Lodging is the biggest chunk of our travel budget, upwards of $100 or more per day. However, we have utilized these money-saving strategies to soften the daily rate.
Couchsurfing: free to join, free to stay! Host travelers in your own home, and/or seek out free accommodations when on the road. I couchsurfed in 2006 on a cross country trip in a beat up 1987 Honda Accord – staying in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina. In later years, Lisa and I had great stays in Calgary, Edmonton and Walla Walla. We’ve have also hosted over a dozen travelers from Hong Kong, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the Philippines, France and from all over the United States. Both people who host and people that are hosted are vetted through a verification process so that you can have some sense of safety and comfort.
Hostels – My fondest traveling experiences were all connected through the people I met at various hostels around the world. Typically you will be sleeping in a bunk in a dorm room — it might be segregated by sex, or totally coed. Many hostels now offer private rooms for couples and families. Many hostels have shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen, plus organized activities and the opportunity to meet fellow travelers from all over the world.
Airbnb: Part of the new shared economy, airbnb is simple to understand. Person has an extra room. Person rents out the extra room on a daily rate. The traveler goes to the web site, inputs their dates and budget, and Voila! – a listing of options pops up, everything from some space on the floor to a whole penthouse suite. We use airbnb quite often because of the price and because we have a local knowledge source who can provide tips and answer any questions we have about our destination. Oh, and oftentimes the place has a washer and dryer that we can use for free! We have had wonderful stays in London, Barcelona, Bend, Crescent City, an old farmhouse in Vermont and more. Sign up via our referral link and you receive a $25 travel credit.
Hotwire and Priceline Name-Your-Price: these ‘bidding’ web sites offer deep discounted hotel rooms with a catch — you don’t know which hotel you receive until after you have paid for it! There are ways that people can figure out which hotel you get, but it requires a little bit (and not too hard) of research. Just visit BiddingForTravel and BiddingTraveler for hints and tips. One successful bid was securing a last-minute room in New Orleans during a high-demand convention period and paying about a $100 for the Hilton Riverside. We also scored a Hyatt Regency in Denver and in Chicago during our Amtrak California Zephyr trip in 2013.
Credit Card Rewards: Please see our write up on credit cards. At a minimum, get the Chase IHG Rewards Club Select credit card, the Hyatt credit card and the Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card. The Chase Ultimate Rewards card will allow you to transfer points into the IHG and the Hyatt programs, and there are some incredible point redemption values to be had.
Hotels: when possible, we try to stay in hotels that offer a free breakfast in the morning — something more than just coffee and donuts. Holiday Inn Express, Embassy Suites and Residence Inns are just a few of the hotel brands that consistently offer up a substantial morning spread to get you filled and ready to start your day. We are not particularly loyal to one hotel chain or another, but we have recently booked more stays at IHG and Hyatt hotels, allowing us to stay for free because of our credit card points!
Friends and relatives: this is a no-brainer. But here are some helpful tips to remember on being a perfect guest, courtesy of Lifehacker.com.