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Recently there has been an uptick of travel articles about house sitting. As if house sitting is a newly discovered process for reducing (or eliminating) your lodging expenses.
Here are eight other ways (not including house sitting) to pay no money on lodging when you travel.
- House Swapping. If you own a house, condo, etc., you can exchange properties with other world travelers. Imagine staying in an apartment in the center of Paris or on an ancient Italian farm. BONUS: most home exchangers also include their cars which further reduces your travel expenses. A couple of resources to check include: HomeExchange.com, HomeLink.org, and Digsville.com. Some home exchange organizations cater to a specific group, such as educators or Christians.
- Host. Exchange your labor or time for free lodging. Large campgrounds use campground hosts to handle registration and minor clean up duties. Many campground hosts spend entire seasons living in their luxury RVs with free utilities and camping fees. I met one Florida couple who spends every summer as park hosts in Alaska.
- Property Caretaker. Many historic properties and popular seasonal tourist destinations welcome people to stay for free in exchange for duties such as painting, cleaning and upgrading. How about something cool like being a lighthouse keeper for a short time? For an extreme example, think of The Shining.
- Camping. While many campgrounds charge fees, there are countless places to camp for free. Some websites with listings are FreeCampsites.net, FreeCampgrounds.com, and Boondocking.org.
- Parking Areas. On many road trips, I sleep in my car at least one night amongst the RVs in a Walmart parking lot. AllStays.com lists all locations in US and Canada (by state or province) with details, including whether they allow overnight parking (some do not). They also have a convenient mobile app. This past summer I car camped at the LIRR rail station parking lot in Montauk (Long Island, New York); the least expensive hotel room was over $400. I have heard from other travelers about sleeping overnight in their cars near police or fire stations, in church or library parking lots, or in other public or privately owned (with permission) spots. I once stopped at a rest area in Austria to take a quick nap and woke up eight hours later.
- Transportation. Plan your travel components to skip lodging. Take overnight trains, planes, buses, or ferries. During the summer, many people bring sleeping bags and sleep on the decks of Alaska ferries. In a pinch, you can try to sleep in airports or transportation stations.
- Adventure / Public Spaces. Every night people sleep on desert dunes, under boardwalks, on beaches, in parks, on boats. Long term thru hikers pitch their tents or sleeping pads in open nature each evening. A just finished a book about a man who lives in a cave near Moab, Utah (The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen).
- Friends. For feelings of comfort and familiarity (at no cost), probably nothing beats staying with friends. Use your Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin networks, contact school and work alumni, or find old and new friends through other means. Here is my prior article on Couchsurfing.
Do you have other suggestions for free lodging? Thank you.
Previous McCool Travel post ====> How I Saved 37% On My Latest Car Rental
© 2013, Charles McCool
In the late 1980s, I began taking extended sabbaticals to travel around the United States and then, in the 1990s, the world.
My longest break was from June 1993 through October 1994. My goal was to stick to a budget of $25 a day.
Whether my budget was defined or not, $25 or more or less, or just fly by the seats of my pants, I discovered and learned countless travel tips along the way.
Here are 8 great ways to stick to a cheap travel budget:
- Barter. I had a great arrangement with a former travel partner (now my wife). I “paid” for our flights with my frequent flyer awards and she covered other expenses until we were even. Essentially spending $0 a day for a few weeks allowed me to stick to my $25 a day budget and travel for a longer amount of time. Perhaps you will be able to sublet your residence, have an everything-must-go-so-I-can-travel sale, or find other ways to barter goods or services. You can speak English to Spanish business people in exchange for free room and board.
- Change Jar. Psychologically, if I use $4 in coins, I do not count it toward my $25 a day. Yeah, I know, money is money but I am trying to be creative. How about starting a long road trip with a large jar of coins? How long could this man have extended a trip?
- Cheap Sleeps. The longer your trip, the larger percentage of your budget will be taken up by lodging. Now is the time to tap your network and cash in favors. Don’t be shy, try friends of friends. Any place with a spare bed, sofa, floor space, or lawn will do. I spent the night before one birthday parked on a golf course in British Columbia (intentionally!). If you are in a position to house swap, you will essentially have free lodging and perhaps a car. On my longest sabbatical, we would often camp or car camp for a few days before staying in a hotel, effectively lowering our average daily lodging cost to about $12 (per person). Please see previous McCool Travel posts about Couchsurfing, hostels, and #1 tip for cheaper lodging.
