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10 Budget-Friendly Alternatives to Staying in a Hotel

Updated on January 20, 2011

There are a few things that you almost always spend money on when you travel. One is the ticket to get wherever you are going (be it on a plane, a bus or a train). Another is the cost of entertainment and attractions at your destination. A third is the cost of a hotel. However, it is possibly to easily eliminate one of those standard travel costs – the hotel. You do not have to pay to stay in a hotel (especially an expensive hotel!) when you go on vacation. There are many alternatives to hotels that allow you to enjoy a great vacation on a budget.

Here are ten examples of budget-friendly alternatives to staying in a hotel when you go on vacation:

1.     Hostels. One of the most common hotel alternatives that people choose to stay in is the youth hostel. Despite it’s name, this is a place where people of any age can stay. The difference between a hotel and a hostel is the fact that you share some of your space with the other people who are staying in the hostel. You typically share a bathroom, a kitchen a communal living room area. The lowest prices for hostel-goers are obtained when you opt to stay in a bunk bed in a large dorm in the hostel, sleeping in the same space as everyone else. However, you can also opt to get a private room, which is often preferable for couples and families traveling together. This is still cheaper than a traditional hotel. Along with cost savings, one of the benefits of youth hostels is that you get the opportunity to meet other travelers. Additionally, many hostels host events and tours for the people who stay there.

2.     Home swaps. Do you have a home of your own or do you rent a place where the landlord is flexible enough to let others stay there when you’re away? If so then a home swap can be a terrific alternative to a hotel. As the name suggests, you trade your home with someone who lives in the destination that you want to visit. Home swaps are ideal for people who live in big cities and popular tourist areas because it’s easy to find someone who wants to come stay in those spots. Home swaps are also good for people who are flexible about where they travel since this opens up more opportunities for the swap to happen. The biggest downside to the swap is, of course, that you’ll have someone else staying in your personal home. The biggest upside is that this gives you a free and usually very comfortably place to stay in yur destination.

3.     Couchsurfing. Are you interested in staying with someone for free in your destination? If you’re not picky about your accommodations and you enjoy meeting new people when you travel then couchsurfing could be a good hotel alternative for you. There are networks set up where you can locate hosts who are willing to have you stay with them. They may ask nothing in return or they may ask for something small in exchange such as having you cook a meal for them during your stay. The accommodations vary and range from having a private room and bathroom of your own to actually crashing on someone’s couch.

4.     Room rentals. One nice option that is halfway between couchsurfing and home swaps is the room rental. You choose to rent a room in someone else’s home, usually while they are there. You typically have a private room but may share the bathroom (and of course the kitchen and other communal areas) with the homeowners. You pay a small fee to rent the room, usually a lot cheaper than a hotel. The benefits include the lower cost, the opportunity to meet new people and the chance to stay in a real home in your destination. One drawback to be aware of is that not all people offering room rentals live close to tourist attractions in their area. Sites like AirBnB and iStopOver are good places to start if you’re interested in room rentals as a hotel alternative.

5.     Motels. Motels are a nice hotel alternative for people who are taking road trips and just need a place to stop over for the night for a shower and sleep. They’re less expensive than hotels and usually lack some of the amenities (like room service or breakfast in the morning).

6.     Camping. If you want to go on vacation but know that you can’t afford to stay in a hotel then you may want to consider heading out into the Great Outdoors. Camping can be a really affordable way to reduce your travel costs. Beware, though. When you add up the campsite fees, the cost of camping food and the cost of firewood you may end up paying a lot more for camping than you’d expect. This is a budget option but it’s not free.

7.     The homes of friends and relatives. If you need a free place to stay then you can always hit up your friends and family members for a bed, couch or space on their floor the next time that you come to town.

8.     Volunteer centers. Volunteer vacations are a terrific option for people who are interested in seeing the world on a budget. You typically put in a certain amount of work doing volunteerism during your stay and receive room and board either for free or for cheap. Working on farms is a very similar option to this. If you want to see some neat places, learn some new skills and help others during your vacations then this is a good option.

9.    Foreign exchange hosts. There are many great families in foreign countries who are happy to host travelers for no cost or a low cost. This is similar to room rental although it’s usually cheaper. Most families expect you to spend a significant amount of your time with them and will plan to show you around their area, although this obvious varies from host to host. This hotel alternative is ideal for people who want to know what it’s really like to live in a foreign destination as well as for people who want to practice their foreign language skills during their travels.

10.  Monasteries and nunneries. Did you know that there are many monasteries and nunneries that allow you to stay with them for free or cheap? These are a little bit like hostels or room rentals but with the twist that you’re staying in a religious center. You don’t usually need to be religious yourself when you stay there but you do need to respect the rituals of the place. This typically means observing quiet hours and not partying during your stay!

What’s your favorite cheap hotel alternative?


Submit a Comment

  • tim-tim profile image

    Priscilla Chan 7 years ago from Normal, Illinois

    Great hub! My friend just went to Italy and stayed in a hostel. I think it was a good experience for her.

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

    I had no idea that one could stay at some monasteries/nunneries while traveling- that'd be so cool!!

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    Very helpful hub with great ideas.

  • Denise Handlon profile image

    Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

    Hi Kathryn- useful tips. I covered many of the same suggestions in my budget vacation tips. Like minds...

  • fucsia profile image

    fucsia 7 years ago

    Here there are many interesting ideas for my next economic vacation! Thank you!