10 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.

Think Outside the Box

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Non-hotel travel accommodations

As summer approaches, many homeowners are eager to get out of their rut and hit the road. It's time to escape from the routine, meet new people, and explore new sites. 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. 

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Stay with Family

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Stay with family to save money

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!

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Car Camping

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Car camping

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 Rightline Gear (available on Amazon) could be your ticket to a low-budget, high-value vacation.

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Hostels

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Stay at a hostel

Hostels aren't just for youngsters, and they offer a comfortable bed at a low price—as long as you don't mind roommates. Aside from their low cost, hostels are quite possibly the most sociable lodging option, giving you a chance to swap stories and life experiences with other guests. It's always best to make reservations when possible, and be sure to read reviews first so you're not surprised by either the accommodations or the clientele.

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State Campgrounds

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Stay at state campground

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.

Related: 14 "Once in a Lifetime" Places to Camp for a Night

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House Swaps

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Use a house swap

You don’t have to be Kate Winslet or Cameron Diaz in "The Holiday" to benefit from a house swap. 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. Admittedly, some people may not be comfortable letting strangers stay in their home unsupervised, but a house swap can still be a fantastic way to travel without depleting your bank account.

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Tiny Home Rentals

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Stay in tiny house rental

If you're tempted by the tiny house lifestyle, use your next road trip as a opportunity to stay in one of these bitty buildings. 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

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Nontraditional B&Bs

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Stay in Airbnb

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.

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Timeshare Rentals

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Rent a timeshare

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

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Monasteries and Temples

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Stay in monastery

Religious housing like monasteries or temples is an age-old option that’s regaining popularity. Such sites 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, which may include curfews, quiet hours, and early checkout, but you'll also get a cheap room and a chance to experience an extraordinary way of life.

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Couchsurfing

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Couchsurfing

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.

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