Top 10 Hotel Alternatives – Save Money With These Options

Finding hotel alternatives is one way we afford long term family travel.  We haven’t won the lottery yet, so we are always looking for ways to save money. Accommodation used to be a huge chunk of our budget. As we traveled around the world we learned a few tricks and discovered many hotel alternatives.

Whether you are headed out for long term travel, or just going for the weekend, I am sure you can find something here to keep a few more dollars in your pocket. Which are your favorite hotel alternatives?

#1 Home Exchange

We swapped our home in New Zealand for one on this street in Spain:

home exchange
Home Exchange is probably the number one way we afforded our travels. It’s simple, we swap house and sometimes car with someone else. Aside from saving money, there is a hidden bonus to this hotel alternative: When we live in a home and in a community we get to participate in local culture and become a part of our own adventure, rather than just looking on as a tourist. Don’t miss our best tips for successful home exchange.

#2 Couch Surfing

Couch Surfing – The name sounds funny, but the concept is great.  People offer a no strings attached spot in their home, sometimes in a spare room, sometimes a spare apartment, sometimes on a couch.

#3 House Sitting

House Sitting is exactly what is sounds like, you live in someone’s home while they are away generally to care for their animals or plants. As far as hotel alternatives go, we are pretty excited about trying house sitting. We only recently learned about it from other travelers.

#4 Backpackers and Hostels

This castle was our view from our room window in a backpackers in Luxembourg, not bad for what I have always thought of as a poor student accommodation:

Night photo of Vianden Castle in Luxembourg

While the traditional backpackers have bunk/dorm rooms and shared bathrooms, we found many offer family rooms with private baths. There is nearly always a shared kitchen and lounge, so they are great for meeting other travelers.  Most of the Backpackers we have encountered were friendly and welcoming. The exception, I asked a question in Munich and was told I was probably too old to be staying there (they had family rooms, so who were they expecting?)

#5 Cabins at Campsites

We woke up to find this pony outside our cabin in New Zealand:


hotel alternatives

Here was a fun discovery, many campsites worldwide offer cabins or rooms with shared bathrooms. Like the backpackers we get the advantage of a shared kitchen and camaraderie of other family travelers.

#6 Take a Cruise

The ship we were sailing on is in the background:

hotel alternatives
The trick here: book late . . . really late. We took a Mediterranean cruise booked 6 days before embarkation for 74% off. They don’t like to sail with empty cabins, so this is when you get your best deals.  For less than the daily price of a hotel, we had accommodation, transportation, food and entertainment. Last minute works best if you are already in the city of embarkation.

#7  B&Bs

hotel alternatives
To me, the best thing about a B&B is meeting and talking with the owners, who so far we have always found to be friendly, interesting and full of local knowledge.

Photo Credit: The photo is of Royalton B&B in Vermont ©Evelyn Saenz 2012. Used with permission. All Right Reserved.

#8 Religious Accommodations

Santiago de Compostela

Many convents, monasteries, churches and temples open their doors for guests. Sometimes for free, often for a small to moderate fee. Sometimes there is a prayer requirement, but not always. Jerusalem has many, however they appear to be found throughout the world. Accommodation will be clean, yet plain. There may be rules and curfews. You can learn more about this at Monastery  (we haven’t tried this yet)

#9 Farmstays and WWOOF

Horse riding in the Hills of Santillana Del Mar, Spain

Farmstays and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) are working holidays. In exchange for either free or more affordable accommodation, we help out with certain chores. However, many farmstays are becoming more tourist focused, so the rates will be more in line with other local options, but activities like horse riding might be included.

#10 Pitch A Tent

While it is a great way to save money, it’s not for me (I make exceptions in the desert). I have inherited my mother’s definition of roughing it: “any motels on the main strip.

One More Thought:

hotel alternatives

Unless otherwise noted all photos on this page ©Rhonda Albom 2012-2013. All Right Reserved.

What are your favorite hotel alternatives? Have you tried any of these?  Which ones worked well, which ones didn’t?

