How to Pay for Travel, Part 5: Accommodations

Tuesday, February 18

Beyond the investment of a plane ticket, accommodations can be overwhelming in terms of finances! Prices of hotels, guesthouses, B&B's (etc.) certainly vary in cost worldwide, however regardless of where you are going, the cost can significantly add up!

Today I wanted to share with you a few tips Kevin and I have utilized to pinch our pennies and maximize our trips when it comes to affording lodging! Here we go…

1. Stay with friends/family members!!
Some of our best memories (and cheapest trips!) have come when we have stayed with friends and family abroad. Not only will your hosts be the absolute best guides around the city (as they are locals!), but you will also see, taste and experience things from an insider perspective (instead of just a tourist!). Most likely they will take you off the beaten path to experience the "real" culture. But the absolute best thing about staying with friends/family is their genuine hospitality and friendship. I can remember last winter when my sister and I visited our cousins who live in Germany. Each night when we got back from site seeing, they would brew a pot of tea, and we would sit in the living room all cozied up, with the music playing, just talking and laughing and playing cards.

Many of my dad's relatives live in Sweden, and so we've been back multiple times! I'm always amazed at the experiences we've been able to gain staying with our family. From milking cows on their dairy farm, participating in a real "crawfish dinner", seeing glass blowers at work, and exploring castles first hand, they are far and away the best tour guides!

Now, you may be thinking "I have ZERO friends and family abroad". I get that.'s never too late to make new friends!!When I taught English in Thailand, I met my Belgian friend Peter on a ferry out to an island. We hit it off as fast friends and have stayed in touch over the years! When Kevin and I were in Antwerp, we stayed with Peter and he showed us the most incredible local restaurants and history of the city!

Blogging is a great environment to connect with new friends all across the globe! Say hi to some new friends in far away places, and begin the start of a new relationship!!

If you are part of a church, check to see if there are missionaries living anywhere around where you are going. Back in the day, when my parents lugged us 4 kids to Italy, we met up and stayed with some fantastic Italian missionaries! It was mutually encouraging to share stories and have fellowship with on another!!

Far and away our favorite booking site for lodging is called On entering their site, you write your destination into their search bar. Then, in seconds, they will generate a comprehensive list of choices. What we love about Agoda is that every piece of information you need shows up, and you can easily compare hotels to one another. You will see the price, the reviews (which come in super handy!), and where it's located in the city. If you want to be in a specific part of a city, you can choose districts on the left hand side! We used Agoda to book our ENTIRE South East Asia trip, and every place we stayed in was absolutely fantastic!! Plus, sometimes you even get better deals on Agoda than if you were to book from the Hotel's actual website!

3. Air BnB
If you are traveling with an entourage (or just your family!), this is the place to look. Air BnB showcases open apartments/houses that you can rent. Often times these are people's actual homes, and they open them up to visitors when they are gone on vacation. For instance, this last summer, my mom found a steal of a deal in the quaint town of Delft, in the Netherlands. We are a party of 7 (my mom, dad, 2 sisters, brother and Kev and I!), so finding hotel accommodations for 7 of us for 6 nights could have skyrocketed our bills out the roof! Instead, my mom contacted this sweet Dutch family who had put their apartment up for rent, while they vacationed in Portugal. So, for 6 nights, our entire family stayed in downtown Deflt in the most adorable 400 year old 4-story home. It was INCREDIBLE. There was a huge kitchen and long wooden table we congregated around every day! And to top it off, it was only $100 a night (for all 7 of us!!! what?!?!?). Overall, this site is awesome.

