Whether you travel full time or vacation once a year, accommodation can be costly. But it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of your travel style, find free and cheap accommodation anywhere in the world with the 31 tips below!
1. Book a Homestay
Homestays have been around for a long time. With the help of newer cheap accommodation platforms everyday travelers are using homestays to travel for less. Rent a room from a willing host. Get free meals. Save money. Learn culture.
Start with these homestay websites
- Learn sentences in the local language with apps before arriving.
- Bad with languages? Draw, use hand gestures or find images online.
- Ask if you’ll get meals, toiletries etc (if anything at all).
- Ask questions, listen, learn and don’t be judgmental.
2. Stay in Hostels
Hostels are a popular form of cheap accommodation. They feature dorm rooms, locker areas, bunk beds, communal washrooms, kitchens and dining areas. Many offer private rooms for individuals, couples and families. Many are also open to all ages. They’re clean and safe. Hostels usually have bars, pools, entertainment rooms, fitness studios, knowledgeable and friendly staff and even dance floors.
Here are the top hostel booking websites
- Stay in dorm rooms to maximize savings.
- Bring a lock.
- Earplugs and a sleep mask are key.
- Make friends.
3. Use Guest Houses
Guest houses are terrific for travelers who want privacy and minimal social interaction. In terms of cost, they’re in between luxury hotel and cheap accommodation. They’re great when traveling to less populated regions on a budget.
Advice for Staying in Guest Houses
- If your room is sub-par, ask for another.
- Use Google Street View to see where you’re staying first.
- Ask about towels, meals, kitchen access and security measures before booking.
4. Rent an Apartment
Apartment rentals are like the smart, artsy, athletic, good-looking but still friendly kids in high school: everybody likes them. They offer privacy, versatility and amenities. They’re available almost everywhere, for short, medium and long stays. And they’re affordable, especially for couple and group travel.
Here are some fantastic apartment rental websites
Apartment Rental Advice
- Shop around for the best price.
- Read and leave reviews.
- Find out which amenities you can use.
- Pay special attention to fees and house rules.
5. Try Farm Stays
Agritourism is a thing, and it’s here to stay. Farm stays (also called farm B&Bs) have a lot to do with it. Explore the full spectrum of farm accommodations by camping out on a farm lot or stay in luxury farm lodgings that put many hotels to shame. Learn farming skills (or not). Enjoy a great field-to-fork experience. Don’t break your budget.
Check out these websites to find a farm stay
Must read: The World’s Best Luxury Farm Stays
Advice for farm stays
- Ask about feeding and other animal activities.
- Be cautious with farm animals. They’re domesticated, not tamed (house pets).
- Don’t leave gates, fences or doors open.
- Ask your host before inviting visitors.
6. Use the Sharing Community
The sharing community is a cultural outlet to the world. A growing number of websites have communities of like-minded people to help you save money, stay with locals and get experiences you won’t find in guidebooks. One of the oldest, largest and most well-known is CouchSurfing, but there are several alternatives. See below!
Sharing Community Advice
- Fill out your profile thoroughly. Include a recent profile picture.
- Contact hosts with active, detailed profiles. Send new (read: creative/personal) requests.
- Read your host’s reviews. Offer them something too (dinner, language lessons etc).
- Verification helps but use common sense. If it seems sketchy, avoid it.
Follow these travel tips and be welcome anywhere in the world.
7. Travel Overnight
Kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Book overnight transportation. Get to where you’re going and a good night of sleep at the same time. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s cost-effective. Bring a blanket, neck pillow, snacks, earplugs, a sleep mask and water.
Overnight Travel Advice
- Choose your seat wisely. More room means more comfort.
- Put anything of value in your carry-on. Lock and tie it to yourself if possible.
- Set your alarm for 15-30 minutes before you’re due to arrive.
- Be cool with your neighbors. They’ll be cool with you.
8. Sleep in Public
You don’t have to be homeless to sleep in public. Airport terminals, train and bus stations and ferry ports are solid sleep options when in transit. Many have bathrooms, restaurants, wi-fi access and large sitting areas. Some airports are now banning this but if you look presentable, you’ll avoid issues with security guards. Finally, never let your luggage out of your sight.
Advice for Sleeping in Public
- Read this article: Expert Advice for Sleeping in Airports
- Use the same carry-on strategy as overnight travel.
- Find somewhere quiet.
9. Plan a House Swap/Home Exchange
Home exchanges are easy. Choose a country you want to visit. Sign up on a home exchange website. Find someone to home swap with. Agree to mutual terms (dates, pets, chores etc). Book your flight. Enjoy your vacation. This works for solo travelers, couples and families. Live like you’re at home, anywhere in the world.
Myth: House swapping is unsafe. Who knows what a stranger will do in your home, right?
Truth: Home exchanges are very safe. Why? Home exchange sites are extremely thorough in their vetting process. Next, you can arrange to have someone visit your home to check in. Third, the person whose home you’ll be in has the same risks as you. Still not convinced? Some platforms offer non-reciprocal home agreements (with credits or points).
