Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve learned about how to save money on accommodations while in Europe:
- Hostels are to Europe as hotels are to the U.S. They seem to be the go to-place to stay. They’re cheap and fun and social (and I’m a little worried about other people snoring). Most come with some sort of breakfast (probably continental), but the really cheap ones (15 euros a night = roughly $17) sometimes slam you with add-ons for linens, breakfast, showers, etc.
- Air BNBs: This is the best thing that has ever happened for travelers. You can rent your own room in a shared dwelling for the same price as a bed in a hostel, or you can go ahead and rent a whole apartment for pretty cheap, depending on where you are. An Air BNB usually comes with access to a kitchen, so you can store food and cook it too, if there’s a stove or microwave. Many Air BNBs offer a discount if you stay for a week or a month, but you’ve got to double-check that it’s worth it, because sometimes the price rises on the weekends or Air BNB messes up the math, so just pay attention.
- Couchsurfing: I love Couchsurfing, and I miss it. It’s gone downhill in the U.S. and I haven’t used it in years because of that. I’m also worried about someone bailing on me while I’m backpacking on another continent without my car, so I probably won’t use this resource in Europe. If you want to though, make sure the host has been verified, has made a real effort to fill out their profile, and has good reviews. Couchsurfing is 100% free, although some people leave a gift in return for a free stay.
- Work for room and board: WOOFing is where you work on someone’s farm and they give you a free place to stay and housing. There are websites where you can find other gigs too—like nannying, or pet-sitting, or helping with art or eco-friendly projects or at a hostel. There are so many of these websites, and I can’t tell you what’s best, but I like the huge selection of Workaway, although I’ve heard terrible things about how their review system works (or doesn’t) and some of the hosts do sound a little crazy. Just be wary here. Also, some folks have suggested getting a work visa in the places where you plan to do this, even though you aren’t getting paid cash, but that’s at your discretion—I think getting a work visa in every country for just staying and helping someone out for lodging is a little overkill, but it might be smarter to be ready.
- House sitting: These sites tend to be less about house sitting and more about taking care of pets. Basically, you watch their house (and often their pets) for a free place to stay. These are so cool! But these people typically live in rural areas (so you’ll need a car to get there and to get around) and far from the action. They also usually want a minimum of a week to a month’s stay, which can be a lot if you want to travel to a new place every week or so.
- Camping: This is an option that I really, really want to take advantage of, but I have a feeling a campsite will cost the same as a hostel. Also, it’ll be further from the action and touristy things, and I might need a car to get there. But the biggest reason I hesitate to do this is because carrying camping gear and travel stuff on things like planes across countries can stack about luggage fees: on most European airlines your carry-on can be a max. of 22 pounds; and some don’t let you go over 15 pounds. So carrying a real backpacking backpack could cost more, and it will be very heavy, so if you don’t plan on camping a lot, I wouldn’t use this option.
- Unique lodging: I really want to check these out. Convents, renovated planes and railroad cars, etc. Rick Steves suggests a whole bunch of them, which probably means they’re booked constantly, but maybe I’ll get into one since I plan on going off-season.