As experienced Budget Travellers, here is how we find cheap accommodation!
Having travelled to over 45 countries as a budget traveller, I can safely say I know a thing or two about how to find cheap accommodation. Accommodation is one of those things I hate to spend more on than I really have to when I travel.
Over the years I have visited many destinations that are not typically considered budget travel destinations and still always manage to get great deals and find cheap places to stay.
For example, we stayed in Paris for less than $50 per night and in Cozumel for less than $40 per night.
So let’s discuss how to find cheap accommodation…
First Things to Consider When Picking Accommodation
Before you start to look for accommodation, it might be worth just considering these things to narrow down what type you are looking for:
- Do you want to be sociable and meet people or do you really need some privacy?
- Is your preference to be in the centre of all the local action or do you want some peace and quiet?
- Do you want space to unpack for a while or are you just dropping by and happy to live out of your bag?
- Are you happy to share a bathroom?
- Do you need WIFI?
- Will you want the option to be able to cook for yourself?
- What is your maximum budget per night?
Going through these points and narrowing down what you are looking for will help you when we move on to the next step.
Where to Look for Cheap Accommodation
As you travel, you develop your own travel style. Where we started off as solo, budget backpackers trying to do everything as cheaply as possible, we have now grown out of hostel dorms and prefer private rooms. Don’t worry, I’ll still go over the different hostel options!
Simply because through trial and error and countless hours spent browsing online sites, I have always managed to find the biggest selection and cheapest deals through these websites.
A feature I love on all 3 sites is the map search option. So you can also pick somewhere based on its location. This has come in super handy when booking a hostel in a big city like Bangkok or Rome. Make sure it is close to the bus or train station you’ll be arriving at.
For trips where we know we want a cheap, but private room, we use booking.com.
If you head to their website, you can fill in your destinations and preferred dates. As soon as the results load I always immediately filter out the options I know I won’t book.
– Sort by: Price (lowest first)
– Filter: “Very good: 8+”
– Filter: “Free cancellation”
– Filter: any other things you prefer, like private bathrooms, or breakfast included
Booking.com has a loyalty scheme called Genius. This scheme offers some benefits for repeat users. There are three levels, and for each level, you get some extra benefits:
– Level 1: up to 10% discounts
– Level 2: up to 15% discounts, free breakfasts, free room upgrades
– Level 3: up to 20% discounts, priority support on stays, and all of the above.
Note that the above benefits are on select stays, so only the hotels that participate in the Genius program. But there are loads!
Getting to each level is simple. You’ll need a number of stays within 2 years. Genius level 1 is instant. Level 2 requires 5 stays, and level 3 15 stays.
They have also introduced a rewards wallet. You can earn money off of future trips simply by booking through their site! It all helps us in the end to get cheaper stays.
VBRO is an AirBnB competitor. Where AirBnB is currently losing popularity, people are switching over to VBRO. It works similarly and is great for renting apartments, houses, and even rooms.
Long stay is usually possible, making it great for digital nomads and slow travellers like ourselves.
It’s also great for family get-togethers and weekends away with other groups.
Hostel World, you guessed it, is perfect for hostels. In my opinion the best website for solo travellers.
Hostel World and Booking.com tend to show the same hostels for the same prices. However, since Hostel World shows nothing but hostels, it is handy to have them all in one place.
Another thing to note is the user base. Solo (budget) backpackers tend to use Hostel World more. Which means the people who review it are quite like-minded. I’ve seen cases where booking.com reviews showed a 7.5, whereas Hostel World had it listed with an 8.3.
With hostels, there is a fine line between picking affordable stays while having a good atmosphere full of like-minded people.
When to look
Unlike booking flights, the prices of a room or bed for the night don’t tend to change much. The only real changes are in high and low seasons and maybe during big events, like public holidays, nearby festivals, etc.
With that in mind, it is always a good idea to check when you’re travelling to avoid holidays if possible and book in advance to avoid all the cheap options being taken.
The great thing with these sites is you can nearly always select an option for free cancellation. This means you can book in advance and cancel up until a few days before the stay for no charge.
Final checklist for choosing the right Accommodation
So you’ve done all your research and you have some options, how do you choose?
Follow this quick checklist and you should be able to decide;
- Will I get the level of privacy I want?
- Will my belongings be safe?
- Is it in the right area?
- Will I be able to socialise with other travellers if I want to?
- Is it within my budget?
- Is it easy to get to?
- Does it have good reviews?
How to save extra money on Accommodation
Here are some of my top money-saving methods when it comes to finding a bed to sleep in;
- For long-term/slow travel, book 1 or 2 nights through online sites only. Then if you like a place and want to extend your stay, book with them in person. A lot of hostels in Asia would then charge you a lower fee because they don’t have to pay commission to the online sites.
- If you are going to be staying somewhere for a long time, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Especially out of peak seasons, the chances are they will be more than happy to discount your stay.
- Travelling out of peak seasons almost always results in cheaper prices.
- If you’re backpacking, be smart about when you travel. Meaning if you know you are moving to a new city and have a long bus/train or flight, then book these as overnight trips. That way you save yourself a night’s accommodation. I took multiple sleeper buses in Asia and it’s ideal!
- Pick a hostel dorm over a private hotel room. It is pretty much guaranteed that a bed in a hostel dorm will be far cheaper than a private room anywhere.
- Mixed-gender dorm rooms will also be cheaper than female-only rooms if you’re comfortable sharing with everyone.
- If you’re feeling extra brave then the bigger the dorm room (the more beds) the cheaper the price will be. The largest I have stayed in was a 14-bed dorm room and I had absolutely no complaints.
- Lastly, more of an overall money-saving tip. If you select accommodation that provides breakfast at the cost then that’s one less meal to pay for a day.
How to stay places for FREE
Now for the juicy part. Free accommodation!
It is possible but we are not talking about hotel rooms. We are talking more about long-term/slow travellers or very open-minded people;
Although I personally haven’t done couch surfing on my travels, I have met plenty of people who have used it. Not a single person had anything bad to say about their experiences. You just download the app and look for hosts in the area you want to visit. Drop them a message and go.
This is a great option for anyone on a super low budget or someone just wanting to get to see life from a local point of view. I have heard a lot of the time the host will take you out and show you around too, how great is that!
Workaway is slightly different in that you don’t pay for your stay but you earn it. You can sign up to the site for €39 for 1 person or €49 for 2 people. It works by then allowing you to search and contact hosts. They offer free stays and often meals in exchange for you working for them for around 5 hours a day, 5 days a week.
This option is more for people looking to travel slowly and enjoy places for longer. There is a huge variety of hosts and work on offer depending on your skills and interests. It’s also a great way to give back to local communities while travelling.
My main piece of advice for BOTH of these sites is to read the reviews of the hosts. I had a very bad workaway experience (that only lasted 1 night before I fled) but I hadn’t considered the fact this was a new host with no reviews yet. Oh well, we live and learn.
How to Find Cheap Accommodation – Final Thoughts
Accommodation can make or break your trip. So there is a lot to consider when booking! Following all of the above tips, I’m confident you’ll find exactly what you’ll need from your accommodation.