If you want to travel, it’s easy to get fixated on finding cheap airfare, but as soon as you find a good deal you’re left wondering where to stay. One night at a typical hotel can easily cost more than your great airfare deal! (And don’t get me started on B&B prices!)

Luckily, there are tons of other options.

I’m a big fan of staying at hostels.  They are particularly great when you are traveling alone, want to swap stories about things to do, and/or are interested in meeting other people from around the world. However, some places don’t have good hostels (e.g. Spain). Many US cities have hostels (e.g. I stayed in the one in DC before I moved there for my job), but there can be a lot of exclusions (such as requiring that you live more than 100 miles away or that you meet certain age requirements). And you may simply want to stay somewhere with more than a bed.

Using an RV or camping have always been available for people willing to be off the beaten path. In the past 10 years, the marketplace has exploded with other options for whatever path you’re looking for.

Craigslist has more than one section to check for vacation housing. Just go to the city that you will be visiting and click through housing swaps, sublets/temporary, and vacation rentals. This is a great option if you’re going to be in town for a special event. For example, tons of people flooded into DC for the last presidential inauguration, while many residents were looking to get out of dodge (to avoid the traffic, road closures, security issues, and take advantage of the long weekend). That’s the perfect time to find a temporary residence or do a housing swap.

For an average vacation or weekend getaway, I think that sorting through Craigslist is time-consuming, especially when there are better options. If you’re just looking for a place to sleep, try Couchsurfing. This allows you to meet locals, who are likely to have quite a bit of knowledge about their area. While it may only be a bed, couch, or futon, you can select other features you want, and you have access to the kitchen and livingroom. The real advantage of this site is that you can read reviews from other travelers who have stayed at these homes.

Another site with similar options is airbnb. I really like the search options for this site, including a map to find places in just the right neighborhood, the type of room (shared, guest room, or entire home), etc.  There are pictures and a description (particularly helpful when they describe the parking situation, where the home is with respect to sites or public transportation, and even if there is a pet or if animals can visit). Some places even offered breakfast in the morning or toys for children to play with during your visit. Again, you can read reviews to find out if the place met other travelers’ expectations.

Last night I booked 3 nights at 2 different homes through airbnb. The prices varied quite a bit by location and amenities, but looking through the website was substantially easier than sorting various hotels on different webpages. Also, you can send the owners a message if you have any questions. The only drawback is that the system may say that a place is available, and then after you book it, you may get a message that it was just taken. This happened to me, but I’m not sure how often it happens.

So even though you may not have friends or family to crash with, you might stay in a reasonably priced home with some new people.

And who doesn’t feel good about their dollars going directly to another person/family (plus a fee to the website) rather than some corporate hq?!

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