Home :: Cheap Accommodation for Women
You've probably noticed by now that the biggest bite out of your travel budget is your lodging - hence the occasional need for cheaper digs ranging anywhere from budget hostel accommodation to couchsurfing.
Part of the fun of solo travel is not quite knowing where you'll end up, or with whom - a local family, a religious congregation, a friendly charity, a research station. The good news is that you'll be spoilt for choice, even at the budget end of the price range.
My couch is your couch
If I'm tight on money, I start with hospitality groups. There's couchsurfing, of course, but it's not the only one - there are plenty of incredible free hospitality networks out there, some of which cater to special-interest or specific groups, such as women, or senior travelers.
And your house is my house
If you're well organized and staying put for several weeks, you could become a housesitter - on the Australian beach or in a quaint old village in Provence or in the heart of London or New York... It's a wonderful way to stay in one place, soaking up local culture and language for weeks or even months.
Letting out your inner organic farmer
If picking grapes or apples is your version of staying fit while you travel, there's a wonderful organization called WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You get room and board, not a bad deal if you're in shape but need to stop traveling for a while and regroup.
Can I teach you English?
This is the final suggestion in the price bracket of "free": you might be able to trade a bit of volunteer work overseas for a few days' room and meals. There's no instructional manual for this but when you're in a developing country and in a volunteering frame of mind, you can just... walk into a charity and ask (I spent the better part of a week in Malawi in a local guesthouse as a result of helping write up some proposals for an environmental group). You can also ask around Expat forums at your destination; that's where many conversations happen and someone might just be looking for a bit of help or a special skill you happen to have.
Going local in a homestay
If staying for free isn't your thing, you could book a room in a private home and get to know local people better. When I traveled throughout the Baltic states for several months, I stayed with families in three countries. While you do pay a fee (often quite modest) for homestay accommodation, you'll sleep in someone's home and share part of their lives for a few days. Often your hosts may speak a few words of English (but not always), and will provide a welcome contact point to local life - along with home-cooked food and great bus directions if you need them.
It's back to school time
University and college campuses sometimes rent out their rooms when classes aren't in session. These won't be luxurious by any means, but they'll be cheap, there will probably be good public transport nearby (students are broke, right?), not to mention cheap eats (for the same reason). My first ever solo stay in Geneva was in a university dorm, the only accommodation my youthful budget could cope with in this expensive city.
A hostel, as in young and broke
For those of us who began traveling a long time ago (ahem!) cheap hostel beds bring back many memories of noisy dorms and partying late into the night. These hostels still exist, of course, but there are many new boutique and luxury hostels, and it's not uncommon to find a single room with an ensuite bathroom while others are crammed eight to a room down the hall. Beware though: some of these new breed hostels have prices as high as hotels (though admittedly a better ambiance).
Le Bed & Breakfast
The denomination B&B has become an umbrella term for everything from a room in someone's house to a luxurious spread in a hotel that happens to serve breakfast only as opposed to having a full restaurant. In its purest state, you'll be renting a room in someone's house, breakfast included. It is the original hostelry, the place people stayed back when the only alternative might have been a local inn or a monastery. Speaking of which...
Finding peace and quiet
Maybe you're looking for a different experience altogether. If you're seeking peace and serenity, why not stay in a monastery? They are scattered around the world and many of them don't involve religion at all. While many have been converted into luxurious hotels, a few remain inexpensive and, just once at least, it's an experience you shouldn't miss.
There's Airbnb, still cheaper than a hotel
If you can't housesit just now but still feel a yearning for the comforts of home, your answer may be Airbnb, which has rental properties all over the world. Some are expensive - you can, after all, rent your own chateau - but some are as cheap as a hostel, especially if you're willing to share an appartment or even a room rather than have the whole place to yourself (frankly, even renting an entire apartment is usually cheaper than a hotel).
You can also go upscale once in a while. When I was backpacking around the world, I made sure I spent one night each month in a 'good' hotel - one with hot water, a firm mattress, my own bathroom, and preferably a buffet breakfast with pancakes and maple syrup to fulfill my cravings for Western food. These days when I travel, I don't usually spend much on accommodation but if I'm gone for any length of time, I make sure I build in a few 'treats' (read luxury) along the way.
If you MUST stay in a hotel
Do yourself a favor and don't pay full price. I was looking at a hotel in Amsterdam and on their website the cost per night was €130, but on HotelsCombined it was €90. That's quite a saving so make sure you compare various booking engines (there's also booking.com, hotels.com, lastminute.com, trivago.com, priceline.com and many others - I've just found the cheapest prices on HotelsCombined). Still, don't neglect the hotel website: it might have a special offer, like a 2 for 1 or free breakfast or dinner. I've rarely had to pay full rack price in a hotel.
Have an adventure
I once spent a week in a rural village in Zimbabwe's Lower Zambezi River Basin, researching a story on water scarcity. The only available accommodation in this scorching, dry area was an open-air circular thatch hut facing the savannah, with a wide entrance that didn't close. I sealed it off with a rusty metal barrel but it was low enough for a lion to jump over. For several nights I slept intermittently, trying to keep myself inside (and everything else outside). I found this incredibly local accommodation through a local charity who operated in the area. Your best bet will always be to... ask.
A word of caution
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the issue of safety. Of course you won't go wandering off into the wild blue yonder with a group of men offering you free hospitality, we know that. But always double-check where you're going and notify someone you trust, even back home. It's wise not to accept accommodation where there is a single male or a group of males, and when booking through a group or association, opt for those whose addresses and contacts have been 'verified' - Airbnb and Couchsurfing offer this service, as do many others.
Do you have any other suggestions for budget accommodation? Do share!