How To Find Cheap Travel Accommodation

Cheap Accommodation

Cheap Travel Accommodation

Travel Tips

Cheap travel accommodation is available around the world — you don’t need to pay for expensive hotels. Check out these affordable (and free) sleep options.

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, especially when you use alternative forms of overnight accommodation.

Travel is only expensive if you choose to make it that way.

Fancy hotels have big budgets to spend on plenty of advertising coverage. 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.

Over the past 6 years I’ve tried most of them, and wanted to share my experiences and tips to help you find cheap travel accommodation during your journey.


Backpacker Hostels

Cheap Backpacker Hostels

Backpacker Hostel in Scotland

COST: $5 – $20 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
  • HostelBookers & Booking.com 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.


Guest Houses

Budget Hotel

Budget Hotel

COST: $10 – $50 Per Night

A guesthouse or budget hotel provides a simple, affordable room without the perks or service of a bigger 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

Choosing a guesthouse over a hostel really depends on my mood. If I’m feeling sociable and don’t have a ton of work to do, I usually prefer a hostel. But sometimes the privacy of having your own room is worth the extra expense.


Short-Term Apartment

Short Term Apartment

Short Term Apartment

COST: $10 – $50 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 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. Regular interaction with local neighbors helps you appreciate what it’s actually like to live in the country, if only for a short time.

Apartment Tips:

  • Choose places with a history of reviews from past tenants
  • Research the apartment’s location & transportation options
  • AirBnB is a wonderful site to find short-term apartment rentals
  • If you plan to stay a month or longer, local classifieds provide the best deals
COUPON CODE! For a special $20-$40 off your first AirBnB rental, make sure to use my special link.

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.


Local Homestay

Local Homestay

Local Homestay

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.

Homestay Tips:

  • 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.


Volunteer / Work Exchange

Volunteering

Volunteering

COST: $0 – $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 school for a few days while volunteering to build cook ovens (out of poop) for poor families in a town without electricity or running water. It was fun, emotionally rewarding, and I didn’t have to pay a cent for food or accommodation.


Camping

Camping

Hammock camping

COST: $0 – $10 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 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 always travel with a camping hammock, and try to camp at least once or twice a month. Many of my most memorable adventures have included some camping.


House Sitting

Housesitting

Housesitting

COST: $0 Per Night

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.


Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

COST: $0 Per Night

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.

CouchSurfing 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.


Overnight Transportation

Overnight Bus

Overnight Bus

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 takes 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.


Public Places

Airport Sleeping

Airport Sleeping

COST: $0

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.


Squatting!

Squatting

Squatting in a Spanish Cave

COST: $0

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. Some estimates suggest that 1 in 7 people worldwide 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. I once spent the night squatting inside a Spanish cave with Romanian gypsies!

Squat the Planet is a good source for more information on the squatting community (yes, there is one).


No Excuses!

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 have expensive tastes.

If you’re open-minded, there are plenty of cheap accommodation options to take advantage of while traveling. ★

Traveling Somewhere Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

READ NEXT: Should You Get Travel Insurance?

How many of these techniques have you tried? Any others I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

106 Comments

  1. Nice tips Matt. Going to check out squat the planet as soon as I’m done writing this comment – just for the name if nothing else hahaha. One option people don’t usually think about as being particularly budget friendly is airbnb. I’ve been using it quite a bit in Central America recently, and the other day I put together a post with my tips on how to use it for budget travel.

    It’s surprising how cheap you can find stuff on there. There’s been times when we’ve paid the same or even slightly less than we would do in a hostel. Might be an extra option to keep in mind. Thanks again for the info!

  2. Before reading this article didn’t know even a half of these cheap accommodation possibilities. Thank You very much for enlightening me and sparing my wallet from holiday season dieting! :)
    Don’t know how much of a possibility it is, but once read an article about things you can buy for a dollar around the world https://blog.asaptickets.com/tips/travel-tips-10-things-you-can-buy-for-a-dollar-around-the-world/ – apparently, if you travel to Italy, you can buy a whole house there for a dollar! Of course, these houses are not a replica of mansions or manors; anyway it sounds better than squatting, for the house at least will be yours, and who knows maybe it has a potential to transform into your holiday residence! :)

  3. Hey, Just another suggestion. Sikh temples all around the world generally offer free food and accommodation to anyone. Generally all you need to do is look up ‘Gurudwara’ on google maps and find the closest one.

