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vacation cottage britain england united kingdom travel house cozyTravelers can find cozy, convenient lodging for $50, $20 or even free in virtually every destination — as long as they know where to look.

Aside from airfare, lodging is typically the expense that takes the biggest bite out of a vacation budget. But there’s no need to rack up hotel stays for $100 – $200 a night or more. Creative travelers who are willing to consider alternatives to hotels could pay a fraction of that price — or nothing at all — by taking advantage of the following options.

Short-Term Room Rentals
This is a relatively new trend in the travel world — a cross between vacation rentals and homestays. Using Web sites like Airbnb.com, iStopOver.com and Crashpadder.com, travelers can rent a room in someone’s house, a cottage or a private studio apartment for low nightly rates (it’s not uncommon to see prices under $50 per night). It’s a way for hosts to open up their homes and make a little extra money, while giving travelers a great deal and a local’s-eye view of a destination.

Religious Housing
Depending on where you’re traveling, there may be affordable lodging offered by religious organizations — such as convents and monasteries in Italy (see MonasteryStays.com), or Christian or Jewish guesthouses in Jerusalem. An Internet search or a visit to the local tourist board’s Web site can help you find these options.

Though they’re commonly known as “youth” hostels, this form of accommodation can be ideal for budget travelers of any age. Even if you’re not up for the cheapest option — a bed in a shared dorm — you can often get a basic private room at a hostel for significantly less than the cost of a low-end hotel.

Sleeping in someone’s spare bedroom or on the living room couch is by far one of the cheapest ways to travel. In many cases, it’s free, and it’s also a great way to meet locals. You can organize a homestay through long-established hospitality networks like Servas International, or check out newer sites like CouchSurfing.com. For more information, see our guide to Homestays and Farmstays.

Vacation Rentals
A Paris apartment, a villa in the Caribbean, a log cabin in Vermont … vacation rentals offer unique and affordable lodging around the globe. Because they tend to be more spacious than hotel rooms, they’re a particularly good bargain for families and groups who can divvy up the cost. And having your own kitchen can save you big bucks on restaurants. Learn more in Vacation Rentals: Right for You?.

Academic Housing
When students go home for the summer, many colleges and universities open their dorms to visitors. Expect basic but very affordable accommodations (bathrooms may be down the hall, for example). There are few central databases of this type of lodging — University-Rooms.com is one to try — but it’s worth calling a few local campuses directly to see if anything might be available during your trip. The local tourist board may also be able to help.

From rural B&B’s to working ranches and cattle farms, this type of stay can cover a wide range of accommodations — and you don’t necessarily have to be willing to milk a cow to take advantage of it. Farmstays are particularly popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Learn more in Homestays and Farmstays.

Sleeping under the stars can be a magical experience — and it’s one of the cheapest options on our list, especially if you cook your own meals over a campfire instead of eating in restaurants every night. And don’t worry … you can opt for cabins or luxury tent camps if you’d rather not be slapping mosquitoes away all night. Get inspired with our Top Seven Spots for a Camping Trip.

B&B’s with Shared Bathrooms
Bed and breakfasts can often save you money over hotel rooms, especially if you’re willing to use a bathroom down the hall. And it may be less inconvenient than you think: A few years back, I stayed in a New Mexico B&B where the bathroom was supposed to be shared between my room and one other down the hall — but because the other room wasn’t booked for either of the nights I was there, I ended up having the bathroom all to myself.

Home Exchange
Swapping houses with another traveler is an ideal way to enjoy the comforts of home while traveling — and it’s practically free. To become a member of a home exchange network, you’ll typically pay an annual fee that costs about as much as a night in a hotel room, so after the first couple of nights of your vacation, your membership has paid for itself and then some. Learn more in Home Exchange: A How-To Guide.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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17 Responses to “Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay”

  1. Love, love, LOVE this article! So many fun places to stay that ARE NOT HOTELS.

  2. Hank Thierry says:

    Better yet… try globalfreeloaders.com. For free, no gotchas, thousands of people all over the world will give you anywhere from your own room to your own bed for free. These are people who are also world travelers and are not always home. We do it and it is great. Hank Thierry

  3. Pemberton says:

    I think I’d choose to stay at some of these places even if they were as expensive as hotels. The religious housing sounds awesome. And a farmstay would be fantastic!

