One costly mistake often made by travellers is restricting themselves to hotels for accommodation. This not only bleeds your budget, but just isn’t necessary. There are plenty of cheap alternatives to hotels that are well worth trying. And no, they don’t compromise on safety, cleanliness, or your overall trip experience!
With the number of non-hotel accommodations increasing, we’ve decided it’s high-time to round ’em up. Here’s 10 cheap alternatives to hotels that will save you big bucks!
1. Apartment / Home Rentals
It can’t be said enough – AirBNB has been a game changer for travel. Whether you want your own apartment, a private room, or just a hammock to snooze in, AirBNB offers a huge range of affordable options. It’s our go-to choice for travel and living since we are nomadic. If you’re two or more people, it’s nearly always cheaper than a hostel dorm!
If you’d like a coupon code for AirBNB, just use our $25 USD credit here. If you already have an account, you can create a new one to apply the code!
(Psst: want to learn how to rent out your own room, apartment, or spare couch on AirBNB? Check our how-to guide here!)
2. Academic housing
Visiting a city or town with a university? Check if the local college dorms rent out their rooms to travellers. Most commonly this is offered in the summer, term breaks, or weekends when dorm rooms may be vacant.
How to find academic housing:
1. Ask a local
You can post in a forum where locals are active, such as TripAdvisor, and ask which universities and colleges offer this. Alternatively, try step 2!
2. Contact local universities / colleges and ask
A quick Google search will provide a list of local universities and colleges (e.g. “universities in _____ city”). You can then phone the campus and ask if they rent out student dorms.
Make sure you ask the rates, how to make a booking, and whether you need to bring your own linen/towels (highly likely as these aren’t usually provided to students).
Academic housing in South America
3. Religious housing
Convents, monasteries, temples, synagogues, and more can all offer accommodation at cheap rates, or even free. An obvious catch is that you must be respectful of any rules in place, such as no alcohol on site. You may also need to be affiliated with the religion (determine this beforehand!).
You can find religious housing by asking locals on a platform like TripAdvisor, Googling your city of interest (e.g. “religious housing in ______ city”). or checking a directory listing like this one.
4. Homestay / Couchsurfing
Want to stay with a local and get an authentic travel experience, for a fraction of the price? A homestay can offer an immersive opportunity to see a new place. Keep in mind with this option it is common courtesy to interact with and get to know your host. If you can, it’s also a kind gesture to bring a small gift or souvenir from your home country.
Home stays worldwide
Home stays in North America
Home stays in Europe
(Psst: for other sharing economy options on accommodation, activities, and more, check our ultimate comprehensive list here!).
Volunteering is a great way to give back to a local community and enjoy a cost-free, local place to stay. It’s important to volunteer for the right reasons, and cautiously select an organization, as some programs do more harm than good.
Reputable volunteer agencies:
Some quick tips on volunteering ethically:
- Do it because you want to, and have a skill set to offer that is needed
- Ensure the project is sustainable and is benefitting the community (e.g. is not making a community dependent on outside help. For instance, having foreigners building schools FOR a community when it could employ local people instead is not a sustainable approach)
- Don’t just volunteer to travel for “free”, do it because you’re interested in the project/community!
6. House swap
Want to travel somewhere for free, stay in a local’s home, and have your home looked after while you’re gone? A home swap is a great opportunity to find someone in a country you want to visit and do just that. Simply exchange homes with someone (you need to align your holiday dates first), and switch it up!
House swap websites:
7. Work abroad / Farm stay
Are you willing to put your hands to work in exchange for free accommodation? This option works better for longer trips (e.g. a few weeks or more), but can provide unique opportunities to work on yachts, vineyards, breweries, local farms, and more.
Resources for working abroad worldwide
8. Camp or RV/Campervan
Driving an RV across Japan? A campervan in the Aussie Outback? Tent camping in Europe? Considering non-traditional ways to explore a foreign place can not only save you big bucks, but offer a unique mode of travel.
A quick search online may reveal local camping sites (which can sometimes even be free), campervan/RV companies, or even RV relocations.
Resources for camping and RVing:
- Must-pack essentials for a road trip
- How to find $1/day RV relocations worldwide
- FreeCampsites.net (list of free campsites)
- Frugal RV Travel (tips on cheap RVing)
Looking after someone’s home and/or pets is a win-win for home owners and travellers. This strategy requires some pre-planning (at least for overseas sits), and you will have some basic responsibilities. That being said, it’s a pretty easy trade to keep a house clean and functional, in exchange for a free bed. For more details and tips, check our how-to guide on becoming a house sitter here.
Resources for housesitting:
- TrustedHousesitters (for finding house sits)
- Nomador (for finding house sits)
- House Carers (for finding house sits)
- How-to guide to becoming a house sitter in 3 easy steps
Last but not least, hostels are a great way to save money on accommodation. Even a private room with an ensuite can be significantly cheaper than a hotel. In our experience, hostels frequently provide better cleanliness and care than budget hotels. Don’t knock it till you try it!
Where to look for hostels:
Related guides & articles to cheap alternatives to hotels:
- How to book the cheapest hotel possible
- How to relocate an RV for $1/day
- How to become a house sitter (& travel for free)
- How to rent your home on AirBNB (& earn easy travel cash)
- The ultimate list of sharing economy services for travel
What cheap alternatives to hotels have you tried and loved (or hated!)?