Cheap Accommodation Around the World: Beyond the Hotel/Hostel Dynamic

By Nomadic Matt | Published November 19th, 2012

awesome hostel in panama cityI don’t really like staying in hotels. I generally avoid them because of how much they cost. I just don’t see the point of paying $100+ per night for a room I will barely be in most of the day. It seems like a waste of money – no matter how nice a hotel can be. So I stick to the other end of the spectrum: I stay in hostels, with their dorm beds and cheap prices.

I love hostels, even if my roommates tend to shit in the room.

But what about other types of places to stay? What are some forms of accommodation that don’t rely on you sharing a room with 8 snoring strangers? What can you do if you don’t want that but also don’t want to pay the money for a hotel room? Continuing what seems to be my “think outside the box” theme of the last few months, here’s a list of all the different types of accommodation that are easy on your wallet you can choose from:

Staying With Locals
stay with someone for free
I’ve talked about this many times before, but since this method is always good to know, it goes on this list too. One of the best ways to save money on accommodations is by not paying for it. Hospitality networks allow you to stay with locals who open up their home to you. Not only is this a great way to save on accommodation but you also get to interact with a local who can show you where to go, what to do, and teach you about the local culture. There are a few websites that make this happen:

Couchsurfing
Global Freeloaders
Hospitality Club
Stay4Free

All of these services connect travelers with people in various cities that offer a no-cost place to stay. Sometimes it’s a bed, sometimes it’s a couch, sometimes it’s literally just space. The purpose of these websites is to help travelers not only save money but also learn about the local culture by connecting travelers with someone who lives where you are visiting.

I like Couchsurfing the best as they have the largest and most active user network. Plus, members run meetups so even if you don’t use the site for accommodation, it is still a wonderful way to meet people and get involved in local activities.

A lot of people get nervous about using these sites – “are they safe?” they wonder. I’ve never had a problem or have even heard of a major problem beyond “my host was kind of lame.” All the sites have levels of verification to ensure the crazies stay away and you can read reviews left by other users. Additionally, these sites are also not just for solo travelers. While it varies by hosts, many take couples and families. (Servas and Hospitality Club tend to be more open to families.)

Home Exchange
stay in someone's home for free
This method works best for older travelers who already own a home. Home exchange programs have been around for a long time but are growing in popularity due to good marketing and word-of-mouth. Home exchanges are just like they sound — for a set amount of time, you exchange homes with a family from another country.

Most people don’t do this because they worry about security — but remember the other family trusts you with their home, too. Moreover, websites that facilitate home exchanges usually have various levels of verification and security similar to Couchsurfing. Families talk to each other over phone and e-mail, and there’s no commitment if you find that it’s not right for you.

For more information on home exchanges, check out the popular website Home Exchange. This website was featured in the movie “The Holiday,” which did a lot to alleviate people’s fears over the process and bring this travel option into the mainstream. Some of the other home exchange websites are:

Seniors Home Exchange
IHEN
Home for Exchange

House Sitting – If swapping homes isn’t your thing, then consider house-sitting as an alternative. In exchange for watching and maintaining someone’s home while they are on holiday, you’ll get a free place to stay in the area you are visiting.

After signing up for one of these services (most have a sign-up fee), you get access to the database of available houses. Find a place, contact the homeowner, work out an arrangement, sign any documents (it’s important to ensure everyone is legally protected and your responsibilities are clearly spelled out), and you’re off. House-sitting jobs tend to be best for people who can stay in a destination for at least a couple of weeks, though there are occasionally short term stints.

You can also use these house-sitting sites to find a place:

Mind My House
House Carers
Luxury House Sitting

Apartment Rentals
stay with someone for free
Apartment rentals and I have a mixed history. I used to hate them as they were too quiet and made me feel too far removed from everything, but over the years I’ve grown to appreciate them more as I desire a kitchen, calm surroundings, a place to do work, and privacy. While recently in London, I stayed at an apartment near Paddington Station. I was in town for a conference and the company WIMDU offered to host me. While the apartment was small, having recently become a health nut, it was nice to have a kitchen to cook my meals, do a bit of a workout, and have my own space.

