How I find cheap (and occasionally free) places to stay
In my travels I stay in a variety of accommodation types, depending on the length of stay and travel situation. I don’t mind hostels if it’s going to save me money, yet I will keep an eye out for deals on 4 and 5 star hotels and book it if the price is right. I’ll sleep on floors, and stay with strangers too. For me it is all part of the travel fun having a variety of accommodation experiences.
For this list I have compiled booking sites that I use, and I’ve also included other accommodation options to consider.
Hotels | Apartments | Hostels | House Sitting | House Swapping | Free Accommodation
For reserving hotels I prefer Agoda for most of my hotel bookings. Here is why I use them.
There are hundreds of online booking sites which all seem to claim have the cheapest hotel rates. No hotel site that can claim that they are always the cheapest, so I have used the following metrics to select a hotel booking site:
– Has a lowest price guarantee.
– Has a loyalty program.
– Has a user-friendly user interface.
Agoda fills those requirements for me. They have a best price guarantee so they will match any booking offered by another site for the same hotel and dates.
My current system of hotel booking is to search on Agoda, and then do another search on Hotels Combined, which is a meta search site that lists the results of the top hotel booking sites.
I do this to make sure there isn’t a crazy price discrepancy between the major booking sites. I then book with Agoda as they have my billing details and I can accumulate reward points. They also bill in my selected currency so it saves me a international currency charge on my credit card.
Agoda also have daily deals, like this special I got on a 4* hotel in Hong Kong, as well as discounts on cheap guesthouses. I also like their user interface so I am happy to use and recommend their booking service.
AirBnB has become the first site I check when I want to stay in an apartment, or if I’m trying my luck for a better deal in an expensive city. I once found a studio in a shiny-new apartment tower in Bangkok for $18 a night. Those kind of deals are hard to find but it’s worth having a look, just in case.
If you are new to the world of Airbnb you can get $25 off your first stay with this Airbnb coupon code (valid for month one after signing up).
The biggest booking sites for hostels are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers. My default site for hostels is usually Hostelbookers, which I use as there is no booking fee. However, now that Hostelworld has bought out Hostelbookers, Hostelworld has scrapped their $2 booking fee, so they now appear to have the edge with more properties in their inventory. I’m not sure how they plan to differentiate the two sites, or if they will be merged altogether in the future.
The problem with both of these booking sites is that they don’t list how much a single room is. Instead they will list it as a private room, but then you have to click through to find out that the private room listed for $10 is the price if four people are staying in a four bed private room.
These days I am also using Agoda for hostel hunting as they list hostels, guesthouses, and hotels in the same search. In their search results they list if it’s a dorm (and how many beds), and a private room is listed as the total price, not per person.
If you are looking to specifically stay in a hostel then also check out hihostels.com as the HI/YHA hostels aren’t included in the hostel search engines.
House sitting is a popular options for long term travellers and digital nomads, especially if your travel plans are flexible. A house sit job usually involves staying at the house while the owners are away so that you can look after the pets, water the plants, or just give the appearance that someone is still in the house for security reasons. In the case of pet sitting you will be looking after their babies (so to speak) so you will need to prove yourself to be a pet lover. This is a great option if you are nomadic and miss having a pet to look after.
I have house sat for friends but haven’t done it through an intermediary site yet. It seems that people who have the most success finding places are couples.
A well regarded site in the blogosphere is TrustedHousesitters.com. As a house sitter there is an annual fee to join, so make sure you write a comprehensive biography with references if possible, and include lots of photos.
If you want to travel the world house sitting I have friends who have been doing that, and they wrote a book on the ultimate guide to housesitting
If you have a home you could try HomeExchange, which allows you to connect with members of the site and arrange to swap homes. The site has an annual membership fee and guarantees a swap in the first year, so you would make your money back in one swap. Things to consider include if your home is in a desirable location for someone to want to stay there, and matching dates with a house swapper. Like with house sitting, this requires a little planning and flexibility in your travels.
Couchsurfing is a travel community where members offer their spare bed (or couch) to fellow members for free. It’s a great way to meet people and save money. I’ve used it a few times when I have been stuck finding suitable accommodation.
Couchsurfing is not recommended if you need to get work done as there is a social element to this, and locking yourself in a room of your guest to work isn’t very sociable. I stayed with some friendly hosts in the US who were happy to play tour guide in their neighbourhood; places I wouldn’t have seen by staying in a hotel.
Sleeping In Airports is a handy site that reviews airports around the world and includes tips on where comfortable seats or hidden away corners to snooze are.
I’ve stayed overnight in airports when I had an early flight which would have meant leaving the hotel at 3 am. I would rather just go to the airport overnight to read or work. The worst airport was London Luton (and shame on me because I did it twice) and the best airport overnighter was at Singapore Changi, which is a destination in its own right.