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.
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?
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?