How to Save Money on Accommodation When Traveling Abroad

If you’re planning a long-term trip overseas on a limited budget the cost of paying for your accommodation is one of the main things you’ll need to take into account before you set off. So what can you do to make sure you keep these costs as low as possible? The following is a list of excellent options I know of and have used (most of them any how) during my travels around the world:

Staying in a hostel

If you are going on a short trip or backpacking for a few months, staying in a hostel might be the cheapest option.  But if you are planning on traveling further afield or for a longer period of time, the drawbacks of this type of accommodation will soon become apparent. Not only will the costs of staying in a hostel start to mount up but so will your feeling of irritation with the habits of your fellow guests. So what are the alternatives open to you as an independent traveler?

hostel room

Couchsurfing

Many people have friends who live overseas.  If you are lucky enough to have friends dotted around the globe, an international trip could be the perfect opportunity to drop in on some of them, especially if you haven’t seen each other for a long time.  And the benefit to your pocket is obvious: free accommodation is even better than cheap accommodation, leaving you more money to spend while on holiday.  Having said that, this method of globetrotting does need to be used carefully. Even with the best of friends it is possible to outstay your welcome.  And even if you only stay for a few days, it is always a good idea to repay your friends’ hospitality, for example by buying them a small present or taking them out for a few drinks on your last night.

Should you not have as many friends around the world, which is probably the case, then why don’t you make them?  Couchsurfing is a great way of meeting local people and making new friends while saving money on accommodation. The most popular website where to contact people who are willing to offer you a place whereto sleep at no cost is www.couchsurfing.org .  The CouchSurfing International website now has more than three and a half million registered users in over 80,000 towns in the United States, Canada, Germany, France and England and many other countries. In many ways, couchsurfing is an offshoot of social media.  Think of all the people you know on Facebook who you have never met, whether they are friends of friends or people with whom you share an interest or similar ideas. I have couchsurfed in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti and had an absolute blast in each and every place. If you want to learn more about couchsurfing make sure you read my in depth article on the ins and outs of couchsurfing.

how to save money on accommodation

We couchsurfed in Tim and Amelia’s house in Sydney (we actually had a room for ourselves) and developed a frienship that is still ongoing.

Why not volunteer?

One way of traveling the world on the cheap is to volunteer for a charity or other organization that sends people overseas to work on one of their projects, and perhaps the best known example of this is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: https://wwoof.net/ ).Established in England in 1971, this movement has now spread to fifteen countries worldwide and, as the name suggests, recruits volunteers to work on organic farms.

If you have got expertise or an interest in a specific area – whether it is in teaching, engineering or medicine (www.hvousa.org) – this can be an ideal way to pick up invaluable experience that will stand you in good stead in your future career. Bear in mind however that in return for free accommodation and other living expenses you will be working most of the time.  If you have got a genuine interest in what you are doing, this won’t be a problem but if not you will soon resent the amount of time spent working rather than lying on the beach or heading for a bar.  If the cost of accommodation in the country you’re visiting is quite cheap anyway, volunteering for an organization just to get a free bed and board is probably not a good idea.

Home swapping and sitting

Many people use house sitting or house swapping in order to travel to countries they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to visit.  Nearly all of these arrangements work out without any major problems but all the same it’s still a good idea to set some ground rules in place.  As you may not be meeting the person you’re house sitting for or house swapping with, this often takes the form of a list of instructions, advice and simple dos and don’ts that should help to avoid any problems arising.  And unless it’s a private arrangement between you and a friend, you can also arrange this via websites like www.homeexchange.com or  www.digsville.com/ where people around the world add their homes to a listing and all conditions and requirements are arranged form the beginning.

Travel overnight when possible

Could you avoid having to book a hotel room by traveling overnight between cities? If you decide to do this, bear in mind that you may have to set off late at night and arrive early in the morning in what might be an unfamiliar city.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to book a sleeper compartment on a train or travel on a sleeper bus (common in Vietnam,) although in some circumstances you might have to share the train’s cabin.  On the other hand, you might have to travel in an uncomfortable seat for hundreds of miles with noisy neighbors.

sleeping bus

This is what a sleeping bus looks like

Camper vans

Camper vans  are not cheap to rent, but if you’re traveling as a couple or in a group they can certainly save you good money in some countries. Liza and I chose to rent a camper van when  traveling in Australia and had such a good time that decided to do the same in New Zealand. The advantage is that you can sleep pretty much anywhere (I recommend getting a Hi-Top if the climate is cold or wet) and if traveling during the winter months rates can be  65% cheaper than during summer, making them affordable even if traveling solo.

OK, OK… I admit I got 10 days use of the camper van for free, but it can still be cheaper than staying in hostels!

