Renting an apartment through a service like AirBnB or Vacation Rental By Owner can help you save money over the cost of hotels, especially when travelling in groups. I have used AirBnB many times and never experienced issues (though sometimes places can be a bit quirky — just be open-minded, it’s part of the fun!). My tips for making it a positive experience:
- select the “rent entire place” option on AirBnB (while you will save money sharing the space with the host, you might end up feeling like you are tip toeing around them)
- only rent from people who have been reviewed (I know everyone needs their first break, but I’m too risk-averse to be the one to give it to them – sorry!)
- don’t take the transaction offline – forgoing the protections offered through these systems isn’t worth the few bucks you will save on their fee
- for additional savings, rent out your own place while you are away (I have done this several times applying the same rules as above and the money I made has paid for entire vacations)
- if you get lucky or are flexible, you might be able to arrange a swap – if interested, mention this in your listing (there are services for this but I haven’t used them myself)
Staying with others (friends, acquaintances or even strangers) can be a big cost savings and a nice way to plan a trip. I have not tried the official website, Couch Surfing, but this might be a good choice if you are going solo. A few years ago, I planned a trip to three European countries and stayed almost entirely with friends, family and even a boss’ nephew! You will be surprised by the contacts you might find in your extended circle — and the people who would be willing to take in house guests! Just don’t forget to pay it forward by welcoming guests to your place as well (and a thank you gift is always a nice touch). Added savings from staying at an apartment (either rented or free) can come from cooking some of your own meals with local market ingredients — plus feeling like a local is pretty cool.
Camping in the wilderness is not exactly my cup of tea, but it can be a great way to unplug and connect with nature (especially when someone else is pitching the tent!). I have stayed in some great campsites in more remote areas like Africa (Kruger National Park) and Australia (Uluru), but I was very surprised to learn that you can also camp in the Michelangelo district of Florence, Italy (10 minutes walk from city centre!). Though I suspect this appeals more to a younger crowd, I met an English mother (well into her 50s) and daughter (in her 20s) in a restaurant in Florence who told me all about it. Staying in these types of yurts (permanently pitched, sturdier tents or cabins) means you don’t need to buy or cart around your own equipment. The whole “glamping” movement now has its own centralized hub where you find options in your destination.
Hotels, hostels and pensions are not the same in all parts of the world. In Europe in particular, you can sometimes find very nice hostels or pensions with private rooms and ensuite bathrooms. You don’t always need a backpack to stay here! Sometimes sales offered by hotels mean that they can be a better value than renting an apartment or other accommodation, so consider all options when planning. You can save money by using Hotwire, if you don’t care to know the name of your hotel before you book. In general, if your trip is certain, book a non-refundable advance hotel rate online – these tend to be cheaper. If you turn up at a hotel without a reservation, ask if there are any special discounts or promotions (in my experience they will usually offer you something – e.g. CAA rate). Finally, I swear by Trip Advisor before I book any hotel — user reviews and traveller photos can be extremely helpful in making your decision.