Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Sleep Very Cheaply When Traveling

Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia (photo by Simone Cannon)

Traveling costs can add up quickly, especially when moving from one exotic place to another. Traveling extensively is exciting and interesting, but can increase your transportation and lodging costs exponentially if you're not careful. One way to cut expenses is to use cheaper lodging alternatives such as hostels, homestays or camp sites. There are so many interesting ways to spend the night (but that's another blog...) and to save money that the choices are almost endless. If you are flexible and open to new experiences, you will find a much wider array of sleeping options available to you. Here are a few suggestions that you may already know and some that you might not have thought of:

Beach side at dusk, Koh Samui, Thailand (photo by Simone Cannon)

1) Hostels: the most popular budget option by far, hostels will generally run about US$18-$20 a bed per night in a dorm or a spot at a hostel campsite. Private ensuite rooms or smaller 2-4 bed dorms with shared bathrooms are also widely available at hostels but are more expensive. Hostels vary in quality, location, cleanliness and noise level, so it's best to book through a trusted website with a ratings system like Hosteling International or Hostels.com. Pick hostels near the top of the rating scale, but keep in mind that many rating systems include a category called "fun" which generally translates to "noise" and "late-night parties", so you may want to exclude that category if you are looking for a tranquil place to stay. Most hostels are geared toward younger travelers, although all ages are welcome, and they often host BBQs, Meet and Greet events and can organize tours and excursions. Hostels are an especially helpful option in more expensive countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the countries of Scandinavia, as the hostels in those countries tend to be very well-maintained and clean and often include amenities such as clean swimming pools, breakfast buffets, wi-fi, free internet and group rates.  


Colorful flags flutter on a boat dock, Ubud, Bali (photo by Simone Cannon)

2) Couch Surfing: nothing is cheaper than free and the idea of crashing on other people's couches has been around for years, but has recently become organized (and much safer) thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, Thorn Tree and CouchSurfing, a website dedicated to organizing the couch-surfing community and currently hosting 2,377,653 registered members. The idea is to sleep on someone's couch or spare bed in exchange for other members using yours (although CouchSurfing staffers emphasize that this is not obligatory; you are under no pressure to let someone stay with you if you're not comfortable with the person asking for accommodation). The site stresses security by recording all written communication, encouraging feedback and providing a ratings system. CouchSurfing.org operates in 245 countries and territories around the world and almost 80,000 cities, so the options are numerous and varied. If you are planning on visiting a city, just search the database for available couches and contact the member via the site. Although it's a great way to get to know new people and to learn about (and share) local culture, you can also just meet someone for a cup of coffee or a meal if you are not comfortable staying with someone else or hosting someone in your home.

Waiting for the Astronomical Clock to strike, Prague, The Czech Republic (photo by Simone Cannon)

3) Colleges, Universities and Convents: most college campuses around the world become deserted once classes wrap up, yet the university properties still need to be maintained, so many administrations opt to rent out their dorms to travelers during unoccupied months to offset their costs. Convents and monasteries similarly find that they often have to burden the expense of unused living quarters and often offer services such as lodging and meals. Be aware, though, that most of these places have strict noise, behavior and cleanliness rules and curfews so they may not be the best option if your travel goals include partying with other travelers, but for a clean, quiet place to stay that is generally located on picturesque grounds, this is a great choice. Ask at your local university campus for information and directories or contact universities in the city in which you are traveling. Keep in mind that university accommodations are usually only available during school holidays. In London, for example, institutions such as Imperial College and The London School of Economics open their dorms up to travelers during winter, spring and summer breaks. For available convent, abbey and monastery lodgings and prices, check websites such as Good Night and God Bless or 5star Accommodation.
Mt. Hood, Portland, Oregon, USA (photo by Simone Cannon)

4) Homestays: in many regions, particularly economically recessed areas, homestays are an excellent budget choice. Owners hoping to make some extra money open up their private residences to travelers, usually providing a private room and bathroom (although occasionally shared), full breakfast, travel information, transportation and the chance to stay with locals. Depending on the country, these can be extremely cheap places to stay and the owners will often negotiate with travelers. I once stayed in Tonga for four days for a total cost of US$24, including four nights accommodation, four breakfasts, laundry service and a day tour of the island in a private jeep. Many Latin American countries, for example, offer lodging in casas particulares (private houses) to tourists. The owners often speak some English, but have little exposure to the outside world and are therefore fascinated by travelers of all kinds. On our first night at a homestay in Puerto Varas, Chile, the owner invited the entire extended family over to dinner to meet us (and Latino family sizes are nothing to shake a stick at). For a total cultural immersion and one-of-a-kind experience, homestays can't be topped. Contact websites such as Homestay Agencies or ask at airport, train or bus station terminal tourist information booths when you arrive.       

Can you suggest lodging ideas that are even cheaper? Please let us know...you could be part of the next lodging blog post!      

Road meets ocean, Nuku'alofa, Kingdom of Tonga (photo by Simone Cannon)

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