Almost Fearless

Safe, Affordable and Clean – Finding Places to Stay When You Travel: Day 6 of 30w30d

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.

30 ways in 30 days, locations, safety, cleanliness, international travel

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, 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.

Additional Resources:

Google Translate

(what sites do you use?)

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Great tips! I’d recommend the Kijiji community for many countries. Go to the links at the very bottom of that site to see European equivalents. I always got my places in Spain through loquo for example.
    Excellent tip mentioning Couchsurfing! Always the first place I go! Sometimes you can get all the information through the site’s excellent forums (or “groups”), so you don’t even need to contact individuals directly. I’ve also used lonelyplanet’s thorntree forum for advice on the best place to find longer term accommodation in many places.
    I’ll second the haggling advice. Man, if I paid the price for accommodation that I was told first then I’d have to double my budget! I always go for medium term stays so this helps. Just got a place in Rio for the next 3 months using a combination of online research, communicating with lots of landlords, haggling, and plenty of Irish charm 😀
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..Hitting a brick wall in your language progress =-.

  • My advice: Throw caution to the wind, book nothing in advance. Adventure only happens when there are unknowns. Don’t go for the cheapest possible hotel, but the NEXT cheapest. The more expensive the accommodations, the more ‘knowns’ you’ll get, which = no adventure.

    I can easily say the most vivid, coolest memories I have of my life are the adventures I had when I did as little preparation as possible, and completely left things up to chance and circumstance. Life isn’t meant to be project managed with an accompanying Gantt chart. There really aren’t any steadfast rules you’re meant to stick to. Really, there aren’t. As long as you’re not in a bad-ass part of a really big city … and you’ve got your wits about you … you’ll always end up landing on all fours. It might be rough at times, but THOSE times are the stories and the memories you’ll talk about for the rest of your life.

  • Benny– Great link! I hadn’t heard of it, I’ll have to check it out. I used loquo in spain too.

    Chris– Just curious, does your advice apply to people traveling with kids or pets as well? I completely agree if you’re traveling solo, but I personally wouldn’t feel confident marching into town with two dogs and no where to stay that night… it’s possible I’d never find it. I’m sure parents feel the same way, especially around safety and cleanliness issues. I tried to address this article more broadly, because many of the comments came from people who were not traveling solo and had these kinds of restrictions.

  • @Chris I agree with Christine about a bit of planning being necessary.

    I’m a solo traveller myself, and as adventurous as arriving in the city on the day with 0 plan is, it’s not practical if you want to stay for longer than a very brief visit. If I’m staying for a weekend then I’ll leave it up to chance and see which couchsurfer I stay at, or which hostel might happen to be available etc.

    But don’t confuse planning with expensive accommodation or a less authentic experience! Christine isn’t talking about booking package-deal hotels in advance for example. Locals spend time researching places to live in and I use the same channels they do. It comes down to different styles of travel; I try to stay as long as possible. Sometimes a bit of structure in your travels can enhance the experience 😉 If you prefer to constantly be travelling and you only have yourself to worry about and can be very flexible (which I can’t since I need to be able to work at home), then spontaneity does indeed improve your experience 😉
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..Hitting a brick wall in your language progress =-.

  • Hi! I just came across your blog. Very nice. Seems we were in Costa Rica, Bocas Del Toro, and Nicaragua around the same time in each case. I’m looking forward to your series. I’m already a digital nomad of sorts but still find your info interesting. Good luck.
    .-= Ian W.´s last blog ..A Slice of Pai – Pai, Thailand Series =-.

  • great tips. hubby and i checked into a random hostel in london and it was just to gross so we walked out and checked into a different one nearby.

    checking with the locals is a great way to find a place that is clean and affordable. most of the time you are bound to know someone who knows someone who knows someone who lives where you’re traveling. there’s nothing like getting dibs on a place or a section of town that you’ve been eyeing.
    .-= carolina.baker´s last blog ..10 Ways to Save Money, Shopping =-.

  • A) I love this website. I. Love. It. I’ve read it practically from the start and always look forward to it whenever it pops up on my reader.

    B) I agree with Chris, though i’ve never travelled with kids nor pets. I do however, always talk with people who have been there before and get some idea of what the good places are. Half the time i dont follow the advice and do something else, but every now and then, the advice has been a true lifesaver.

    C) Christine, where was that picture in the article taken? Im starting to consider taking a 2 month trip through central america & the caribbean some time soon (but keeping away from resorts and all that), and that picture just captured me instantly.

    PS. sorry for my bad english. Im from Chile, I dont really get to practice it often.


  • Flyaway Cafe’s Travel Favorites 9-14-09 : Fly Away Cafe - Travel Tips and Destination Suggestions from a Flight Attendant says:

    […] Almost Fearless gives good suggestions on how to find safe, affordable, and clean places to stay while traveling.  You’ll find these useful whether you’re traveling for a short duration or living on the road. […]

  • Anyone have any ideas for finding an apartment for a 1 month rental in Buenos Aires? Our budget will be limited as it’s the start of our permanent travels and we need our cash to last as long as possible.

    We’ll be studying at a language school, so I’ll check out their recommendations, but I’d always assumed you’d pay more organising it through them (kind of like an agent).
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip (Part 1) =-.

  • @Erin
    I organised my flat in BsAs through Craiglist Buenos Aires; most people there speak English and you’ll get much better rates than through agencies. This site is popular both with expats and locals. Don’t expect amazing value if you are staying for just 1 month, but you can definitely get a pretty good price if you inquire about a few places and leave your own ad for them to get in touch with you. You can aim to pay $200-$500 if you’re on a budget, depending on how flexible they are with short-term rentals and how flexible you are on where you live and what standards the flat must have. You can get a good idea on the site.
    One annoying thing I had with my flat is that they insisted that I pay in cash for an entire 3 months rent, in dollars on arrival, and since I went up-market and somewhere luxurious it meant that I had to travel with a lot of cash to avoid taking out pesos and exchanging them; it was their condition after I haggled the price down so much. In your case it will be much less hassle if you did have to bring cash.
    Suerte! I had a great time tangoing in BsAs!!
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..How to speak a language pretty well, starting from scratch, in just two months =-.

  • Nice tips Christine and Benny. The Kijiji site is a great find. We found that most locals in Croatia don’t put long term rentals online (you only find the vacation homes online mostly), so we purchased the classifieds newspaper when we got here and used google translator to figure out who we wanted to call (we had arranged a place to stay for a week while we looked). It was an interesting experience, but worked out pretty well.
    .-= Pond Jumpers: Croatia´s last blog ..learning about the siege on Sarajevo =-.

  • Great tips on lodging. When I traveled to the UK in 2001, I didn’t have a plan and just winged it. However, in retrospect, I think I’d rather have at least the 1st night planned in the future. Because I was so excited, I slept little before the flight, and not well on the flight itself. I got to London early (6:30am), took the tube to Kings Cross, ate some brunch, and then decided to just get on a bus and figure it out as I went.

    Synchronicity had me meet a lovely woman at the bus stop who promoted the Original Bus Tour to hotels, and she whipped out her list, told me Holland House Hostel would be cheapest and best for me, and handed me her cell phone after dialing their number for me. Then she bus-hopped me over to Kensington High Rd and showed me the hostel. And then she gave me a free pass for the tour…what a woman!

    OK, it all worked out the way it should have, right? But I still maintain that newbies should do at least SOME research before going, unlike me.