  4. Hey,it’s all nice ,let me suggest , I’m soon planning to visit Singapore for one months but I’m afraid to find a host on couchsurfing( because I don’t have references). hotels are very expensive there I heard it . In the case if I will not find host so how can I live free of cost .

  5. Squatting and sleeping in public places sound like it could be dangerous. It’s kind of surprising that one in seven people do this. I think I would prefer choosing a motel or one of the options mentioned.

    1. So would I Zequek, but the point I wanted to make is that even if you don’t have much money, cheap travel accommodation can be found. Squatting isn’t something I’d do regularly, but I’ve tried it, and it wasn’t that bad.

  6. I think the dorms and homestay works out for fine me. Sweet on the pocket. India has recently opened up to these kind of guest stays. Couchsurfing still a very alien concept here.

  7. Some great tips! I always thought hostel staying was one of the only/ cheapest options out there. Although I do love staying in hostels because of all the people I have met through them I a, definitely going to start trying some of these other ideas! Thanks again for a great post!

  8. A lot of people look at travel as an expensive activity that can only be enjoyed by the rich, but such is not true! The expenses depend on the place you choose to stay. This post gives great suggestions. Thanks for sharing!!

  9. I find that staying with locals is a great way to get accomodation for free or for a small price and you get to experience what it’s like living with a local family or finding a source of information for the best spots in a certain location. the other ideas are also great, I have to try couchsurfing sometime.

  10. I didn’t see anything like staying with family or friends. 3 of the last 4 trips I’ve made I have stayed with a friend and it has been a great way to save money, get a local’s insight and a great way to spend quality time with loved ones. Sometimes it can be tricky though because there’s history. Also it limits your options when you just go to a mentality of just asking yourself where do you know people?

  11. Hi Matt! Love the list, hammock camping is one of my favourites. If travelling with a car, I recommend a small caravan for family travels. Depends on where you are travelling of course. We saved a small fortune and could travel for months longer than would have otherwise been affordable. This was in the UK and Europe. Wild Caravanned for free all around Scotland, where it is legal to use road side stops. Used big truck stops around Europe with no hassles. Only chose the large ones so we were not in the way at all. Also found some awesome forest areas in Europe with stunning views.
    I plan a round Australia trip using, legal, free camp sites in the next year or two…

    1. We did the round Australia thing about 7 years ago. There is a large book (can’t remember the name ) that you can buy from Tourist Info Centres and some outdoor/camping shops for about A$55 which gives 1,000’s of free and paid sites divided up by State. However most free sites don’t have any kind of facilities and the toilet is the “long drop” type. You may want to consider paying for a campsite for a one night stop when your body starts smelling. BTW some paid campsites will hire you to do odd jobs, always a good thing if funds are running low. Remember to do the “top end” in winter (June-Sept) because of flash flooding etc and the great Ocean Rd, Adelaide, Melbourne and points south in the Australian summer as it can get cold in that area

      1. BTW We started our first RTW at age 61. We’ve done SE Asia twice plus Aust and NZ since then and our plan (God willing) is to do another RTW for our 50th Wedding Anniv. We will be aged 70 then.

  12. I travel with my kids and even they are familiar with sleeping in airports and bus terminals! I’ve also learned to schedule transportation, if not over night, super early in the morning. Then we make our last night a “big night” going out to late night activities or just 24 hour cafes, to arrive at the airport or bus terminal at the wee hours of the morning, hanging out for just a couple of hours and then boarding and sleeping the next day on the plane, train or bus! My kids love it. It makes it all an even bigger adventure!

  13. Hi Matt,

    Interesting travel blog you have, i’m still reading your articles! If you are travelling to Singapore, you are welcome to stay with us! Lol !

