There are many tools on the Internet to make your search for cheap accommodation abroad simple. Find out how you can use your smartphone overseas to access them!
Advantages to booking in advance
Finding a hotel or hostel can be tricky sometimes. Usually it depends on what your specific needs are (i.e. do you want breakfast included, A/C, quiet area, etc.) as well as how far in advance you book. I like to book my accommodations ahead of time (at least by one day) for three specific reasons: 1) I like knowing exactly what I’m getting and exactly how much I’m paying; 2) I like to avoid the stress of walking around to find a hotel last minute; and 3) I like to know that I’m getting the best deal in town for my budget. When it’s all in front of you on the internet, it is very easy to search for a place you like that is within your budget. If you wait, you may find that all of your top choices are full, or you might simply not know where to walk to look for hotels (this is definitely situation-dependent). You could literally wander for hours doing this.
Hostels often offer a variety of choices, either mixed gender dorm rooms or single gender dorm rooms (these are the cheapest options), single gender private rooms, or completely private rooms ranging in number of beds, some rooms offer bathrooms ensuite (in the room) and some do not. Hostels are a great way to go if you are backpacking, on a budget, and don’t mind meeting some new friends. Many hostels these days offer tour services, making it very simple for you to get connected to the activities you want to do while you are in town. One thing to keep in mind about hostels is that you pay by the bed, not the room. This has advantages and disadvantages: if you are only paying for yourself, it’s a very cheap and easy way to get a place to sleep; however, if you are traveling in a group, it may benefit you to look into a hotel that charges by the room, which can be split amongst a group and end up cheaper than everyone paying for hostel beds.
Hostelworld.com has always been my go-to hostel picker. I like the user-friendly interface and plethora of information available. I usually make my decisions based on reviews, price, and location. They have recently done away with their booking fees as well, which makes them number one on my list. And remember, Hostelworld offers more than just hostel beds. You may find hotels, apartments for rent, and B&Bs as well, and I have used it to book every kind of accommodation, even camping!
As I have had my share of hostel experiences, I am growing more and more fond of hotels (not to say that hostels aren’t interesting places that need to be experienced!) but I seem to appreciate hotels more these days. Booking.com is my favorite website for reserving hotel rooms. It is a very user-friendly website that provides reviews, maps, best price guides and deals, and much more. I believe it when it says “best price guaranteed.” I once saved over $100 on a walk-in hotel price simply by stepping away from the front desk, using booking.com on my smartphone to make my reservation, and waiting a few minutes for it to go through. True story!
Yes, there really is a program called CouchSurfing. It’s not just something we do, it’s something we are officially a part of, and yes, it includes sleeping on couches of “strangers!” Now, I know what you might be thinking, “You people actually sleep on the couches of complete strangers!?” Yes, we do, and I can’t really speak highly enough of this program. It is set up online sort of like Facebook. Your profile includes a bit about you, what you like, what interests you have, etc., as well as whether or not you are traveling or have a couch to offer. If you have a couch to offer, you tell a bit about your house, what your “couch” really is (whether it’s a guest room or literally a couch- whatever the sleeping arrangement may be). You can have friends on CS and they can leave you recommendations and reviews. What this means is that when someone views your profile, they will see who you are, what you are about, and what others have to say about you, either as a friend, a traveler, a guest, or a host. You can see the same about others.
How does CouchSurfing work?
Start by setting up a profile on www.couchsurfing.org, and when you need a couch to surf, you conduct a search by city. You can browse through the results and read about people who live in that city, and if you decide you’d like to stay with someone, you can submit a couch surfing request to them with dates and details. That person then either accepts or denies you for whatever reason. There is NO money exchange, CouchSurfing is about cultural exchange. Most of the people involved are genuinely interested in getting to know each other, which is why you include your interests in your profile. I have both surfed and hosted and have always liked the people I meet through this program. In fact, at our wedding last year we had three friends attend whom we had met on different occasions through couch surfing. Three, at our wedding!
Is CouchSurfing safe?
It is a safe program, and here’s why: the power of references keep it safe. For each person you are considering surfing with, you get to browse the references left by surfers and hosts or friends with whom that person has been in touch. You get to use your best judgment whether or not you think that is a safe person to stay with. So by reading what others have to say about CS members, you can get an idea of what type of people they are, and you choose whom you would like to stay with, or whom you’d like to host.
What else does CouchSurfing offer?
There is more to CouchSurfing than just surfing couches. There are often social gatherings in each city. Believe it or not, there are usually people in each town who organize CS events. We attended one in Italy in 2009 because we happened to be couch surfing with the organizer, and it turned out to be a really fun, international dinner party. The best part? We ended up couch surfing with a German couple we met there a couple months later when we were in Germany, and then again when we went back in 2013. You never know who you’re going to meet! You can get cultural insight through CouchSurfing in a way that you just can’t get by staying at a hotel or even a hostel. And you’ll meet new friends along the way. It’s a great way to travel on a budget as well since you don’t pay for lodging. Just remember, rewarding your hosts with a home cooked meal, a small gift, or even a drink will not go unnoticed! For more information, check out my post about Couchsurfing and www.couchsurfing.org.