My mantra has become traveling long term is cheaper than you think. It’s also ‘life is better with cheese’, but that’s another story. I’ve written about it here and here and here. But today I wanted to narrow in on one specific cost: lodging, aka: room & board, accommodations, or simply ‘where to lay your head.’
When traveling long term, it is, at times, odd to acknowledge the fact that you often don’t know where you will sleep each week. Although, it has always worked out for me so far and I’ve never had to sleep on a park bench (but have slept in airports), there are many times I show up in a city with no reservations and have to lug my bag to a few places until I find a bed. There was the time I arrived in Sydney just in time for Christmas. I had reservations at a hostel for a week, but didn’t think ahead to New Year’s Eve, when this huge, international city would be chock-a-block with revelers from all over Australia and all over the world. Oops. Had to go an hour south just to find somewhere with space that wasn’t prohibitively expensive. Lesson learned and as I traveled, I learned a lot more about other options besides hotels and hostels. Here are just a few:
Couchsurfing – I can’t say enough good things about Couchsurfing. It changed my travels and the way I look at traveling solo. Some of its many perks: You have friends everywhere & anywhere. You can get local fast. You can enjoy the warmth of a home and kitchen. You frequently can have your own room. You get to do and see things that you otherwise never would. You feel a bit more ‘taken care of’ than usual…and it’s nice. As a host you can still meet new, interesting people when not traveling. It’s FREE.
Other similar free choices:
Airbnb – I became a host on Airbnb in Chicago before I used it as a traveler. It has a very similar feel to couchsurfing, except it’s a bit ‘more corporate.’ Read: it costs travelers money (but still much less than a hotel room), but this way it also allows homeowners to make some money. It runs the gamut – you can search for just a room or even rent a whole apartment or villa! It lacks a tad of that community spirit that Couchsurfing has spent years cultivating amongst its members. But there seem to be a lot of crossover (couchsuring-airbnb) users, so hopefully it will grow into a great community. My first guest could not have been more interesting. He owns a large herb company that supplies some major supermarkets across the US. His brother? A former progressive mayor of Bogota that started the Ciclovia bike day there and built hundreds of kilometers of bike paths and greenways and rehabbed 1,200 parks. Thanks to him, bicycling in Bogota quadrupled to 400,000 people per day. Here is a great interview he did with the NY Times. His other brother founded 8-80Cities, an organization helping make our cities more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly around the world. Oh, and their father was Colombia’s Ambassador to the United Nations. So…you never know with whom you might host or stay.
Other home stay rental sites:
I’ve done several house sitting and pet sitting gigs during my travels in places like Istanbul and the Hollywood Hills and Manhattan. Most were through word of mouth, but there are quite a few sites (some free and some with membership fees) out there to help you find jobs:
Perhaps you want your own space and you’d rather have it professionally managed rather than just by a homeowner. There are dozens of rental apartment sites popping up in every city. Often times this is cheaper than a hotel, plus you get your own apartment complete with kitchen, sometimes laundry, and if you’re lucky even more perks like a pool! I recently tried this out in London and Portugal. It was great to have key and my own place. Plus the apartments are often in ‘real’ neighborhoods, giving you even more of a feel of being local rather than staying amidst the rest of the tourists. Some of the big ones:
Disclosure: In London I was a guest of Oh-London and in Portugal Roomorama hosted my stay. As usual, the views here are my own.