  14. Hmmm… there are definitely costs involved in Couchsurfing. There is the time investment in selecting hosts well, and then treating the hosts well for their generosity of time and accommodation. Some bring a gift, some buy food for everyone, take the hosts out, or do repairs or other chores.

    But often there are transportation costs to get to the host which might not otherwise be an issue. A €10 taxi, a £17 train, or several changes of transportation such as in Istanbul which could include tram, Metro, bus, ferry, tünel and/or dolmuş (shared) taxi, each having its own unique cost which, while reasonable, does add up. In time too (though that is often part of the adventure).

  15. These are some excellent tips on getting cheap places to stay when travelling. Hostels are always a fun part of the travelling experience for me, personally!

  16. Hello Matt!
    thank you so much for all those tips. this is what i needed exactly to reassure myself. I am planning to leave my job and start travelling from next year february after saving some money.
    i have always been a bit scare to be left without money but i believe with a good planning I can make it and that’s where your article fit perfectly!!
    thanks a lot again.
    please keep posting! :)

  17. I would love to experience all those on the list … a few on there i have experienced going to Malawi witch is a very basic 3 world country and most of the places on a budget there is a little scary unless you don’t mind sharing your room with ants.

  18. Hi, I’m thinking about switching from tent to hammock and I have a few questions. When you can’t find trees (like camping at a volcano like you did) what do you do? And what about your backpack? You can’t fit it inside the hammock, so you just put it outside? For everyone to take?

  19. Great post and thread. I did my bachelor years from the backseat of my car, went perfectly well. Then for the master years I took a room just because I was in a relationship.. Right now, I travel the world without my car and with the above methods. Couch surfing is nice but you cannot base a trip on that or depend on that, it’s too random and only worked for some night out of hundreds. I also realized that quite a few people use it as a dating site and select people accordingly :( Anyways, South America and Asia are so much value for money that hostels are more than affordable but where safety and weather permit I sleep outdoors. Most of the times, my heavy backpack is the main hindrance so it goes to a locker to free me for the day but it happened that I dug it all in a big plastic bag for several days. Happy travels everyone!

  20. I prefer camping. Sleeping under the open sky it’s like staying in a 5 million stars hotel. And it comes along with my philosophy “no money for accommodation but double for food” :-)

  21. Any tips for a solo female traveler in her 50s in regards to safety? I have traveled all over the world solo, but only for a couple of weeks at a time, and always had logistics planned well in advance. How does one safely “wing it” traveling as a solo female?

  22. Thanks a lot. This is really good advice. I done the overnight travelling thing and the airport thing a lot. I will stay tuned to your blog.

    Julius

  23. Thank you matthew for your excellent post. I used to sleep on tents to save my amount which i pay for rent. It’s a wonderful and adventurous experience to sleep in tents with a campfire at outside.

  24. Hi!
    Your post is very interesting! actually our life is too short but we can make it very nice and most enjoyable by traveling nice places in the world, Thanks for sharing your experience and have a happy life!

  25. Great blog Matthew, nice pieces of writing.
    We only book into B&B in our travels around the world, which are mainly to Europe and south-east Asia on the way there.
    We book ahead and take no chances, avoids surprises when you travel with a child.
    So far we had only great experiences in Europe, we found beautiful places at reasonable places in Paris, Amsterdam, or Munich.
    That’s the very reason we listed the ground floor of our house to travellers, and so far we only had good experiences.
    Thank you, will check back later on…

  26. Hi, Matthew! Your post is very interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing your experience! Very useful tips. I’ve never had one of those free overnights, but now I’ll try all of them:)

  27. Thanks for the great ideas, I do travel a lot, but its all planned out, would love to be a little more adventurous, but I just not sure

  28. Might be a stupid question but do you have to have a work visa rather than just a tourist visa to do volunteering/work exchange? Its such a good idea, you & your website are awesome! :)

  29. I personally prefer airbnb, because I can live like a local, yet still maintain my privacy. Couchsurfing sounds as a good idea to me, but I have to admit I’m quite afraid to try it, because I can be a pain in the ass sometimes.