Like I said, I’ve warmed up to serviced apartments. They are a nice bridge between a hostel and hotel, though they can get a bit expensive if you are a solo traveler. They are roughly double the cost (if not more) than a hostel dorm room. However, if you are part of a group or a couple and are looking for a respite from the dorms and hordes of travelers but don’t want a hotel room, this is your ideal accommodation option. Another reason to use this method? You get a kitchen, allowing you to cook and reduce your food costs.

My favorite rental websites are:
Wimdu
Airbnb
Roomorama

Farm Stays
stay with someone for free
Want to live on a farm but not work like you would with WWOOFing? Try a farm stay. Farm stays allow you to stay on working farms, learn how a farm works, possibly get involved in the workings of the farm (milk that cow!), and enjoy a number of organized outdoor activities. Facilities range from basic camping to luxury rooms depending on the farm, but in general it’s like you’re staying at a bed and breakfast. Prices vary widely depending on where you are in the world but generally, expect to pay the price of a budget hotel (so at least $40 USD per night).

Here’s a list of resources to find a farm stay:

Farm Stay UK
Farm Stay Accommodation
Farm Stay US
Farm Stay Australia

Monastery Stays
stay in a monastery for free
Want something totally off the beaten track? Stay in a monastery. Accommodation in these monasteries is often very spartan, containing no more than a bed and desk, with simple meals prepared by the monks and nuns. Monasteries are very family-friendly and quiet (most also have curfews). While many monasteries cost at least $50 USD a night per person (many have dorms for half that price), most simply ask for donations or are free, making them an amazing budget option too.

Resources for finding a monastery stay:

Monastery Stays Locations
How to Stay in a Monastery
15 great Monastery Stays
Monastery Stays Around the World (CNN)

Homestays – Similar to apartment rentals and Couchsurfing, homestays are just like they sound — you stay at someone’s home for a set amount of time — but the difference between this and the other options is that for a set price (usually a couple of hundred dollars per week), meals and language lessons with your hosts are also included. You find a lot of these in developing countries, particularly Central and South America, where they are very widespread.

WWOOFing
wwoofing
Discussed in this informative and detailed post, this program will let you stay on a farm and trade your labor for free accommodation. It’s a multi-purpose option: it lets you do something while you are traveling, give back to the community, and save money on room and board. You can use this option even if you have no farm experience and you don’t always have to be milking the cow. Many times, the work you are given is simply keeping things clean and organizing supplies!

Use Hotel Points – Really want to stay at fancy hotels and not pay for them? Use hotel points! Sign up for branded hotel credit cards, get free points, and then use them for free stays. It’s what I do, because as much as the W Hotel makes my heart skip a beat, their prices give me a heart attack. Using hotel points, I stayed at a W Hotel in Barcelona (500 Euros per night) for free, and spent a week at the Courtyard Marriott in Hong Kong. Most branded credit cards come with at least 2 and sometimes up to 5 free nights. (Note: this method works best if you are American.)

Like everything when it comes to travel, if you are open and willing to try something a little different, you’ll end up being able to not only save money but also experience something a bit more interesting and fun.

Editor’s Note: Big and special thanks to Wimdu for providing me with a voucher for my stay in London. I found their booking process simple and easy (though the layout could be a bit sleeker), the host was responsive to all my inquiries, and I had no issues with the service. This is the second time I’ve used them and certainly not the last.

comments 67 Comments

For someone like me who is about to embark on a *budget* trip, this post is super-useful. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought about staying in a monastery before…

NomadicMatt

Great! Glad it coud be of help. Let me know if you end up in a monastery.

These are all great ways to save! I’ve only ever done Airbnb, but plan on doing more as I ramp up my travel plans.

Thank you Matt for posting so many resources… I only knew a couple of the most common websites, like Couchsurfing for example. I am definitely intrigued by the idea of staying in a monastery!

Great ideas Matt. I’ve heard of a few people who stayed in monasteries recently, and had lovely experiences (even with some major language barriers present).

When I was a kid, my parents took my brother and I camping around Europe for six months. When we weren’t staying in campsites (in a class 60′s VW camper van), we stayed with Servas hosts. This was one of the best aspects of our trip, as it was the most important way we got to know each European culture from a local perspective. The interview process is pretty thorough, so there is no real concern about safety either. Servas also has a youth chapter, with annual meetups/events.

Amanda

Good tips, for those who don’t already know that there are other options.
Maybe you can be a bit more diplomatic in your posts. I really dislike reading your blog especially when you a) act better than everybody, which you regularly do and b) when you say things like “I love hostels, even if my roommates tend to shit in the room.” Even if that did happen, you could be a bit more polite about it.

chris

This is the first time I have posted on here but I’m a long time reader. Your stupidity, Ms. Amanda, has urged me to post on here to balance out your comment.

NomadicMatt

Amanda, did you follow the link to the story about how my roommate shit all over our room? I wrote that because I link to a recent post about when someone did that. Here’s the link again: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/hostel-shit-story/

DanielW

I feel that Matt is both diplomatic and polite in both his posts and his follow up comments. This is one of the best travel blogs around, always a great read, keep up the good work Matt. It’s not you fault someone dropped one in the dorm room!

Great post – I am newly addicted to airbnb.com – I’ve had such great experiences, I can’t tear myself away from using them on our next trip(s)! I would love to hear more about hostels as I’ve never used one…but perhaps I should “search” your site first!

NomadicMatt

There are a number of posts on hostels here!

AirBnB is great. Found some good deals on the Greek islands with them.

budget hotels fall in there somewhere too. There is usually a common area, or lobby with a younger crowd present but maybe not as big as a hostel.

I can also vouch for Airbnb.com, had two stays in Rome and Florence and they were great and under $100. Most of the time I use hotel points to get free stays though. I racked up over a million airline miles and hotel points last year so in major cities I use those. Airbnb is good for Italy because not many big chain hotels.

Great suggestions for those traveling on a budget. I’d be down for a monastery stay! We’ve done some home stays — not for the purpose of budget travel, but rather for cultural exchange — and they have proven to be some of the most rewarding experiences of our travels.

I know the focus of your site is budget travel and many of your readers are younger travelers and/or backpackers, but I do have to say, although my husband and I do stay in hostels from time to time, we typically stay in hotels and we never spend anywhere near $100+/night, and we’re not staying in run-down hotels either. We do save a little money when we stay in hostels, but the comfort and privacy we get from staying in a hotel is worth it.

I feel like I read so many blogs that tell me if I want to travel affordably, I have to stay in a hostel or sleep in a stranger’s spare bedroom and that’s simply not true. For some people, a hostel is just not an option. Maybe they’re older and uncomfortable with it. Maybe they have a spouse or a family and still want to see the world on a budget without making the whole family miserable and uncomfortable the whole time. If they read a post like this, they might be discouraged not to travel, instead of feeling empowered to do so.

NomadicMatt

I didn’t list one hotel/hostel option here. Yes, you can stay at a budget hotel for 40-50 dollars a night and I thought about listing them here but then I realized a) that is sort of a lame tip and b) apartment rentals cost the same so I wanted to include that again.

Not all hotels cost $100 USD per night. You can stay in many affordable, locally owned ones. This article was meant to highlight all the different, non-hotel types of places to stay.

Sorry you feel this article discourages people to travel but I think it brings attention to all the different places you can stay when you travel. I bet a majority of my readers, young and old, had very little idea you could stay in a monastery.

Amanda

Amazing article! Thanks for taking the time to link to all of the sites in one place. I’ve heard about people using the Couchsurfer service, but the idea made me a bit apprehensive until reading more into it. I also LOVE the idea of a farm stay or working with WWOOF, it seems like more of an experience than staying in a hostel or hotel. A monastery stay would probably also be a really cool and humbling experience.

NomadicMatt

Glad this article was helpful!

I can’t get with the hostels but I LOVE renting apartments whenever I travel. I have only had one bad experience in all the years I have been traveling. I like VRBO.com, and have stayed in some amazing places all over the world. And most of the time an apartment is cheaper than a hotel and nicer than a hostel. Thanks for a great post!