4. Rick Steves
Have you met Rick yet? If not, let me introduce you! Rick Steves is the ultimate travel tour guide! If you happen to be going to Europe, he's your man!! Buy his book to the country you are traveling to and you will thank me:) What I think sets Rick apart from all other travel books is his ability to sift through what you MUST see verses what you could see. Basically, he builds the best itineraries around, telling you to go to places that are worth your time and money. And for our purposes today, Rick locates some pretty fantastic gems in the area of accommodations. This past year when my family was in France, my mom used Rick's suggestions to book accommodations at a 300 year old farm house along the D-day beaches. What made this stay so unique was that you couldn't book it through a website. Rick had personally gone and visited this farmhouse, and then had put the phone number for the house in his book. My mom literally had to call France to book this place!!! But not only was our stay incredibly historical and outright idyllic, it saved my family bunches of cash compared to staying in the more well known venues in the city. (And not to nerd-out on you, but before we travel, Kevin and I always you-tube Rick Steve's videos about the destination where we are going! Get's us in the spirit!!)

5. Hostels
If you are a student, or someone on an incredibly tight budget, hostels are for you. Hostels are essentially like dormitories where the prices stay generally low. Some hostels are really nice where you could even find yourself with your own bathroom, but for the most part you are packed in on bunk beds, and share a corporate bathroom. My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Italy. After my term was over, a few friends flew over and together we traveled through 7 different countries in Europe. I think 90% of the places we stayed were hostels! And it was loads of fun! You get to meet people from other countries, and just saturate yourself in such an international vibe! Often times you can get a student discount, or sign up for a hostel card on sites like hosteling international (to become a member, see here).

6. Couch Surfing
While there is such a hype around couch surfing, I must admit i've never tried it!! Have you? You can check out the Couch Surfing website, make a profile, and then start looking to crash the couch/guest bed of someone in your destination country. My friend Peter from Belgium, who I mentioned above, is an avid couch surfing host, opening his home almost weekly to people coming to Antwerp. He told us he has met so many amazing people this way. He actually met his significant other through couch surfing!! While aspects of couch surfing seem a bit sketch to me, I've had friends swear by it, meeting great chums in the process! You can be the judge of this…but the bottom line is that it's a free place to stay! And it can't get any cheaper than that, folks!

7. Google
Okay, okay, this may seem like a cop-out, but it's not, I swear! If you are looking for somewhere off the beaten track, then google it! This past year my brother, who is into brewing beer, found a Trappist monastery called Orval Monastery, in the middle-of-no-where in Belgium. So he contacted the monastery, asking if they had accommodations, and it turns out they had a little chalet they rented out for spiritual retreats. And so, our entire family stayed in a chalet that was attached to Orval Monastery. Friends, it was unreal. Monk lived there…real monks! robes, chanting, bee keeping…the whole nine yards! It was like stepping back into the medieval era, and observing a very simple, quiet and humble lifestyle. It turned out to be a few beautiful days for us as a family, as we attended chapel, did our devotions on the lawn, and walked through the orchards at night after dinner. It was a sliver of heaven, smashed into a family vacation:) And, an added bonus was that it was dirt cheap. And if you know anything about Europe, you know that Europe and dirt-cheap don't belong in the same sentence!!

A few thoughts on accommodations: 
1) If you want cheap cheap cheap accommodations, go to SE Asia. I'm not kidding when I say that 5
    nights worth of lodging in Thailand costs the same as 1 night in Paris. You can book the most
    gorgeous resorts, be pampered and spoiled, and it will still cost less than a basic room in France!
    Don't let this stop you from going to Europe (goodness knows there's a reason it's expensive!), but
     just keep your expectations real!

2) If you don't plan on staying in your room much (which you shouldn't!!), then choose the basic room
    over the one with more amenities. However, if you are traveling to a freezing cold place and plan to
    spend ample time in your room, just make sure it has a heater!! (That's my motto!!)

3) Location, location, location! Sometimes it's worth a few extra bucks to stay in a more central
     location. For instance, this past summer in Paris, Kev and I could have saved $10-15 if we stayed
     further out of the city. However, then we would be paying to buy a metro ticket into town, and it
     would probably be a wash, plus the hassle of the time in traveling around. Sometimes, staying
     centrally saves you money because you can walk everywhere! Other times, you'll save a TON of
     money by staying on the outskirts of town! This is a good option if you have a rental car, and
     transportation is not an issue. For instance, when my family went to visit the island of Mt. St. Michel
     in Northern France, my mom booked the most impersonal and creepy hotel (it was called HotelF1
     for crying out loud! how French is that?!?!?!…and actually became a lovely family joke that my
     mother will never live down!) but in her defense, it saved us from staying in the overpriced town of
     Mt. St. Michel, and it was no big deal to take our rental car 5-10 minutes into town each day!

