12 Ways to Travel This Year Without Paying for a Hotel

If you long to travel but are short on funds, don't despair! There are plenty of inexpensive ways to expand your horizons and see the country without draining your bank account.
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If you’re eager to break free from your daily routine and embark on a new adventure, you’re not alone! However, exploring new destinations often comes with a significant expense: accommodation. While staying at a hotel can be convenient, it can take a large chunk out of your travel budget. Recent data shows that as the travel industry rebounds post-pandemic, U.S. hotel rates have increased by more than 50 percent in the last year alone. If you’re headed out for adventure but need to be budget-minded, know that there are quite a few options for lodging along the way that will help you stretch your travel dollar.

1. Stay with Family

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One of the benefits of our highly connected world is that it has allowed families to keep in touch even though they’re spread across the globe. When you’re planning your vacation, make use of this social network. Reach out to family members who live along your route to find out if you can stay with them. It’s a wonderful way to strengthen bonds with loved ones, and the price is right. Just be sure to be a thoughtful guest, offer to spring for a meal or two, and don’t wear out your welcome.

2. Camp in the Car

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While it may not sound glamorous, car camping is an excellent way to save cash while you roam the country. If you drive an SUV or pickup truck, there are lots of great tents that capitalize on your cargo area to create living space. An SUV tent from a manufacturer like the Rightline Gear 6-Person SUV Tent could be your ticket to a low-budget, high-value vacation.

3. Reserve a Spot at a Hostel

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Hostels aren’t just for youngsters: They offer comfortable beds at a low price, as long as you don’t mind roommates. Hostels are also quite possibly the most sociable lodging option, giving you a chance to swap stories and life experiences with other guests. Explore websites like Booking.com and Hostelworld to research friendly and relaxed stays at your destination. You’ll want to make reservations in advance whenever possible, and be sure to read reviews first so you’re not surprised by the accommodations—or the clientele.

4. Pitch a Tent at a State Campground

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You don’t need an RV or an elaborate assortment of gear to reap the benefits of camping. As long as you’ve got a small tent packed away in your car, you can spend the night in a state campground, reveling in the fresh air and making the most of a shoestring budget. Some parks, including New Jersey’s Cheesequake State Park, allow you to reserve online, pull right into your site, and enjoy all the charms of the outdoors at a small fraction of the cost of a hotel room, and even much less than the price of a high-end RV park. You’ll want to reserve your spot as soon as possible, however. Most popular campgrounds fill months in advance. To ensure entry, use a free booking service like Campspot to book your perfect spot. Campspot lists top-rated camping destinations in North America.

RELATED: 11 of the Weirdest Campsites in the World

5. Arrange a House Swap

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You don’t have to be Kate Winslet or Cameron Diaz in “The Holiday” to score a house swap in a desirable location. Through sites like Love Home Swap and HomeExchange, travelers can trade abodes for short- or long-term stays, and live like a local while seeing the sights. Some people may not be comfortable letting strangers have the run of their home, but a house swap can still be a fantastic way to travel without depleting your bank account.

6. Rent a Tiny Home

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If you’re enamored with the idea of the “tiny house” lifestyle, use your next road trip as an opportunity to stay in one of these bitty buildings. Booking services like Glamping Hub and Vrbo represent numerous tiny houses that may suit your needs. They rent for far less than a hotel room with similar amenities, and they’re often situated in serene settings, so you’ll be surrounded by loads of natural light and lovely scenery—not a dingy view of a parking lot.

RELATED: Our 25 Favorite Tiny Houses of All Time

7. Seek Out a Nontraditional B&B

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While a traditional countryside bed-and-breakfast can cost significantly more than a hotel, accommodations found through sites like Airbnb and Tripping are easier on the wallet, and typically more spartan. For instance, you’re not likely to get the breakfast that the name “B&B” suggests, but you’ll often be able to rent an entire apartment or home for less than a hotel room with similar features.

8. Score a Cheap Timeshare Rental

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We’re not suggesting that you sit through a two-hour presentation to receive a free weekend (although that is an option). Instead, consider renting timeshares from people who aren’t able to use their yearly allotment. Sites like RedWeek allow non-invested parties to rent accommodations from timeshare owners in tourist hot spots. These rentals can cost as little as a third of the price of a hotel room in the same area.

RELATED: 10 Mistakes You Make Every Time You Leave for Vacation

9. Seek Shelter at Monasteries and Temples

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Religious housing like monasteries or temples is an age-old option that’s regaining popularity. Such sites like Monasteries.com and Monastery Stays are often able to provide room and board at little or (rarely) no cost. One thing to keep in mind is that these aren’t hotel rooms or bed-and-breakfasts. You’ll be expected to adhere to the rules and traditions, which may include curfews, quiet hours, and early checkout, but you’ll also get an inexpensive room and a chance to experience an extraordinary way of life.

10. Couchsurf

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For another highly social alternative to a hotel stay, connect with hospitality-minded folks via Couchsurfing. This social network allows travelers and hosts to electronically meet each other and make arrangements for free stays. The accommodations range from sofas (as the name suggests) to rooms to entire homes or condos. Travelers simply reach out and introduce themselves to a host in the area they’re looking to visit, and hope for a good connection.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Airbnb Alternatives

11. Book a Sleeper Train

Sleeper train
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If you’re planning to travel long distances overnight, sleeper trains can be a compelling hotel alternative. You don’t have to drive or look at a road and they offer a comfortable and convenient place to rest, combining travel and lodging in one. While rail vacations can be pricey depending on the destination and accommodations, many popular booking sites offer discounted rates, oftentimes offering a wide range of amenities and extras, too. If you want to take the train to your next destination, Amtrak and Railbookers are great resources to investigate.

12. Work While You Travel

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For those who seek an extended stint on the road, working in exchange for free or discounted housing can be a worthwhile option. These opportunities, such as work exchanges, housesitting gigs, or seasonal employment, not only provide a living wage but also include accommodation as part of the package! Websites like Wander Jobs and Coolworks offer an entire database of businesses that are hiring for full and part-time positions, with most employers providing free or discounted lodging during your stay. Additionally, Work Away offers thousands of opportunities for volunteer work-exchanges in 170+ countries, with a small membership fee.