There are plenty of ways to save money on flights but hotel prices vary widely and hostels may be crowded and lacking enough privacy for your tastes. Fortunately there are a number of good of hotel and hostel alternatives to consider if you’re looking to save on a family trip, or crash on somebody’s couch for free.

  1. vrboVRBO.com – Search through vacation rentals by owner (VRBO) and stay at apartments and houses put up for temporary rent. The starting prices are generally equivalent to a hotel and more expensive than a hostel, but you get the amenities of a full fledged home. VRBO is has a long list of offerings with pictures and rate details. There is usually a minimum stay of 3 nights with lower rates for longer stays. I’d suggest emailing the owner to bargain your way to a good price.
    • A major advantage of a vacation rental is that most places accept dogs and cats.
    • VacationRentals.com is another site similar to VRBO but with less offerings.
    • Consider putting your own place up for rental when you’re away traveling to raise funds for more trips.
  2. couch surfingCouchSurfing.com – Make arrangements and stay for free with participating members at homes around the world. Couch Surfing members vouch for each other to provide a trusted circle that helps you and your hosts stay safe. Couch Surfing is free but you’ll have to spend some time searching for and making arrangements with the hosts that accept you. This may involve meeting the person for coffee so they can get to know you a little better, but I’ve heard from countless people the process is usually a smooth one. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers and experience the local culture.
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There are a couple of other options to finding a place to sleep for less money and trading in for a bit less comfort.

  • couch sleepingSleep at the airport or airports along the way. Airports provide shelter, food, and security all for free. I’d recommend crashing at airports on long road trips or in places where you can’t find a safe hotel. Airports can be great places to sleep if you scope the right place and find free wi-fi (or just hack some yourself).
  • Call a distant relative. Remember that third cousin who your mom keeps talking about in Amsterdam that you (or she) have never met but aunt Mary says is very nice? Send them an email and ask for the favor and offer to return it. You might make a new family friend and have a visitor down the road.

If these alternatives seem daunting or too unconventional for your tastes, you can use my old airfare favorite Farecast to see when and where to book the best hotel deals or get prepped with this two part guide to sleeping in hostels. Hotwire also has a list of the 10 cities with the biggest drops in hotel prices over the last 12 months to consider for your next travel budget.

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[photo by: coolgates]