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I feel like most people’s dream is to go traveling around the world with one of The PNW packable backpacks on their back and not a care in the world… Unfortunately, not all of us have got the wealth to achieve the dream of traveling. If you do it then it’s budgeting all the way.
Let’s face it: sometimes the most expensive part of travel is finding a cheap place to stay. When traveling on a budget, if you’re up for it, sometimes you can find cheap hotels outside of the city. If you’re lucky, the city you’re visiting will have good public transportation and you can take a bus or subway/light rail to get around. If you’re not lucky, you can be stuck spending money on taxis if you’re too far away to walk.
It would be a lot easier if people didn’t have to budget when it comes to going on vacation. For example, I know that some people would love to spend their money on a company like NetJets as this would provide them with a great experience when it comes to traveling. But this is a post about traveling on a budget, so keep on reading for more tips on what you can do to make your traveling a bit easier. One way you can reduce your expenses is by deciding before what you really want to do there and the sort of accommodation you would like to stay in.
However, what if you’re on a serious budget, or, and it happens, what if there is a conference in town and all of the hotels are expensive, even the ones outside of the city?
Enter traveling on a budget: Couchsurfing (or AirBnB if you have some money to spend)!
Cheap Places to Stay: Beware
Let’s start with the obvious: Couchsurfing and AirBnB in particular have had some bad press lately. If AirBnB isn’t completely banned or regulated by your city yet, it may soon be. That may be something you should check out, especially with everything that has gone on in New York recently. Make sure AirBnB is legal in the city you’re visiting before showing up!
Most of the other bad press, particularly for AirBnB, has been on the side of people who rent out their homes or rooms. While these stories are horrible, I’m hopefully directing this post to the people who genuinely want to stay in a city for a few days or week and who aren’t looking to take advantage of people. 🙂
In regards to Couchsurfing, the usual cautions apply: if the person you’re thinking of staying with doesn’t have good reviews, or doesn’t have any reviews, beware. Contact the person(s) you want to stay with, and try to communicate with them ahead of time. Meet them in a public place before going to their home/apartment, and trust your gut. If something about the person or people you want to stay with seems ‘off’, try something else.
All of that out of the way: I have not had a bad experience using Couchsurfing or AirBnB. While my Couchsurfing days are over (B is not keen on staying in people’s homes, and he prefers BnBs), I have been on both sides as both a guest and a host.
Traveling on a budget: Couchsurfing
If you are traveling on a budget, and are a little more adventurous, you may want to try Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is marketed as more than just a place to stay: it is a cultural experience. I have only couchsurfed in Europe, so that in itself was already a cultural experience, but I like Couchsurfing for a lot of reasons.
I liked couchsurfing, particularly in another country, because you are generally staying with someone in their house. Unlike AirBnB, where you sometimes are renting someone’s place and they’re not there, couchsurfers, as they’re called, are generally letting you stay in a guest bedroom or on their couch, while they go on living there. You are a guest in their home, and they are your hosts.
Couchsurfing is great if you’re traveling on a budget, because it’s free. However, when I say free, it doesn’t mean you just stay in someone’s house and do whatever you want. Although not required, you are encouraged to do something nice for your host while you’re there. For example, when I couchsurfed, I have bought hosts coffee, a dinner out, or left them with a lovely bottle (or two) of wine they mentioned they liked.
Lots of couchsurfer hosts are terrific – they usually go above and beyond regular hosting duties to take you out on the town, out to clubs or bars or just out for a walk around the city. Lots of couchsurfer hosts act as a tour guide to their city, either physically, walking around with you, or indirectly, by giving you maps and local advice about places to go and things to see – things that tourists don’t usually know about!
However, if sleeping on someone’s couch sounds weird to you (and lots of people think that, so don’t worry!), you may want to investigate AirBnB. Sometimes AirBnB hosts act as tour guides, although not usually, and they are more expensive than couchsurfing (because, duh, couchsurfing is free), but it’s a great idea especially if you need more room.
Traveling on a budget: AirBnB
Like I mentioned, AirBnB has gotten some bad press, both in terms of legislation, and people being horrible and taking advantage of AirBnB hosts. However, if the city you are visiting allows AirBnB, and you don’t plan on squatting in someone’s home, AirBnB is a great option over hotels when you’re traveling on a budget.
I have only stayed at a handful of AirBnB places, but every time, I have been staying in someone’s house (or second home) without them there, which gives you a lot more freedom. A few times, the places I stayed at also had a washer and dryer, which was refreshing after a week and a half of traveling!
