Accommodation is a big ticket item. However, if you look hard enough, you may be able to save some money. In addition to hotels, you should also consider other options such as B&Bs, apartments, university residences, or hostels.
Hotels: For Hotels, start with Kayak to get an idea of the price range at your destination.
There are a number of parameters on the left panel that you can use to refine your search results. Any hotel from 3 stars and up should be more than adequate. Also, take advantage of the map view option in Kayak. Like real estate, location is important. Saving $20 a day but spending most of it on transportation makes no sense. If you have access to a car, staying
further from the city centre should save you some money.
After using Kayak, you should move on to check the price with other sites. I would recommend the usual: Booking.com, Hotel.ca, EXpedia.ca and Travelocity.ca. If you have Aeroplan, check Aircanada.com as well. Also, it is always worthwhile to check the hotel’s website. In general, staying multiple days and offering to pay cash will get you a better deal. Finally, don’t forget to check amenities such as airport pick, WiFi, breakfast and parking.
Nowadays, most people check the reviews on
Tripadvisor before they book a hotel. Use your best judgment when reading these reviews. You can usually separate the bogus from the legit ones.
To get the best hotel deals, you may want to subscribe to websites such as Travel Zoo, YYZdeals, or even Groupon. From time to time, booking sites such as Expedia and Travelocity offer 24, 48, or 72 hours deals. I once took advantage of a deal from Hotwire and spent $59 a night at a 5 star Hilton Hotel in St. Louis, MO.
Bidding Sites: If you know exactly when and where you are going to need a hotel, the bidding sites Hotwire and Priceline offer some great deals. To learn about bidding strategies and what hotel you will likely get, go to Betterbidding.com before you make an offer. Keep in mind that the bid price doesn’t usually include taxes and it is non-refundable. [UPdate 09/2015: Using Hotwire, I had booked a hotel in Paris for 3 nights in August 2015. I paid Can $90 a night all in including breakfast at Mercure Paris Bercy Bibliothèque. A simple and clean room at a decent location.]
If you are staying in a city for several days, renting an apartment or a house is a good option. There are several websites that offer that service. I would recommend Vacation Rentals by Owners (vrbo).
The following are a few other possibilities. I have tried a number of these sites with success. The price is usually much better than a hotel.
- AirBnB. Similar to a traditional B&B (Bed and Breakfast) except this website acts as an
agent. If you have any problem, AirBnB will assist you. Also, people who use this site are encouraged to write reviews. The site does charge a commission fee. [Update 09/2015: I have used AirBnB a couple of times. Once in Vancouver, BC and once in Vienna, Austria. Both times, I was able to get a room in decent locations at a much lower price.]
- Luxury Hostels of Europe — I discovered this at the Budget Traveller site recently. Although we often associate hostels with the prefix youth, there are some lovely and impressive modern hostels in Europe. Most of these will have double or family rooms. You can download the free eBook here. [Update 09/2015: I have stayed at the POETS Hostel in Lisbon twice. For a single room, I paid 25 Euros with shared bathroom. The best part of the stays were participating in activities organized by the Hostel and enjoying a couple cheap dinners there.]
- University Residences — if you travel over summer, this may be a viable option. You know the room will be small but clean and definitely cheap. Depending on the universities, some may only have shared bathroom facilities.
- Religious Buildings — some years ago, when I was travelling in Japan, I stayed at a temple for a couple of nights. It was quiet, clean and cheap. In North America and Europe, a number of monasteries will take in guests for a nominal fee.
- Farm Stays — if you want to get away from the city, farm stay may be an option.
- Couch Surfing — as the name implies, you may just get a couch for the night. It is one of the several hospitality exchange networks that provide free or very cheap accommodation.
Hotel St Olav in Estonia is one of the most unusual hotels that I have visited. I was there for two nights but managed to stay in three different rooms. This place merits its own album.