How To Travel On A Budget Without Sacrificing Comfort

Traveling on a budget quite often requires some foresight, because while spontaneity can be exciting, it can also be expensive and/or risky — e.g. last-second hotel bookings, narrowly scheduled train tickets, etc.

Airbnb budget travel

I wholeheartedly endorse spontaneity, but it’s important to keep in mind that it may result in unexpected expenditures, or leave you without a place to stay. I’ve laid out some choices and infused each with personal experience to (hopefully) help you select the type of accommodation that works best for you, if you’re traveling on a budget.

For the on-the-road budget traveler, I recommend splitting the difference and booking travel and lodging for the forthcoming five days or so. You’ll avoid the stress of not knowing where you’re spending the night, but you’ll still leave yourself open to unanticipated opportunities that might arise in the near future. There are several options when it comes to lodging, and the choices you make can dramatically influence the overall experience you have while traveling.


Hotels are the standard. In most parts of the world travelers will be able to find hotels that offer amenities intended to make your stay feel like home away from home. There are private bathrooms, comfortable beds, televisions, room service benefits; the list goes on and on. And of course, the more you spend, the more amenities you get. While these perks can be great, hotels prioritize comfort over culture, thus positioning themselves in an insular, cultural grey area that can seriously detract from the overall travel experience.


Hostels are the quintessential choice for backpackers and budget travelers. They offer various options for tenants, from bunk bed laden dormitories (mixed and single-sex) to private rooms, and usually for a significantly cheaper price than hotels. Hostels are communally based, meaning they usually have shared bathrooms, shared kitchens, and often a common room filled with games, books, and movies. They foster the social aspect of traveling, and quite often hostels—especially youth hostels—offer discounted icebreaker excursions to bars and clubs within the city where you can interact with locals and other travelers hailing from all over the world.

Unlike with hotels, hostels do not necessarily reflect the idea “you get what you pay for.” I paid approximately the same price for a bed in a six-person dormitory of a renovated German World War II base in Patras, Greece (‘renovated’ is a generous descriptor—there was no hot water, no shared living space, no kitchen, and not a single other tenant) as I did for a bed in a four-person room in Naples, Italy that had all of those things, in addition to an inexhaustible supply of inexpensive beer (big points there). If you do your research, a hostel will more than make up for its slightly inferior comforts with personality and memorable social experiences.

JST Article 2 - Patras Hostel
Rachel outside the “renovated” Patras Hostel. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE


Couchsurfing is a social network of hosts and travelers that create profiles very similar to those on Facebook—with a greater focus on travel, of course. Travelers negotiate these profiles and reach out to potential hosts, all of whom have distinct accommodations, house rules, etc. While Couchsurfing costs no money, it shouldn’t be observed as being “free.” Surfers pay with social capital, and are often expected to spend time with the host—e.g. going to dinner, allowing him or her to guide them around the city, and so forth. It’s an incredibly authentic, potentially invaluable experience and perhaps the most efficient way to assimilate into a culture quickly, but if you’re not willing to cater to—or at least set aside some time for—the plans of your host, Couchsurfing may not be for you.

There are other unpredictable aspects of Couchsurfing that should also be considered. For example, while there are written testimonials and various verification features in place that are intended to both ensure safety and preserve itineraries, the lack of a financial infrastructure enables both hosts and surfers to shirk responsibility. I once connected with a “host” in Bergen, Norway who had committed to hosting me. After disembarking from my 7-hour train ride from Oslo at 11:00pm, I found a message waiting for me that he had just found out about a business trip and wouldn’t be able to host me after all—I mean c’mon, at least give me a better excuse than that. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. So, if you choose to surf, expect the unexpected, and while sometimes the unexpected is a last-minute cancellation, the next time it could be the best night of your life.

JST Article 2 - Ecuador Couchsurfing
Preparing a meal for my hosts in Quito in return for their generous hospitality. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE


Airbnb is exactly the same concept as Couchsurfing, except it’s not free. Why then would one ever choose Airbnb, you ask? Firstly because of the financial infrastructure in place that, as aforementioned, Couchsurfing lacks. The simple, somewhat regrettable fact is that when money is at stake, people tend to care more. At Airbnb there are penalties for cancellations, and if the host has received negative testimonials, people aren’t going to risk their money attempting to stay with them. It’s essentially a hotel room inside someone’s house; your room is clean and there are often several amenities available to you because people like to keep their home nice, and you have the opportunity to share it with them.

Because you are a guest in someone’s home, there are certain guidelines to which to abide, but they almost always concern common courtesy. There’s also no real expectation of reciprocity, which isn’t to say there aren’t invaluable interactions between hosts and guests; I’ve had countless. These people are generous enough to let you stay in their homes, with prices on par with—and often lower than—hostels. They want to get to know you, but you can come and go as you please. This is the home away from home you should try to find; it’s the perfect balance of cultural assimilation, comfort and unencumbered travel. I have never had a negative experience in 30+ Airbnb stays, and I’ve met some amazing people along the way.


JST Article 2 - Norway Airbnb
My Airbnb host’s “backyard” outside Oslo. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE

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