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  1. says

    I don’t have any alternative. Our boat? That’s about the only other place we stay if we aren’t traveling. If we are traveling we stay in hotels. I want my comfort.

    Have a terrific day. 🙂

    • Rhonda Albom says

      Good idea – If we still had a yacht, we would be staying on that as well! There is comfort in some of my alternatives, you might like a B&B – the rest require a bit of work or less comforts of home.

  2. says

    Book late for cruises – that’s good to know!
    I knew about bed and breakfasts and student hostel accommodations from living in London. (And traveling there of course.) Much cheaper than hotels.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      It was pretty amazing to cruise for less per night than the apartment we rented in Barcelona, and we got to go to so many cool places.

  3. Donna Saunders says

    Great list. We are about to do our first home exchange. We decided to give it a try after you wrote about your one in Spain.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      Yay! I love to hear that! I hope you find it as great as we do. We are ready for the next one with the states.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      There is a learning curve, but at the end we almost never stayed in hotels (well, we did the last night in Casablanca before the long flight home.

  4. Beth Gatman says

    LOL- We love tent camping, a Bedouin tent would be awesome. You have so much fun. I said it before-adopt me please.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      I do make exceptions for special things, but given the choice, I like walls. We did stay in a tent for some of our time in Morocco, but it was a pretty nice one.

  5. says

    Great alternatives, and it worked out well that you already got to see a lot of Barcelona before your ship set sail. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure. Let me know if you’re planning a hometown visit, as it would be fun to see you!

    • Rhonda Albom says

      Sorry Julie, it seems we are just hitting the corners on our next travel – LA, Alaska, Washington DC, New York, Florida, Arizona and Vegas. It would have been fun to catch up with friends, this time it will be more about family.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      Thanks Steve. We are busy planning our next travels – we leave New Zealand this weekend, and thanks to Home Exchange our house will be looked after.

  6. says

    Hi Rhonda .. great tips .. love the alternatives available .. and wondered how long you needed to book for each? Some must be overnight possibilities, other must be a month at a time I guess …

    … and I see you’re off in less than a week – enjoy … cheers Hilary

    • Rhonda Albom says

      All can be any length of time. Home Exchanges and house sits tend to be a week to a few months (we did a 9 month home exchange last year). However, they are what ever you agree on. We once had a home exchange request for a weekend. The other options tend to be shorter.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      Maybe next time – there are lots of ways to save money on travel, but more importantly these options are fun and a great way to immerse yourself into a new culture.

    • Rhonda Albom says

      We love both of these options too! For different reasons – cruises we get pampered and B&Bs we always meet such interesting people.

  7. says

    These are all fantastic options… I should probably watch less horror movies tho. Because I could see something horrible going wrong in every scenario. But I’ll still go.. I’m weird like that!!



    • Rhonda Albom says

      LOL – you are so funny. Yes, you should stop watching horror films. We have had great travel experiences.

  8. Troy A. Gray says

    If you have planned your trip yourself, which means you have not decided to use a package from a travel agent, sometimes finding accommodation when you arrive is the best option.

  9. says

    These are wonderful alternatives to hotels you have compiled, Rhonda. I’ve often wanted to stay in a B&B. Once, back in the late 1970s, hubby & I went on a Marriage Encounter Weekend in California and stayed at Mission San Miguel founded in 1797. Very minimal accommodations in room with twin beds & dresser & not much else – shared bathrooms down the hall, no TV, radio, etc., but that was the whole purpose. The weekend was one to focus on each other as a couple, not to have distractions! Meals were prepared by the Franciscan monks who live there and the food was fantastic. The Mission itself is so interesting. It was a wonderful weekend! So I can tell that staying in a Monastery would be just as interesting. I enjoyed your article and will remember these hotel alternatives for any future travel.

  10. says

    My strangest hosteling experience was at the bastille in Quebec City, Canada. I think it was in 1971… it was weird enough to spend the night in an old prison, but we arrived on the eve of St. John’s Day and there were revelers up all night long celebrating, right there in the bastille. I got little sleep, and the place was extremely crowded.

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