Rooms (or Couches) on the Cheap
With the economy fluctuating and the dollar’s strength questionable, many people think that a vacation is not in their budget.
But vacation accommodations don’t have to break the bank.
Worldwide, there are several reasonable, cheap and even free ways to get a room while getting away from it all. These aren’t the stereotypical overcrowded hostels with grimy conditions, either.
The trick to rooming comfortably on a budget is thinking outside the hotel room.
First, consider staying in a monastery. Sure, the rooms tend to be spartan, but the price is far below that of a hotel. Some monasteries are geared toward religious travelers, but others offer hospitality to all strangers. These types of monasteries rely on paying guests to keep running, and while they cost very little, they can have rigid rules for visitors.
You won’t get a TV, Internet access or an in-room telephone, and many don’t allow drinking, smoking or breaking curfew (consider that you might get locked out for the night if you aren’t in your room on time!). The beds tend to be single-sized and meals are frequently vegetarian, but if you want a quiet, inexpensive place to stay and take in the local culture, monasteries can be a great option.
Do your homework before you go, though: Some monasteries don’t take reservations, and some international sites don’t have any English-speaking members to help you with translations. Most have off-limits areas, so respect the boundaries set by the monks if you want to remain a guest.
For a list of monasteries that make for fascinating and inexpensive lodging, check out The Complete Travel Detective Bible in a bookstore near you.
If a monastery isn’t your style, think about couch-swapping. For solo travelers, the relatively recent rise of “hospitality exchange” websites means easier access to lists of places where residents will let you crash on their couch for free. There are no guarantees of safety if you decide to stay with a stranger who is opening his or her home to you, but if you want a full-immersion experience in a new place, it could be the way to go.
In addition, many hospitality exchange sites take safety precautions for site users in an effort to preserve security for couch-swappers. Sites like servas.org, hospitalityclub.org, globalfreeloaders.com and welcometraveller.org offer listings of host homes as well as travel tips, member feedback and, of course, strong encouragement for couch surfers to offer their own homes to other travelers in the spirit of give-and-take hospitality.
If you decide to try this lodging option, remember these tips for your own safety: let other people know where you’ll be (including the name and phone number of your host); have a back-up plan in case the host arrangement doesn’t work out; carry a list of emergency contacts; keep a photocopy of your passport and/or ID separate from the originals; bring two credit cards (and store them in different places); and provide feedback about your host or guest on the site that brought you together so that other people who use the site can make an informed decision about their own travel plans.
For more safety tips and information on the topic, don’t miss this article: Couch Surfing: Sleep on the Cheap.
Last, there’s always house-swapping. You and another homeowner switch houses for a few days, weeks – or even longer – giving both of you a free place to stay in a new location.
There are many home-swapping websites out there, and they offer the same warnings about safety that are present with the couch-swapping option. Still, if you communicate frequently with the other homeowner ahead of time, get background information, and exchange photos of yourself and your home, you can cover all the bases of this mostly plan-it-yourself experience.
Make sure you and the other homeowner exchange lists of responsibilities and expectations, as well, including any pets in the house, alarms to be set, etc. And of course, let neighbors know about the swap, both for security reasons and to give your house’s temporary tenants some local contacts in a strange place.
For more help with house-swapping, check out Making a Home Stay Work for You.
With some creative thinking and advanced planning, comfortable trip lodging can cost you little to nothing. Just be sure to use common sense and be safe as you explore the many options for low-cost stays.
By Erica Adams for PeterGreenberg.com.