You don't have to sleep in a hostel to save cash. Know how to haggle, where to book and when to book and you could be sleeping in luxury for less
Look for new openings Many hotels offer special opening deals, or will simply drop prices on the spot to fill rooms while word gets around. To find these new places, search online, go to tourist offices or look out for reps at airports and train or bus stations.
Swap your house Rather than pay for accommodation, stay in someone else’s house – and let out your own in return. For example, organisation www.homelink.org.uk has a database of homes in 70 countries; the deal often includes cars, so you get cheap (and homely) accommodation and transport.
Log on to roomft.com This growing network provides rooms for travellers – and income for home-owners. Travellers can find cheap and welcoming accommodation where they need it, while those with spare rooms can make a bit of extra cash and socialise at the same time.
Haggle over the rack rate Hotels publish a set rack rate but in off-peak periods, or when occupancy levels are low, try bargaining with the receptionist for a better deal, especially if you want to stay for several nights or book multiple rooms. You could also suggest an upgrade – a room on a ‘Club Floor’ might come with free drinks or fruit, or a free newspaper, for example.
Or try the personal touch – Wanderlust reader Kavey posted this on myWanderlust: “I organised a five-week self-drive trip in South Africa and spent ages researching, planning and then booking it. As we were travelling off-season I created a shortlist of guesthouses on the itinerary and then wrote a long letter to each one telling them about our trip, about us and asking whether they would be able to offer us a special rate given that it was the low-season. I was amazed at the positive response – many places offered us discounts even on their normal low-season rates, sometimes as much as 50%.”
Stay in a religious retreat Bedding down at a temple, monastery or ashram can be free (or donation based) and will offer an insight into the local culture – just make sure you’re comfortable with what’s expected of you.
Wild camp Many countries allow you to pitch your tent for free, as long as you are a certain distance away from private homes.
Check-in on a Sunday No one wants to check-in on a Sunday! Weekend-breakers favour Fridays and Saturdays, while business types won’t show until Monday. Therefore many hotels may offer special rates or packages if you’re willing to start your stay on a Sunday. If you are travelling Friday to Sunday, look for business-style hotels in big cities – they often drop rates at the weekend.
Look for great hotels in cheap places If you want the swank of a spa or boutique hotel, pick your location wisely.
Travel overnight Planning bus or train trips overnight saves you time and money. Bargain-basement hunters can attempt upright sleeping in day-time chairs, but often upgrading to reclining seats or couchettes costs little extra – much less than a night in a hotel.
Join the Youth Hostels Association (in Scotland) Becoming a member gets you 10% discounts on outdoor gear as well as cheaper accommodation. Membership in England costs about £15 per year, but join the Scottish YHA and it’s £8 per year and is still valid at affiliated hostels worldwide.
Sleeping on someone’s sofa is one of the best ways to save a lot of money. A glut of websites connects bed-needy travellers with people willing to host them –but do they work? And are they safe? We asked 23-year-old serial surfer Santeri Sallinen what it’s really like.
“I am a big fan of couch-surfing and have been to Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Wales. I didn’t know many people who were into travelling so I decided to join an organisation.
“The website is a great way to initiate contact with fellow couch-surfers – then it’s up to you to make arrangements. My hosts have picked me up from airports, railways and bus stations; at other times we’d arrange a meeting somewhere in the city centre. It’s really safe and I had no worries about meeting people once I’d corresponded with them.
“It’s a great way to travel cheaply and see the world while making new friends, and in turn you get to host people from other countries. I’ve had guests from Germany, Austria and Russia. Most of the people I’ve stayed with are young and live with their parents, who seem to love cooking and feel it’s their duty to provide you with meals, although that’s not a necessity.
“There’s a lot of variety in what is considered hospitable between countries, and some people are too busy with work to show you around. Others introduced me to their friends and took me out to parties, making it a great form of cultural exchange.
“The best way to be pleasantly surprised is not to expect too much. I can’t wait to do it again and am planning to go further, to the US or Canada, as well as seeing more of Europe.”