We’re on a pretty tight budget, especially on this first half of our trip – since Asia’s a bit cheaper in general, we want to spend less here to have more money for Europe. One area where savings can be had is in where you stay. We go for a variety of budget accommodation options – often, we look at all of the following:
–Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing can fit anyone’s budget, because it is free. Often it’s not just a place to stay for free, but also a way to meet locals and live within the local culture for a while. All of our CS experiences have been positive, with very friendly and warm hosts. Some places it’s easier to get a host than others – in Shanghai I had 5 people say they could host me, while in Hong Kong no one had time or space. Often you’ll end up buying or cooking your host dinner at some point and this option is best if you actually want to hang out with your host.
–Hostel Sites (Hostelworld, Hostels.com, HostelBookers) – Hostels are generally the next cheapest option, after free. Most of them have common rooms where you can easily meet other travelers and find a buddy for the day or someone to have dinner with. They often have better amenities than expensive hotels because they really try hard to get your business, so you often have free Wifi, a kitchen, and free breakfast. Dorms or shared rooms are the cheapest option, but if you are traveling with a friend or as a couple it can be well worth it to spring for the privacy of your own room, even if you still share a bathroom. Hostelworld and Hostels.com have the most listings (and are almost identical to each other) but HostelBookers has the distinction of not having any booking fees (very occasionally the rate is actually higher on HostelBookers because of this, you may want to comparison shop).
–Room Rental Sites (Type 1 – AirBnb, Wimdu, etc) – These sites have you renting a room or bed or whole apartment, whatever is available. If you aren’t traveling alone there are times when an AirBnb room is actually a better deal than a hostel (I found this to be true in Hong Kong). The ‘hosts’ are vetted with a phone call so they are usually legitimate though they may not actually contact you back in a timely fashion. The problem with these sites is you can’t book really last-minute because you have to wait to be contacted back by the host (though most of them will contact you within a day). Also, the availability calendar is not always accurate so you might have to go through the disappointment of finding a great place that looks available only to be emailed later that it isn’t, really. Still, this is a great option. Our first AirBnb host, Joe, used to host CouchSurfers and then discovered he could actually rent rooms instead so he’s moved to that. He still has the CS hospitality going, though, and he took us to several restaurants in the neighborhood and helped us order. We also were able to book our coolest accommodation yet through AirBnb, a room on a luxury live-aboard yacht.
–Apartment Rental Sites (Type 2 – Roomorama, 9Flats, etc) – These sites are very similar to AirBnb and the like, except the places are generally full apartments, and usually either more expensive/luxurious or suitable for large groups. I’d recommend looking here if you are traveling with 4 or more people or have a larger budget.
–Budget Hotel Sites (Agoda, Priceline, etc) – In some places (for us, Busan, South Korea, was one) there is a decided lack of the usual budget accommodation and you may have to look in the direction of hotels. But never fear, for there are discount hotel sites like Agoda (for international stuff) and Priceline (for US stuff) that can be quite cheap indeed.
Your method for finding lodging is basically a personal preference. Sometimes we feel like putting out CouchSurfing requests and sometimes we don’t – sometimes we really can’t because our plans are too last-minute. If you’re wanting to CouchSurf, I suggest sending at least 5 requests at least a week in advance. There are various boards and groups for last-minute requests as well. But at times we just want privacy. We typically look at HostelBookers and AirBnb first – unless we are short on time, then it’s just HostelBookers. Then we branch out to other sites in the same category if there’s nothing appealing there. Finally we check on Agoda and the Roomorama-like sites. To be honest, I spend way too much time and effort finding places to stay. That’s one advantage of traveling slow – you don’t have to look for accommodation as often. Plus, sites like AirBnb and Roomorama often are quite a bit cheaper per night if you are renting for a week or a month.
Where do you look for budget accommodation?