In the summer of 2013 I saved €800 on my stays in Bruges, Southern France and Barcelona. And I didn’t even have to sleep in a cardboard box under a bridge! By being a bit creative I saved up a whole extra holiday. By being on holiday! Say what?! I’ll tell you how you can save up this much on your accommodation as well.
It happened when me and my best friend were dreaming away while watching ‘The Holiday’. I didn’t know what I wanted more: staying in the cute English cottage in the snow, or in a beautiful sunny villa in Los Angeles. As you might know, the movie is about two women who spontaneously decide to swap their houses (and thus their lives). My 14-year-old self was interested, and I promised myself I would go house swapping as soon as I would have my own house (a moldy student room didn’t count). At the moment I’ve completed two house swaps. The principle is quite simple: you pay a small monthly or yearly fee to Home Exchange so you can create a profile. From that point on you can reply on other people’s houses, and they can reply on yours. And if it works out (like with us) you’ll have your own apartment in Barcelona for 10 days. For free!
My apartment on houseexchange.com
Airbnb offers two of the best ways for saving money: you can rent a place with multiple people, and you have a kitchen that you can use (hey, saving up on food!). If you have no one to share an apartment with, you could also rent a room in someone’s house. This is often much cheaper than renting a hotel room. And the best thing: you’ll meet locals who can show you the best places in town.
For about €15 to €20 you’ve got yourself a hostel bed in Europe. And what’s not to like? You’ll have lots of fun with likeminded travelers and most of the time there’s a kitchen, so you can cook your own meal when you don’t have the money to go out for dinner. If you’re not really looking forward to sharing a room with 7 snoring room mates: nowadays many hostels offer private rooms too, and even good options for families with children. They are slightly prettier, and slightly pricier, but then again it feels like you’re sleeping in a hotel (I can still hear my dad yelling: “I don’t want to use a toilet where a total stranger just took a shit!”)
If you don’t want to pay for your stay at all, but you’re open to meeting nice people, you can register for free at couchsurfing.com. The idea is simple. Select a city and the website tells you who’s living here and if they’re open to hosting you. The whole couchsurfing community is friendly, fun, open and relaxed and they all like meeting new people and making new friends. I once slept on the couch in the common area of a student house and got woken up about three times by students who brought me extra blankets and pillows. So sweet!
I tried this for the first time a few years ago. Climbing up the hill through the trees in the middle of the night to pee on a toilet while next to me there was a salamander creeping up the wall was not really my idea of fun. Camping (especially off-season) can be super cheap. At a great campsite with a lovely pool we only paid €13 a night – for the two of us. Add to that the fact that you can cook your own meals (cheap camping food) and it’s a really profitable option. I’m not sure if it’s for me, but staying at the Cote d’Azur for €6,50 a night is an offer you can’t refuse.
Staying with friends
This might sound like an open door, but always check if you know someone (who maybe knows someone?) where you can stay. It definitely helped us save up money while we were traveling through the US for a month. Maybe you have a distant relative in South-Afrika? Mexico? Asking kindly works miracles, but make sure to never stay over a week. This can be quite a burden to your family, especially if you usually don’t talk to or see them a lot. But let’s be honest: what’s better than a free stay and catching up with family or friends you haven’t seen in forever?
It definitely pays off to keep an eye on offers and discounts. For example, I went away multiple times with a hotel voucher, and I’ve also managed to score cheap all inclusive holidays to Egypt through holiday auction websites. So yes, it truly does work, and most of the times it’s trustworthy too. Make sure to do your research though: too good to be true is often too good to be true…
I also signed up for the newsletter of Le Club Accorhotels (which features chains like Ibis and Novotel). A while back I got an email which said that if you booked a trip to Budapest, not only would you get one night for free, but you’d also get tickets for the thermal baths and a discount on other touristic attractions. And on top of that you would collect twice as many points during your stay. I still think it was quite a tempting offer!
Speaking of collecting points… I’m not really convinced so far. It’s mostly interesting for business travellers who are staying a lot in hotels anyway. And of course: the more expensive the hotel, the more points you collect. With Ibis I believe you only get half a point for every euro. You can use your saved up points for upgrades and free stays. But still: if you’re staying somewhere anyway, you’d better just collect all your points. Who knows where you might use them for in the future!
Of course there’s also websites where you can stay for free in exchange for work. I won’t mention them here as I only wanted to discuss options for a holiday or a weekend getaway. My guess is you don’t want to spend those while vacuuming a French bed & breakfast. (If you do, please send me an email. I might have some work for you. And then I’ll whisper some French words in your ear.)