When I travel, I’m often asked how I’m able to find great deals on accommodation. Obviously I don’t pull these little deals out of a hat – it does take some time and some patience in order to find the good stuff. However, there are a few corners of the internet that have always been good to me, and so this entry will give you some insight on how to find these deals for yourself.
First things first however, your travel purpose and style is going to determine what type of accommodation you go for. Personally, my travel style is one of two things – backpacking (aka the save as many pennies as possible route) or getaways (aka all about the comfort). Recently I’ve been opting for the getaways, so I’ll start with that first.
I have two crutches in regards to getaways, and what helps me decide between the two is mainly the purpose of the trip. Am I just looking for a place to relax and rest my head, or is it a special occasion and I want to be pampered a little bit? For girls trips to new cities or weekends when lots of adventuring is going to occur, I opt for Airbnb. I love Airbnb for the amount of filters you can add – if you’re travelling solo and looking to make friends, you can opt for a shared or private room with other guests in the hopes of meeting new people. Or if you and a friend are looking for a place to crash and don’t want to worry about waking the neighbours, you can opt for an entire place to yourselves and have all the space you need. New to Airbnb? Use my code and get $50CAD off your next trip!
Another reason is that your money is mainly going towards a second income for an actual person, not to large corporations or hotel chains. Airbnb is based on a review system, where hosts are reviewed by guests and vice versa. Therefore there’s a level of mutual respect as a host can easily give a guest a bad rating, which may make future hosts reject them for future stays. All of these reviews are public and displayed right on your profile, making it easy for future hosts and guests to access them. This makes for a great atmosphere wherever you stay – even in other countries! Airbnb also has a great referral program where your friends can get money off for being a first time user, and you get a kickback for referring them! Any penny helps when travelling! If I can manage to swing an Airbnb visit, that’s the option I go for.
However, some nights you just want to pamper yourself or sometimes there just isn’t an Airbnb available. When this is the case, I always go to Hotels.com, as they have a wonderful loyalty program that for every ten nights you stay, you get one night free. That free room is worth the average of all the hotels you booked previously, so if you end up paying a little more sometimes, it may help you a little later on as it’ll increase your average rate for your free room! I’ve already had 2 free rooms, and I’ve got one hidden away for my next getaway. They often have great deals on hotels, with coupons sent right to your email, and even additional low rates that pop-up during your hunt. Just recently I found a great place in Niagara Falls for 4 of us where it works out to $40/night each and we get free breakfast, free parking, and free wifi! Just make sure that if you’re driving to your hotel, to check out the fine print. Hotels aren’t the most forthcoming with how much you may have to pay for parking, but if you look for the section pictured below, you’ll never be unpleasantly surprised by the small details!
Now to my other style of travel – backpacking. This was my method when I did my crazy European Trip back in 2012, knocking off 22 countries in 3 months. When travelling like this you’re looking to spend as little money as possible as a few dollars can go a fair distance. This is why hostel stays come in handy for making money stretch.
My main website I use to find great hostel deals is HostelBookers.com. I have found them to be consistently cheaper, and you only have to pay 10% of your stay upfront. HostelBookers also uses a rating percentage system, and this system is a key player in choosing your stay. If you see a hostel that’s rated in the 80 percentile but there’s one in the 60s that’s a few dollars cheaper – go for the 80. Like I said a few dollars can go a fair distance, and they do for your comfort and enjoyment. In some cities you’ll have no choice but to opt for a 60% hostel (like I did in Madrid) whether for lack of choice or hostels being booked up, but it will just reinforce this statement even more. My best hostel stays – both accommodation and people wise – were in hostels rated 80% and higher. These hostels have the most personality, the best people, and often the most amenities.
Speaking of amenities, whenever I looked for hostels I always looked for ones that included a kitchen. Cooking your own meals, especially in the western European countries, can save you a ton of money. Hostels with a kitchen will have community utensils for your usage, and refrigerators where you can store perishables. Now you’re probably thinking ‘but what if someone steals my food?!’ – I thought the same thing. There is an honour system here as you put your food in a bag with your room number on it to say that it’s claimed. With this I think I’ve only had one instance where something had gone missing. As you’re all travellers looking to do the same thing and travel as cheaply as possible, a mutual respect is shown in that you don’t touch what’s not yours. Another great thing is that there’s often a free shelf where you’re welcome to take what you need, and leave what you don’t. This means that less food goes to waste, and you also don’t need to drag pounds of food along if you don’t want to.
In regards to booking a room, most hostels have both shared and private rooms. While private rooms are going to be more expensive, if you’re looking to meet new travel buddies it’s best to go with a shared dorm. Again, there’s always a concern of someone tampering with your stuff. This fears can be easily defeated by being smart: book hostels that have lockers, and have a few locks on hand. I’d say it’s always a good idea to have at least two, one for your locker that you can use to store your valuables, and one for your bag. This way, your important items are safe from harm as your bag could be cut into while you’re out exploring (not that I’ve ever had this happen, but strange things can occur), and you can enjoy the sights without worry. Also, to ensure you have a wonderful sleep each night, pack a sleeping mask and ear plugs. Most travellers are respectful in that if they return late at night, they try to be quiet and use flashlights to look through there things. However, everyone has a lapse in judgement (whether its alcohol induced or not) and will switch on the lights at 3am without thinking. This way you’ll dodge being blinded by the light, and you’ll keep catching some Z’s while they’re rummaging through their luggage.
Now, there are always some exceptions to the (extremely blurred) rules. Some cities that are a little more on the expensive side – Zurich for example – may have hostels but they’ll be very expensive with a lack of amenities. In this case, start looking into hotels. When I booked my accommodation, I found it was cheaper to have a nice private hotel room for two of us, than to have two beds in a hostel. It also might be a sign that you need some private down time while on the road of constant backpacking.
Lastly, my two cents on a topic – Hostelling International. Hostelling International is an organization which has set up thousands of locations across the globe for travellers worldwide. Each location has a very similar set up to ensure a sense of unity and comfort. While at times their locations look nice, there’s a bit of a catch. In order to get the rate they advertise on websites like HostelBookers, you need to be a member which will cost you at least $40 for one year, or more if you want a lifetime membership. If you’re not a member, then you’re subjected to an extra fee in order to stay there, or in some countries you’re unable to stay there entirely. Personally, I find that these hostels have always been the least of my favourites. The buildings are very bland and dull, with no kitchens and barely a sitting area in some cases. My vote is to go searching for a place that has character and spunk, and save these guys as a last resort.
Did I miss anything you’d like me to touch on? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer as soon as I can!