How to Find Cheap Accommodation When You Travel
Many people travel rarely because they think it is expensive. At the same time, they might envy people who are always travelling or living in different countries, and dream of the time they can finally afford to do the same. But travelling doesn’t need to be expensive at all; in fact, travelling can easily be much more affordable than living in an average city in a western country, if you only find a cheap place to stay in. If you live in a major city you are probably paying around 1000 US dollars or euros for renting a small apartment. That money goes a really long way in most countries as long as you are willing to stay in less fancy places and most importantly, do your research in advance about how to find affordable accommodation.
Booking Online or on the Spot?
If you are used to booking package holidays or tend to stay put in one place, you are probably also used to booking a hotel room or an Airbnb apartment in advance. Therefore, you also know that accommodation tends to be the biggest expense when travelling. Unfortunately, that is mostly true also when travelling on a budget, but there are ways to find a cheap place. First, you should be aware that in many countries internet use is not yet common and therefore there will be few places available online. However, those might be ten times more expensive than what you can find by simply looking around on the spot. Typically, if you only have a few Airbnbs or hotels in a hotel booking website in an entire town, those will be run by internet-savvy foreigners and the price will be much higher. Using other sites, like Surf City Rentals to name an example, could be more financially viable.
So, try to find out in advance how the hotel/rental room situation is in the place you want to travel to, by for example asking about it in online forums or social media sites. I have found apartments or rooms to stay in for a fraction of the “official prices” simply by talking to locals and asking them whether they know of someone who has a place to rent. Curiously, many countries have a two-tier system where there are plenty of cheap, simple rooms or apartments available, but the locals think that tourists will only want to stay in fancy resorts, hotels, or apartments with a pool. Once you make it clear to them that you are happy to stay anywhere as long as it is cheap, you might be paying ten times less for a room than what the average “budget” tourist pays for the cheapest hotel.
Hostels Are a Budget Traveler’s Friend
If you are travelling alone, hostels are often the cheapest option. It can be a little nerve-wracking when it is your first time, but people have made guides to help you with this. When I started travelling, they were all called “youth hostels”, and indeed the average age of a typical hostel guest was probably around 23. However, things have radically changed since. Nowadays there is more variety in hostels so that some of them might explicitly profile themselves as party hostels for younger people, whereas others are more aimed at travellers of all ages. Hostels are convenient for many reasons: you can easily meet other people who might end up becoming your travel companions, you can cook your own food, and maybe even wash laundry for a small fee. Just remember to pack good earplugs, and if you are a sensitive sleeper, pick a private room or a dorm with a few people.
One important rule of hostel living is to be flexible since you never know what is going to happen in a hostel. Once I stayed for several weeks in a hostel in Mexico City. I had a bed in a dorm, and normally the hostel got quiet around 11 pm. However, one night I got home from the movies and there was a massive party taking place on a Tuesday night – it happened to be the hostel’s birthday. After listening to the noise in my bed for a while I realized there was no way I could sleep, and it was better to simply join the party. I ended up drinking beer and chatting with several new people until four in the morning when the party finally ended, enjoying my time rather than suffering in bed cursing the people having fun and not thinking about the sleep of others. So sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow and forget about the plans you have made.