4) Sleep in your rental car! No joke…my thrifty parents parked our Italian rental van in a soccer
    field one night in Pisa, and told us to fall asleep there. I was quite mortified at the time (like legit
    angry!), but now I see it was an excellent plan to save them hundreds of dollars! I literally woke up
    with one of my legs out the window…classy americans, right there!

5) Don't wait till the last minute to book. You may want to seem more "spontaneous" and
   "adventurous" but if you'd rather be labeled "bargain backpacker" then book in advance! Especially
    during peak travel season when most of the great deals get snatched up fast! It's also a good idea to
    book ahead if you are traveling to an area where a major sporting event is taking place…world cup,
    Super Bowl, art festivals, Oktoberfest, etc!! One summer in Munich, my friends and I didn't realize
    the European Cup was going on, and we were reduced to sleeping in a tent. Not cool! So think about
    these things when booking!!

6) Accommodations don't always mean "on land"! Cruises are amazing options, and sometimes can
    score you the best deals! Sign up for the Travelzoo deals of the week! We just returned from a 3 day
    cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam {here}. It was beyond fantastic!!

7) Choose lodging that supports a good cause! Just recently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we stayed at
    The White Linen Guest House, which employs women rescued out of sex-trafficking. To see more
    of our experience staying at a socially conscious hotel, see here.

8) If you stay in someone's home (friend, family, or apartment from Air BnB) it's always lovely to bring
    a gift. The best gifts are local products made from your home town! My dad is a rice farmer, so many
    times we bring his local rice products, or even local honey, almonds, or other produce from our
    hometown to give as a thank-you!! And of course, pack thank-you notes in your suitcase, just in
    case:) Be a good ambassador to your country:)

Welp, I think that's all I can muster for tonight! If I missed anything…let me know!!

Happy Tuesday friends:)
love Katie

ps- To read the first 4 installments of my travel series: 
Part 1- Prioritize your spending
Part 2- Travel Credit Cards
Part 3- Food
Part 4- Teach Abroad


  1. Great advice! I'm also interested in what other people have to say about couchsurfing. I have heard a lot of good things about it but never have tried it myself.
    Anita Hendrieka

  2. So, if you ever need a place to stay in Austria - write me :-)
    Our travel plans are a little on hold right now, but soon the kids are a little older travelling will be less complicated...
    Thanks for sharing your travel experience!

    Love, Deborah

  3. Wow your advice is incredible, never even thought of half the options your have mentioned. I think I would love to put people up in my own home as well. Sounds like a great way to make friends. I'm loving these travel tips, thank you for sharing

  4. LOVE Agoda and am excited about these other options! Thanks Katie :)

  5. these are all great! I love Air B&B!

  6. Such awesome resources Katie!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. What great options! As much as I like Airbnb, I prefer sticking with the larger hotel chains so that I can get points and free nights. If the hotel is not available, I love the small bed and breakfasts for the quaint, home-like charm.

  8. My family has sure stayed in some interesting accommodations over the years--with 9 of us they had to be thrifty and that occasionally meant guesthouses where the bathroom consisted of a spigot about a foot an a half off of the floor and a bucket under the to take showers you scooped up the (one temperature, cold) water and dumped it on yourself....oh, SE Asia I love you so...but I'm not sure I'll ever be totally in love with showers like that...
    Angel and I have used AirBnB here in the US and loved our experience with it!

  9. I never thought about taking a little gift from my hometown but I'm going to now! My husband and I are headed to Hawaii in March and I used AirBnb & VRBO to book places. We are staying at local people's houses who have an added on studio. The price varied from $59 to around I think $120 a night which is super cheap in Hawaii.

