For baby boomers, saving money on accommodations can be tougher than for young travelers.
Dormitory-style hostels and CouchSurfing may have much less appeal than for those in their 20s or 30s.
Camping — at least the type (unlike “glamping” or glamorous camping) that leaves you trying to get a decent night’s sleep in a bag on the ground — can be tough on the back (with legitimate concerns that you might not be able to straighten up at all in the morning).
But, as guest poster Jesse Miller contends, “It’s still possible to enjoy a five-star housing experience without paying a five-star price.” The key, Miller says, “is to live like the locals do. This means avoiding more traditional options (such as pricey hotels and resorts) and immersing yourself in opportunities to interact with the people” of the country you’re visiting — or with other travelers.
Living like the locals do will also help you save money on food while traveling.
By Jesse Miller
Saving Money on Accommodations
1. Look for hostels
Avoid the cookie-cutter luxury hotel experience in favor of a cheaper and more communal experience. In general, staying at a hostel offers opportunities to explore a city while paying for only the most essential amenities: a bed, a roof, and a safe place to hang your hat.
Hostelworld is an authority on these cheap, community-based options. This site shows top-rated hostels in hundreds of locations based on the input of users, tailoring the experience you will have to your preferences.
My note: Check out the website Hostelz.com; it’s even more comprehensive and you can compare prices from all other booking sites. And keep in mind that many hostels in Europe and elsewhere are not just for younger travelers! In Europe, it’s very common to find older travelers staying there as well. And you can usually book private rooms, with baths, at prices considerably lower than at comparable hotels.
2. When it comes to roommates, the more the merrier.
Arguably, one of the biggest appeals of traveling is having conversations you strike up with strangers from different walks of life. In hostels, dormitory-style rooms are cheaper to rent and allow you to meet travelers from all around the world who can give you perspectives about their home countries. Their insights could help you find a potential future destination, so don’t be shy!
My note: Any decent hostel should have lockers (with locks and keys!) to store valuables, so safety shouldn’t be an issue — though lack of privacy may well be. It all depends on your openness to such situations. In any event, a good hostel will include an active community area where you can chat with other travelers in a relaxed setting.
3. Check out Airbnb.
Airbnb offers rental houses (or parts of houses) that are typically somewhat cheaper than hotels, especially if you have, say, a two- or three-generation family traveling together and can divide expenses. The organization handles payments and makes sure everything is on the up and up.
4. Consider CouchSurfing.
CouchSurfing offers space to stay in a local person’s home, which is entirely free. While you and your travel partners have to be comfortable sharing space with strangers — and possibly, as the name suggests, sleeping on a couch — you may pick up some valuable advice from your host on what to do in your destination. Then you can host others when you return home.
5. Get your money’s worth.
Even with various forms of budget accommodation, ask yourself if you may be paying for add-ons that you really don’t want or need — you may be able to find something cheaper that will suit you just fine.
Saving Money on Food
6. Eat away from the touristy areas of the city.
Restaurants in highly visited locations often charge more simply for being convenient (and because they can). In general, you’ll find that the farther you walk away from these areas the cheaper the food is — but often only a few blocks will do the trick. And ignore pushy greeters or waiters; ask to check out a restaurant’s menu before committing to eat there.
7. Don’t be afraid to eat in places that aren’t top-rated restaurants.
By opting for less celebrated eateries, you won’t lose much from your dining experience except some of the cost. In fact, the food found in neighborhood restaurants is often better and truer to the local culture than those the guidebooks rave about.
8. Be your own chef.
If you’re staying somewhere with cooking facilities, buy groceries and make dinner some nights — or at least your breakfasts and/or lunches. As with all other aspects of cutting travel costs, pick your battles. Treat yourself to some nice meals out during your stay, but save money — and enjoy truly local foods — by shopping at the inviting open-air markets that add local color to much of the world.
9. Bring your water bottle
A water bottle or travel mug is an invaluable asset for staying hydrated for free while traveling. Because it’s easy to find water fountains or sinks in airports, bus terminals, and train stations, you can refill your bottle as often as you like. An added bonus? You save on calories and possible dehydration from sodas and other drinks you might otherwise purchase.
Pro-Tip: Make sure to check into the quality of water when you’re in a new environment. While it will be fine to drink from the tap in most locations, there are some countries where tap water is only usable for showering, the toilet, and washing clothes and dishes. In these places, make sure to buy bottled water — the cost will be less than the potential medical expenses you incur after drinking contaminated water.
10. Don’t eat your budget up.
Remember, while important, food only makes up part of your travel budget — and what you spend on it will subtract from what you can spend on sightseeing, entertainment, and getting around. Avoid three sit-down meals per day — stop at a cafe for breakfast of coffee and pastry (in Europe, you may save money by standing at the counter), grab a sandwich for lunch and eat it in a park, cook a few meals yourself if possible, and you can still enjoy at least one good sit-down meal per day.