- Cheap Meals. Longer trips also increase the percentage of budget eaten up by meals. Please see previous McCool Travel posts about ways to slash dining costs and alternatives to fast food. Just make sure you avoid buffets.
- Sponsorship. In the early 1990s, I envied the Mad Monks. They solicited sponsorships from family, friends, and followers to finance a 47,000 mile road trip. If you are a modern day mad monk, travel blogger, travel writer, or other go-getter, you may be able to stick to a cheap travel budget by soliciting free or discounted trips from travel suppliers, visitor centers, and other groups.
- Be Local. You will save money by acting like or becoming a local. Markets and produce stands are much cheaper than restaurant meals. Independently owned motels charge less than chain hotels. Even better are destinations where people rent rooms in their homes. In northern Australia I stayed in a private room with shared bath for $4 a night.
- Travel Cheaper. This is just a catch-all category for overall travel cost cutting. McCool Travel has hundreds of posts with tips to save money on every trip while having more fun. If you have a finite amount of funds, then the less you spend overall every day means the longer amount of time you can travel. Right?
- Your turn. Leave a comment with your most creative way to stick to a cheap travel budget. Thank you.
To read previous posts in the Road Trip Diet series click here.
Previous McCool Travel post ====> 8 Great Ways to Select a Restaurant
© 2012, Charles McCool
Yesterday I took our family guinea pig pet, Slinky, outside for “grass time.” Slinky LOVES to eat grass. That is probably his favorite thing in the world.
However, Slinky was hesitant to eat the grass yesterday. He was completely protected. I was right next to him. He was covered by his cage top and his little wooden house was there. He still had plenty of room to run around inside the cage top and eat grass.
The problem was that there was too much noise. Slinky is sensitive to noise.
One neighbor was mowing his lawn. Some kids were yelling at the playground across the street. There were lots of birds cawing and chirping.
Yeah, it was probably the bird noises that made him nervous. Some primal instinct.
Even though Slinky loves eating grass, he was afraid to leave his comfort zone to do so.
We are like that about travel.
We are comfortable at home.
It is scary to go to new places, even though we know that we are going to have a great time.
It is scary to try new foods, even though we know we will enjoy them once we do.
It is scary to try new activities, well, you know the rest.
Although I have traveled for many years, I still have a comfort zone of familiarity. I want to fly on a familiar airline and rent a car to explore.
In the past fourteen months, I have taken a few trips without renting a car and relying on public transportation. That was outside of my typical comfort zone but I wanted to try it.
During this time I also specifically arranged connecting flights in order to stay up all night in New York City and Madrid. Very scary–but I survived (and enjoyed it).
A few months ago, I negotiated a hotel room rate. I have tried it a few times but am still a novice. I also stayed with a complete stranger in Morocco through Couchsurfing. Tip: see my post about alternatives to hotel rooms.
Many Americans travel to other countries and stay in American chain hotel properties and eat at chain restaurants. I find it more fun and usually cheaper to eat like a local and stay in non chain lodging. When in Rome…
I have not always been like this, however. On my first trip to Europe, I stayed in a Holiday Inn and ate only in the hotel or Hard Rock Cafe. Another trip was to Hong Kong, before I liked Chinese food–and I did not try it there. Oh, to do that trip gain!
How about you? Do you break out of your comfort zone on trips? What is something you have always wanted to try?
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
In Old School Trip Planning, I said that I would not use any apps on my trip to Morocco. How did I do?
Well, I succeeded. I visited Morocco without using apps and made it home in one piece.
I did pre-trip research in guidebooks and online, so I had a basic plan for my four short days in Morocco.
My new Couchsurfing friend in Casablanca gave me a couple of tips for visiting Marrakech and helped me decide not to see to much. I considered zipping through Marrakech and visiting Rabat and Sale on my last afternoon and evening. Instead, I spent more time in Marrakech and the last evening in Casablanca.
