With the economic situation still uncertain a lot of people don’t think they can afford to travel. For many travelers, accommodations account for the biggest travel expense. However, they also offer the greatest opportunity for saving, especially if you’re willing to rethink a little what it means to travel. If you can forgo the luxury resort you might find yourself on the vacation of a lifetime.
As most seasoned travelers will tell you, after a while traveling becomes less about seeing sites and more about connecting and learning. There are several ways to save; some are even free. Perhaps more importantly, most of these options help you connect with people and local life.
If you really want to live like a local, nothing beats living with a local! CouchSurfing helps you find people willing to let you stay in their home for free. This could mean a room, a couch, or a spot on the floor. More importantly, it means you’ll see how the locals live. Most hosts will not only open their homes to you; they may give you insider tips, show you around, and introduce you to friends. It’s a wonderful way to experience things you’ll never find in a guidebook, and you might end up making lifelong friends.
You might worry about the safety of staying in a stranger’s home, and understandably so. However, most couch surfing hosts are experienced travelers themselves, and they just want to help other travelers and meet new people. And remember, they are letting a stranger stay in their home, so the risk is mutual. To help build trust, members typically provide detailed profile information and can have their identity and address verified. Guests can rate and leave comments about their hosts, and vice versa.
Another option, if you have a home of your own, is to trade homes for a while. Not only do you get access to a fully furnished home and kitchen, a lot of people will also let you use their cars, and may provide a notebook full of tourist information and “locals only” tips. Many will even arrange for friends to stop by and help you get settled. It gives you the chance to stay somewhere other than a tourist center and see how the locals really live. And you also get a house/pet sitter back home.
Safety and security is also a concern here, but again it’s mutual and there are smart ways to keep safe. HomeExchange helps you get connected and has tips to make the experience a success, including a sample agreement for details like responsibilities and who pays the utilities.
Don’t have a house of your own to trade? Try house sitting! You get a free place to stay in exchange for watching the house and basic chores like cleaning, yard work, or pet sitting. A number of sites including MindMyHouse and Luxury House Sitting can help you get started.
If the word “hostel” conjures images of rowdy youngsters cramming into dirty, unsafe dorms, think again! Hostels offer a wide variety of options, and are a great budget choice. Hostels aren’t just for young people any more. Many of them are focusing more on older travelers and families, and offer private rooms at a decent price. Dorm rooms aren’t all bad, though, if you know how to manage them, and are usually the cheapest non-free option in any city. Hostelworld provides detailed listings and online booking for hostels worldwide.
The best thing about hostels, though, is the company. Spend some time in the common areas and you’ll likely meet people from all over the world eager to share, talk and learn. You can find travel companions for the day or for the rest of your trip, and maybe even friends for a lifetime.
Ever tried any of these options? Please share your experiences below!
Image source: flickr (Barnacles Hostels)