Great list. Thanks Matt. I’d like to add one more to this great resource…university dorms. My husband and I stayed at a great dorm in Glasgow. Most universities like to have those rooms filled during the summer months. They offer great deals, private, clean and usually in a great location.

NomadicMatt

That is a good tip. I’ve heard of that happening before but don’t know much about it.

AnitaMac

Great resource Matt! I love the apaRtment or villa stays. Great way to travel, especially with friends. More space and a kitchen make for a great vacay.
I had not tried AirBnB before I went to San Sebastian, but want to give it a try. I met some fellow travelers and saw where one was staying with AirBnB and thought it was pretty cool. Looking forward to trying it out.

NomadicMatt

Try WIMDU!

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with WWOOFing. I truly enjoyed the staying with locals, but the farms were typically pretty isolated and definitely not good bases for sightseeing. In many ways, the experiences were limited to life on that particular farm, which, for me, wasn’t always the best way to get a full impression of a particular city or country.

Thank you for pointing out something that didn’t really occur to me. We’ve been contemplating WWOOFing but that definitely gives me something to think about. Also, what do you think the minimum stay should be to benefit from the experience? (PS Great and helpful post Matt!)

Tamara

Many farms have a minimum stay requirement, a week or two at least. It takes time to learn things, get into the routine and have a team that works well together. It’s definitely not an ‘sleepover’ option or for those wanting to do much cultural sightseeing and night life, as the farms are usually in the remote area.

Really nice comprehensive post with helpful links. I will share it on my blog’s FB page. Your hostel/feces post just confirms that I have sooooo outgrown hostels. My son also had a bad experience at one in Turkey this year—that involved an attempted rape of the one female in his dorm room by the drunk front desk guy (and did I mention the knife?)

Great article. I enjoy reading your blog regularly–so many great tips and reports of your travels that motivate me to travel even more often that I already do. We often travel with another couple and enjoy renting apartments. Two sites that we have had success with are VRBO and the related rental service HomeAway. We’ve used these for rentals in both the US and Europe and never had any significant problems. Thanks for your great blog.

I’ve stayed in this convent in Florence: Casa Santo Nome di Gesu
At the time, they also offered a dinner option, which was a great value, but I think they don’t anymore. They also have a curfew of 11 PM, but that was good at encouraging me to get up earlier. I had a private room, which was rather simple, as you might expect, but quite fine.

I stayed at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. That is actually a convent hostel, with some private rooms, and I stayed in the women’s dorm, but it’s an amazing building with an amazing location and amazing history. As you might expect, there are a number of religious lodging options in Jerusalem (although I stayed at Austrian Hospice for the price, location, and quality).

The London School of Economics has some great deals on its dorm rooms. These are private, and may or may not include breakfast.

SYHA (the Scottish hostelling organization) offers great deals on a student dorm that’s available during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

My rule of thumb is that 2 people can usually get a hotel deal that is only slightly more expensive than 2 dorm beds in a room shared with a dozen or so people. I use various websites and deals to get cheap hotel rooms.

NomadicMatt

Thanks for the added tips!

This post reminded me of when my Grandmother was alive. She lived in a rural part of Ireland, in County Donegal, and her large white house was the only place to live for miles. On the road map it was called Meenavalley Ho. (Ho was meant to mean House)

One evening some German backpackers turned up on motorbikes, thinking it was a Hostel.

She made them tea, gave them a bed and cooked a full Irish breakfast and then sent them away in the morning with a friendly wave. They tried giving money but she didn’t understand and the language barrier was difficult. She just thought they were lost and was happy to help.

Your post proves again that just when we think there is nowhere to stay, there is often something unusual around the corner.

Tamara

That’s a lovely story :)

Great post. I have friends that can’t get over the “I need to stay in hotel” mentality – and then they wonder why their travels are expensive. Anyway I enjoy staying in hostels, but it’s definitely nice to have a break, and I think this would be especially true for anyone doing long-term travel. I couchsurfed this year for the first time with great success. I’ve also stayed in apartment rentals (probably a better option if you can split the cost with someone) and in guesthouses. As someone who usually travels alone finding a safe place, where I can lay my head and not go over budget, is always a top priority for me.