Here’s a list of excellent home exchange sites
Home Exchange Advice
- Use great photos to display your home.
- Respond to messages in a timely fashion.
- Have a spotless home.
- Communication is key.
10. Work Exchange or Volunteer
Low on funds but want to travel? Work or volunteer overseas. It’s a practical way to see the world on a budget. Learn new skills. Immerse yourself in new cultures. Give your time and energy to a worthy cause. Save on expenses along the way. Many ships, sanctuaries, orphanages, resorts and more often offer free food and a place to stay in exchange for your help. Do your research. Every program is different. Some pay, others don’t. Some operate based on hours worked. Others are task-based.
See this list of resources below to get started
- 5 Cruise Experiences for Volunteer Travel
- Travel and volunteer for wildlife with GoEco
- Travel and work with an orphanage abroad with GoOverseas
- Volunteer at travel resorts around the world with WorkAway
- Stay and work on a farm with WWOOF
Work Exchange or Volunteer Advice
- Use MovingWorlds, HelpX and VoluteerHQ to find volunteer opportunities.
- Many programs are free. Some charge a hosting, membership or registration fee.
- Volunteer to genuinely make a difference, not to show off.
11. Become a House Sitter
Still skeptical about home exchanges? Try house sitting instead. It’s ideal for average to long-term travelers. Stay in unique homes across for free (or very little). The catch? There is none. As the name indicates, you just need to house sit. Do chores. Take care of pets. Make sure things run smoothly and enjoy a new city while you’re at it. It sounds too good to be true. But it isn’t.
Note: Most house-sitting platforms require a small annual member ship fee. It’s a good investment.
Here are some house-sitting websites
- House Sitting Magazine (discounts available)
- Aussie House Sitters
- HouseSit Match (includes pet sitting)
- Mind My House
House Sitting Advice
- Gain house sitting experience and references from friends and family first.
- Get everything in writing (chores, task, dates etc).
- It may take time to get a good gig. Patience is key.
12. Go Camping
Are you a nature enthusiast? If yes, camping is the way to go. Take a break from technology. Embrace the wilderness. Pack a tent and sleeping bag. You’ll save a lot on accommodation, especially in less popular locations.
- Keep your campsite clean to avoid insects and animals.
- Put something between the ground and your sleeping bag to stay warm.
- Bring more firewood than needed.
- Bring wipes, napkins or paper towels.
13. Stay in a Temple or Monastery
You’ve probably never considered this. Here’s why you should. They’re affordable (often free or by donation), safe and peaceful. You don’t have to be religious to stay in one. They typically include a basic bedroom or dorm and are open to families too. The food is often simple, healthy and delicious (think vegetables and fruit, baked bread, cheese and wine). If you want to mix it up, give this a try.
Note: Some monasteries are surprisingly luxurious.
Interested in finding a monastery or temple stay? Start with the links below!
Advice for Temple or Monastery Stays
- Ask about curfews.
- You may be asked to attend a religious service.
- Many are offline. Give them a call.
- Most accept women, but it’s always good to ask.
14. Use Hotel Rewards
Many hotels have client loyalty cards. Some take it a step further with hotel credit cards and point systems. If you do most of your spending on your credit card, this is a great way to add up points in a hurry. You can also get points by participating in promotional draws, referring friends, customer service surveys and simply signing up for the card. Many travelers get free accommodation this way.
Advice on using rewards
This also applies to credit cards that aren’t associated with hotel chains. They often give points that can be traded for discounts and free nights in nice hotels.
Check out this list of the Best Hotel Credit Cards of 2018 as soon as you can.
15. Pop a Squat
Disclaimer: Squatting is not legal in most countries. That said, it’s still a form of free accommodation, and a popular one at that. Not sure what it is? In short, it’s when people stay in abandoned homes or vacant properties without the permission of the owners. Some do it out of necessity, others do it for the thrill, and some do it to save a buck.
Visit Squat the Planet to learn more and chat with like-minded “misfit” travelers.
16. Use Travel Review Websites
Travel review sites give insight on popular locations and activities around the world. Few people know they can also be used to book cheap accommodation. Review experiences get advice and find a place to stay at the same time.
Advice for booking through review sites
Read reviews but don’t let them make or break your decision to book somewhere.You've probably never considered staying on a farm or in a monastery. Here's why you should. Click To Tweet
17. Find Cheap Accommodation Offline
Many hostels, hotels and other cheap accommodation types aren’t listed online. Why? The money they’d spend on marketing would make their businesses unprofitable. High foot traffic locations lead to walk-in clients. Word of mouth, local advertising and review websites do the rest. This is especially true of South East Asia, South America and Africa.
Advice for finding bookings offline
Check newspapers, travel forums and tourism offices. Find phone numbers and call directly.
18. Become A Member and Save
If you’re a member of any organizations outside of the travel industry, go through their list of corporate partners and affiliates. You’ll probably find that they offer discounts on accommodation. Search their sites or contact customer service for discount codes.
Advice for using memberships to save
Always be ready to provide a valid ID to confirm your eligibility for the discount.
