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: http://www.wwoof.org/). 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)]

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