Thanks Matt! You always offer some extremely great tips. :) Never thought of monasteries before as a place to stay.

NomadicMatt

Stay in one and report back on how you liked it!

Awesome! Some new sites to try. Thanks! I alternate hostels with airbnb and couchsurfing, and I’ve had great stays at monasteries, both Christian and Buddhist, in the US. You don’t have to be part of their religion. They offer a peaceful place to unwind and usually 3 meals a day, too.

Good call! Couldn’t agree more about hotels being stuffy and boring. Couchsurfing is great, as are guesthouses and homestays.

Another really cool option if you’re in India is to stay in an Ashram. Yoga, all you can eat meals, accommodation and meditation…all for a few bucks. Amazing experiences to be had at very affordable prices!

Cheers,
Goats On The Road

Kat

One thought for people to remember, be careful if looking on Craigslist for apartments. Always make sure the rental agency is legitimate. And never pay everything upfront, and deposits should be paid by credit card only.
I used Airbnb recently and the website is good, reliable.
As always, great article Matt.

NomadicMatt

Very good point. Never pay upfront…in any situation!

Fantastic article with lots of great budget ideas. Definitely going to try some of these out next trip – like many folks posting here I love the idea of a monastery stay. Why not? I’ve visited many on travels and love the atmosphere and peace. How much better to stay a night or two!

Thanks Matt for sharing your experience. According to my opinion you could stay at hotel itself. Because they proving deals for your luxury accommodation. Even they offers at last minute deals for customer satisfaction. And its a right place for safe and secure accommodation while you are traveling with your kids. Any way thanks for giving me a wonderful opportunity to post my ideas in your blog.

Ty

Thanks for your great post! This blog is a great inspiration.

Great list Matt I have been considering house sitting and the list on websites really helped. Same with the Monastery’s, which I have been planning to do but had no idea how to go about it. Thanks for the info man.

That monastery looks awesome from the outside. Almost like a castle. Never thought of that as a ‘hotel’ option, before though. Thanks for the tip.

I’d be a bit hesitant to do couching surfing although I know a lot of people who do it and have no problems, I’d do it if I was with a friend just not by myself. The farm stay and monastery sound interesting though. I remember hearing about a city where you can stay in an old prison, although I cant remember the name, but it would certainly be a different experience to your average type of accommodation.

NomadicMatt

Lots of cities have that! I stayed in an old prison in Goteland, Sweden. Erie experience.

Fantastic round up post Matt! I still need to try the Monastery thing and the house sitting/sharing concept. I’ve had great experiences with Wimdu/Airbnb as well and there are great deals to be found especially in cities like Paris!

Awesome list! I’ve only used a few of the things you listed, but all were great experiences. I’ve also had good luck with VRBO. I have an aversion to garden-variety hotels after spending too much time traveling for my last couple of jobs :)

Great ideas here! I think house swapping and private rental (Airbnb etc) are going to grow and grow as people get more used to the idea of a sharing economy. I love renting people’s own homes/apartments when on holiday – instead of feeling like a perpetual tourist, you experience what it’s like to actually ‘live’ in that part of the world!

NomadicMatt

I completely agree.

Good post! Definitely some stuff I hadn’t thought of there, particularly staying in a monastery! I myself also love hostels, but when in Asia earlier this year I couldn’t believe some of the bargains that could be had for what seemed like an amazingly cheap price to us Westerners. Hotels went out the window once we got back to Europe though…
I would have liked to experience Couchsurfing had my travelling companion been more comfortable about the idea. I’ve always been dubious about it too, but at the same time want to try it to put my mind at rest.

I had fantastic experience with Airbnb it really works. But I never stay overnight in some monastery – very interesting ! In my country Croatia most travelers renting a private apartments.Modern studio apartment for 2 people with kitchen and bathroom, wi-fi and even outside pool can be found for $40.

That sounds awesome and cheap! I rented a modern apartment for $100 in Rome, it was a steal during peak season where accomodations were 300+ a night!

