5 Cheap Alternatives to Hotels That You’ll Love
Ever wondered how to travel for cheap? Sometimes you've got to think outside the box. Here are some of the most unique ways to find cheap accommodation.
It’s summer, and you’re probably eager to hop on a plane and travel the world. But what if you don’t have too much socked away? How can you find a place to sleep without burning a hole in your pocket? Sure, there are a few popular, tried-and-true ways, like redeeming credit card rewards points or booking a place via AirBnB. But what about some lesser-known methods to help you travel for cheap? Here are some clever, out-of-the-box ways to find cheap alternatives to hotels while traveling on a shoestring budget:
- Try pet-sitting
- Relocate RVs
- Stay at a spiritual center
- Go couch surfing
- Trade labor for housing on an organic farm
1. Make a Staycation Out of Pet-Sitting
One of my favorite ways to find new stomping grounds — albeit temporarily — is by pet-sitting. As someone who loves animals, but doesn’t have any fur-babies of my own, I jump on any opportunity to care for another person’s pet. While I live in West Los Angeles, I’ve worked as an in-house doggie- and cat-sitter in different parts of town. And last summer, I dog-sat for a month in Chicago.
My friend Kelly is also a huge fan of pet-sitting. “You get to temporarily live and explore a new ’hood, but it feels like a staycation, since you’re living in someone else’s place,” she explains. “Plus, you can get paid to do it!”
If you’re willing to go off the beaten path, you can score free or cheap accommodation and see the world.
Aside from reaching out to your network to see who might need a pet-sitter, you can check out TrustedHousesitters, which connects pet owners to free pet-sitting services. If you want to earn money, you can sign up to be a bona-fide sitter on Rover or DogVacay.
2. Travel for Cheap by Relocating RVs
While RV rentals tend to be pretty pricey, you can get a deep discount by helping to relocate one. In other words, you help the RV company transport an RV to a specific destination. In exchange, you get to travel for cheap. While you do have to pay a small fee, it’s far lower than the usual rate for a rental.
My friends Dave and Greg have relocated RVs in different parts of the country and turned the gigs into super inexpensive trips. Greg and Dave went on a trip relocating an RV from Cruise America, and they found that the rentals cost as little as $20 a day.
Other companies that offer relocation discounts include JUCY, where you can rent converted minivans; and Apollo Motorhome Holidays — based in Iowa — which usually needs RVs relocated to L.A., San Francisco, Denver, and Vegas. While the trips tend to be location-specific, some companies will also cover the gas in addition to giving you a discount on the rental, so it’s an easy way to travel for cheap.
3. Go on a Spiritual Sojourn
If you’re interested in deepening a spiritual practice, you may be able to stay in a spiritual center for cheap. A few years ago, I spent some time a guest student at the Zen Buddhist center in San Francisco, and it only cost me $100 a week for boarding and meals. This is dirt cheap — especially since a one-night stay at a regular hotel in San Francisco can cost several hundred dollars. While I was at the center, I just had to do a few hours of “work practice” each day. And aside from meditation in the morning, there was plenty of time to read, reflect, and explore the city.
If you’re more serious, you can stay for even longer stretches at a monastery. A handful of my “Zen friends” did just that. Of course, this makes for a deeper commitment and more drastic lifestyle change. But if you’re interested, you can do some hunting on sites like the World Buddhist Directory to look at options.
4. Couch Surf
While I haven’t done this personally, I know a bunch of people who have couch surfed as a way to get cheap accommodations. It’s really quite simple:
You can find hosts to stay with through the couch surfing website (CouchSurfing.com). The best part? Because you’re staying with locals, you gain a deeper insight into what it’s like to live in the area.
Your hosts can give you tips about the best places to eat and the best sights to see. Just keep in mind that while you get to stay with people as you travel, you’re expected to return the favor and host visitors passing through your neck of the woods.
5. Work on an Organic Farm
If you want to escape urban life for a while, consider working on an organic farm in exchange for free room and board. While this is more of a work exchange than a true vacation, you can see the world and learn to grow veggies or keep bees while you’re at it. There are currently over 2,100 organic farms in the U.S. participating in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF-USA), and most require you to work at least half a day during your stay.
Cheap Alternatives to Hotels: The Bottom Line
Willing to try something new? And flexible on the “how” and “where”? Then there are quite a few cheap alternatives to hotels that you may want to check out. Sometimes getting a little weird not only helps you save money, but offers fresh, new experiences.