On the train ride to Marrakech I talked to several locals. One was a merchant with a tour guide friend. It seems that everyone in Morocco has a cousin, brother, or friend who knows the sights better than anyone else. I was cautious and skeptical toward the merchant and his friend–but it worked out. The merchant suggested a decent hotel in a great location and the tour guide (with a private driver) drove me there from the train station. I got an impromptu tour of Marrakech and saved on the taxi fare.
The next day the tour guide and a different driver took me on a tour into Ourika Valley–including a stop at a Sunday market, Argan oil shop, Berber house, and 2 hour waterfall hike. All for less than price of me renting a car. Nice deal!
OK, I did not use apps but I did use email, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. I did not use an international plan or any fancy service. For my iPhone, I turned off notifications and switched to Airplane mode. I was able to use wi-fi when available, including at the fantastic Arsat Moulay Abdessalam (Cyber Parc) in Marrakech.
As I listed in my recent 8 Great Travel Lessons post, my trips are more memorable when unwiring, doing minimal research, talking to locals, and walking and exploring.
What are your experiences? Do you find apps useful or unessential? What great travel apps do you use?
© 2011, Charles McCool
Finding hotel discounts is great. Even better is FREE lodging.
Indeed, you can travel anywhere in the world and drastically cut or even eliminate lodging expenses. How does that sound?
Couchsurfing (CS) has over 2.5 million members worldwide that offer hospitality (lodging, tour guide, or meet for coffee), seek hospitality, or both. With CS, you Host and/or Surf.
Our mission as an organization is to create inspiring experiences: cross-cultural encounters that are fun, engaging, and illuminating. These experiences take many forms. CouchSurfing’s initial focus was on hosting and “surfing” (staying with a local as a guest in their home). Alongside these core experiences, we now also facilitate a growing array of activities and events.
CSers are everywhere. CS is popular in Europe; over 50% of CSers (1.4 million) live there. 100 CSers claim Antarctica as their residence. Even more remote, one person speaks Pemon and three people speak Mortlockese. The average CS age is 28 but there are more than 20,000 CSers over 60 years of age.
After registering with CS, you can search for Hosts in desired locations. For my trip to Morocco, I found a Host in Casablanca who was a CS veteran (had great ratings and comments), spoke English, and was available. We actually had a series of email exchanges for a few weeks before my arrival. My Host is an English instructor at the American Language Center and travels much. He (and most CSers) have extensive profiles that allay most concerns.
You can search for Hosts of certain age ranges, male or female or couples, availability to meet for coffee or host (provide free lodging) for a night or more, and other factors. Searching is free so give it a try.
OK, I have used CS one time and there are thousands of others with much more CS experience. However, it is such a fantastic program and I expect (and hope) to participate more in the future.
More than simply providing a place to sleep, my host shared a local viewpoint, including great places to eat, visit, shop, and see. He knew the local customs and characteristics. He caught the taxi driver setting the meter for the night rate (50% higher) and coached him where to drive and drop off. Just the things that a first-time visitor would not know.
A particular highlight was visiting the Plage Aïn Diab area, which is not mentioned in guidebooks. The housing area off the beach is where people go to have spells cast, I was told. I did not ask if that meant voodoo.
During high tide, it is an island only reached by boat. The tide was low when I visited and we could walk there. Nearby, we had mint tea on the beach served by Berber women.
© 2011, Charles McCool
I just returned from a short trip to Morocco and Madrid. I did not have to travel thousands of miles to learn these lessons but the trip helped reinforce them.
- Limit Research. Too much planning results in less fun. Be spontaneous. See what happens. Before the trip, I spent too much time reading guidebooks and trolling message boards. I hardly (truly!) used much of that advance knowledge. In fact, I left half my notes at home and did not miss them.
- Locals Rule. Having someone local (a new contact through Couchsurfing) show me favorite spots in Casablanca made a huge difference. Plus, I had FREE lodging for a night.
- Walk. Take time to explore by foot. Get lost. Especially in the Moroccan medinas, it is easy to get lost; it is scary, adventurous, exciting, but also safe. Two of my recent travel BFFs, Samantha Brown and Bruce Northam, are huge walking fans. So, believe them if not me!
- Money. If your home currency is strong, don’t stress about getting the absolute best deal. I spent too much time worrying about 10 Dirhams (about $1.25). I paid the equivalent of $75 for my own luxury car, driver, and tour guide for a day. The cheapest rental car was $70. I still spent too much time wondering if I was paying too much. Silly!