Camping

I once met a traveler in Nicaragua who told me that if accommodation was going to cost him anything over 2.5 USD for a night he would pitch his tent somewhere and sleep there.  While this is certainly a money saving option it can get a bit tiring in the long run, and in some places camp sites are not even that cheap, plus you also have to drag the tent and sleeping bag around.  Yet the option is there , and if you can free camp in secluded places that are conveniently located you are saving a good chunk of money.

Redeem miles and points from cards

Do you have any points from customer loyalty cards you could use to defray some of your accommodation expenses? If you haven’t you better get one or more than one because if you really

And now it’s your turn:

How do you save money on accommodation when traveling long term?  Which  of the above mentioned opportunities have you tried? What were your experience like? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and this post too if you think others might find it useful!

[Photo credits @ Flickr: oriolsalvador (hostel room), shok (sleeping bus)]

Leave a Reply 47 comments

Carlos Borges - May 24, 2013 Reply

Cool post! Here are also some other ways of saving on hotels depending on your situation:

– If you book early, check out tripREBEL.com to get a refund if prices go down after you booked.

– If you have flexible dates DealAngel.com helps you find the cheapest days in a very easy and user-friendly way.

– If you book last-minute, apps like hoteltonight.com are great!

– If you don’t mind not knowing exactly which hotel you are going to stay until some days before check-in, take a look on GuestMob.com.

I hope you find this tips useful as well. Take Care.

    maitravelsite - May 24, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for all this info Carlos, very useful indeed.

maitravelsite - November 11, 2012 Reply

Wow, that’s a big statement…thanks!

Kara - September 27, 2012 Reply

Very helpful points!!! This would definitely help out for budget traveling. I’m glad google brought me here

    maitravelsite - September 27, 2012 Reply

    I’m glad you dropped by 🙂

Shiliang - March 17, 2012 Reply

Staying in hostels is the best idea for me. I don’t like to spend too much money in hotels for unnecessary things. Even camper vans is the best option, but for alone its going to be expensive. On longer trips I have often saved money by carting my dirty clothes down the street to a laundry or drycleaner rather than paying those ridiculous hotel prices and I always check prices for individual nights as the rates keep on changing according to the demand. Thanks for these tips now i can save more money.

Marcus - March 16, 2012 Reply

Excellent advice on how to save money, however it could be a bit risky when you are shaing a room with others you do not know.

maitravelsite - March 2, 2012 Reply

You’re welcome!

Jenny MAthews - February 26, 2012 Reply

Thank for sharing your travel experience and wisdom with us. Staying i a hostel is cheap. The problem that arises is whe you do not know the people and their habits. it could end up being extremely expensive if you are robbed.

Thomas - February 22, 2012 Reply

Traveling overnight has been my best option in case I am looking to save money on any trip. It helps me save a lot as you pay for the travel and you can very well spend time sleeping in the mode of transportation you are using. It can not only save you money, but it also saves your day and time which you can spend in roaming around the place you are visiting and spend there instead.

    maitravelsite - February 22, 2012 Reply

    So true Thomas, so true.

Ainna - February 15, 2012 Reply

Thanks for the idea you have shared us here then…

katherine - February 13, 2012 Reply

Great tips! I’ve been wanting to try the camper van option and will definitely try it on my trip to New Zealand. For finding local people to stay with, I use the site http://www.tripping.com. You can also find vacation rentals on there, but I haven’t tried that option yet.

raenze - February 13, 2012 Reply

Nice tips..thank you for sharing. I would try that on my next vacation together with my family. I love vacation but I hate wasting too much money.hahaha

    maitravelsite - February 13, 2012 Reply

    Who doesn’t? 😉

Sabinna - February 12, 2012 Reply

This is definitely very helpful…Thank you!

Jeo - February 10, 2012 Reply

Think you have hit the nail on the head with this article. We often tend to spend more money on accommodation when we travel and as a result have to have holes in our pockets. I liked the ideas you suggested and am looking forward to putting them to use for my trip later this year to Prague. Great post, was very helpful.

    maitravelsite - February 13, 2012 Reply

    They should help you out Jeo

Paige @ Green Global Travel - February 9, 2012 Reply

I think volunteering is a great way to travel and a great experience!

    maitravelsite - February 13, 2012 Reply

    I agree Paige

Domenic De Giorgio - February 9, 2012 Reply

Your post made me think of how much better it would be to have a trip planned to save money in this way. I never once prior to this had given a thought to the fact that the most money spent is on staying in a place. Food is a relatively low pay factor but more than the actual travel you pay for staying and that burns holes in pockets. Liked the ideas and alternatives you have given to save money. I am hoping to use them and reap some benefits soon.

    maitravelsite - February 13, 2012 Reply

    You should without a doubt!

