“Travel is expensive!” “How can you afford it?” “Where do you sleep?” Any long term traveler can tell you that these are questions they answer pretty much on a daily basis. Whether you’re in line at the market buying some fresh fruit or at a freeway rest area walking your dog, once someone finds out you travel full-time the list of questions begins! I decided to put together this Rambling Guide to Affordable Long Term Travel Accommodations in order to put some of those questions to bed (see what I did there??) and to help any traveler (full time or part time) save some money on their next trip.
When it comes to long term travel, there’s no question that we prefer Slow Travel and all its benefits. Living like a local is fantastic, but there’s also a great financial benefit to traveling slowly. Typically the longer you stay anywhere the more money you’ll save which in turn will help you travel longer or more often. It’s definitely a win-win situation. We’ve broken up our tips below based on different styles of accommodations as well as from “most affordable” to “most costly”. Without further ado, here’s our Rambling Guide to Affordable Travel Accommodations.
House sitting is by far our favorite means of arranging a long term stay. The benefits to us are pretty much innumerable. The combination of having an actual home with a full kitchen, a space that’s larger than 200 sq/ft, and usually some fun and furry new friends is hard to beat. Plus, once you get past the fees to join a house sitting site it’s normally the best kind of affordable: Free!
There are quite a few house sitting sites out there, and with the popularity of house sitting growing, there are sure to be a few more popping up. Here are some of the sites that are the most popular and some that Lauren and I have used for successful housesits.
HouseCarers.com – This site has provided us with the majority of our house sitting opportunities. If you are looking for a place to stay in North America ( as well as Australia) House Carers seems to have the most options and is also filled with many longer term home stays compared to some other sites.
Trusted House Sitters – While we haven’t had as much personal success with Trusted House Sitters, many of our peers use it frequently and with great success. On this site you’ll find a ton of domestic and international house sits as well as many shorter term (from a few days to weeks) house sit options.
House Sitters America – If you are looking for a USA only house sit, this site is a tremendous resource. With a more focused site and innovative features like reply ratings (making sure that everyone gets a response) and a very low annual cost, this is a great choice for anyone looking to travel through the USA.
MindMyHouse – With a focus on North America and Europe there are a lot of good options here, and they also have the lowest cost with only a $20 annual sign up fee.
LuxuryHousesitting – If you are looking for something upscale and fancy in North America or Europe, this is definitely the site for you. Their House Sitter fee is relatively low as well, however the site also has a lower inventory pool as the homes are a bit more selective.
Pro – Tips & FAQs
Be Flexible: While we all want every house sit to be perfect, it’s important to be flexible when you begin your search and during the negotiation phase of setting up your house sit. Whether your are wiling to trade off your ideal destination, end up taking care of an extra pet, or even paying a bill or two, your flexibility will ensure that you end up in a house sit instead of paying for accommodations.
Be Professional: It’s important to realize that the individuals you are housesitting for are depending on you to take care of their home and loved ones. Ask yourself if you are handling things as a house sitting business would. If you are, you’ll find yourself getting a lot more “yesses” than “nos”.
Be Selective: While some house sitting applicants prefer to play the numbers game and apply for as many house sits as they can, I find this strategy involves a lot more work than the results it gets. If you can be selective and only apply for the house sits you really want, you can take the time to construct a more personal intro email. This will guarantee better results and more responses from potential housesitting opportunities.
Can I travel with My Own Pet?: Since we travel with Zoe, this is one of the most common questions we get. The answer here is yes with a side of maybe. You’ll find that many homeowners are anxious about house sitters bringing pets as they aren’t certain how they will get along with their own pets as well as being concerned about potential damage to their home. The key here is to be patient and make sure to take the time to introduce your pet and allay their fears. Make sure to talk about your pet’s disposition as well as their experiences with other animals they’ve met along the way. It is more difficult to get a housesit if you are traveling with your own pet, but it is not impossible.
HouseSitting 101 – Written by the couple behind Hecktic Travels, this book provides an in depth look at house sitting as well as sharing tips, tricks, and experiences to help you get started with house sitting. With dozens of house sits under their belts, Pete & Dalene (National Geographic’s Travelers of the Year in 2014) offer great advice.
Long Term Rentals
Let’s face it, while we love house sitting sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find something that fits everyone’s needs that’s also in the right place at the right time. Enter long term rentals! If you plan it right, you can easily find a long term rental that will suit all your needs and absolutely wont break the bank.
Long Term Rental Sites
VRBO – Self billed as the most popular vacation rental site in the US, VRBO has always been pretty good to us when we’ve needed to arrange a long term stay. With daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal rates available on most properties, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. There are no rental or processing fees, so there’s no cost to use it as a traveler.
