Hotels: While this is a tried and true option, it’s still worth mentioning, because as times change, so does what some hotels offer. For the most part, they still offer the typical bed, TV, bathroom and parking lot. But without the price being affected too much, you’re also seeing more pools, restaurants, animal-friendly rooms and even gym options. It’s worth checking around to find some of these amenities, as you never know when you’ll need it. You may think “I’m going to this town, because we want to be at the beach.” But maybe something happened at the beach, where it has to be closed down for a few hours, and there’s no other option. You’ll be glad you went ahead and got a hotel that has a pool on site. A great website that is a one-stop-shop is hotels.com. It’s easy to use, and it even offers a loyalty program, that after 10 nights, you get the next night for free. Not bad, is it?
Hostels: This option isn’t high on many adults list for accommodation, but there is a perk that you may not have known about. First off, for those of you that don’t know what a hostel is, it’s like a hotel, but in most of the rooms, they have bunk beds that can sleep between 4 and 20 people. It’s much cheaper because of this though, and that’s appealing to many 18-30 year olds, who are low on funds. Many hostels offer breakfast included in their price, as well as other things like free luggage storage before/after your stay, free walking tours, a book-exchange, pool tables, their own bar, discounted Minicards to the city’s most popular sites, boat rides, restaurants, etc. Something that solo travelers really enjoy is the ability to meet people from all over the world. I still keep in touch with, and have even stayed in the homes of people I met in a hostel 10 years ago. So what’s the perk mentioned above? For those of you who like the sound of a cheaper accommodation, plus all of the perks, but just don’t want to share your room, many hostels offer private rooms. So it’s like a hotel room, but then you still can meet people while eating breakfast, playing pool, going on free walking tours, etc. A great website for this is hostelworld.com. If you’re open for anything, just put in the city and dates and it’ll pull up all of the options. But if you’re wanting a private room, look under “Filter”, then “Room” and it’ll show you all of the options, including a female only room, or a family room.
Airbnb: They came onto the scene in 2008, but they have given hotels a run for their money and become a very popular option. But what is the difference actually between a hotel and Airbnb? Hotels are placed in strategic places in the city, maybe along a beachfront or in the heart of downtown, whereas Airbnb’s may be all over, as they are someone’s actual apartments and/or homes. One option is to stay in someone’s spare room, while they may or may not also be there, making the nightly cost cheaper. Or you can select to have a whole apartment or house to yourself, for a little bit more money. The thing that Airbnb excels on, is how many amenities they can offer, as each host can offer as much or as little as they want. A hotel can only offer a one-size-fits-all approach. If you want to, you can stay in a houseboat in the famous canals in Amsterdam. Or in a Villa in southern France. Or in a tree-house, a yurt, a tiny-house, a refurbished school bus, and of course, just normal apartments and houses. I love having the option to cook for myself, or stay somewhere in a smaller town, where there aren’t any hotels. The hosts are really great and typically just meet you at check-in, and then stay available if you have any questions. Another nice part about Airbnb, is that you can also be a host and put your spare room or even your house on Airbnb if you’re out of town, and then make money while you’re gone. If you’re curious to see what the fuss is with Airbnb, use this link and you’ll get $40 off your first booking.
Free Accommodation Options
House-Swap: While there are a few different websites that are available to use, all of them have the same idea: you stay in my house, while I stay in yours. My mom and I have done that with a couple from England, where they stayed in our house, and used our car for 2 weeks, while we stayed in their house and used their car as well. Some people find it hard to imagine a stranger staying in their house while they aren’t there, but in this case, you’ll also be staying in their house, so the “risk” is the same for both people. But there’s typically a verification process for both parties, plus reviews, you’ll probably Skype with them a few times to make sure they seem like a good fit, and lastly, you’ll need to pay some sort of fee. Some websites have a pay-as-you-stay fee, and others have an annual fee between $100-$150. A bit steeper than the other options below, but these days, that amount can be the equivalent of 2 nights in a hotel. And with a house-swap, you’ll probably stay there for at least 7-10 days, so after the first 2 nights, it’s definitely going to save you a lot of money. And if you take another trip or two within that year, all of your accommodation is for free. Not too bad, is it?
Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing.com is a free website that allows someone from one city or country to find a host in another city or country, and stay there for free. You may think, ok, what’s the catch, nothing is for free. Actually this is. The difference is that you may actually stay on someone’s couch, as the site name says. But you may also stay in a spare room, as I was able to do. As usual, you search for the city and dates you want, and a list is pulled up of what hosts are available. Most are under 40 years old, but there are a few older hosts as well. They put on their profile what languages they speak, interesting things they’ve done, and things they can offer to you (such as showing you the best view of the city or teaching you about their culture). I’ve been both a host and a surfer, and I’ve had great experiences with both. When I was a host, I met people from Canada, Switzerland, Mexico, and Germany and all of them treated me and my house with complete respect, and were so thankful for a place to stay. They also cooked food for me from their country or gave me a gift as a thank you. I’ve also used the website as a way to meet local people. Sometimes I already have accommodations, but I’ll write to someone on couchsurfing, asking if they can meet me for a coffee or go with me to a local festival. For a solo traveler, it’s a great way to meet locals.
Pet-sitting: One of my personal favorite ways of free accommodation is through pet/house sitting for someone, while they’re away on vacation. You stay at their apartment/house and take care of their pets and/or plants, pick up their mail and may enjoy other things, like using their bicycle or even car (especially for dog owners inside city limits, a car might be offered, so you can take them to a bigger park). When you sign up, you put what animals you like to work with/have experience with, how long you can stay (1-6 days, all the way up to 1 year), and what part of the world you want to go to. I’ve worked with one house that had chickens and cats, which are both very low key animals, as well as another house that had two smaller dogs. Both times the owners loved seeing pictures of their animals and hearing from me every day or two, just knowing that everything was going well and they’re animals were happy. The annual fee is $50 for house-sitters, and is free for home/pet owners.
Workaway: This is a unique way to travel, but with Workaway, you can have accommodation for free, while doing volunteer work in exchange. Each host writes how many hours a day they need help and with what projects (most are 3-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, with nights and weekends free). Additionally, you can select which projects you like as a filter, so that you’re only seeing what you’re most interested in. They have everything from helping with childcare, to gardening, to helping with an Eco project. They let you know how close they are to public transportation, where you’ll be sleeping, how many meals will be included, etc. I’ve done this for an older couple, who were actually out of town for 2 weeks. So I stayed in their very large house for free, while watering their plants, doing some light cleaning, picking up their mail and taking the husband to and from the airport. The nice thing about this website is that in some countries, such as Japan, volunteer work is still classified as work, and you’ll need a visa for that. Workaway does their best to advertise if you need a visa for volunteer work, for each country on their website. There is an annual fee of $40.
WWOOFing: I’m sure you’re thinking that’s some sort of typo, or a dog reference, but WWOOF is an organization that stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Again, you can stay there for free, in exchange for a few hours a day of work. The main difference for WWOOFing is that they are only focused on anything relating to Organic Farms, so it might be planting seeds, wine-making, milking cows, cheese-making, chopping wood, etc. Two things that are different from Workaway is, 1) you’ll need to check for yourself if you need a visa for the country you’re interested in, as WWOOFing doesn’t do that for you. And 2) there isn’t one fee that works for all countries. So if you want to volunteer around Europe, you’ll need to pay a different fee for each country. But if you want to go to a bigger country, like the US, Canada or Australia, that one fee is good for the whole country.