Here’s a list of organizations that often get discounts:
- American Automobile Association (AAA)
- Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)
- American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
- Government and Military Service Discounts
19. Hunt for Coupon Codes
Before finalizing your accommodation booking. Open another tab in your browser. Next, type the year, name of the hotel or hostel chain, or the website you’re booking with plus keyword “coupon.” It’s not an exact science, but occasionally, you’ll find good discounts.
Here’s a short list of great coupon sites:
20. Find Region Specific Search Engines
Big search engines are great. They find most of the good deals, but not all. That’s where small, region specific search engines come in. They tailor their search to much smaller areas. As a result, they often have lower business costs and can pass savings on to you. Ask friends and family. Read forum threads and blogs. You’ll find so much cheap accommodation, it may surprise you.
Advice for using region specific search engines
Download a free VPN (virtual private network). Connect to a network in the country you want to visit, then search.
21. Bid on Mystery Deals
What’s a mystery deal? It’s when you pay before knowing which hotel you’ll be staying in. Why would anyone do that? Because it’s an easy way to find cheap accommodation, of course. It’s an online hotel auction. If you win the bid, you win the room (and the savings). Simple enough?
Read this article for 6 sites offering mystery hotels where you can save up to 60%
22. Book Last-Minute Deals
Booking early is a smart way to save money. But if you’ve missed your chance, your best bet is last-minute deals. Each hotel has a set number of rooms at a given price to be booked by a certain date. As that date approaches, room prices are sometimes reduced to increase the odds of booking.
23. Take Advantage of Best Rate Guarantees (Price Matching)
Best rate guarantees have been around for decades, yet many travelers don’t take advantage of them. This is one of the reasons it’s important to shop around for cheap accommodation. Why not just book on the website with the lower price? If you have a legitimate price match claim, many hotels will not only apply the best rate guarantee, they’ll give you additional discounts, upgrades and other perks. It takes some time, but the rewards are worth it.
Advice for using BRGs: Read the Ultimate Guide to Best Rate Guarantees by the Points Guy.
24. Stay Longer
Booking longer stays is like buying things in bulk, the more you stay or buy, the cheaper the price. You’ll probably spend less per night if you book an accommodation for 30 days compared to three. This trick doesn’t only work for very long stays. It’s applicable to short stays too. Try changing your booking from six nights to seven for example. Owners save on business costs. You save money. Everyone wins.
Advice for staying longer
This works well with home and apartment rentals.
25. Be a Weekend Warrior
Weekends are the cheap accommodation sweet spot. Whether your check-in is on Sunday or if you include Sunday night in your booking, there seems to be a trend towards bigger savings. Recent studies have also found the cheapest days to book a hotel are Fridays and Saturdays. Here’s the short and sweet: book on weekends, check-in Sunday, stay through the week, and leave before Friday.
26. Travel Against the Grain
Like the cost of flights, accommodation rates change with the seasons. The two best times to book a place to stay are low season and shoulder season. Travel in low season if you don’t mind potentially bad weather, less access to tourist activities and want to save as much as you can. If you don’t mind spending a little more, shoulder season is for you. The weather will still be nice. The crowds will be smaller and it’s easier to haggle.
Advice on when to travel
Check weather warnings and travel advisories before booking in low season or shoulder season.
27. Don’t Stay Central
The further you are from tourist destinations and city centers, the more you save. That said, don’t book so far away from attractions and activities you want to do that you need to waste time and money each day in transit.
Advice on where to stay
Stay 1 or 2 neighborhoods away from the action. A short walk, drive, bus or train will take you the rest of the way in most cases.
28. Use Free Cancellation
Find a room with free cancellation. If the price is right, book it. Next, get right back to looking. If life gets in the way, or a lower price presents itself, you still come out on top. It’s a simple and effective travel hack that can help anyone save.
29. Use Social Media
Follow your favorite hotel chains on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. They sometimes release deals and limited time offers strictly to their followers. It works similarly to how some major retailers give online discounts that don’t apply in physical stores. You may even be able to participate in competitions to win free trips!
Advice for Using Social Media to Save
Turn on post notifications for your favorite companies to avoid checking your phone every minute of the day.
30. Subscribe to Newsletters
Much like social media, many hotel chains and booking sites use newsletters to show you their latest deals. Can it sometimes be spammy? Absolutely. Will you save money? Absolutely. Subscribe for savings and unsubscribe whenever you want.
Advice for Signing Up to E-Newsletters
Create a separate email account just for subscriptions. Check it once every day or two. Get the best of both worlds: savings and a clean inbox.
31. Go Incognito
Many websites hang on to browsing information in exchange for letting you use their site. They then reuse this information to sell you things you’ve recently searched for. Before searching for accommodation a second or third time, switch your browser to private or incognito.
Advice for Secret Browsing
Use two different browsers (not to be confused with windows or tabs). IE: If your first search was via Google Chrome, use Safari, Firefox or another browser for subsequent searches.
Keep these options in mind before booking your next stay. Sit back and watch the savings add up. Sure, hotels are okay, but there’s a world of options at your fingertips. The more you save, the longer and better you travel. Never pay too much for accommodation again.