    1. Ha! Yeah, you have to be in the mood for it. Sometimes I need my privacy too, or want to bury myself in work. But if you are feeling extra sociable (or want to force yourself to be), CS is a great option.

  30. Couchsufing is awesome. Im been hosting and surfing since 2007 and met the most amazing people.

  31. Don’t forget car living ! While traveling around US and Mexico, I mostly slept in my car… Luckily, in US they have rest stops, and many WalMart’s allow overnight stays….In Mexico, it was cheap to rent a car, it was very convenient, and I saved money on accommodation…

  32. I love CouchSurfing! Because I work a lot as I travel, I don’t do it often, because generally when you couchsurf the host expects that you spend a little time hanging out. Not always, but usually. Which is fine when I don’t have work to do.

    I’ve never had a bad experience, although I’ve heard a few stories that were more strange then dangerous. But the review system is pretty solid, and you can get a good feel for the person by reading their reviews.

  33. You can rent an inexpensive automobile and sleep in it. This kills two birds with one stone. You can rent a car by the hour. You can find these deals on craigslist.

    When it comes to squatting, look for a hotel under renovation. There are often empty rooms, or entire floors, that have been taken out of use. Use the room overnight but leave before the construction crew arrives the next morning.

  34. I had to sleep on airports few times and always was funny, to say at least (playing cards with security once). About home staying and short time renting apartment – it can be done much cheaper, at least here where I am. Full apartment, actually, not just a room, can be rented for 200 usd – 250 usd a month.

  35. I really enjoy reading your post. Thailand has interesting culture and places to travel. Got a lot of things I learned from this post about backpacking. Thanks

  36. What’s up i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anyplace, when i read this piece of writing i thought i could also create comment due to this good paragraph.

  37. Great collection of accommodation tips, Matthew! I love posts like this that demystify the idea that travel has to be expensive – the word is finally getting out! I’ve been hearing more and more about house sitting lately; would love to give it a try sometime. Have you found many opportunities for it outside of North America?

  38. Great post. Although these are all pretty familiar to me, it’s nice to see them all summed up together. I would never have thought of squatting though — how many people actually do that as tourists, I wonder?

    1. Exactly. I know many people who tell me they could never sleep in a stranger’s house, but until you try it, you just don’t realize how non-sketchy (and rewarding) it really is.

  39. I learned to travel with a light hammock, like I see in your photo at the top of the page. I’ve strung that thing up in so many unusual but totally comfortable spots and had great sleeps on the fly – for free! (Once spent an overnight layover at JFK by rigging my hammock up between a couple of metal posts near my gate and woke up to a group of tourists taking photos of my with their iPhones…)

    Thanks for the tips. Really sweet site!

  40. That first Thai Backpacker Hostel picture, i’ve never seen all the beds in a line like that! Normally its bunk beds isn’t it? Unless the second person can fit in the drawer underneath where the numbers are written? :)

  41. Great points Matt (Matthew).
    I have always enjoyed luxury accom, it would be good experience to travel on a budget (wow! I sound like a snob!). Im starting to learn that if you love travel, it doesnt matter where you stay!

  42. This is a fantastic post! Even as a couple we prefer to Couchsurf – whether it be with friend or with strangers that will soon be friends!

    1. Couchsurfing is a lot of fun. I’ve never had a bad experience, and the people I’ve met all seem to be above-average in the cool department! Which makes total sense if you & Shaun are involved… :D

  43. I have no problem sleeping in hostels, but I couldn’t imagine sleeping in the hostel you have pictured in Thailand. That’s a little too close for comfort. I prefer bunk beds. Great info!

  44. Cool post, I specifically like the airport stay (including the website!), should give it a try once…
    We tried the overnight bus ride in Peru, but apparently we should have paid better attention in picking the bus company, that was one of the most miserable nights I ever had…

      1. Of course, Matt. You make everything look so easy. I just need to get my act together and go. It’s a bit hard for me, though since I have a little young girly with me that I can’t leave behind. But you’re inspiring, that’s for sure. Have been from the beginning!