    I think another thing to look for, depending on vacation, is what the rental place comes with. For example, in HI, all 3 places we are staying have free parking for 1 car ($20 / night savings). Some also offer free snorkeling gear and bicycles to run around! That is a HUGE savings!

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips!

  10. When we lived in Europe, I always thought about couch surfing but was too chicken to ever actually do it. Hostels ended up being my "go-to" for lodging purposes. :)

  11. This is such good advice! Now I just want to go somewhere!

  12. I am LOVING this series!! It's making me so want to get out there and see the world :)

  13. My husband and I LOVE Rick Steves. We will never go to Europe without him. I really love this series, and hope to be able to travel more like you and your husband do. You guys are great!

  14. Such great tips! I'm not sure I would trust couch surfing, I've heard a lot of "success stories" but it seems a little sketchy to me. :) that is so hilarious about the rental can! So smart for your parents... And look at the great memory you all made from it! :)

  15. These are great tips! We know a few people who have done couch surfing and loved it. Air Bnb sounds really cool too though!

  16. Thanks for these tips! I'll definitely be tucking them away for a later date!! I've never heard of Rick Steve, but he sounds worth looking into! And I just love that you slept in the car...that is awesome!

  17. your photographs are so absolutely stunning - do you do photography professionally? and i definitely agree about rick steves -- he's the man that helped me all around europe when i studied abroad - i owe him all kinds of thank yous!

  18. That White Linen Guest House you mentioned... wow! What a great suggestion!

  19. Great tips!.I love Air B and B- its the best.

  20. These are such amazing tips! We definitely used Rick Steve's recommendations while in Italy! He is the best! We nearly did AirBnB, but I'd heard some mixed reviews so I wasn't as sure. It's encouraging to hear such positive review from you! Also, it cracks me up that your family slept in a car in Pisa. Makes for great stories later! :)

  21. This is great! We booked our accomidations through AirBnB for our trip to the east coast and for 14 nights it will be less than $700! :-) Yes, we're thrilled about that!

  22. This is a great resource! My husband and I are hoping to take an overseas trip eventually - I'll have to remember to come back to your blog when we are ready to start planning a trip! :-)

  23. this is great! i had no idea about rick steve! we try and go as cheap as possible with being as nice as possible. we've found most of our deals on agoda and haven't been disappointed yet!

  24. This is a great list! I LOVE Air BnB and have struck gold each time I've used it! Your photos are sooo beautiful, girl!

  25. This is so incredibly helpful! I've been to Europe a few times, but I'm always looking for tips. I'm so glad you included hostels and Couchsurfing--I've used both abroad! I'm so interested in this Air BnB, though. Going to check it out now!

  26. To those of you who feel uneasy about using Couchsurfing - don't! You see it has a nifty little feature people rarely mention: There's a setting for "up for coffee" which means you meet in the city and not at a strangers house. I don't live in a place that's big enough to accommodate people for sleeping but I use it as a way to meet people where I'm travelling to. You get the best "free" guides this way, get to see things you otherwise wouldn't and meet some really cool people in the process. Couchsurfing has profiles so you can find someone you might have something in common with and you email back and forth before meeting + people verify each other which weeds out the nasties!

    I've also tried staying 2 nights at a German girl's house and she and her roommate was just the nicest people. I got my own key and they invited me to the roommates birthday party at this swanky club - a place I would've never gone because i'm not a swanky club sort of a person but it was really nice to see something new I otherwise never would have experienced.

    I love Airbnb. We used it to book an apartment in Rome for our honeymoon (which was paid for by extra money from our wedding presents - we didn't need housestuff being 30 so we requested that all gifts was either food or drink for the reception - there was enough money left over for a beautiful weeding cake and a week in Rome - we live in Denmark so not so expensive as travelling from the States.)

    We had a 1 bedroom apartment with a HUGE balcony overlooking green fields and even a cow whilst still walking distance to the Vatican an it all cost less than a hotel would have.


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