Dear Gomad Nomad,
For someone relatively new to traveling independently, what are the best ways to find a cheap but safe place to stay while on the road?
– Lisa B. in Bossier City, Louisiana
This is probably one of the biggest concerns for inexperienced travelers, so thanks for bringing it to our attention! One of the things that seem to stop a lot of people from traveling (especially Americans) is this idea that the combined costs of transportation, entertainment, and accommodation add up to so much money that long-term travel is out of reach for most people. This idea is debatable as it relates to all three of these areas, but especially when talking about where to stay while traveling!
One of the most well-known ways to save money on accommodation is by staying in Hostels, though these still seem to be somewhat misunderstood. The traditional concept of hostels – sharing a room with between 3 and 24 snoring strangers – is still true in some places (and is still a great way to save money most of the time), but hostels in places like Europe offer a lot more than this these days. The photo above from the Hostel Ruthensteiner in Vienna, Austria (one of my personal favorite hostels) should give you some idea of what I mean. Tons of social space and activities, a great atmosphere, and access to kitchen/bar/laundry facilities. Beyond just the 10 Euro dorms, though, a lot of these also have private rooms for less than hotels.
Two other options that many longer-term travelers will point you towards are Couchsurfing (free) or AirBnB (not free). Both involve strangers opening up their spare couches/ spare bedrooms/ spare apartments to travelers, and while Couchsurfing is generally done with some intention towards cultural exchange AirBnB is generally more strictly transactional in nature. I’m a big fan of both of these, but if you’re absolutely new to independent solo travel they would actually not be my first suggestion. I would suggest getting used to being abroad on your own first, and signing up for Couchsurfing in order to attend some events as you’re traveling. Once you get a bit more accustomed to navigating foreign cities and cultures, then start considering these. Or, alternatively, try them out with a friend who has had some experience with them before?
Finally, one thing that can potentially save you a lot of money is staying for free at hotels! The idea of ‘travel hacking’ has become a lot more popular in the last few years. It applies equally to flights and hotels, and ranges from fairly straightforward maximization of credit card spending to endlessly complicated (but still totally legal) gaming of frequent flyer and frequent guest programs. The idea is far too broad to explore in-depth here. Suffice for now to say that last year I spent a week at a Hilton on the Red Sea in Egypt, a night at the Intercontinental Istanbul, and one at a Crowne Plaza just at the foot of Bourbon Street in New Orleans; altogether it came out to less than $100.
I hope that helps get you started? If you have any other questions, make sure to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do what we can to help!
If any of our readers have questions for the GoMad Nomad team, we’d be happy to address them on this column! Whatever you need help with, drop us a line at email@example.com or via the Contact page.