    For me, good accommodations offer great location and plenty of charm. I don’t care if there’s room service (I don’t want to sit around in my hotel all day anyway), and I don’t care if there’s a concierge waiting downstairs (I like to book my own excursions and tours). Great post!

  4. Joyce Pratt says:

    Also love this article! As a travel agent AND as an owner of 2 vacation rental properties on the Texas Coast, I think people are figuring out the great benefits of having an entire home to enjoy. After 8 years of business, my client base is growing and I love dealing the unique individuals that are my guests. One thing not mentioned in the article, is that pets are often welcome for a small fee.

  5. Deborah Evenich says:

    We have stayed in “Chambres D’Hotes” in France, which can be arranged through local tourist agencies, and have always been happy. The prices are good, usually the breakfast is wonderful, and you get to stay in someone’s home and visit with them.

  6. Elizabeth Jackline says:

    Have never received any of this info from my other travel sites. Independent Traveler is now my top travel news site! Great articles–many thanks!

  7. Margaux says:

    I love couchsurfing! It is hands down the best way to travel. You get free lodging, access to a kitchen, and you get to hang out with an awesome local person. While not all hosts will show you around most will and you get to see the things that tourists usually don’t see and visit destinations the front desk of your hotel will not know about.

  8. nassautravellers says:

    We travel a lot around the Caribbean and most often rent vacation properties – condos, villas etc. We find this to be the most cost effective way. Usually, the rates are cheaper per night than hotels and we can get our own groceries saving on restaurant meals (and the waistline!!). In Nassau we use a grocery delivery service (foodstore2go) so we don’t even have to rent a car or hire a taxi to get our groceries. I also find that property rentals are more friendly and give you more “local” tips making the stay that much more fun!

  9. lee says:

    does anyone have a link to time share rentals? rent when the owner does not want to use the time share?

  10. estate agent bath says:

    A lot of choices! That will be very interesting. Is the religious housing affordable?

  11. Julia Russo says:

    When I first got out of school I used to travel a lot backpacking and staying in youth hostels. Now, I am interested in home swapping. Great way to experience a new place.

  12. CLARE says:

    WE STAYED AT fAULTY TOWERS IN ROME….FOUND THE INFORMATION IN THE TRAVEL BOOK THE LONELY PLANET…..this was an english speaking pension near the main train station in Rome…the travel book on Rome tells you how to take the buses as the main bus station is right there….the young people who stayed there were kind to us Seniors …telling us about things to do and things to avoid…..There was even a hotel at this address on another floor that charged less….but you had to be out of your room at 9am as and could not return til 9pm ….they stored your luggage and rented the room to another traveller…..we did not choose that option but it was there….

  13. nea says:

    We are going to Toronto Canada dose anybody know of accommodation for six people from September say from the 21st for 2 1/2 weeks? We are quite, clean and tidy people. Thank you. Nea

  14. Hi nea,

    For that many people, I’d recommend vacation rentals; you should be able to find a house or large condo/apartment to sleep that many people. We have a list of major vacation rental Web sites here: http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/hotel-and-b-and-b/finding-a-vacation-rental

    Hope this helps — good luck!

    Sarah Schlichter

  15. We stayed in a \pilgrim\ hotel in Vatian City for $35./nite, 20+ years ago. hotels were $250./nite. Don’t know what it would be now but I’m sure it will be cheaper.
    If you do try a hotel….call direct. It’s always cheaper than taking what ever the package states.

  16. Another possibility is to approach colleges and universities out of term time. They may have accommodation which is empty which they might be prepared to let you use (especially if you have a party of people travelling)

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