People frequently ask about how I manage to travel without spending a lot of money. So I started asking what cost so much money and learned many people spend large sums on lodging costs. I generally don’t. I am not inclined to spend much time at a lodging area. If lodging is creating a logjam for your travel plans, here are some ideas that may help you to get moving.
Carefully consider your lodging needs. My Mom used a wheelchair so any beach trip would entail a hotel with a water view and a room from which you could call a rented Personal Care Attendant. If that is your situation, your lodging costs can be quite high. For myself, I just need a bed and every so often a shower. I look for centrally located and sanitary lodging. I bring earplugs, an iShuffle and an eye mask, just in case.
Two stars from the American Automobile Association (AAA) usually works for me, but check the neighborhood. (My first night ever in San Francisco was in its bowery section and after seeing the broken glass on the sidewalks and hearing the belligerent exchanges on the street from my 2 star hotel room, I spent that night with a phonebook and called around until I was able to book other lodging. That is how I found the Royal Pacific Motor Inn!)
Look to camping options, often less than $20/night. Lightweight tents—that only require straightening already connected poles, pushing the poles through tent loops and sticking the pole ends into the ground—make this easy to do. This is a great option in a national park (for example, Denali or Zion) where you are there for the outdoor scenery. What better way to experience them than to camp? Why drive two hours or more from the place you have come to see to return to your lodging? Do some advance planning to find a camp area with great views and plenty of space between campsites. I recommend taking a tent, sleeping bag, a mat and a small burner to boil water.
Often a $25/night dorm bed in a hostel is just fine, especially if the hostel is in a premium location. (Consider the Green Tortoise Hostel in San Francisco.) A dorm bed may not be as bad as it may sound. You can be pleasantly surprised by the amenities and/or by the other guests. (If you are traveling as two or more, a private room at a hostel can be cheaper than separate dorm beds.) Be aware some hostels are only open for certain hours of the day before locking up for the night. Check the hostel’s ratings on the internet. If you are averse to sharing bathroom facilities, the hostel option is not for you.
Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts are not always expensive. Especially in off-season or in less traveled places, these might provide amazing bargains. Do consider low priced hotels too. Don’t let the category titles stop you from inquiring. Advance planning and advance reservations are key. Book early; usually you can cancel within a month of your arrival date without penalty. If you didn’t plan, check with the local tourist information office. Call hotels after 6pm for rates. Use the internet to bid your rate on PriceLine. I highly recommend mixing in a hotel room every six days so you can do your laundry and have enough space to repack your belongings before moving on.
If the trip budget allows, I look to spend a few nights at lodgings with historical significance or artistic flair. (I’m thinking about the Menger Hotel in San Antonio or the Arte Louise Kunst Hotel in Berlin.) I always check to see if Lonely Planet has any opinion about a place I am considering. I always check internet ratings for any lodging I am considering. Pay attention to the number of ratings there. But know, some places settle the particulars of discontented lodgers with the caveat that they are not to post any negative review about their lodging experience. That violates First Amendment rights in the USA but it happens.
When looking for the right lodging, you may want to consider what other factors would make your trip better. Do you want breakfast at your lodging or are there other easy options? Is parking available? Look at what is near and/or in easy access to the lodging and think about the excursions you want to take, the buses and trains that you plan to take and the attractions you have come to see. Is a pool or fitness center important every night? Is air conditioning a necessity? Think what you could do on your trip if you select less expensive lodging. Remember, you may want to get out of bed and see what you traveled for! Perhaps windsurfing, segway tours, cultural shows, white water rafting, scenic flights, cooking classes, sailing at sunset…
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”—Muhammad Ali
“I think I’m a narcoleptic. I could sleep on a railway track with a train running over me, in-between the rails.”—Dan Aykroyd
“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”—Dave Barry
Buy it. Read it. Let me know what you think.