Terry - February 9, 2012 Reply

Couch swapping and using a camping van are things that I have not yet explored as a traveler who has spent a fair amount of money on getting to various places in the world. I am not sure if I am a tourist, a adventurer, a person who likes sight-seeing or a mixture of all three. Am hoping to experience using a camping van and couch surfing on my next trip. All the best for your next trip too.

    maitravelsite - February 13, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Terry, I hope these ideas help you out 🙂

Xzania - February 8, 2012 Reply

This is very helpful…Thanks a lot!

Tricia - February 8, 2012 Reply

I want to go in this place I think it nice to have a vacation with my family..Thanks for sharing this to us..

Jordan Xiong - February 8, 2012 Reply

For many travel enthusiasts the biggest turn off is the entire process of finding a place to stay at and the huge amount of money you have to shell out to spend one night under the roof. I like the idea of volunteering and staying in hostels. They seem like great options to save money and also have a comfortable stay.

Divina - February 8, 2012 Reply

Thanks for the tips! Travelling is quite expensive and you really have to budget your money. If you are travelling through plane, it’s better to look for flights that are giving away higher discounts. There are lots of promotions from airline companies and if you are smart and patient enough, i bet you can acquire much cheaper plane tickets.

Andy - February 7, 2012 Reply

Excellent advice from real travelers themselves, really cool Thanks, I wish I had more friends overseas, I guess couch surfing can help me with that too.

Erica - February 7, 2012 Reply

I’m always for Couchsurfing! I’m addicted!

Jacob King - February 7, 2012 Reply

As a young boy who tried to get as much mileage as possible around the world, I remember following theses steps. I have traveled in the nights, stayed at hostels and volunteered to save the money that is spend on boarding and lodging. The funniest thing that I have ever done is stayed at a chapel pretending to pray the entire night with my eyes closed. the priest in charge thought that I was a real desperate pilgrim and actually even prayed that my request be granted. I guess it was granted as I got a place to live in.

    maitravelsite - February 7, 2012 Reply

    hahaha…great story Jacob, thanks for sharing. Must admit I never thought of this alternative!

Jack - February 7, 2012 Reply

I really like the idea of couch surfing. It helps save almost all the money you might have spent looking for an accommodation and instead spend it on traveling around. It would help you develop better relationships with the people your are staying with as it might even get lonely sometimes in a hotel room. Last month I visited New York and I decided to stay at my friend’s place. It was much more fun because he knew the place very well. So I saved on my accommodation and had someone to show me around.

    maitravelsite - February 7, 2012 Reply

    Try it somdeday Jack, I am sure you will have a great experience like we did!

Nomadic Samuel - February 7, 2012 Reply

I like the tip of traveling overnight! I really embraced that on my last backpacking trip.

    maitravelsite - February 7, 2012 Reply

    Haha…it is actually very convenient, though it can get tiring….

Karen Stromm - February 6, 2012 Reply

Love the suggestions. I’ve heard of couchsurfing too and I find the concept very interesting. Not only that we can save on accommodation, we’d gain friends, too.

    maitravelsite - February 6, 2012 Reply

    Yup, which is that much better 🙂

Stephanie - The Travel Chica - February 6, 2012 Reply

I am going to look into wwoofing this year, and I hope to arrange a house sitting gig for 2013. Great tips!

    maitravelsite - February 6, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Stephanie, will be great to hear about your experience !

Ayngelina - February 5, 2012 Reply

Really great tips. In South America if you are really on a budget look for hotels for locals, they are often cheaper than hostel dorms for foreigners and offer rooms with television and wifi for less.

    maitravelsite - February 6, 2012 Reply

    Indeed Ayngelina, same goes for South East Asia. Thanks for mentioning!

Raymond @ Man On The Lam - February 5, 2012 Reply

In Indonesia, I met up with locals a few times and they invited me to stay at their place. Sort of like “guerilla” Couchsurfing if you will… 🙂

    maitravelsite - February 6, 2012 Reply

    I had a similar experience in Indo, though we were invites for dinner only 🙂

dtravelsround - February 5, 2012 Reply

Great ideas! Also, as much as I don’t like it, sleep in the airport/bus station/train station.

    maitravelsite - February 6, 2012 Reply

    Done that too, and for emergencies it is a good solution too. Not one to consider every day though!

Jakori - February 5, 2012 Reply

I tend to like to stay in hostels. After living in Europe I have found them to be the best means of accommodation. All these are great ways to save on accommodations when traveling to Europe and if anyone is planning to travel to Europe, this article is great for saving you tons of money. Great post.

Leave a Reply: