After airfare, accommodation is likely going to be one of your largest trip expense. So in this post, we look at ways to reduce that cost by finding cheap accommodation.

A room for $20 a night? Get out of the first world

In many developing countries, very decent rooms can be had for between $20 and $30 US, often less in smaller towns. And yes, this includes an ensuite bathroom and possibly a balcony. You won’t get 5-star luxury for that price anywhere, but what do you really need besides a clean and comfortable room to sleep at night?

Stars are a rating of services offered by a property (shops, spa, room service) and are not necessarily related to how pleasant your accommodation and experience will be. In fact I prefer small local hotels or family-owned guesthouses to large international hotels for the local flavour they provide.

Regions where this is the rule rather than the exception are Mexico (outside of the popular resorts), Central America, South America, India, and Southeast Asia.

Hotel room, Siem Reap

Hotel room for $25 US/night in Siem Reap (gateway to Angkor Wat), Cambodia.

Use hotel booking sites… or not

You can research and book hotels at your destination through a site such as HostelBookers (not just hostels), Booking.com, or Hotels.com among others. Booking.com offers some interesting deals, doesn’t charge a fee, and often you do not have to pay any deposit (depending on the hotel). HostelBookers.com does not charge a fee either but you have to make a deposit for 10% of your booking, so read the reviews first (on their site, and on TripAdvisor if possible). For every 10 nights booked through Hotels.com you get one free night. There are many other booking sites, such as Agoda, especially good for properties in Asia. Searching for “cheap accommodation” will actually bring many of them up in the search results!

Besides letting you search hotels/hostels and providing reviews, booking sites facilitate the booking process, safeguard your credit card details, and provide you with an immediate confirmation.

Twin room in Capileira, Spain

Twin room in Capileira, Spain. Only 36 Euros a night on Booking.com

Many small guesthouses have websites by now, even in developing countries, so you can often contact them directly, compare prices, ask questions, and book with them directly. Sometimes their prices will be lower (since they have to pay a commission to the booking site), but other times a booking site may have a special promotion on the hotel that gives you a significant discount (for example the “Genius deals” on Booking.com). It doesn’t hurt to compare once you find a property that interests you.

Another potential advantage of booking directly with the hotel is that you can negotiate a discount or some other perk for long stays. This will probably require you to pay for your whole stay in advance though. Even if you only need to make a deposit, the hotel may ask for your credit card information through email (not secure) or an unsecured form on their site. A good trick is to let them know that you will send your credit card number split over two separate emails.

Room in Cuenca, Ecuador

I paid $25 US/night for this large room (two double beds) in Cuenca, Ecuador after negotiating (in person) a 32% discount for a one week stay. (Excuse the mess!)

Some hotels ask for your scanned passport ID page in order to make a reservation. They may even ask for something impractical and pricey like a wire transfer. Or they may ask for nothing and just say “ok see you in three months” and then proceed to lose your reservation. If you’re uncomfortable with any of those things, just use a booking service.

Use social sharing sites

In wealthier parts of the world such as North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, you need to get a little creative if you want to pay less than $100 a night for a room.

If you’re travelling for more than a week or two, you do not need to book all your accommodation in advance. Using the internet and booking as you go can net you some savings, especially if you show up in person and negotiate a price. Ask for a discount if you are staying for a week or more, or travelling off-season. Not booking everything ahead also gives you some flexibility to change your itinerary if the fancy takes you! Use TripAdvisor to see what other people have said about the property, but don’t obsess over a few bad reviews. If most of the recent reviews are good or excellent, go for it. You can always move if you don’t like the place.

I should point out that hostels are not just for young people anymore. Most hostels welcome people of all ages, and many provide private rooms, often with ensuite bathrooms. You get your private space, but also common areas (usually including a kitchen) where you can socialize with other travellers. New Zealand, for example, has many very nice hostels and I used them during my trip in 2009.

If hostels at your destination do not appeal, you may want to use AirBnB. With AirBnB, you rent a room or a whole apartment from a private owner. The prices are lower than a hotel room (or suite) of comparable size, and you often have access to a local person to help you plan your visit, as well as good conversation if you want it! (Read this article for details.)

I’ve rented AirBnB rooms in private homes as well as self-contained apartments in Canada, USA, Australia, France, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and Turkey for $34 to $61 CAD over the last couple of years. I’ve also rented apartments (shared with a friend) in Spain for $66 to $76 CAD. If you haven’t registered on AirBnB yet, you can get a US$20 (or more) credit to start you up by using this referral link. I haven’t yet had a really bad experience with AirBnB, and most of them were great.

AirBnB room with ensuite in Istanbul, Turkey

AirBnB room with ensuite in Istanbul, Turkey. $41 CAD a night.

Other similar social sharing sites are Roomorama, Homestay (get a credit with this link too), FlipKey, and Wimdu. VRBO rents upscale apartments, which can be a nice splurge if there are several of you travelling together.

(Update: I used Homestay in New Zealand in December 2015 and had an amazing experience.)

Get off-the-beaten-path

As a general rule, accommodation prices in smaller towns are lower than in larger towns, unless the town is a tourist magnet or a popular resort. In general, the further away you are from an international airport, or the harder it is to get to your location, the cheaper the rooms (relative to the main cities in a given country).

Next week, I’ll talk about ways of getting accommodation for free!

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. Buying or booking through an affiliate link does not cost you more, and provides me with a small commission to help me run the site. Thanks!)


Enjoyed this article?  Sign up for my newsletter or “Like” my Facebook page to be notified of new posts.

Tags: