The Alternative Guide to Travel Accommodation

Years and years ago, we had only one option when booking travel accommodation: hotels. Now, thanks to the power of technology, we have a growing number of alternative accommodation options that don’t break the bank.

I’ve always been a sensible hostel and budget hotel girl. I like my privacy and I like saving money. However, I’ve branched out and tried a few of the below options for alternative accommodation, and now hotels are my last resort. Take a look at the  guide to alternative accommodation below, and see how these 7 options can help you live like a local – and save you money along the way.


1. Volunteer Exchange

Friends made while volunteering! Alternative accommodation.
Friends made while volunteering with Diverbo!

The not-so-secret secret to how many long-term travelers get weeks of accommodation for “free?” Volunteer exchanges. Essentially, exchanging your skills for accommodation and, sometimes, food.

For those who like nature, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is one of the most well-known and popular global organizations to connect volunteers with farmers who need work done in exchange for room and board. HelpX is similar to WWOOF, except it also offers some hospitality volunteer schemes, and focuses a little more on Western countries.

If you’re like me, and manual labor isn’t for you, then take a look at Worldpackers. You can do everything from bartending, to gardening, to social media for hotels and hostels. Worldpackers is still new, but already offers plenty of opportunities worldwide. Check it out!

But let’s pretend you have absolutely no useful skills to exchange for alternative accommodation. However, you just so happen to be fluent in English. Bam. There’s your skill. In exchange for room and board, you can be an English immersion volunteer with companies such as Angloville, Diverbo, and Vaughan in Europe, and World Explorers (worldwide). Check out my experience volunteering with Diverbo here.


2. House-sitting

There are great house-sitting options (not necessarily this one)! Alternative accommodation.
There are great house-sitting options (not necessarily this one)!

If you’re flexible, and can stay in a place for an extended period of time, then consider house-sitting: free accommodation in exchange for house (and sometimes pet) care. Most house-sitting opportunities are for longer stays, and won’t necessarily be in the center of a major urban city. You also have to pay an annual membership fee to Nomador, Housesit Match, or House Carers to find these opportunities. However, if you want to spend a month or more in a city, then house-sitting is an excellent way to save money and enjoy beautiful local accommodation.


3. Homestay

Making friends with the local Maasai in Kenya! Alternative accommodation.
Making friends with the local Maasai in Kenya!

A homestay is when you rent out a spare room in the house of a local. Not only is it significantly cheaper than renting an apartment or hotel, but you also get the added bonus of befriending locals, understanding their customs, and even improving your language skills. Sometimes homestays come with meals as well! Where can you find a homestay? On the aptly named Homestay website, or on Airbnb. Just select the option to stay in a private room in an apartment instead of renting out the whole place.


4. Camp Space

This photo ALMOST makes me want to camp. Alternative accommodation.
This photo ALMOST makes me want to camp.

This girl does not camp. I love nature, but at the end of the day, sleeping amongst the bugs and reptiles is so not my jam. But for those of you at peace with the great outdoors, CampSpace might be for you. The service allows you to camp on private land (like in someone’s backyard, fro example), and options vary wildly in terms of facilities, location, and price. Most locations are either in Europe or North America, but there are a few global one-offs as well. If you’re looking for some very alternative accommodation, and a unique experience under the stars, then check this out.


5. Home Swap

house swap. Alternative accommodation.

For those of you that have seen The Holiday and want to replicate the experience of a home swap, take a look at Guest to Guest. You can either do a reciprocal exchange (not necessarily on the same dates), or utilize the points system to stay in another home on the site. This means you are not limited to just the homes of people that stay at your place; you’re welcome to stay with anyone in the network. The best part is that it’s free to join (with optional insurance, verification, and deposit fees), unlike most house-sitting sites that have membership fees. If you have your own place and you’re willing to put it on the site, then a home swap could be an excellent money-saving option for alternative accommodation.


6. Couchsurf

couchsurf. Alternative accommodation.

Using Couchsurfing to look for accommodation is a bit like using Craigslist to find an apartment. You’re going to dig through a lot of bad options before you find the perfect place. However, look hard enough and you might get lucky: I’ve seen postings that offer a spare bedroom or a real bed rather than a couch! Although I’m not much of a couchsurfer, it’s a great way to both meet locals and save money on accommodation (because it’s free!). Just be sure to thank your host at the end with a small gift, a home-cooked meal, etc.


7. House and apartment rentals

house and keychain. Alternative accommodation.

While renting an apartment or house is oftentimes only economical for bigger groups of people, great deals come to those who research. I’ve found entire apartments for the same cost as a single room in a budget hotel, so don’t discount apartment searches, even if you’re traveling solo. Airbnb is by far the most popular for this, but don’t forget about Flipkey, VRBO, and Homeaway – especially if you’d like to rent a house rather than an apartment. P.S. Get $20 Airbnb credit when you sign up here.

All in all, with the right research, you might find that alternative accommodation can be surprisingly economical…and you don’t always have to share your room with 20 people to get cheap housing, either!

Did I miss any other forms of alternative accommodation? Have you ever used one of these services? Share your experience in the comments below!


Hotels are no longer the only places to stay when traveling. The guide to alternative accommodation shows you what other local options are out there! Read more on Passport and Plates!
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6 thoughts on “The Alternative Guide to Travel Accommodation

  1. Marisa Wikramanayake says:

    I am loving this! Iw ill definitely be using some of these options next time I get the chance to fly somewhere. 🙂

  2. Grace from fannypackTravel says:

    This is great info! I’m currently using Airbnb to travel around Europe and Morocco. I tried Couchsurfing but wasn’t so lucky there. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Glad you found it useful! I love, love, love Airbnb and use it as much as possible. Agree with you regarding Couchsurfing…it can be very hit and miss. I hope you’re enjoying your European travels!

  3. Vacatia says:

    Great overview, Sally… We enjoy your posts quite often! This is Mike from A #8 for your list is resort residence rentals. Resort residences historically had to be purchased (outright, fractional, or timeshare). More recently, they have begun to be rentable. They have the space and utility of a home (as you described in #7) plus, they also have services (front desk check-in, housekeeping options, on-site staff, etc). Resort residences also have star and TripAdvisor ratings and are instantly bookable like a hotel, and are an accommodation type particularly well suited for families and groups.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks for the information, Mike! The placement of a link in an already published article is part of an advertising option I offer on Passport & Plates. If you’re interested in discussing advertising options, please send me an email and we can go from there.

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