Travelling on a budget can be challenging yet fun. Each new destination means a new hotel or hostel, new activities, and the exciting unknown. Do you book an accomodation in advance, or do you wing it and hope to find a cheap hostel upon arrival? We break down the top online booking sites for you as well as our suggestions on finding lodging the months, weeks and only hours out from your arrival.
Booking in Advance:
If you’re a planner and you enjoy having your route, accommodations and activities mapped out; if you’re on a strict budget, or if you have a time frame for each country or destination, then booking in advance may be the best choice for you. Websites such as Agoda, Hostelworld, and Booking.com will all offer you choices for budget accommodation at reasonable prices. We give our pros and cons of each below:
This is among our favorite online sites for advanced reservations for several reasons. First, it offers $25 OFF Your First Booking if you are new to the site, which depending on where you’re staying can equate to one or more free nights stay. Secondly they offer Free Cancellation on your bookings up to a few days before your reservation begins… which means you can book well in advance for a peace of mind, and change the dates, or cancel if your plans change or you’ve found a better hotel deal. Lastly, the Genius Program offers you additional discounts after you’ve made 5 bookings on their site, for all of these reasons, this is our favorite website for advanced booking.
Agoda is another one of our favorite online hotel sites. Depending on the location and particularly in Southeast Asia Agoda.com usually has the best prices available on budget friendly hostels and hotels. What we love about Agoda is how user friendly their online booking is, allowing you to search for budget accommodation not only based on price but also with recommendations for their proximity to the top attractions in that city. We’ve found their reviews and ratings to be reliable, and they often times have Free Cancellation as well as special deals of the day.
What we love about Hostelworld is that they are 100% backpacker focused. Their reviews are by backpackers, for backpackers, which means they are a bit more realistic when it comes to the expectations for cleanliness or accommodation when traveling the world. Anyone who’s ever backpacked around Southeast Asia knows that an 8.0 Review of a hotel in Bangkok will NOT be the same standards or expectations of a hostel or 8.0 Review on Stockholm. What we also love about Hostelworld is their Standard Flexible Booking which means that for a small fee you can change your reservations and switch to a different hostel or booking without losing your deposit. This is great for those of you who want to plan in advance but may decide along your travels to head in a different direction. What we also like about Hostelworld is that they have an incredible App you can download for your phone with directions on how to get to each hostel, reliable amenities information, and contact details easily accessible for each location even when you’re offline. The App will also show you all of your past and upcoming bookings in one easy location. One thing we have noticed about Hostelword is that prices can be slightly higher than through other sites, (we are talking $1 differences) but for the sake of convenience and the Standard Flexible Booking it is still in our list of favorites.
Priceline is a website much more popular in the United States than in other parts of the world, but its made our list of favorites because of its Express Deals which offer you affordable bookings with a surprise kick. You can book for a reduced price, in a set location, with set standards, but there’s a catch… you don’t find out the name of the hotel you’re getting until after you’ve paid and made a reservation. This means lower room rates but an element of unknown.
Air BnB and Vacation Homes
This is an excellent booking site for groups and couples. Affordable accommodation at very reasonable prices. In the Philippines we booked a 1 bedroom apartment in Palawan for $17 a night, on the beach, private showers, and a full kitchen. You can find hotels and boutique hostels listed as well for $8 – 9 a night, and if you are looking for a week or longer accommodations, most bookings will offer you a savings of 7% to up to 30% off the list price per night! New to Air BnB… even better! New users can sign up using our travel code for $20 Off Your First Stay!
Price Checking as your Trip Approaches
Reasons this is great: we recently booked a room on Booking.com with Free Cancellation, and as the date got closer, we price checked for the best deal and explored our options. We knew we wanted a budget hotel in Reno, Nevada that was a 3 Star or better for less than $75 a night. We’d booked a room at Circus Circus through Booking.com (Free $25 Coupon for first time users) at this rate, and then found a Priceline Express Deal in the same downtown strip that was 3.5 Stars and attached to a casino for $50 a night; the only catch was we wouldn’t know the hotel name until after we’d paid. We decided to gamble, and went ahead and booked this mystery deal… and it turns out that we were booked at Circus Circus, the exact same hotel, through the express deal but at a savings of $25 per night!
Showing up in a city and booking upon arrival:
This tactic can work excellently in countries of South America, Mexico, and Asia! Often times hostels will offer you a lower price than advertised online because they are collecting cash and not having to pay the booking fee to an online agency. You can often get the owner to come down on price, and use your negotiating skills to get a good deal on multiple night stays. A lot of island towns and more remote locations don’t even have their lodgings listed through online sources, such is the case in many parts of Thailand and Malaysia, so on occasion booking a beach bungalow upon arrival is your only option aside from a more expensive hotel you can purchase in advance!
Emailing the Hostel Directly:
On occasion you can get a great rate by emailing or calling a hostel ahead of time and asking for a discount for booking directly. Many hostels in Indonesia, Cambodia, and the greater part of Southeast Asia will have a Facebook page acting as the “website” for the business. Contact details will be listed, and a message will usually get a speedy response. In China, we found that many hostels will use the WeChat App for bookings and will accept cash on the day of arrival for a lower fee than what was listed online.
Whatever your method of choice, there are ALWAYS ways of scoring a good deal on budget accommodation below the listed price. Whether you book in advance, choose a Priceline.com Express Deal, or just wing it when you show up in a city, finding affordable lodging is always on our list of ways to Travel More. Spend Less.