- Unwire. I also spent too much time looking for wi-fi locations. Why? To update Facebook and Twitter? I should have limited online time to a few minutes in the morning and evening–which is what happened anyway. I spent too many minutes searching for wi-fi during the day.
- Back Door. Rick Steves has long preached traveling “through the back door”–trimming expenses by using local resources, including lodging, eating, and sights. I had a glass of mint tea for 1 Dirham (about 12 cents) on the beach served by Berber women with local music playing in the background. I also could have paid 40 Dirhams for a glass of mint tea at the Hyatt. That is just one example.
- Too Much. I have a tendency to want to see too much. On my first trip as an adult to Europe, I practically drove straight from Amsterdam to Courmayer because I wanted to see everything. As a result, I saw nothing. I decided to only see Casablanca and Marrakech during my three full days in Morocco.
- Professional Musician is an Oxymoron. (WARNING: rant) Watching any act in Marrakech’s Djemaa el-Fna is an unwritten invitation for a collection plate being thrust into your face within seconds. Forget about trying to take a picture or video without hassle. Yes, that is the price for being a visitor here. I could not help but compare it with two nearby performances. First was a child’s chorus in the amphitheater at Arsat Moulay Abdeslam (Cyber Parc). The group had unabashed joy and infectious songs. Second was a drum circle group around the fountain at Parc Lalla Hasna. This group of young men were superior to the many drum circles in the Djemaa. They had more energy, better variety of tunes, and females danced alongside–acts in the Djemaa are more, let’s say, “traditional.” I listened to both groups for more than 15 minutes and remain highlights of my trip. I would have gladly given these groups several times the amount of Dirhams that the Djemaa acts requested but neither group wanted money; they simply played for the love of music. Fantastic! Unfortunately, most the portions that I recorded are on the Flip Camera that I left on the train. Below is one shot of the crowded Djemaa just before sunset.
© 2011, Charles McCool
McCool Travel is excited to present tips from travel experts in our 5 Minutes interview series featuring travel industry giants, super frequent travelers, and adventurous persons.
For the eighth profile, I am thrilled to present Melvin Boecher–Founder, Owner, and Editor of the popular travel website TravelDudes.org. Melvin lives in Köln (Cologne), Germany, where I reached him for some travel tips and thoughts. The inspiration for TravelDudes is “great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels.”
Always in my luggage…
Definitely my flip flops (unless I travel to Antarctica) & my sunglasses
3 favorite home-away-from-home places…
A favorite travel memory is…
3 favorite travel brands…
I don’t have any. I like all and nothing. The brands I like should be fair & should care about quality.
3 money-saving travel tactics I use are…
- Sleep in the car, once in a while. Saves you some good money & then you can spend that money for a good trip/tour.
- Try to travel together. Share rides & other transport.
- Go couchsurfing. Meet locals & have a great time.
3 ways that I have fun while traveling are…
- To travel independent. I love to self-drive & do everything organized by my own. Things don’t always work out, but like that and because of that, you have amazing experiences.
- Just to sit in a cafe, read a magazine/newspaper & chill a bit. Experience the atmosphere around you.
- Do some adventures, which you wouldn’t be able to do at home. Explore gorges, watch wild animals, go kayaking, hiking etc.
8 word (or less) travel mantra…
Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.
My favorite non-travel website…
Thank you, Melvin, for sharing your thoughts with McCool Travel and may you have countless more memorable travel adventures!
Share responses by leaving a comment or contacting me directly by email (CharlesMcCool -at- gmail -dot- com).
© 2011, Charles McCool
In a previous post, I said that there is one travel tip that will help you save money (and have more fun)–on EVERY trip.
#1 Travel Tip for Saving Money
*** Be FLEXIBLE ***
I will assume that your destination and dates of travel are fixed (because you probably found a great airfare). Otherwise, I would start this post by saying be flexible about the dates and areas you stay.
Here are some ways to be flexible about travel lodging and SAVE MONEY:
* Be Flexible About How You Book Lodging
Hotel rates can vary greatly between booking websites (such as Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity), discounters (such as Hotels.com), and hotel websites (such as Hilton.com). Individual properties may have their own website; the San Juan Embassy Suites often lists specials that are not found on EmbassySuites.com or hilton.com. I like a tool called TravelAxe; it compares rates from many sources. Special rates sometimes materialize when you directly call the property.
