For many, travel is a favorite hobby. Unfortunately, most people don’t do it nearly as often as they like due to economic constraints. With higher flight prices, weak currencies, and salaries that aren’t rising, everyone is looking for ways to stretch their budget when traveling. One cost that people are rethinking is the hotel; volunteering, house swapping and networking are all ways to find a place to stay for little or no money. So instead of shelling out hundreds for a mediocre accommodation, consider one of these innovative and inexpensive ideas. Here are 10 great alternatives to staying in a hotel…
1. CouchSurfing – a great budget alternative to a hotel stay
Couchsurfing.org is a community-based organization that matches hosts and travelers all over the world. The site boasts a high “positive experience” rate and over 240 participating countries. In order to find a place, you must become a member and create a profile on the site. You can then search for hosts and send CouchRequests to people that live where you will be traveling.
Pros: There’s no cost to sign up at couchsurfing.org, and it’s always free to stay at someone’s place (you’ll need to pay for your own food of course). Using the site is also safer than you might think; you have the chance to review people’s profiles and read about their experiences with guests or hosts. It’s also a great way to meet a local and get to know their culture. And who knows, it may be the start of a lifelong friendship!
Cons: Even if someone’s profile looks good on the website, your stay may still end up being a nightmare. Privacy is another issue, especially if you are literally staying on the person’s couch. You may not feel like you can relax while living in a stranger’s apartment. Couch surfing is also less feasible when you’re traveling with a group or with your significant other. In addition, this option isn’t so easy for last-minute travel, because the best experiences come as a result of advance planning and host matching.
2. Swap houses – a great way to experience travel like a local
Have a house that you wouldn’t mind trading for a few weeks? Then a house swap may be for you. You simply stay in someone else’s house in a foreign country while they come and stay at your place at the same time. There are several websites that match people for swaps. Homeexchange.com is one, and you must create a page with pictures and descriptions of your house, along with preferences of where and when you would love to travel. There’s a fee for Home Exchange, but you can sign up for as little as a month of membership. For a simpler, more informal way to swap, Craigslist has a “housing swap” option under Housing, for every city that the site lists.
Pros: Aside from any membership fees, house swapping is free. It’s certainly more comfortable than couch surfing, and it allows you to travel with a significant other or your entire family. For large cities, house swapping is a great way to stay centrally-located or in a trendy neighborhood without paying an arm and a leg for lodging.
Cons: Just like CouchSurfing, house or apartment swapping is not for the faint-hearted. If you can’t stand the thought of a stranger staying in your home, move on to a different idea. There are also a lot of details to work out, like use of your car, telephone, appliances, and house cleaning. Sorting out this task is difficult if you don’t use an exchange agency that will draft an agreement for both parties.
3. Camp out
If you thought camping was old-fashioned, think again. It’s a popular activity for adult groups and families throughout the world. Camping is also light on the budget, and an ideal way to travel if you have a car. Just invest in a tent and start your journey!
Pros: The cost to park your car and camp is minimal, and in most cases, there are hot showers and restrooms on-site. You’ll save on food costs by buying ingredients to grill up rather than eat out. Campsites are great places to meet other travelers too.
Cons: Without a car, camping isn’t so easy, unless campsites are accessible by public transportation. Without a vehicle, that tent may get very heavy very quickly. And if you’re not the outdoorsy, sleep-under-the-stars type, then this idea isn’t for you.
That strange combination of letters stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing has taken off in the past few years thanks to the organic and slow food movements. Many countries have their own WWOOF websites that list all opportunities for that specific country. You must join or subscribe to that country in order to see what positions are available.
Pros: You aren’t paid, but housing and meals are free. WWOOFing is an opportunity to gain firsthand experience on an organic farm in a foreign country. If you’re looking to improve a foreign language, taking a job on a farm abroad will without a doubt improve your language skills. And, many would say WWOOFing is a great resume builder.
Cons: Okay, so you’re not paid, and you may get bored on a farm in rural Argentina or France. Plus, you have responsibilities, so you won’t have the freedom to travel and organize your own schedule. WWOOF has also benefited from great press in past years, which means many people want to participate. As a result of more WWOOFers, you may find it tough to land a job at a farm in popular locations like Europe or North America.
5. Boutique hostels
The boutique hostel is a new but promising concept. Accommodations are still considered budget, but amenities include modern décor, luxurious, clean bathrooms, and free WiFi. These hostels are popping up all over the world, even in chic areas of major cities.
Pros: You pay a fraction of the price of a hotel, but receive the same quality. There’s also more opportunity to socialize: there’s still that friendly, young atmosphere, so boutique hostels are a great place to meet young but discerning travelers just like you.
