How to Book Budget Accommodations

View from Airbnb in Cozumel
Sunset view from our Airbnb in Cozumel, Mexico.

Finding the perfect travel accommodations can make or break your trip. The ideal lodging should be a good fit for your budget and the type of trip you are planning – relaxing vacation vs all-day adventures. For us, where we stay depends on the type of adventures planned. Accommodations can range from our tiny backpacking tent in the Rocky Mountains to a snorkeler’s dream: oceanfront vacation rental in Mexico.

Depending on the area you’re visiting, you may find plenty of lodging options online or you may have to wait until arrival to find a place. We usually like to make reservations in advance, especially for the first few nights.  But in more rural parts or in places with less-advanced technology, finding accommodations may be best done in person on the day you want to stay there.

Read on for our top recommendations and tips for booking travel accommodations online.

Vacation Rentals

Renting an apartment or home is our favorite way to live like a local while traveling and we highly recommend it. Staying in a residential area allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture. We love being able to buy fresh, local ingredients at the market and prepare delicious, homemade meals in the comfort of our own “home.”  Our go-to websites for finding the best vacation rentals are Airbnb and VRBO. Top vacation rentals are usually booked months in advance (6 months or so). If you want the best value or area, make sure to book ahead. Otherwise, you may have to sacrifice a bit or take a risk by renting a place with a small number of reviews.

Airbnb

Airbnb gives you the option to rent a shared room, private room (your own room with shared common spaces, such as a kitchen or living room) or an entire apartment or house. OPT readers get $40 in Airbnb credit when they sign up for the first time and book their stay.

VRBO

VRBO focuses on entire home and apartment rentals. Many of the rental homes are on the larger side (compared to Airbnb) and many even include a backyard. We tend to find better quality entire home and apartment rentals on this site, including our absolute favorite vacation rental to date in Hawaii.

Another shot from the Airbnb in Hawaii. Open air house with private pool in the heart of coffee country.

Hotels

Hotels have traditionally been the accommodation of choice for the majority of travelers. Most hotels provide, at the very least, private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, with varying amenities, such as TV, air-conditioning, room service, gym, pool, spa, and on-site restaurants. Hotels are a good choice if the top priorities for your trip are comfort and convenience. Although some travelers may rely on the predictability of staying at larger, chain hotels, we prefer to search around for smaller, locally-owned hotels that provide a more authentic cultural experience.

Booking.com

Booking.com makes it easy to find hotels based on location by using their map function. They also provide an easy to use filtering system to sort lodging by amenities, location, rating, etc. We like that they show pictures of each type of room available and make it easy to spot hotels that include breakfast. You can also cancel most reservations for free. Just keep in mind that taxes are not included in the listed price.

Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego. Make sure to ask for the view you want!

Hostels

Most people think of hostels as accommodations geared exclusively towards young backpackers willing to stay in 10 people dorm rooms with shared bathrooms. If you are a budget-focused, solo-traveler, then a shared room stay may be a great option for you. But, if you are traveling with a friend or partner, or just prefer a little more privacy while still minding your budget, then read closely for a big, money-saving secret: Many hostels also offer ensuite or private rooms with their own bathrooms for about the same price as a dorm room stay for two. Hostels have common areas for mingling with other travelers and most have shared kitchens for preparing your own meals. Like hotels, hostels can vary greatly in amenities provided, with some charging extra for towels, while other hostels boast pools, bars, free wifi and breakfast, and daily cleaning service.

Hostelworld

Hostelworld is our top choice for finding hostels around the world. They use icons to make it easy to see if the hostel provides free wifi and breakfast (many do!) and include the distance from the city center. We also like that there are plenty photos and reviews from other travelers with a clear rating system. Another plus is that free cancellation is available for most listings.

Hahn’s Peak campsite, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Camping

Campsites

Check out our post on How to Find Campsites for an in-depth guide on locating the best site for your camping style and budget.  And don’t forget the gear!  Read our page on Essential Camping Gear List for more information.

Hipcamp

Hipcamp gives you the ability to reserve overnight stays “on ranches, nature preserves, farms, vineyards, and public campgrounds across the U.S.” You don’t even need to travel with your own tent. You can find a variety of different lodging on Hipcamp, from yurts to tiny homes.

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