If you’re anything like me, you probably love to travel and discover new places.
BUT… your wallet doesn’t always have the same aspirations.
Luckily, over the past few years all kinds of new options have sprung up around the world for sidestepping expensive hotels and seeing new places on a budget.
Whether you’re a broke college student and HAVE no other options or you’re just looking to save a few bucks, here are some of the best cheap travel alternatives, both new and old, for seeing a little of the world while avoiding expensive hotels.
1. Airbnb and VRBO
Airbnb is one of the best and most well-known hotel alternatives for people traveling on a budget. VRBO works the same way. Users can post a space that can be booked, while other users request to stay.
You can find all kinds of lodging spaces on these sites: entire mansions, tiki huts, yurts, an idle RV or camper, or simply an extra room in a house or apartment.
Travelers can easily sort through the available options while looking in their specific price range. Rooms can be found around the world, and prices can range anywhere from $10 a night to over $1000.
Of course it’s good to be a safe when staying with strangers in a strange locale, so both travelers and hosts leave ratings and reviews for each other.
Just like Airbnb, Couchsurfing lets you stay in homes of real live people. On Couchsurfing however, it’s free.
With Couchsurfing you browse through personal profiles of hosts, and then message them telling them about your trip, and requesting a place to stay. Typically all users have available is a couch, but if you’re lucky you may get a pull-out futon, or even a guest room.
The point of Couchsurfing seems to be more about facilitating a cultural exchange between travelers and locals. Travelers get a more “local-ized” experience, and hosts get to meet a cool traveler from another part of the world. It’s a win-win.
Just be sure to be a good guest. Respect your host’s property, belongings, and schedule. You may even consider cooking dinner for your host during your stay.
Although this may be an obvious cheap travel choice for people living in Europe or other parts of the world, people in the U.S seem to know very little about hostels.
Hostels are similar to hotels but guests stay in dorm rooms and typically sleep on bunk beds. Many hostels also have private rooms, though.
The environment of a hostel is also very different than a hotel and is geared towards socializing, meeting other guests, and hanging out in common areas. Many hostels also lead guests out to events and activities around the area.
Basically if you can stand sleeping on a bunk bed and not having much privacy, you will have an instant social circle.
Hostels are much cheaper than hotels as well. In the U.S. most hostels seem to cost anywhere from around $15-$35 for a night.
4. Work Exchange: Workaway, Wwoofing, and HelpX
For those wanting to stay in a location for a longer period of time, such as a few weeks, or even a few months, work exchange is a great way to see another part of the world and stay for free.
Opportunities include organic farming, housekeeping at hostels and guesthouses, or even helping families out around the house.
Wwoofing is focused on work exchange for organic farms, but Workaway and HelpX both post all kinds of opportunities.
Camping is a pretty common method for cheap travel, and has been around since the dawn of time (Although, the cavemen probably didn’t call it camping. They probably just called it, you know, living.) Luckily, it’s now easier than ever for campers and there are many websites that make finding a good camping spot a breeze.
Freecampsites.net allows users to browse through and post free and cheap camping areas, and is a great resource for for the budget-minded traveler.
Sites like Goodsamclub.com mostly has listings of paid campsites, but is also a great resource for both RVers and tent campers.
Also keep in mind that anyone can camp for free on U.S. National Forest land. Many National Forests offer paid primitive camping sites, but go just a few miles outside of these campgrounds and you’re welcome to camp for free.
6. Stay With People You Know (Or People THEY Know)
You don’t just have to stay alone or with strangers. If you have friends or relatives across the country many of them would probably love to have you visit with them for a few days. They may have a couch for you to sleep on, a space in the backyard for your tent, or even an entire guest room available.
But don’t stop there. You can also try reaching out to your Facebook friends. Tell your friends where you’re going and they just might be able to hook you up with someone they know that would love to host you for a day or two.
You never know until you ask.
7. Car Camping
This is probably my least favorite option for cheap travel, but it is also one of the easiest. If you’re especially lacking on funds and have no other options in the area you’re traveling through, car camping is always an option.
If you have a bigger vehicle like an SUV or a van you can probably make yourself a nice little sleeping spot in the back of your vehicle. Find a good spot and either crack open a window or load yourself down with blankets (depending on the season), and try your best to relax.
There are many public rest stops across the US, so they’re one of the best options for getting a good night’s sleep. Wal-Marts are also rampant and many are open 24 hours. Other 24 hour stores and businesses could be good options, too.
In addition to actual campsites, Freecampsites.net also lists many options for car camping.
So there you have it, several hotel alternatives that allow you to stay around the country (or world) with a minimal amount of money in your wallet. Personally there are some of these I prefer more than others, and I’m sure the same will be the case for you.
And of course all of these methods can be potentially dangerous, so be sure to travel safe and use common sense.