Cheap travel accommodation is available around the world — no need to pay for expensive hotels. Check out these affordable (and free) sleep options to save money traveling.
One of the biggest travel myths out there is that you need to be independently wealthy to see the world. This is simply not true.
Travel can be very affordable when you learn how to book cheap airline flights and use alternative options for cheap overnight accommodation.
Travel is only expensive if you choose to make it that way.
Fancy hotel chains have massive PR budgets to spend on marketing, so we assume those are the only options out there.
But in reality, there are many cheap, and even free places to sleep when traveling.
So I wanted to share my experiences and tips to help inspire you to find cheaper travel accommodation options during your own journey, and save some money!
Best Cheap Accommodation Options
1. Budget Backpacker Hostels
COST: $5 – $30 per night
Backpacker hostels are a popular option for the budget-minded traveler. Rooms & bathrooms are shared by multiple people which helps keep costs low. The average hostel room can hold 4-10 individuals, often furnished with bunk-beds. Personal lockers are available for securing your belongings. A very basic (toast and cereal) breakfast is usually included too.
In addition to being cheap, hostels provide a highly social atmosphere for fellow travelers to interact with each other. A communal kitchen and living area helps facilitate this. Many backpacker hostels have a few private rooms for those who want a little more privacy along with the vibrant social scene.
Backpacker Hostel Tips:
- Avoid hostels that don’t provide lockers for your valuables
- Earplugs & an eye-mask will help with late night noise & light
- Booking.com and HostelBookers are good sites to find a hostel
As a solo-traveler, meeting new people and saving money is a priority for me. So I frequently use hostels when I’m traveling. If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of privacy & dealing with some extra noise, backpacker hostels are great.
2. Local Guest Houses
COST: $10 – $80 per night
A guesthouse or budget hotel provides a simple, affordable room without the perks or service of a bigger luxury hotel. Compared to a hostel, you receive a decent sized private room but much less social interaction. All for a slightly higher price. Kitchens may or may not be included. Breakfast may or may not be included.
Just like hostels, the quality these places can vary widely. In some locations hostels are just not available. But there will be plenty of cheap guesthouses around.
Guest House Tips:
- Always ask to see the room first
- Make sure windows & doors are secure
- Booking.com is a good site to search for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Choosing a guesthouse or cheap hotel over a hostel really depends on my mood. If I’m feeling sociable and don’t have a ton of work to do, I get rent a hostel bed. But sometimes the privacy of having your own room is worth the extra expense of a hotel.
3. Short-Term Vacation Rentals
COST: $10 – $80 Per Night
If someone has a spare room in their house or a whole apartment they are not using, they may rent it to travelers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
These vacation apartments usually come fully furnished and include a kitchen — all for the price of a budget hotel.
One of the big benefits of staying in an apartment is how it can feel like a home-away-from-home. Interaction with neighbors helps you appreciate what it’s like to live in the country, if only for a short time.
Vacation Apartment Rental Tips:
- Choose places with a history of good reviews from past tenants.
- Research the apartment’s location & transportation options.
- Airbnb is a great site for booking short-term apartment rentals.
- If you plan to stay a month or longer, try negotiating a lower price with the owner.
AIRBNB COUPON CODE! Have you ever considered short-term apartment rentals? It’s a great way to save money! Click here to learn how to get $35 off your first booking.
I’ve rented a handful of short-term apartments on my travels, as they’re a wonderful way to slow down and live like a local. For example I lived next to the beach in Playa del Carmen for 3 months and it only cost me about $10 a night.
4. Local Homestay Experience
COST: $10 – $50 per night
If you’re interested in learning more about someone’s culture when traveling to a new country, homestays can help you do just that. This is when a family rents out a spare bedroom for extra income and a chance to teach you about their lifestyle. A homestay usually includes breakfast and maybe dinner too.
Homestay arrangements are typical with many language schools, but these days any traveler can book one. You don’t need to know the language to reap the benefits of a homestay either. It might be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding.