The pluses to AirBnB are getting a larger place, like an apartment or a home, at a cheaper price than what you would pay at a hotel for a similar sized room or suite. The bonuses of AirBnB are your hosts – every time I have stayed at AirBnB places, we have had lovely hosts who go out of their way to tell us about places locals like to visit, provide us maps and directions to delicious restaurants, or tell us about fun activities happening in the city that aren’t as publicized.
Since you’re paying for AirBnB, you’re not required (or strongly encouraged) like you are with Couchsurfing, to give your host any gifts. Sometimes I have left the host something, again, a bottle of wine or some flowers, but sometimes, especially if I didn’t actually see the host (corresponding through email or phone), I would usually leave the house in the same condition and call it good.
Are You Ready to Give Up Hotels?
Just kidding, you don’t have to give up staying in hotels. Sometimes, I prefer to stay in a hotel because you get more anonymity than you do at an AirBnB, or Couchsurfing, or at a regular bed and breakfast. Lately, I’ve been taking short trips, where I don’t have a whole lot of time to spend chatting with a host. For example, when I was in Portland staying at the hotel. I’ve been to Portland a million times (exaggerating, but not by much!) and I don’t necessarily need someone to give me advice. Plus, I’m visiting friends – they are built-in advice. 🙂
However, Couchsurfing and AirBnB are great alternatives for you if you want a more intimate experience. Especially if you don’t have much to spend and are traveling on a budget, and want to get a cultural experience, Couchsurfing is amazing. I had a great time traveling around Europe and meeting up with Couchsurfers! You don’t even have to stay with them if you don’t want to – lots of Couchsurfers are up for meeting people for coffee and to share fun things to do in their cities.
I like AirBnB for having more space, or for traveling with a group of people. Sometimes nothing beats having a few rooms and a washer and dryer for restoring your peace and sanity while traveling, especially with family members.
Have you ever couchsurfed or used AirBnB to travel more cheaply? Would you ever ‘couch surf’? What are you experiences using AirBnB – have you found it cheaper or just as expensive as a hotel?
I would never couchsurf to save money. It just seems like a bad idea!
Yeahhhh, looking back on it now, I definitely wouldn’t do it again. But as a naive 20 year old, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I always couchsurfed (and hosted couchsurfers) with friends, so I was never alone. That was my justification. Honestly, I just wouldn’t do it now because I like the creature comforts of my own room, where I don’t have to talk to people if I don’t feel like it! 🙂
NZ Muse says
Why a bad idea?!
I adore both CS and Airbnb (have been on both sides for CS but only as a guest for Airbnb). Great post!
It may depend on the people around you… when I was in Europe, Couchsurfing seemed like an awesome idea and everyone (mostly Europeans, but some Americans caught on) was doing it to save money. When I got back to the US, my roommates thought I was INSANE for wanting to host couchsurfers. However, we did host and my roommates actually came around to the idea! One roommate loved it, and the other was just okay with it.
It might be hard for some people to get over the ‘this person could murder you’ thing, which is completely reasonable. I didn’t have a lot of self-preservation instincts back then, so I mostly ignored that feeling when I couchsurfed. But I DID listen to my gut, and I never stayed with anyone I didn’t feel comfortable with.
The only reason I don’t do couchsurfing nowadays is a) I’m usually traveling with people, and staying with more than 1 other person gets difficult for the couchsurf hosts and b) I like the creature comforts of my own place, which you’ll typically get in a traditional hotel or AirBnb. I tend to be messy when I travel, and I always felt guilty for leaving things around when I couchsurfed 😉
It’s a great experience though, and I am glad I did it!
Erin @ Journey to Saving says
This is a great review of both options. I don’t think my boyfriend would be a fan of either, unless the host wasn’t there (in AirBnB’s case). I know there’s a whole culture around couchsurfing, and it sounds like an interesting way to meet people, but I’m not that adventurous! They are great alternatives, though, especially with the price of some hotels. When I was looking into Asheville, NC, I saw some going for $500/night!
$500 a night?! That’s insane! Is there a conference in town that weekend?
I get where your BF is coming from and, if you guys are up for it, I’ve noticed a lot of times hosts won’t be there (for AirBnB). I’ve noticed some hosts say that they’ll leave a key with the neighbor, or hidden in a lockbox (giving you the password, of course), and instructions are left on the table. That’s a nice way of avoiding the host 🙂 If you decide to do it, a lot of hosts tell you up front how available they will be to entertain you (or not) and you can screen that way 🙂
Sylvia @ Miss PF says
I LOVE AirBnB. I feel like I should be a spokesperson for them or something. I always look at AirBnB before looking at hotels now. I have not tried CouchSurfing yet.
AirBnb is sooo awesome, I agree about the spokesperson thing too! 🙂 Couchsurfing is great, and obviously cheaper, but if you want your own place, AirBnb can’t be beat! 🙂