How to find cheap lodging while traveling

jocotenango lodging

Finding cheap lodging abroad can be challenging, particularly since the conditions in which we search are rarely ideal. More often than not, we are stepping off a crowded bus, hungry, nightfall is approaching, and now we have to find a cheap place to stay. Our backpacks are cumbersome and heavy, and we may be in less than cheery moods. The city is new to us, and signs can be challenging to find. How are we supposed to find cheap lodging now?

Over the years Dereck and I have developed a technique that works well for finding a cheap hotel efficiently. This method is geared towards developing countries such as Bolivia, Egypt and Guatemala, and will probably not work the same way in more expensive locations. With our method, we routinely get prices unheard of by other tourists. Beyond the low prices, Slow Travel helps keep our backpacker budget under control.

We work as a team, but you can also apply the same money-saving principles if you’re solo. Read on for our best tips for saving money on your hotel abroad.

Make a Plan

Egyptian hostel
The rec room of an Egyptian hostel

First off, we check our maps and head to a place where there are several hotels in the same general area of the city. This way we have several options nearby. We then cross-reference this with Booking.com so we also have an idea of some of the prices and we write them down. Then, we review what we will be searching for. Usually, we set a flexible max price and we have a checklist of things to go over before we accept an offer.

Before accepting any offer, we confer with each other and confirm, as prices can be significantly different from one city to another. Note: the places with fancy facades or fine restaurants will probably not be the Dirt Cheap places we fancy.

Split Up

Sketchy motel
This sketchy motel made us wonder why they felt the need to paint this on their wall in the first place.

You’ll get things done twice as fast if you split up. Dereck heads to one hotel while I check out the hostel down the street. This way, we can easily check on 4 or 5 hotels each within half an hour. This ensures we get the best possible price in the area. Splitting up also gives you a great excuse to leave if you end up somewhere you don’t like. I need to ask my partner what he thinks, as you vanish with no intent on sharing room with friendly cockroaches.

Look Confident

Before you walk into the hotel, you need to reset your mind. Regardless of how beaten up and tired you feel, you need to look sharp, awake and confident. Whether a hostel or hotel, if the manager sees you looking tired, sweaty and discouraged, you are much more likely to be quoted a high price. That’s the norm in these countries.

If you look fatigued, your negotiating power will be rendered nil and your chances of getting a cheap price will dwindle. He/she will know you’re at the end of your rope and will accept almost anything. So wipe off the sweat, finger comb your hair, and tell that food poisoning to hold on just a little longer.

Don’t be rude, a friendly face can go a long way in those situations. Confidence and independence matter a lot and acting like you know the value of things, even if you don’t, may earn you some respect.

Inspect the room

Sirena motel, moterrico
We told the manager about the mosquito infestation in our room. He gave us a fan to stir them up a bit.

Regardless of how nice and clean the lobby of the hotel might seem, you are not going to sleep there. Always, Always inspect the room. Some hotels are masters at home staging and since you pay up-front, your recourses are limited when you find curly hair below your pillow.

Here’s a simple list of things you should always look for before you accept any ”great deal” you might encounter:

  • Check the pillows for hair and signs of uncleanliness.
  • Peek under the blanket to spot any signs of corporal liquid.
  • Check the mattress’ softness: In Egpyt, budget locations used plywood instead.
  • Ask if there is hot water and test it. This was particularly an issue in Bolivia.
  • If the hotel claims to have WiFi, check if your phone can confirm its existence.
  • Check that mosquitoes and insects cannot join you.
  • Double-check that the price is for the room, not per person.

Negotiate the price

He who doesn’t ask doesn’t get. Regardless of how much you like the price you were offered, most developing countries expect you to bargain. If you want to travel for cheap, you have to abide by the local social codes. Techniques and willingness to bargain vary by country. In Turkey, getting 40% off the quoted price is a serious possibility. In Guatemala? You’ll be lucky to get 10% off.

Is the hotel on Booking? Be sure that you are getting a price that’s not above Booking! Moreover, this is your best chance to get a discount. Did you know that Booking sometimes charges up to 35% commission to a hotel for your stay? While their website claims the maximum is around 25%, several hotel owners have told us differently.

This is something you can turn to your advantage. Hotels not listed on booking can give you better prices for not having to put up with this. Even better, some hotels listed on Booking will give you a discount if you show that you have knowledge of the commission system.

Beyond the actual price negotiations, many hotels may instead offer you a different option. Even if you walk in asking for the cheapest room, they may wait until they see you are about to leave to offer you a cheaper option. In this case, the manager may show you a room with a shared bathroom instead of private. This could reduce the price of your hotel room dramatically.

Confer

Dorm in Flores, Guatemala
Happy to finally rest his feet at La Aurora Hotel dorm in Flores, Guatemala.

Did the last offer convince you? Walk away. Even if you know it’s a great deal, you need to confer with your partner, imaginary or real! Doing so might entice the manager to give you an even better price. His eagerness to do so may also suggest there are far better deals in the neighborhood and he’s afraid you’ll choose them.

Dereck and I will discretely meet up and discuss what we’ve found. We’ve examined enough rooms together to know what to look for, so we can be confident in each other’s assessments. If neither of our places looked good, or if we think we can do better on the price, we’ll repeat the process. We’re always into finding the best possible deal. Sometimes we’ll repeat 4-5 times, and therefore get a brief survey of 8-10 places within 30 minutes. Of course, sometimes we go together, and sometimes we find a decent place right away.

Coming from an overnight bus

Are you going to check-in at night? In this case, it’s much better to have an advance reservation. This is one of the only times we’ll actually suggest this. Frankly, how can you look sharp after a 9 hours bus ride, arriving at 3 in the morning?

In this case, Booking.com is our favored option. We enter dates, sort by prices and look carefully at the reviews to avoid bad surprises. This is one of their biggest advantages: reviews are only allowed from confirmed guests. If you find 3-4 reviews that complain about a specific element, you can easily make your mind about a certain property. This way, you’ll have a comfortable bed waiting for you. Watch out, however! You may only want to book for one night as better options may be found in town!

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Money-saving achieved!

That’s it! With these tips, you should be able to save money on your lodging abroad. For us, this has proven to be one of the best ways to travel on a budget and we wanted to share it with you!

Dirt Cheap Travel Guide caters to the extreme budget travelers and we prefer being honest with our advice rather than bombarding you with affiliates and ads. We need your help to be able to continue so if you liked this article and the tips it contains, please share it and help us spread the word!

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The Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Lodging

1 thought on “How to find cheap lodging while traveling”

  1. Milky Talukder

    Great post! Thank you for all this helpful for travelers! I do a quick search and book the one that’s the cheapest.

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