out before. It’s been around for a while and only continues to build momentum.
If you’re looking for a real local experience I would imagine this would be a great way to go. You essentially stay with a family, help out with chores around the farm then experience the local culture after work. It would be a great way to get a view as a local.
The WWOOF site is like a central hub that directs you to other sites. Many countries around the world have their own WWOOF organization that are listed in the main site.
If you consider looking into this, know that you will be working. You don’t get paid, but you will have a place to stay and sometimes some food as well. There is an initial fee that is dependent on the country you plan on volunteering in. When I was looking at some places in Mexico, I want to say the fee was around 20 dollars or so.
This would definitely be an awesome and rewarding way to travel. The cool thing is that there are so many options for different types of work. If you don’t mind getting dirty, consider checking it out!
Another similar online organization that I consistently look into is HelpX. HelpX works very much like WWOOF, but instead of limiting the work to farming, there is no definition to the jobs you can work. Like WWOOF again, you work in exchange for a place to sleep, often food and every now and a gain some cash.
When you go to their website you create a profile and then take a look at possible hosts. The general website is completely free to browse around. If at some point you want to get a more in-depth look at a possible host or get more details and reviews about them, then a there is a small fee.
The fee is $20 for two years, but I don’t believe that you necessarily need it to sign up with a host.
The thing that I love about HelpX is the diversity of options for jobs. I’ve seen people looking for help in walking dogs, running a hostel, doing house work, being an extra deck hand on a yacht, the opportunities go on.
I’ve used this a couple of times myself. While I was traveling in Mexico I worked at a hostel as well as a spider monkey sanctuary. Both jobs provided food and a bed. The hostel gig paid a little each day too. Can’t guarantee how great the job will be, but it helps keep travel expenses to a minimum.
Another option that has been more recently growing in popularity is the idea of home exchange or house sitting.
The names are pretty self-explanatory. You either swap houses for a period of time or house sit for people when they leave for business or vacation.
Most often, these websites and organizations require a larger investment, not only monetarily but in time putting across your personality on these websites. Of course, the homeowners want to make sure they pick a safe and responsible person for the job.
A similar site that is becoming more well know as well is AirBnB. I honestly haven’t looked too much into this site myself, but I keep hearing great things. From my understanding, regular people offer up a spare bedroom or their own house as a place to stay. You do pay money dependent on what the person is asking for a night’s stay at their pad. It’s like a hotel website, but instead of hotel rooms they’re actual bedrooms where people live.
Using points for Hotel Rooms
This last one involves building up credit card points and then exchanging them for hotel rooms.
Right off the bat I want to say, if you’re not disciplined with your spending and keeping your balance paid off then do not try this one.
Credit Cards today offer tons of incentives during the initial sign up. In my newsletter I’ve talked about cards a couple of times that offer 50,000+ points or flyer miles. With these points or miles you can stay in nice hotels and even fly around the world for practically free.
When you’re looking for a card, find one without any sign-up fees (most are like this). Next find one that offers the incentive you’re looking for. At this point I would say look for cards where you can get at least 40,000 points.
Often cards offer an initial amounts, let’s say 10,000. Then over the next few months to year, if you spend X amount of money then you reap the rewards of an additional 30,000 or more.
The key to this is spending money that you already planned on spending. By buying what you normally buy on a card and then paying it off immediately after you don’t pay interest yet you reap the benefits.
Again, this is for people who are disciplined in their spending and know they won’t get out of control
Whether you’re a backpacker or enjoy staying at nice hotels there are plenty of ways to find cheap or free places to stay. Hopefully this list helps you out on your next adventure!
Have you used any of these or are there some that I should add to the list that I’m missing? Please let me know in the comments below as I would like to continuously build on these resources!