Budget-Friendly Travel: Accommodations
Whether you're planning a weekend getaway or a longer, more remote experience, finding just the right place to lay your head at night can be challenging—but it can be crucial to the overall success of your trip. Thankfully, “budget-friendly” doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or sacrificing where you want to be. With the right strategies in place, it's possible to save money without sacrificing location, comfort or convenience.
Here, we’ve rounded up 15 tried-and-true tips for finding budget-friendly accommodations around the world. Whether you're a budget-conscious traveler at heart, or you’re simply hoping to keep a little extra cash in your pocket on your next trip, these tips will help you find affordable accommodations without breaking the bank.
Think Outside the Box
When it comes to travel, the reality is that sometimes our plans are flexible—and other times they’re not. Ask yourself which parts of your trip are solid (for example, are your flights already booked?), and which parts may have some wiggle room in terms of where you stay and when.
Do Your Homework on Destinations
Before you book, research budget destinations, as some places are inherently cheaper than others. One of the best ways to save money on travel is to choose destinations that are less “touristy” or have lower living costs. By reviewing some of the cheapest places to travel before you commit to booking your trip, you can save money on accommodations, along with food and activities, allowing you to stretch your travel budget further. It can also lead to unique and unforgettable travel experiences in places you never expected.
Look Beyond The City Center
Some urban destinations are simply irresistible—but there are incredible experiences to be had outside of capital cities, too. Consider staying outside the city limits and in an outlying part of the metro area. Not only can this save you money, but it can also provide a more authentic experience of the local culture. Many cities have excellent public transportation systems that make it easy to travel to and from the “downtown” area, so you can still enjoy everything the city has to offer while saving money on your stay overall.
Consider Off-Peak Travel
One of the most effective ways to save money is to avoid traveling during peak season. You can save money on flights, accommodations, and activities by choosing to travel during the off-season. Additionally, you just may find a more relaxed and less crowded travel experience, helping you to enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Consider Mid-Week Travel Dates
While it isn’t always possible to control the specific days we travel, avoiding weekends can be a key strategy for finding affordable accommodations, just as it is for flights. In general, many hotels, resorts and other lodging providers have higher rates on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as sometimes on Sundays. For trips of longer durations, it’s impossible to completely avoid these days of the week—but consider planning your more expensive stays during the lull of the midweek: Monday through Thursday.
Consider Various Accommodation Types
Taking a trip doesn’t have to mean a one-size-fits-all approach to lodging. Before you dive into your vacation planning, consider the different types of accommodations available in and around your desired destination. For example, are you planning to cook? Look for rooms with an efficiency kitchen, a shared meal prep area (as in a hostel), or consider booking a full-size apartment or home where you can stock the fridge.
Vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO provide a wide range of affordable options, including apartments, homes, and private rooms that can be cheaper than traditional hotels. These accommodations often come with fully equipped kitchens and living areas, which can save you money on dining out while providing more space for relaxation.
Hostels offer budget-friendly accommodations and a social atmosphere for travelers on an especially tight budget. Dormitory-style rooms can be very affordable, and many hostels offer private rooms as well. Additionally, many hostels provide free breakfast and shared common areas where guests can meet fellow travelers and exchange tips on budget-friendly travel. Start with sites like Hostelworld that help you search destinations and aggregate the options that are right for you.
Don’t forget about alternative accommodations—such as camping, RV parks, and house-sitting services. While lesser known and a bit harder to plan, these can be excellent ways to save money while traveling. Camping and RV parks can offer scenic views and outdoor activities, while house-sitting services can provide free accommodations in exchange for certain basic services, such as taking care of a homeowner's pets or property.
Consider A Vacation Rental Exchange
Vacation rental exchange services like HomeExchange can help you save money on accommodations by allowing you to swap homes with other travelers. While it’s certainly not for everyone, this can be an excellent way to save money while experiencing a new location like you’re a local. By eliminating the cost of accommodations altogether, you can enjoy more of what your travel budget has to offer.
Approach Booking Strategically
You may have decided the general destination(s) you’ll be visiting, but how well do you know the specific parts of town where you’ll want to spend your time? While it can be tempting to browse for the nicest looking property at the lowest rate, be sure you’re also considering the area, as well as where you’ll be spending much of your time while visiting museums, restaurants and other locations on your list. From there, it’s time to dive into the deals!
Check Travel Deal Websites
Travel deal websites like Expedia and Priceline (which are also known as Online Travel Agencies or OTAs)—as well as metasearch engines like Kayak—can be incredibly helpful in finding discounted hotel rooms and flights. These websites allow you to compare prices across multiple travel providers, including in many cases the hotel or hostel itself, and they can provide access to exclusive deals and packages you may not find elsewhere.
Book Directly with Hotels
While OTAs and metasearch engines are an invaluable resource in finding and comparing rates in the first place, booking directly with hotels can sometimes result in better rates or additional perks, such as free breakfast or room upgrades. This is because many hotels offer price-match guarantees, giving you the same low rate for their properties that you’ve found elsewhere—and they may be more willing to negotiate on upgrades if you book directly with them.
Look For Last-Minute Deals
For those with a real spirit of adventure, last-minute hotel deals can provide significant savings, especially during off-peak travel seasons. Apps like HotelTonight and Booking.com's "Tonight Deals" offer discounted rates for same-day or next-day bookings, often at a fraction of the usual rack rate. Still, it’s wise to do your research on seasonal tourism patterns before relying on this approach, or consider having a back-up plan in place in case you’re unable to find rooms on these sites when you need them.
Sounds impossible to negotiate? It’s actually easier than you think to broach the subject. Once you’ve identified the hotel or other accommodation you’d like to book, don't be afraid to ask for a discount—particularly if your plans include a multi-night stay or multiple rooms at once. Some hotels (and even Airbnb hosts and other rental managers) may be willing to offer lower rates during slower seasons, if you’re staying for an extended period, or if it’s the last minute and their room might otherwise go unsold.
Double Check for Deals
While it’s never a sure thing, hotels, resorts and other accommodations are in a highly competitive space, and individual properties will frequently offer deals to entice travelers to select their property among the myriad others nearby. As a general rule, always take a few minutes to search for deals, along with special offers (such as “fourth night free” packages and other incentives), and be sure to look at available rewards programs to maximize your spend.
Use Rewards Programs
Once you’ve zeroed in on a particular hotel, check to see if it has a rewards program. Joining hotel rewards programs can help you earn points towards free stays or upgrades, as well as giving you access to exclusive deals and discounts. You could save money on travel expenses over time, while also enjoying perks that can enhance your overall travel experience.
Dig for Discount Codes and Coupons
Before booking accommodations (or rental cars, or activities for that matter), be sure to search online for discount codes or coupons—and don’t forget to check the social pages for the hotel, along with the destination’s tourism board. Deals are also frequently shared on websites such as Groupon, RetailMeNot, or TripAdvisor, allowing you to stretch your travel budget further.
Use Loyalty Programs
Joining broader loyalty programs like AAA or AARP can provide you with discounts on hotels and other travel expenses, as well as additional benefits from roadside assistance to travel insurance. Additionally, some credit cards offer travel rewards programs that can help you earn points towards free flights, hotel stays, or rental cars—every time you use your card.