* Be Flexible About Using Discount Codes
The best way to get lower hotel rates is to use a discount code. My favorite discount programs are AAA and Entertainment. However, if I find a better discount code, I am going to use it. Discount codes can be listed in magazine ads, emails, websites, and message boards. By the way, join the frequent stayer program for any or all hotel chains you expect to stay (they will send discount offers by email). Here is a link to a list of Marriott discount codes on FlyerTalk.com. If you are going to a conference or planning group travel, the organization may negotiate a better rate than any discount program.
* Be Flexible and Bid for a Room
Reverse auctions, like Priceline and Hotwire, are excellent sources for lodging discounts. I recently had nightly rates in Ft. Lauderdale of $25 and Orlando of $17. I recommend using Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel to research strategies, methods, and historical rates. These websites will turbo-charge your travel bidding experience!
* Be Flexible About Where You Stay, Part 1
Even if you are loyal to a hotel chain, such as Starwood or Hyatt, you can stay at different places in the same city or area. Properties in the city are usually more expensive on weekdays while suburban properties are the opposite. Perhaps the best example of flexibility in hotel choice saving you money and allowing you to have more fun is staying in a room with a kitchenette. Having at least a mini fridge can save you money on dining costs.
* Be Flexible About Where You Stay, Part 2
OK, enough about hotels, for now. Being really flexible results in many other choices. More choices means better chances to get cheaper lodging rates. For instance, consider bed and breakfasts. B&Bs are more fun for many travelers and often less expensive. How about a two bedroom, two bathroom condo for the same price as a standard hotel room? Vacation rental properties include condos, apartments, boats, castles, farms, and more. More choices: how about hostels? monasteries? university dorms? For true budget experience, try Servas or Couchsurfing.
* Be Flexible and Assertive
In exchange for about two hours of your vacation you can save much money. How? By attending a timeshare presentation. While I do not consider it fun, others do or tolerate it to get excellent travel deals.
* Be Really, Really Flexible
Home exchange is not for everyone but veteran exchangers love it. Imagine staying in a downtown Paris apartment, Tuscan villa, or South Pacific beach home–for FREE. If you have a swappable property, then you can find people all over the world willing to trade for a week, month, or longer. In addition to saving thousands of dollars on lodging, you might exchange vehicles and have no rental car expense. Brilliant!
* Anything Else?
How about you? Do you have any other general areas of flexibility for getting cheaper lodging deals? Leave your comments below. Thank you. Future posts will describe lodging travel tips in greater detail.
© 2010 Charles McCool
My AYJC pass starts out with the shuttle ride at IAD, where I met the pilot of my first flight and another fellow AYJCer, Drew Lawrence. While most people (including me) are using the JetBlue pass for fun, Drew is on a mission.
Drew wants to raise awareness about cancer, inspired by his mother’s death from cancer when he was a freshman at the University of Virginia. Drew is submitting daily video blogs and frequent Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare updates. His campaign is organic, using social media and networking to spread the word, meet people and to serve as his travel guidebook.
Drew will be traveling and not see his Albemarle county Virginia home for 30 days. While he booked several flights, he admits that this trip experience may take on a life of its own. He intends to end the trip with three days in Puerto Rico but notes that he can be swayed to change flights for media spots and for fun.
The subtext of his trek is to visit 29 cities in 29 days before his 29th birthday; and fly more than 29,000 miles (his booked flights total over 33,000). His motto is “no limits and whatever possible.” He did not book any hotels in advance and has no real list of must-sees. He has no budget but wants to spend as little as possible.
Tools that he is using include TripIt, Yelp, GateGuru, TaxiMagic and Meetup iPhone apps. He expects to use Couchsurfing to find places to stay in a pinch but hopes to meet enough people to share hotels or, of course, stay for free.
Good luck, Drew. You can follow his progress at 29daysuntil29.com and on Twitter @drewlawrence.
P.S. That JetBlue pilot gave Drew some cash and said that it was for a lunch. Drew said it and all donations are being given to the American Red Cross. I was impressed and inspired by the actions of both men.
© 2010 Charles McCool