Maximizing Your Travel Budget: Alternative Lodging

Every spring, I start dreaming of all the faraway places I want to go later in the year. Visions of Brazilian beaches, busy New York streets, Italian pizza parlors, and Colorado campgrounds fill my head. Then, I’m awakened by a slap in the face from my bank account. Traveling can be expensive. So if you’re anything like me, you are constantly searching for ways to keep your bank account happy and experience the world at the same time.  In this three part series, I will share tips and suggestions for maximizing your travel budget.

First, let’s tackle lodging. Why pay big money for accommodations when what you are really there for is to explore the city? Luckily, the sharing economy is booming and that means lots of alternatives to traditional hotels, most of which are very cheap (or free!). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Couchsurfing
    • How it works: Self-described as a “hospitality exchange and social networking website,” Couchsurfing lets you search for hosts in your destination city and request to stay with them during your vacation. You can also request to meet up for coffee or just solicit advice on where to go and what to do.
    • What I think about it: I know it sounds crazy that there are people out there who will let you stay with them for free.  Even crazier, sometimes they will even make you dinner, take you out to see their favorite band, or let you use their museum membership. Not only is it a great way to save money, it’s also a great way to get a local perspective on a place and meet interesting people. I know what you are thinking, stay with a stranger? No way, that’s dangerous! My mom said the same thing. Personally, my experience has been nothing but positive. I have “surfed” with people and hosted people at my home here in Nashville.  Hosts are reviewed by all of their previous guests, so be sure to read those carefully and find someone who you are comfortable with.
    • Pro tip: Take a little something from your hometown to gift to your host. As a native Kentuckian, I usually take some bourbon chocolates.
  • Airbnb
    • How it works: Airbnb allows hosts to offer their space for rent, whether it is “futons on the floor” or “castles on the hilltop.” Each host has a profile with a description of their space, pictures and reviews from previous guests. You can choose to from entire homes, private rooms and shared rooms.
    • What I think about it: No matter what the situation, Airbnb seems to have an answer. If you have a large group travelling together, rent a five bedroom house. If you are looking for a cheap place to stay while driving long distance, rent a bedroom for a night. If you are travelling for business and want some company, rent a loft and hang out with the owner who lives downstairs. Not everything on Airbnb is affordable, but I’ve found that the majority of the time it’s cheaper than a hotel room. Like Couchsurfing, it allows you to have a more local experience as you are generally staying outside the hotel district in a city. Many times, hosts will stock the fridge or leave local treats in your rental.
    • Pro tip: Take note of the cancellation policies. Each host can set their own so be sure you know what the consequences will be if your vacation days change.
  • Hostel
    • How it works: Per Wikipedia, “Hostels provide budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed.”  The most common set-up is a dormitory with 6-8 bunk beds, although many hostels offer private or semi-private rooms.  They usually have a shared kitchen and lounge area where travelers can mingle. Hostels are more plentiful outside the US, but many large US cities are catching onto the trend.
    • What I think about it: First, forget about what you have seen in the movies. Hostels are a wonderful, bank account friendly way to travel, particularly in Europe and South America. Most take great care to maintain a clean, safe environment for guests. Gender specific rooms are commonly available and lock boxes are provided for storing your personal items while you are out exploring. It is a great way to meet people when you are travelling. Many hostels will arrange events for their guests such as cooking classes, language lessons, pub crawls, or walking tours of the city.
    • Pro tip: There are many travel websites that offer great selections on hostels and provide detailed information on room options. Be sure to read the reviews before booking.

With all of these accommodation recommendations, it will be important to plan ahead and do your research. These are popular platforms, so many times the best rooms (or couches) go fast. Now, take that money you just saved on a hotel room, put it in your savings account & check back soon for tips on budget-friendly transportation options.

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