Cons: You’re still staying at a hostel, where you might have to share bathroom and sleeping areas, depending on what type of room you book. And then there’s the noise you might expect from a group of guests partying or hanging out in the common area at night. Lastly, the hostel might have a curfew, which certainly isn’t the case with a proper hotel.
6. University clubs abroad
Taking an extended vacation in one specific country? Your best bet to never pay for a hotel room may be to stay with someone from one of your school networks. Many American universities like Yale, Duke and Stanford have active alumni clubs or associations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. It’s worth a shot to contact your college club in that country and ask if anyone is willing to host an alumnus for a few weeks or months. Write an email that can be circulated that includes a short paragraph about yourself, including what you can offer to the host, whether it’s cooking and housekeeping or something more substantial, like childcare or home repairs.
Pros: Bunking with a fellow alumnus may just cost you nothing, depending on the length of your stay and the generosity of your host. You’ll also feel better staying with someone from your network instead of a complete stranger.
Cons: This option may not be so easy to swing because not all colleges have active university clubs in foreign countries. If you went to a small school or didn’t go the college route, then staying with other alumni isn’t a feasible option.
7. Offer your services
No, we don’t mean prostitution. We’re talking about skills like marketing, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and carpentry. Farms, guest houses, small hotels, and bed and breakfasts can use these skills in exchange for a room. Of course, this type of arrangement would only work if you’re planning on staying in town for a few months; no one would be willing to take you on for just a couple of days.
Pros: Your stay won’t cost any money, and you could end up at a pretty nice resort or guest house for an extended period of time. The arrangement could even lead to a more permanent job position if things go well.
Cons: You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time creating an ad for yourself and emailing it to hotels, B&Bs, and sites like Craigslist. The entire process could take months and that may be time you don’t have. And sadly, all your hard work may not amount to anything, given the difficult worldwide job market.
8. Put Facebook to work
You’re already on the website too much each day, so why not put Facebook to work? It’s now common to post a Question or Status that asks your Facebook friends if they know of a place to stay in X city. You may get a response from a really good friend, or someone who was in your English class at college. Or it might even be a friend of a friend that knows someone that has an extra room the weekend you’ll be there.
This idea is also a reminder to keep in touch with people you meet abroad. If you had a great conversation with someone you met in a different country, be sure to get his or her email address, and friend the person on Facebook. Staying in contact is a great way to maintain a friendship, but more practically, it can open doors for when you need a place to stay. Even if your friend doesn’t live in the country you’re visiting, he or she may have relatives or other friends that would be glad to host you. You just never know where an opportunity may come from, which is why it’s essential to network and maintain ties with people you’ve befriended abroad.
Pros: If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, there’s a chance that a good or even great option will surface. And since you’re staying at a friend’s or friend of a friend’s house, you won’t have to pay for your stay.
Cons: The accommodation may just be a couch or the floor of someone’s apartment. That person may also be someone you don’t know directly. And finally, the search on Facebook may result in no one having any contacts for the place you’re going.
9. Shake the family tree
With family spreading out all over the globe these days, someone related to you might have a place for you to stay. Break out that phone book and start calling aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins. Call relatives that are stateside too; they might have friends or contacts in the country where you will be.
Pros: You could score free housing with family, which will be much more comfortable than a hotel or a random person’s apartment. You won’t feel awkward sharing meals or just hanging out in the house with your relatives. This may also be the chance to find and reconnect with relatives that stayed behind in their home country while other family members immigrated to the US.
Cons: If you’re set on visiting one specific place, you may not have luck finding someone in the family that can help you. (Yet, with some flexibility, you could have a wonderful vacation in a place you never thought of visiting.) You may also find somebody that just doesn’t have the room to host you on your trip.
10. Get on a boat
Sailboats and yacht owners that are looking for crew members often take on college students or young adults with a sense of adventure and a willingness to work. You could end up sailing through the Mediterranean by paying your way with your labor. To find a position, look to the Internet. There are dozens of websites that advertise crew positions, but generally, you have to register to view the listings.
Pros: See the world; learn a new skill, all while being on a beautiful boat. Your expenses won’t be high and food might be included in the deal too.
Cons: You’ll be working plenty, but be paid little or nothing. Previous experience on a sailboat or yacht is highly coveted, and many candidates do in fact have this experience on their resumes. Competition is tough, and many offers only open during the summer months, leaving you without options if you’re looking to get away at a different time of the year.
That’s it for our budget travel ideas. Try some out and never pay for a hotel again!