- If your host doesn’t speak your language, use sign language and draw pictures to communicate. It works surprisingly well.
- Check if your homestay includes meals, and how many
- Be open-minded and willing to learn from your local hosts
- Search Google for “homestay” plus the country’s name to pull up different homestay websites
I once spent 3 weeks in a Guatemalan homestay living with a local Mayan family while learning Spanish. You are welcomed like a member of the family and experience a foreign culture on a whole different level.
5. Volunteer / Work Exchange
COST: Free – $30 per night
Rather than pay for your accommodation, why not work for it? There are countless opportunities to volunteer your time, labor, or expertise in exchange for room & board all over the world. Some examples include farms, schools, shelters, hostels, lodges, ranches, and even sailboats.
Work exchanges can teach you a new skill, provide insight into a foreign culture, and benefit a good cause while you travel. Not to mention helping you save money at the same time.
Work Exchange Tips:
- Check on how many hours of work are required, and if meals are included
- Some organizations charge a small fee to cover costs associated with hosting you
- WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX are good sites to search for volunteer opportunities
In Nicaragua, I lived in a schoolhouse for a few days while volunteering to build cook ovens for families in a town without electricity or running water. It was fun, emotionally rewarding, and I didn’t have to pay for food or accommodation.
6. Wild Camping & Campgrounds
COST: Free – $20 per night
If you really want to get close to nature while you’re traveling, you can’t beat camping in the wilderness. Most of the time it’s free, but if you camp in popular tourist locations you may have to pay a bit.
With a tent or camping hammock, you can go absolutely anywhere and will always have a place to sleep, allowing you to experience remote areas that other travelers might avoid due to lack of accommodation.
Camping Cheap Accommodation Tips:
- Try to avoid camping on posted private property
- Make sure you have a water source nearby
- Keep food away from your shelter, preferably up in a tree
- Respect the environment and leave no trace
I’m a big fan of camping. In fact I often travel with a camping hammock when I’m in adventurous destinations. I’ve had many great travel experiences that included some camping.
7. House Sitting & Pet Sitting
COST: Basically Free
Homeowners around the world need someone to look after their house while they’re on vacation or away for work. You can be that person. House sitting enables you to live quite well for a few weeks or months in someone else’s place, in exchange for keeping an eye on it.
Sometimes there are pets to feed and play with, plants to water, and other chores. But having a whole house to yourself, for free, is usually worth the minimal effort involved.
House Sitting Tips:
- Provide solid references, maybe house sit for a friend first
- Ensure your responsibilities are written down & agreed to
- Be flexible. You never know when & where an opportunity will pop up
- TrustedHousesitters is a great site for locating housesitting jobs
I once spent 2 weeks housesitting in the woods of New Hampshire in the winter. My main responsibility was to keep a wood-fire going 8 hours a day to prevent pipes from freezing. But a network of cross-country ski trails out back kept me busy too.
8. Couchsurfing With Strangers
COST: Basically Free
If you’re not aware of CouchSurfing.org, you should be. It’s a very large (5 million strong) community of people from all over the world who open up their homes & apartments to travelers for free. They may have a whole spare bedroom or just a couch for you to crash on.
Why do they do it? To meet interesting people. To share their culture. To find adventure partners. After a hosting experience, both the host & traveler can leave a reference about one another. This vouching & verification system works well to prevent misuse of the site.
Free CouchSurfing Accommodation Tips:
- Provide tons of information on your profile to gain trust
- Send out personalized CouchSurfing requests, not generic ones
- Make time to chat or do something fun with your hosts
- Join local CouchSurfing meetups to get your first references
- HospitalityClub & WarmShowers have similar communities
I’ve been both a surfer and host through CouchSurfing, and constantly meet the coolest people. The misconception that CouchSurfers are all freeloaders & bums is simply not true. The community is made up of many ages, backgrounds, and income levels with fascinating stories & knowledge to share.
