This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
Before traveling long term for the first time, you may spend a lot of time worrying about the safety, cost and cleanliness of accommodations along the way. Some people have written me and asked where they should stay because, “I’m not planning on staying in hostels.”
Hostels are not for everyone. Personally, I don’t mind using them when I’m traveling alone– I like getting to know other people. But if you’re not up to it, or you’re traveling with kids, pets or just want some privacy, it’s definitely not the only option (who wants to bunk with their husband with 6 other people?). In fact, if you’re willing to spend the time doing the legwork, there are some amazing places to stay that are still affordable.
Finding those beautiful, cheap, safe, affordable, clean and well-located places to stay
1. Consider longer term rentals. Renting by the night, even at the cheapest of hostels, can often cost more than renting an apartment by the week or month. We’re not talking managed properties, where a realtor is trying to get 4X market value for those one week vacationers, but rented directly by the owner. Where a hostel might cost you $20/night, you may be able to rent something weekly for $100. The benefit is that it’s private, furnished, has a kitchen and a private bath– oh and it’s actually cheaper than sleeping in a dorm.
2. Use Couchsurfing.com, but not for the couches. One of the greatest benefits (besides offering free place to crash if you’re so inclined) is that you can use it to connect to folks in a city before you get there. They can give you advice on where to stay, help you find long term rentals and even meet up with you for coffee when you get there. The site is all about relationships, so I’d only suggest using it if you also have an interest in making friends with locals (that is, they aren’t there just to be your travel agent) that being said, it is one of the best resources for getting an informed perspective.
3. Connect with the language schools. Many schools help students find places to stay and have relationships with people renting out apartments or rooms. We found an amazing apartment with 180 degree views of the city for cheap by doing this. You don’t necessarily have to take classes at the school, they are often happy to funnel the business to their contacts.
4. Look on the hostel sites for bed and breakfast listings. These will typically cost a little more than a private room in a hostel, but the quality is often much higher. In many countries, these listings are found among the hostels sites, even though they are very different.
5. Negotiate a weekly rate discount at a hotel slightly over your budget. I used to never think of this, I would just spend a week in a city and not asking for any kind of discount. That is, until I saw other travelers doing it, and was able to score 2 weeks at a reduced rate at a hotel with air conditioning in Costa Rica (they are more likely to do this in the slow season).
6. Use the sites the locals use. If you wanted to find an apartment in the US, you’d use Craigslist. For the rest of the world, it’s up to you to find the equivalent. If it’s in another language, you can use google translate. If it comes to booking a place and you need to communicate via email, you can use the same translator to draft your letter and then ask folks on a language board to proof read it for you (translators very often do crazy things to certain expressions). By skipping the sites aimed at tourists, you’ll be getting better value. Taking the time to use the local language will also give you access to properties that simply don’t have a website.
7. Don’t be afraid to walk. If it doesn’t live up to your standards, don’t be afraid to check out. It’s tempting to be polite or to assume all hotels in this area are as dirty/scary/unpleasant, but usually that’s not the case. Now that you’re at your destination, you can look inside before booking or even ask to see the room first. Don’t stress! If it does happen, just keep your spirits up, and move on. You’ll laugh about it later, I promise.
8. Wait until you get there. It’s a little more adventurous, but it often makes sense to only book 1 night at your destination in advance and then walk around the city to find flyers or stop into hostels/hotels or read the local paper to find something for the rest of your stay (unless you’re traveling in the high season or during a festival, when it will be nearly impossible to find anything). While online reviews and research can certainly help, many things become very clear once you’re on the ground. There’s no way to ever know what the crowd will be like at any place. The location and relative safety become apparent after you get there. There is no substitute for your impression of a place.
1. Try to find the local equivalent of Craigslist for where you’re traveling. If you find one, post it in the comments! If you can’t find it, ask in the comments, and we’ll all try to help out.
2. Sign up for couchsurfing, even if you never plan on sleeping on a couch. Check out the the highest ranked profiles for the areas where you’ll be traveling. Do they seem interesting? Send them a note! Be sure to have your picture and profile filled out, so they have some sense of who you are too.
3. Figure out what your travel priorities are. Do you care more about any of these items than the others: cost, privacy, cleanliness, flexibility, location, authenticity, safety, or amenities? Now compare your potential travel schedule. If authenticity is important, are you willing to spend a little more time in each destination? If cost is your major factor, are you willing to cut corners? If safety is important, will you be flexible on location? It’s okay if these things change over time, but understanding in advance what’s important to you and designing your travel to fit, will make you a much happier traveler.
(what sites do you use?)