Sunday, 25 October 2015

How to Travel Cheaply: Accommodation tips

As part of my series on travelling on a budget, today I bring you my top tips on accommodation:

Camping
My first segment is on camping because in most countries campsites are cheaper than other forms of accommodation and you get to be one with nature. In bustling coastal regions, campsites are often abundant! Camping is almost always my first choice. Sure, you're cooped up under a bit of plastic when you sleep, but sitting outside enjoying the fresh air more than makes up for it. You can read, cook a meal, write a blog, and chat about what you did that day on a patch of grass under the wide open sky. 
What's not to love? Well, there are a few things: 
- You'll need to cart around your tent, sleeping bags, and other camping essentials. This can make for a heavy backpack, so camping is much easier when you have your own method of transportation in which you can store these items. 
- You're one with nature. This is a positive and also a negative, as waking up next to a forest or river is awesome, but you'll have to cope with heavy winds, rain and extreme temperatures much more than when you're indoors. 
- In some countries it can be difficult to find campsites, so you'll need to do your research beforehand. When I road tripped through Spain in 2013, I didn't expect that there would be fewer campsites than in France and on my first couple of nights I ended up staying at hotels because of this. Looking up campsites online before you go to an area is essential. 
- It might not be as cheap as you think. In peak tourist season or in highly sought-after destinations, some campsites can get away with charging ridiculous amounts of money for a tent pitch. In Corsica we paid €35 for two people for one night's stay. You could pay the same amount for a decent hotel in Greece. That being said, the camping was much cheaper than staying in a Corsican hotel or hostel, but be prepared to fork out extra in certain locations. 
Take these cons into consideration, but also think of the abundance of positives with camping. This is also a great option if you want to travel with your dog, as there are campsites that allow animals. Imagine trying to find a hotel that does that!

Staying with Friends or Relatives
If you have friends or family who live where you're travelling to, hit them up and ask if you can stay for a bit. Not only do you get to stay indoors for free, you get to visit your pals!

Couchsurfing
A great alternative to camping is couchsurfing, where you can sleep on the couch (or floor or private room depending on the place) of a stranger for free. Sound scary? Not really as there's a website, couchsurfing.com, where both the couchsurfer and host gain reviews based on previous experiences. I've only hosted couchsurfers and never couchsurfed myself, but I plan to in places such as Germany where couchsurfing is popular and the accommodation can be expensive. I've hosted three groups of people, and they were all lovely. Though it is free, they all left little gifts when they left such as a bottle of wine or chocolates. If hosts get the time, they may go out with couchsurfers to show them a bit of the place they live in, so this is a great way to meet locals and see the city through their eyes. It allows you to meet people from all over the world and share experiences. You may find yourself trying to set bananas and rum alight for a slapdash dessert!

If you intend to couchsurf, I would recommend hosting beforehand so that you can accumulate a few reviews - that way hosts will know you're not a murderer. 
It must be said that one major drawback, at least for me, is that you are around people pretty much all the time unless you're lucky enough to stay in a place with your own room (and even then it can be a bit rude to just go off by yourself instead of socialising with your host). As an introvert, it can be very tiring to not have time to myself, so for me couchsurfing would not be a viable long-term accommodation solution. 

Housesitting
Another (almost) free option is house sitting, where a home owner will go away and need someone to look after their house while they're gone. In most cases, they have pets and that's what the majority of house sitting is all about. There are different levels of responsibility, and in some cases you may need to help with gardening or house maintenance, look after elderly animals that need medication, or simply provide company and food for their pets. But it's not always cats and dogs - I've seen listings with horses, chickens and even goats! All websites that are devoted to bringing home owners and housesitters together charge a fee, and the most popular website is trustedhousesitters.com where it currently costs €83.88 for a one year membership or €47.97 for a three month membership. 
As I write this, I am my first house sitting assignment in France, and all is going well! The UK is definitely one of the top countries that home owners are posting listings from, but there are ones from all over the world including the U.S., Mexico, Finland, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. If you like spending time with animals, I'd reccomend giving it a go. After all, it's mutually beneficial for you and the home/pet owners. 

Hotels
In order to maintain a frugal travelling life, I usually avoid hotels. Yet in places where they are as cheap or cheaper than camping, I go for it. Why not?! In Southeast Asia, I could have stayed in hostels but some hotels were only a little more expensive and I travelled in luxury! Of course, many frugal travellers choose hostels - it's up to you and your budget. I use booking.com when making reservations at hotels.
Something that I simply must mention is the availability of apartments in Croatia and Montenegro. Apartments are self-contained units that include a bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchen. As Croatia is a popular camping destination (for naturists especially), the prices are high, yet it's easy to find an apartment for around the same price as camping. We even found apartments that were cheaper than the camping options and ended up sticking with apartments all through Croatia and Montenegro. That truly was luxury travelling, as you had all the comforts of home while on the road. I also booked these through booking.com, but there are countless more that aren't on the website. If you're so inclined, you could just ask at various apartments what the price is and decide for yourself - in the evenings, apartment owners take to the streets to promote their accommodation using handmade signs reading "rooms" in several different languages. 

AirBnB
Like a cross between a hotel and couchsurfing, AirBnB allows normal people to list their spare sleeping space online - and the guest pays an amount decided by the host. Whenever camping isn't available in a location, I check AirBnB as often there are cheaper options than at a hotel. But be aware that you'll need to reserve the room at least a couple of days in advance - it's not like booking.com were you can book half an hour before turning up to the hotel. AirBnB is similar to couchsurfing in that you get to stay with a local who can give you information on the surrounding area and if you're lucky they may even show you around. At an AirBnB we stayed at recently, our lovely host drove us to a wine bar, bought us a drink each, showed us around the town a little, and took us to the supermarket so we could purchase some items for dinner. 

Hostels
I'll be perfectly frank: I do not like hostels and stay in them only when necessary. However, they are a cheap option that many travellers utilise. Depending on the hostel, you can get a bunk in a large dorm room, a bunk in a female-only dorm if you're of the feminine persuasion, or even a private room. You can learn more about staying in hostels by clicking here for an article by Nomadic Matt

Thanks for reading. Hopefully you found this information useful. What did I miss? Share your yogurts in the comments below!