The typical backpacking holiday would usually feature an ungodly amount of hostels, but I wanted to do things a little differently. The same adventure can still be had, but many – myself included – have decided to take advantage of technology. Thanks to the interwebz, there’s now a tonne of ways to find great accommodation on a budget. The options are almost limitless, and if you’re open-minded enough you could end up staying on anything from somebody’s old couch to a farm in the mountains in New Zealand (both of which are free).
Each offers an amazing way to experience a new location and culture, albeit in totally different levels of comfort. It’s not about picking one option over another, but using them all to get the best deal you can.
AirBNB was founded in 2008, and has since exploded to include thousands of listings all over the globe. Private parties let out their rooms, apartments, or spaces for short-term stays. You could end up staying in anything from a tiny bedroom to a castle, or even a private island. They have a great website and app that makes it easy to find a place to stay that fits your budget and schedule. You can book far in advance or at the last minute, which is really useful if you’re backpacking or moving around a lot without a rigid itinerary.
If you’re looking for comfort or luxury, AirBNB is hands down your best option and is second only to a hotel. Although, you would lose the experience of staying somewhere unique by staying in a hotel. Additionally, AirBNB allows you to search for a shared space, which means you’ll be staying with the owners of the property. This often works out cheaper, and in many cases better, as your host can give you places to go in the local area. Nothing beats local knowledge, and is something that guidebooks have a hard time replicating.
We’ve been lucky enough to find a great place to stay in Sydney over New Year’s Eve through AirBNB, and it has worked out drastically cheaper than a hostel, or even a campsite would have. Between 4 of us, we are paying around $25 AUD each per night to stay in a beautiful house with our host who will hopefully be able to tell us the best place to catch the fireworks from. To stay in a hostel over that period would cost around $55 AUD a night (minimum), and that’s assuming there’s availability.
AirBNB is the best option for finding unique or unusual places to stay at an extremely competitive price. It’s particularly useful if you need somewhere over a popular holiday period when hotels and hostels would jack up their prices by huge margins.
Couchsurfing is similar to AirBNB in so far as private parties open their places to travellers seeking short-term accommodation. The major difference, however, is that Couchsurfing is totally free. Scoring a place to stay in a major city can save you a serious amount of money, so it’s well worth considering this option.
Your grandma would probably be horrified at the idea of staying on the couch of a stranger from the internet, but it really is a great opportunity to meet some interesting people. People offering their places will make their decision to let you stay with them based on your profile and the personality you’ve injected into it, so it’s really important to make sure you have done this and have a good picture of yourself before contacting anyone. It can be hard work to find somewhere to stay, and gets even harder if you are a couple.
The fact Couchsurfing is free is obviously a huge incentive, but it does have it’s pitfalls. If you find somewhere to stay, the host will expect you to spend time with them and share experiences. It’s as much about meeting people and making friends as it is about having a roof over you head. If you’re on a tight schedule and only have a couple of nights in a location, this could really limit the amount you get to see. Unfortunately, like any good system, there are those who abuse it, and treat Couchsurfing like a dating site. If you’re a female traveller, expect to get lots of offers from men to ‘show you around the city’…
All said and done, Couchsurfing can be a fantastic way to stay somewhere for free and immerse yourself in the culture by staying with a local, but it’s important to use a bit of common sense and intuition when selecting your host.
AirBNB and Couchsurfing have done a lot to change the way people search for places to stay, but there’s no doubt that hostels remain one of the best options for finding great accommodation on a budget.
Hostels are generally safe and offer a great opportunity to meet like-minded travellers. They can vary from the absolute basics to virtual luxury, but typically feature dorm rooms with numerous beds, shared bathrooms, a common room and a shared kitchen. Some hostels also offer single and family rooms with private ensuites. Most have linen and pillows, but it’s advised to bring your own sheet or sleeping bag liner. Laundry facilities are often available and some even have bars, Internet cafes and tourist desks.
Finding the right hostel all starts with using the right booking site. Their search and ratings systems are all pretty similar, but they differ in how much they charge for bookings, and which (if any) extras they provide as a service. Through experience and my own research, I’ve found the best site to be http://www.hostelbookers.com/. They are upfront about their prices and don’t charge a booking fee, and although the interface is pretty basic in design, their site has all the functionality you’ll need.
If you’re interested in seeing a detailed comparison of the booking sites check out this post on A Couple Travelers’ blog.
The options I’ve covered thus far all offer great opportunities for short-term stays, but what if you’re interested in staying somewhere for a bit longer? Wwoof-ing, as it is known in the business, gives volunteers the chance to work on an organic farm almost anywhere in the world, typically in exchange for a room and board. It’s a great way to take a cheap trip that’s also an incredible learning experience. A WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) working holiday can range in length from a week or less to an entire season or more.
Through the WWOOF website you can view (sometimes you need to purchase) a list of farms in the country you want to stay in. As you would expect, the type of farms vary greatly. Some will keep animals, for example, where others won’t. It’s therefore important to select a farm carefully, and make sure it has the facilities (WiFi comes to mind) you will need, and equally, you have the skills to work on that farm.
From there you can contact farm owners and negotiate the terms of your stay. Typically, a volunteer would be expected to work for 4 hours a day, and the accommodation you are provided with could be anything from a site to pitch a tent, to your own private bedroom. It’s a good idea to get as much information as possible from the farm owner so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s not about choosing one of these options over the other; rather using them all to find the best deal you can that suits your needs. If you’re considering any of these options, or have used them before, I would love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to leave a note in the comments section below.