Whether it’s traveling for leisure or business, one of the largest expenses while on the road is finding a place to stay each night. Lodging options range from low-cost youth hostels all the way up to premium 5-star hotels; however, we’ll show that you don’t always have to pay a premium price to enjoy premium accommodations.
Lessons in Saving Money from World Travelers
After working for 10 years in America, my girlfriend and I decided to take a year off from our professional careers to travel the world, and document our travels and savings advice in our travel blog. While this incredible opportunity has allowed us to experience new cultures and pursue creative passions and hobbies, it has also taught us several interesting ways to save money while traveling.
We’re going to focus on one of the biggest travel expense categories: lodging and housing accommodations. Here are 12 counter-intuitive or lesser-known ways to reduce your housing costs the next time you travel.
Not everyone is fortunate enough that they can decide to pack up their bags and head out for a spontaneous weekend. Often, people have animals to care for or other household commitments that prevent them from traveling for extended periods of time without paying someone to watch the animals or take care of the house.
That is where house-sitting enters. In exchange for watching an animal, taking in the daily mail, watering plants, and other chores, you can get free housing in most countries around the globe. The duties can vary from watching a single turtle to caring for dozens of animals, so be sure to read what you are signing up for before applying for a house.
For the most luxurious houses and those in high-demand areas, the competition with other applicants can be much higher, which reduces your chances of being selected. Thus, it helps to establish your profile with some positive reviews by doing some shorter stays before you apply for a more premium house-sitting opportunity.
In the same way that you yearn for that foreign land, tropical beach, or unchartered wilderness, there is likely someone in that same land that yearns to see yours. House swapping is exactly as it sounds: you coordinate dates and plans through one of several websites, and then trade houses for the agreed-upon time.
This is a great option since you will not only save money, but you will benefit from having someone to watch your house while you are away. It also helps make a connection with a local, since they can provide great recommendations for things to do and see around their hometown that you might have not otherwise read about in a travel guide.
If you own a house but can’t find a house-swap that works, you still have a perfectly good opportunity to actually make some money by renting out your house on Airbnb while you are away. While it may be more effort than it is worth for some people, it is something that people do take advantage of, effectively lowering the cost of their trip while they are enjoying traveling.
One thing to keep in mind is you will need to coordinate the logistics of checking people in and out, cleaning, and other host responsibilities while you are not around. A trusted family member or close friend can make for a good option to help if you decide to try this out.
I know what you’re thinking: “I thought this list was supposed to save me money, not cost me more!” As it turns out, we found out that extending your stay can actually save you money. How does this work?
On sites like Airbnb, you can often get discounts for stays for more than seven nights or more than one month. On one of our recent Airbnb stays in Salzburg, Austria, we received a 25% discount for booking for one week instead of six nights. Thus, it would have been cheaper to book the seven nights, even if we couldn’t stay the last day, which we did. The discounts can vary widely, but if you are staying somewhere in the 5-6 night range or in the 28-30 day range, it is worth checking whether extending your stay to a full week or a full month may actually be cheaper than your shorter stay.
Second, some cities, counties, states, and countries may charge special “transient” occupancy taxes or hotel taxes for shorter stays that are fewer than a specified number of days. This means that by extending your booking an extra night or two, you may actually avoid having to pay those occupancy taxes, costing you less money in the end.
Travel hacking is all the rage these days. With countless online articles on lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses, rewards program benefits, and many other ways to get free and discounted nights, some type of travel rewards redemption should be a part of everyone’s travel strategy.
Through a combination of credit card rewards, sign-up bonuses, and other techniques, we have been able to amass more than $10,000 of travel credit over the past few years, which we are using on our worldwide trip.
Whenever you fly, book a hotel, or anything else, be sure you are using a rewards credit card and a rewards membership, if one exists for that category.
When cruises with major cruise lines can be booked for as little as $45-50 per day, and that includes not only your housing, but also all-you-can-eat food, and transportation to another continent, it’s easy to see why cruises can be one of the best values for travelers.
Especially if you have the time and don’t mind spending a few days at sea, look at one-way repositioning cruises, such as transatlantic and transpacific cruises. As the seasons change, cruise companies will relocate ships from certain regions, like the Mediterranean Sea, to other areas, like the Caribbean. We were fortunate enough to book a 14-night transatlantic repositioning cruise that took us from Puerto Rico to Rome, Italy, and it ended up costing us $700, which was cheaper than flights would have been.
WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms - is an organization that gives travelers the opportunity to travel abroad and volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation. While the hosts generally expect 4-6 hours of volunteer work in exchange for food and a room, this can be a great opportunity for those that want something other than a typical tourist experience.
In addition to the benefits that the host receives from the extra hands, the WWOOFers also benefit from experiencing daily life in the location of their choice, while also meeting and networking with other like-minded WWOOFers along the way.
Something that we have been taking advantage of is buying discounted gift cards online, from gift card marketplaces like Raise.com. In less than five minutes, we can purchase gift cards at 5-20% off, and instantly use them on our housing and other expenses.
We have bought Airbnb, Hotels.com, Celebrity Cruises, and many other gift cards from online sellers, and instantly apply them to our account before checking out to get an extra discount on our housing.
Resources: How to buy discounted gift cards online
If you are open to different travel locations for your vacation or holiday, consider options that benefit from having stronger exchange rates for your native currency. For example, the US dollar is currently strong in many parts of the world, making it a great time to travel for Americans.
Exchange rates are always changing, so rather than posting fixed guidance here, do some quick Google searches for “destinations with best exchange rates” in your local currency to find some ideas for your next trip.
Human beings are social creatures, yet we too often forget those friends that move off to other locations as soon as they leave. Often times, a quick message or email to these distant friends - some of which you may not have spoken to in years - will pick up as if you just spoke to them a few days ago.
Obviously, you shouldn’t reach out with the sole purpose of getting free housing. From our experiences, our friends often insist on letting us visit and stay without any compensation. In those situations, we still always offer to pay, but generally taking them out to a nice dinner or bringing some drinks to share is more than they want.
Traveling in this way is both a win for your wallet and for reinvigorating those relationships.
Since it was founded in 2003, CouchSurfing has been the primary option for locals looking to host travelers, and for travelers to find a free place to crash. CouchSurfing is great not only from a financial perspective while traveling, but hosts are amazing resources for showing you around their city and providing recommendations.
Having flexibility in your travel plans will benefit your travels - and your wallet - in several ways. First, by remaining flexible in location, this means you don’t have to book the hotel that is a two-minute walk from the key attraction that you want to see. Booking a house in the quieter neighborhood that’s a slightly farther walk can give you both a better night’s sleep and a chance for a healthy walk to see some sights that you might otherwise not have seen.
Next, flexibility allows you to improvise and adjust once you arrive at your first destination. On more than one occasion, we have reserved a small place online, only to find once we show up an almost identical accommodation next door, but substantially cheaper. Another thing that you should do is to ask the locals once you arrive for their recommendations - something that would not be possible if you pre-booked your entire trip. Lastly, by being flexible and not booking everything in advance, you can often catch last-minute deals and realize significant travel savings.
Brian and Alyssa are two Americans currently traveling the world and documenting their lives on their travel blog at www.balivin.com. Credit also to Mikey Brenker, an American expat living in Vietnam, for providing some insight on ways to save while traveling.
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