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As a long term backpacker I can say that it is pretty easy to find accommodation on the road. I can’t count the number of times I just showed up to a new city and found a bed while walking around. Granted this method has downsides and I only recommend it if you are feeling adventurous. Otherwise I recommend pre-booking a place online.
Without Booking Travel Accommodation
When arriving to a new city it is possible to walk around to find a place, like I said this way is for the adventurous and it does have some big downsides. Most of the time you can ask your taxi driver about places, or there are always guys waiting at the bus stations that have a “friend” with a place, these guys are there because they usually get commission to bring guests. The best way to find a place on the fly would be if you have a guidebook with or know the location where you want to stay.
Downsides of randomly finding a place – You will have no idea the quality of the room, you will most likely have to visit a few places to find a good one, you don’t know the price, places could be booked full so you have to walk around more, which wastes a lot of time and energy. If you have your taxi driver take you to a place, you might not know if that location is good or near to the things you want to see.
For me this way is only worth it if the town is small or I already know what location I want to stay at or if I am just doing a quick transit day. Even then I still have the headache of wandering around with my backpack on, asking various places if they have a bed and how much it costs.
This is the best way to find accommodation and technology has made it super simple to find the perfect place. You can easily research ahead of time, read reviews, and find out what the place offers, like it’s price and location. Booking accommodation this way will save you time and allow you to stay within your budget.
- Wild Tip: Nowadays I like to book one or two cities in advance, I book just before I head to the next city, for the ease of not having to show up and find a place. This is also good in case things fill up, a lot of the better accommodations do, especially around weekends and holidays.
I always intermix with various online booking sites to find the best deal. I do avoid the aggregate booking websites (the ones that combine a whole bunch junk into a jumbled mess). Which website I use depends on the type of accommodation I am looking for and how I am traveling at the moment.
Best Websites for Finding Travel Accommodation
Booking.com was something I never really used until my girlfriend got me hooked on it in 2015. Since then it has been my go to website for finding travel accommodation. Most hostels can be found now on Booking.com and if your more than one person you can easily find a 1 or 2 bed hotel room for cheaper than a hostel dorm bed.
What I also love about this website is that most places do not require a credit card deposit and if they do you can usually cancel with no charge before your stay.
AirBnb has blown up all over the world. This social platform connects homeowners with guests, providing them with discounted accommodation. You can find private rooms, whole houses and bungalows for an awesome price. I started using Airbnb when traveling with my girlfriend a few years ago and I continue to use it today.
Airbnb works great if you are:
- Staying in one place for a long time, you get weekly and monthly discount rates.
- Traveling as a group or couple to split costs.
- Want more space to do your own thing.
- Save money by cooking in instead of eating out.
- If you are visiting a city and want something cheaper than a hotel but not ready for dorm life.
If you are new to Airbnb or signup with a new email and use my link provided you will get $40 dollars off your first booking of $75 or more.
Hostelworld is the go to backpacker website for finding a cheap dorm bed. Hostelworld still has more hostel listings than any other website but that is quickly changing. I used to travel only by using Hostelworld, now not so much.
A lot of accommodations on Hostelworld charge you a fee when booking, which is the main reason I went away from using Hostelworld. Say your plans change and you want to stay somewhere longer so you cancel your upcoming room, you loose that deposit fee. That’s why I like to use Booking, because I can cancel for fee.
But honestly the main reasons why I stopped using Hostelworld were that different hostel owners, in different countries, screwed me over and charge me the full price when I arrived, even though I already paid the deposit fee. This has happened to a lot to myself and other backpackers that I know. Another reason I stopped using Hostelworld was that an app update kept crashing on my old phone.
Now when I go traveling I look for accommodation on Hostelworld or in my Guidebook and then go to Booking to see if it is listed there or I try to book directly through the hostel if they have a website or email address.
Hostelbookers used to be my check and balance to Hostelworld but, a few years ago now, Hostelworld purchased Hostelbookers, so, unfortunately, they are basically the same website.
Hostelbookers used to be way better than Hostelworld. They had fewer listings but if you compared the listings on both websites Hotelbookers was always cheaper and they used to never have the deposit fee. Now they are “same-same.”
I really enjoy the concept of Couchsurfing and it has turned into more than just a free place to stay, Couchsurfing also provides meet ups and planned events for people visiting new cities.
I have been a member since I started traveling but unfortunately I have yet to use it when traveling. I’ve always had the intention of Couchsurfing during my trips but I have not done it yet. This is one thing that I would like to get more into, because most of the hosts are local, so they can help you learn more about their city, country and culture.
- One negative I have heard from multiple people is that Couchsurfing has become more about members trying to use it as a hookup site, so be careful where you stay and read reviews of your potential host or guest. Don’t ever feel obligated to stay somewhere if you don’t feel safe.
Final Thoughts Finding Cheap Accommodation While Traveling
Finding travel accommodation is super easy, a lot more so than in 2013 when I first set off, everything is online now, so you can find the perfect place without having to worry. A lot of countries have set backpacking routes and well known accommodations throughout the backpacker community. So don’t worry, things will flow smoothly once you are on the road, you will make some friends and maybe you will book ahead of time or maybe you will just show up, that’s the fun part about traveling!