Getting the Most out of Life

Traveling on a Budget? Try These 3 Money-Saving Alternatives to Hotels

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Have you always dreamed of seeing the world, but thought you couldn’t afford it? You’re in luck: Technology has made traveling on a budget easier than ever. And you’re no longer limited to impersonal hotels and resorts, either—some websites and apps enable you to live like a local while saving a bundle.

3 Hotel Alternatives Worth Checking Out

  1. Airbnb: This platform, which launched in 2008, has become the leader in the accommodation revolution. It allows anyone to rent out a room or house, helping travelers save money wherever they go. With listings in 190 countries that offer everything from farmhouses to castles, Airbnb has the widest variety of accommodation options. Because of its popularity, photos and reviews are abundant, making it easy to come to an informed decision about where to stay. Unfortunately, Airbnb can sometimes be as expensive as a hotel. It’s also not a good fit if you’re looking for cultural exchange, because you’ll often have little to no interaction with the host—which is a good thing if you’re looking for privacy.
  2. Couchsurfing: If you’re truly dedicated to traveling on a budget and want to experience local life in depth, consider this site. Its focus is on cultural exchange among open-minded people, and it pairs travelers with hosts who let them sleep on their couches—for free. Like Airbnb, both the host and the guest receive ratings, helping you pick a safe and reliable place to stay. The biggest hurdle often lies in finding an available host: Since they’re not getting paid, they have less incentive to accept your request. To increase your chances of success, send out lots of personalized messages in advance and make sure your profile has several positive reviews.
  3. This site evolves the exchange-student homestay experience into something that travelers of all ages can experience. Staying with a local resident gives a unique glimpse into a region’s people and culture, after all. Think of this one as a blend of the professional hosting of Airbnb and the cultural exchange of Couchsurfing. The only drawback? The service is fairly new, so hosts aren’t yet available in all destinations.

How Much Can You Really Save?

Is staying at one of these hotel alternatives worth it if you’re traveling on a budget? We searched each site (except Couchsurfing, which is always free) and compared it to hotels to find out the cost of lodging for two people on a Friday night in August in the following cities:

Orlando, Florida

  • Airbnb: $67/night for a private lakeside cottage
  • $25/night for a private room on the outskirts of the city
  • Comparable three-star hotel: $87/night

Madrid, Spain

  • Airbnb: $52/night for a studio in central Madrid
  • $55/night for a private room in central Madrid
  • Comparable three-star hotel: $85/night

Phuket, Thailand

  • Airbnb: $31/night for a cabin on the beach
  • $30/night for a private room on the beach
  • Comparable three-star hotel: $46/night

This breakdown clearly demonstrates that you can save a lot of money through these travel services. But remember, no amount of savings is worth more than your safety. Before booking, read your potential host’s reviews thoroughly, and tell someone where you’re going before you travel. If the situation feels unsafe when you arrive, trust your gut and leave. Airbnb offers a refund for “unsanitary, unsafe, or hazardous” conditions, and provides Local Partners on the ground to help.

As long as you proceed with caution, these hotel alternatives are bound to give you an authentic travel experience without forcing you to spend a fortune.