9. Home Exchanges
COST: Basically Free
This only works if you already own your own home! Basically, you swap houses with another traveler. Maybe they live in France, and want to spend a month living in Utah. You own a house in Utah, and want to spend a month living in France!
Swapping homes is a great way to travel for practically free. First, become a member of a home exchange network for about $150 a year. After a few nights on vacation, your membership has paid for itself!
Home Exchange Accommodation Tips:
- Check out HomeExchange.com or HomeForExchange.com to sign up and start swapping with homeowners.
- Very similar to housesitting, only another home owner is house sitting for you at the same time!
10. Churches / Monasteries / Temples
COST: Free – $50 per night
If you belong to a particular religious group, and even if you don’t, many different religious centers offer free or cheap temporary housing. It could be at a Catholic Church, an Islamic Mosque, Jewish Synagogue, Buddhist Monastery, or a Sikh Temple.
The religious accommodation is going to be very basic, and depending on the place, might only be an option for people who have no other choices available. Some religions won’t allow unmarried couples to stay together either.
Religious Accommodation Tips:
- While you don’t need to belong to the religion, it helps.
- Don’t take advantage of people’s religious hospitality and stay too long.
- To search for monasteries that offer accommodation, check out MonasteryStays.com
- Sikh temples, called Gurudwara, offer both free accommodation & food.
11. Overnight Transportation
COST: Ticket Price
A wonderful way to save some money on accommodation costs is to travel at night. Sleeping on trains, planes, buses, and boats take practice to master.
But when you get good at it, you’ll be able to wake up refreshed and ready to explore your new surroundings. Well, maybe after a shower…
Overnight Transportation Tips:
- Choose a seat/location with a lot of legroom
- Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, water, and something warm
- Secure your valuables to yourself
- Befriend your neighbor so they’ll wake you before your stop
I always try to book overnight transportation to save some money and make a long trip less boring. It took time, but I’ve become pretty good at sleeping on buses, planes, and one time the deck of a cargo boat.
12. Sleeping In Public Places
Booked an early flight, bus, or train ride and don’t want to pay for a hotel room you’ll barely use? Just sleep in the terminal/station. If you have luggage and look relatively clean, you probably won’t be bothered by security.
Transportation terminals have bathrooms, food, and are usually open all night. If you’re lucky, you might even get free WiFi. In fact there is a whole website dedicated to sleeping in airports.
Sleeping in Public Tips:
- Find an area away from heavy foot traffic
- Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, water, and something warm
- Secure your valuables to yourself
- Stake out a good spot early, before others start looking
I’ve spent my share of nights in airports & station terminals. In Hong Kong I actually spent 2 nights in the airport because I was tired of moving around, too cheap to pay for a hotel room & taxi fares, and thought it would be fun. It was. With free WiFi, I got a ton of work done too.
13. Squatting In Buildings (And Caves)
Squatting is when someone lives on property that’s owned by someone else without their permission. You’d be surprised how many people do it.
Estimates suggest that 1 in 7 people are living as squatters!
This includes shantytowns where families build shacks on land that they don’t own. However, in many countries squatting is illegal.
Squatting Accommodation Tips:
- Squat the Planet is a good source for more information on the squatting community (yes, there is one).
I once spent a very interesting night squatting inside a Spanish cave with Romanians! It was pretty cool.
Yes You Can Travel Cheaply!
The point I wanted to make is that cheap travel accommodation is possible. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on expensive hotels to see the world.
A week’s stay in a hotel might cost $700, a week’s stay in a hostel might cost $140, and a week’s stay with Couchsurfing hosts will cost you $0.
Big difference, right? Travel is only expensive if you make it that way.
If you’re open-minded, there are plenty of cheap accommodation options to take advantage of while traveling. ★
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I hope you enjoyed my guide to cheap accommodation when you travel! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
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- My Top Money Saving Travel Tips