Was always excited to exchange home after watching the Holiday, though no such luck yet! Gonna keep trying, sounds amazing! :)

Nice list. Planning on couchsurfing my way through China in a few months :)

NomadicMatt

Have fun!

Jennifer Gue

This is really interesting. I never really thought about these type of things. Obviously I want to save money when I go on a trip but I guess the thought of styaing at someones house is weird to me I don’t know why. I know I would have to do some research to find the best place for myself.

I would really like to stay in a monastery, just by seeing the picture I would feel like royalty (how lame). I wish I would have written something like this in my blog. Thanks Matt I always come here to read your posts!

Great post! I heard a lot of good things about couch surfing and farm stays. Aside from it’s a great option of a cheaper accommodation than hotels, it’s also a good way to get to know the locals from the place. In Italy, they promote farm stays accommodation or what they call agriturismo.

HK

Matt – Thank you for such a brilliant blog….I am a huge fan…

Deceitful Wimdu,

I know we all are trying to save money but it cant be stressful. Please be very careful booking through this site…it seems its a one-way approach….when you book its fine and dandy but when you want to cancel its a freakin nightmare…..The owner of the place says cancel before 4 days….wimdu says in a stealthy way cancel before a month…..call them they ask you to write and when you write they dont respond. They charge before you sign any contracts or even agree to stay at the place…and when you cancel…bam cancellation fees for a deal which hasn’t completely gone through…our cancellation happened within an hour of the booking…I felt the experience to be fraudulent……anyway, I am not saying its legit but good business practices seem to be absent….

HK

Great idea for farm stays. I would love to visit a farm and learn about its daily work. Thanks for the great tips and good luck in future travels!

It is such a nice post. Once I had stayed with local at Windermere, because I could not find any cheap accommodation at that time. Your other options are also a good and cost saver. I liked you all ideas like Home exchange, Apartment Rentals, Farm stay etc. You have putted very useful information, which can definitely help to any traveler.

Joanne Joseph

Matt, I am a huge fan if your blog and really appreciate the time you spend to inform and educate us through your well written and informative blogs. I am currently enjoying a stay in at Mammoth Lakes arranged through AirBnb that was a great savings. I am especially interested in Homestays, but noticed you did not offer any links or suggestions on how to arrange one. If you have some suggestions – possible future blog topic, hint, hint :) about arranging a homestay I would love to read it.

Ashley Walsh

Along the lines of Wwoofing I’d recommend WorkAway http://www.workaway.info/ it’s not just farms but a huge variety of places you can stay for free in exchange for a few hours of work a day.

Tamara

Hi Matt,

just wanted to add several more options. Under the ‘free stay with locals’ you could add BeWelcome, too. And under WWWFing and Farm stay, you can add Helpx and Workaway, I’ve used Helpx and it’s an amazing way to travel and stay and eat for free (well, in exchange for work)

As a both host and a traveller on Airbnb, I can say that their fees are very high when you’re the one booking the place, but they do have a big offer of accommodation (due to low host fees). Wimdu is just not developed well…
HouseTrip seems like a nice option too, but doesn’t have a very large offer just yet.

Katie

Im not a very trusting person i personally only feel safe in hotels! I have to travel alot for my business, mostly in Europe,but often in the states i used to use sites like Travelocity.com ,but i quickly found out a better way to find better deals is to go to the second level,those sites like reserveaffordable.com who compare the hundred of different
booking sites into one single search. So you not only see trivago or expedia deals but ALL of them in one place. i must’ve saved over 3,000 dollars since i started using them. you just gotta know where to look. Great article and Happy traveling!

mojo

if you want to save money on hotels try or at least take a look at this hotelsmixmatch.com i use them when i take my family on vacations they save me 80% on my hotels i don’t know how they do it but they mange to and over a years period i have saved thousands on vacations and the business trips i have to go on every month. they are a underground company that can save you a lot of money thank to my friend kevin for telling me about them

NomadicMatt

I’ll check the nout.

Nice resource matt. I always consider for the hotels because i love luxury living lifestyle. I always choose luxury hotel for staying while on travelling.

Leave a comment