It’s vacation month on Cheap Like Me! Let’s take a look at some ways to save money while you travel — and on some days, hear from a few guest bloggers who have generously offered to give me a day off.
9 ways to save on vacation lodging
When it comes to where you stay while you travel, you have a lot of options beyond the standard hotel room. All of these can save money, be good to the environment and build community.
- Stay with someone. Of course, the very cheapest is crashing at someone’s house. You can stay with a friend or relative, or you can try couch-surfing. I’m no expert at couch-surfing — where you agree to host or be hosted by someone in another town or city — but fortunately, Leigh at The Future Is Red is an expert, with an ongoing blog series about couch-surfing.
- Camp. If you are driving (or want to lug or rent gear), camping is another super-frugal option. You can usually stay for $15 a night or so, plus cook your own meals (or if that’s not your bag, cheat and buy meals — an easy option if you are near a city). Many campgrounds have showers and laundry if you need them. Some state or national park facilities even serve breakfast.
- Home swap. We’ve done this once and have attempted to do it at other times. It takes luck and trust — we found our swappers via Craiglist a few years ago, but it allowed a family from California to stay in our home while we got to stay rent-free in Laguna Beach. It was an awesome way for us to take a beach vacation when Mr. Cheap was in grad school and we had no money to spare. Let caution be your byword with this one — and trust your gut on who you open your house to. But on the other hand, it’s OK to have a sense of adventure and remember that possessions are only stuff, and odds are good the other family wants the same thing you do: An affordable, homey place to stay. Avoid trading homes with the guys from “The Hangover” and you should do just fine.
- VRBO. You can also rent out another family’s vacation home. Read about the advantages on this blog post, which also mentions my home-swapping experience. Staying in a home or condo has many advantages: You can save money by cooking your own meals, you have plenty of space, you usually have a TV and DVD player so you can relax in the evenings for free, you can do laundry, you might get to experience a regular residential neighborhood (this was great when we went to Paris and rented an apartment), and no tipping! Craigslist.org also has “vacation rental” listings where sometimes great deals can be found.
- Hotel bargains. You can also find great hotel bargains. If you’re going to a hot destination like New York City, ask friends for recommendations and search a variety of online sites — rates can differ wildly. Check all your travel resources, including discounts (such as military, AAA or AARP), warehouse club travel deals, Priceline or Hotwire, etc. Read reviews on sites like Trip Advisor to be sure you’ll be comfortable in the place you find.
- Timeshare. If you are going to a bustling vacation destination, check timeshare rentals on eBay.com. You can sometimes find great deals for a week or partial week. Check whether you will have to attend a timeshare presentation or not. (This summer, we took up a timeshare place where we had stayed previously on their offer of cheap lodging if we attended a presentation. It eats up a couple of hours of vacation time, but we netted a three-night stay for a total of $80 after our gift cards, which we thought was worth it.)
- Look at attraction-related hotels. Sometimes, a hotel affiliated with an attraction is very expensive; sometimes it isn’t. For example, the budget hotel at Colonial Williamsburg is less expensive than the cheapest non-affiliated lodging, plus a stay includes greatly reduced admission to the historic site attractions, and the profits go to maintaining the historic park. Win-win!
- Watch your location. Sometimes it is worth trading a less-central place for a bargain rate; sometimes it isn’t. Think about if you will need to put additional miles on a car to save a few dollars — it might not be worth it, especially if you have to pay to park at your destination.
- Consider amenities. If you have small children, you might want a pool or a kids’ program. These activities could save a lot over the course of your stay. A free breakfast is a good benefit — as long as the room price isn’t higher to recoup the hotel’s cost.