How to travel the world with less than $50/day: Part 2 – Lodging

A few days ago we got motivated to share our experience on how to travel the world with less than $50/day a person. The first post of this series was regarding flights. We received great feedback from our friends and as promised we will continue to share tips on travel. For the second post of the series we visit the topic of lodging.

Is this really possible? Pay for a place to spend the night and still have money to buy food, pay for entertainment, and transportation? The short answer is yes. For the long answer, keep reading.

Lodging

We’ll divide this post in three sections: lodging mindset, lodging options, and resources.

Mindset

Our mindset for lodging for long term travel is as follows:

  • Avoid mainstream hotels (Starwood, Marriott, Hilton type)
    • By staying at a hotel like this you tend to miss out on learning about local culture. These hotels are part of globalization and the essence of the city you’re visiting is lost. Usually guesthouses or smaller hotels are ran by local families and you get to bond with them and learn about local life.
    • The price you pay at a “mainstream” hotel is usually 5 to 30 times more expensive than guesthouses or other type of accommodation. Hence, staying 30 nights at a guesthouse is equivalent to staying one night at a W Hotel.
    • NOTE: Of course, splurging and pampering yourself is always nice and should be done after long treks or uncomfortable long trips
  • Ignore popular travel guides recommendations
    • Maybe 10 to 20 years ago Lonely Planet recommendations were great, but now that 65 million people read the guides, a recommendation is a tourist trap with high prices and a typical foreigner experience
    • Usually the best guesthouses we’ve stayed at were the ones that we found by luck. We just arrive to a new city without a reservation or a list of potential guesthouses and start walking. This happened to us recently in Luang Prabang and had an amazing experience for less than $20/night.
  • Stay in local neighborhoods in a city
    • Usually guesthouses in the not so touristy parts are close to 50% less than those in the heart of the cities
    • Not only will you be paying less, but you also immerser yourself with local people and a new way of life
    • NOTE: This is not something we follow religiously as we do like to stay in the middle of the action

In addition to the top three items mentioned above, the most important item is that you MUST travel with an open mind. To stay within budget, sometimes you might have to share bathrooms or share rooms with other travelers. Other times you might get a bungalow with the bare necessities (fan, bed, mosquito net).

We usually try our best to have our own room with private bathroom but when a bed is 10 Euros/night in Madrid instead of a private room for 60 Euros or a basic bungalow in Otres Beach (a.k.a paradise on earth) is $15/night, you gotta give in.

Lodging Options

You must be thinking we stay in shit holes with cockroaches on the bed. Not really. (side note: we did get a big spider in the bathroom in Cambodia … but you can’t really avoid it, we were in the tropics). Overall, the places we’ve stayed at have ranged from $0-$70/night with the average being $25 and most were comparable to a 2 to 3 star hotels.

So what type of places can you stay at:

  • Guesthouse/Hostel
    • Usually a hostel/guesthouse is geared to the “backpacker” or “low-budget traveler”. They have the bare necessities (bathroom, bed, fan/AC). Usually they do not provide soap, shampoo, or room service but most provide towels and sometimes the customer service is 200% better than a typical resort.
    • Guesthouses offer a wide range of rooms for all budgets. From shared bedroom (dorm style rooms), single room (twin bed), private double (king/queen bed), private triple (one double/queen bed + a twin bed), or sometimes a whole suite. In Budapest we stayed at a beautiful guesthouse where our “room” was a loft with a living room, queen sized bed, TV, AC, Wifi, Heater, private bathroom, and breakfast for $14/night!
    • Around 30% of the guesthouses provide free breakfast and over 50% provide free wifi (electronics and what to pack will be another topic for this series)
  • Friends’ house
    • We’ve been very lucky to have friends scattered around the world. We met most of our international friends at the International House (@ UC Berkeley) but also have friends from all walks of life that now live abroad. We’ve been hosted in over 10 cities and cannot thank them enough for their generosity and hospitality.
    • We made plans to visit cities were we had friends to reconnect with them and learn about their life
      • We learned that many of our friends lead a very similar lifestyle regardless of where they live
    • To be polite, we tried our best to connect with our friends two to four weeks before we visited their city and asked if we could stay with them
    • If you don’t have so many international friends, we recommend you tap into your network and ask for connections to the cities you’ll be visiting. Sometimes the friends of friends (or family members) will want to meet up with you for dinner or a drink and some might even invite you to stay with them
      • Not only do you get a place to stay, but the real beauty is that you receive a glimpse into the life of someone in the city you’re visiting.
        • We were fortunate to meet a friend’s friend in Istanbul and he took us to the best Manti restaurant (if you haven’t had Manti, you haven’t lived!). We did not stay with him but he taught us about Turkish food and the nightlife of Istanbul
        • In Lausanne, we stayed with a friend’s sister and her husband. Not only did they give us housing but cooked us the best fondue we’ve ever had and provided us with a glimpse into the Swiss life
  • Strangers’ house— Ok, it is not as creepy as it sounds. There are various organizations that provide a platform for hosts and travelers to meet. The goal of most of these organizations is to facilitate culture exchange.
    • Servas.Org
      • The mission is to promote world peace by culture exchange. To become a member you must be interviewed by a current member and pay an $80-$100/year membership dues.
      • Once a member, you receive a book (or PDF file) with a list of potential hosts in the cities you’re visiting.
      • The hosts cannot request money. The only request is that you spend time for knowledge and culture exchange
      • We used Servas during our South America trip and loved it. We stayed with 3 hosts in Brazil and Peru and our host in Salvador became a very close friend
    • CouchSurfing.com
      • Similar to Servas.Org but there is no personal interview process and it’s mostly free (they push for you to pay $25 to “validate” your membership)
      • We’ve created a profile but have not used this service due to laziness of sending requests. However, we’ve met travelers that swear by it and we hope to use it soon!
    • HospitalityClub.com
      • Similar to CouchSurfing.com but never used it
    • AirBnB.com
      • This is not a free service. Usually the owner/renter of an empty apt or house wants to rent part or all of their property.
      • The advantage of using AirBnB is that you stay in an actual livable place usually with a kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedrooms. Great for longer stays (4+ days) and larger groups
        • Four of us rented a beautiful villa in Southern Italy for $80/night. It included hammocks, fire place, kitchen, and the most spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea.

These are the options that we’ve decided to use. Sure you can camp, or sleep under a bench but then it wouldn’t be as much fun when you’re freezing in the middle of the night. Our goal was always to find a clean affordable room and as we continue to travel have selected lodging as a priority item in our budget (we won’t stay in a $2 bungalow that has a very thin mattress and a few cockroaches).

Lodging Resources

Besides friends and strangers’ houses, how can you find places to stay at that will keep you within budget? There is a plethora of websites that try to satisfy the needs of this market and the following are the ones we like the most. We’re sure there are more out there and if you know of any, please do share!

  • booking.com – usually for guesthouses and hotels. We’ve used it to find a social guesthouse with a private room for $11/night near Angkor Wat, for a 3 star resort for less than $40/night near Petra, Jordan, and many more
  • agoda.com – similar to booking.com.
  • wikitravel.com – this will not only provide you a list of good guesthouses, but it is our new online travel guide with tips on food, shopping, transportation and some history lessons as well
  • travelfish.org – this is only for South East Asia, but this online travel guide provides a lot of useful information for all of South East Asia

We recommend that once you find a room, you google the name of the guesthouse/hotel to find their phone number/email and try to book directly. Usually, not always, they will offer you the room at a cheaper rate.

Another trick is to walk around town, find a place you like, and check prices online at a local cafe with wifi. Today in Kuala Lumpur we found a 2 star hotel that was cheaper to book online rather than in person. We booked at noon and at 1 pm we checked in and saved $10!

As mentioned before, our favorite way of finding a place to sleep is to walk around a city and stumble upon a gem. If you’re not the adventurer type or you’re arriving late into a city, book one or two nights using the resources above, explore other options, and enjoy!

In a few days we’ll write about how to enjoy the culinary world and still stay within budget!

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