AirBnB – The wildly popular & crowdfunded AirBnB is a fantastic way to get into local communities. When you book with AirBnB you tend to get a slightly less manicured version of a city, and really get to live life like a local. Even though most users set up short stays, you can easily find a long term rental here and save. Want to try them out? Here’s a $20 off coupon.
Trip Advisor – Didn’t know that Trip Advisor had long term rentals? Neither did I until a fellow traveler clued me in. You get all the benefits of Trip Advisor reviews but with locally owned and operated long term rentals.
Zillow – While Zillow is typically advertised as a website for real-estate and rental properties, you can use it for long term travel if you’re up to a little leg work and are ready to be flexible. You can filter searches to include only furnished rentals that offer short term leases, then you can contact the property owner and see if they are willing to rent you the property for the time you need. It only really works if you’re looking to stay for at least 60-days, as most renters on Zillow are looking for full year leasers.
Craigslist – When all else fails, craigslist can usually turn up a creative option. You can use it for a fully furnished rental home, a shared room, or even a
basement dungeon lovely furnished basement. Lots of legwork and negotiating is required here which is why it’s more of a last resort than a first choice option.
Go Off Season: Anyone in the long term rental game can tell you that they make most of their money in the few months that their area is most popular. While you may be able to find a decent rate in the on-season, you can typically expect to pay nearly half as much if you visit in the off season. The more extreme the seasonality the better. We once stayed at a private rental in a ski town for a whole month for the cost of a typical week in season. You definitely can’t beat that!
Negotiate: As with any other business, you should never take a listed price at face value. This is especially true if you are looking at a long term rental in the off-season. In many cases the property owner has an empty space that won’t be filled for more than a few days in a given month. If you offer to take that space off their hands they are typically willing to let it go at a pretty low price. Why? Because some money is always better than no money. You don’t need to be hardcore or a pro at negotiating either. Just contact them and ask for a better price for two reasons: it’s the off-season and you’re guaranteeing occupancy for a month or more. Those two facts alone usually net us a pretty significant discount.
Make a Phone Call: I know, you’re probably thinking why would I call when email is faster/easier/more efficient? It’s simple, people typically like to know who they are doing business with and a simple phone call will typically get you a better rate or another option that fits into your price range. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone back and forth with someone via email over the course of a week, and then make one phone call and have all the arrangements made in less than 10 minutes. Email’s great for a lot of things, negotiating isn’t one of them.
Extended Stay Hotels
Sometimes even the most thorough and exhaustive search on all the house sitting sites and long term rental sites won’t find you anything you are looking for. When that happens for us, our next step is normally to look into an extended stay at a hotel. Now there are two ways we accomplish this. The first is to look into traditional extended stay hotels that advertise themselves that way. The second is to find standard hotels and see if they will offer a weekly or even monthly rate. Lauren and I have done this for years and have stayed at some pretty swanky hotels for less than half of their typical nightly rate (and that’s before we were bloggers :-) )
Extended Stay America – A pretty barebones spot for extended stays with free wifi and a small kitchenette space. They offer daily and weekly rates online, but a quick phone call and usually get you a better rate if you are staying longer. Most locations do charge a nightly pet fee, but it is capped after a few days.
Residence Inn – We’ve stayed in a few of these over the years, even before we were full time travelers. You pay a little more than you would at an “economy” extended stay chain, but the amenities usually make up the difference. Most locations we’ve stayed at offer larger suites, more comfortable living spaces, and larger kitchens. Many locations also offer nice perks like happy hours and free dinners a few nights a week. Last I checked their pet fees were a bit higher than average, but they are a flat rate for the whole stay. That means it can be very pricey for a short term stay, but rather negligible if you are staying more than a couple of weeks.
Candlewood Inn & Suites – We’ve had the opportunity to stay at couple Candlewood locations and were pretty happy we did. The rooms and properties were pretty comfy and they offer the same amenities as others plus a few that we haven’t seen anywhere else. Free laundry facilities, book and dvd libraries, and a neat loaner program for small appliances ( think toaster ovens) can make your stay as comfy as possible. Pet fees with Candlewood are pretty low per night, but are not capped.
LaQuinta Inn – Even though LaQuinta is not an extended stay property, we’ve always had a lot of luck getting a weekly rate online ( 7-night minimum) or by making a quick phone call to the front desk. While you won’t find a kitchenette in your room, you will get free breakfast and can usually get a suite with a fridge and microwave that’ll do in a pinch. Big bonus here is that there is no pet fee, they are normally in the mid-low range for pricing and their rewards program is very easy to earn free stays with.
Stay Outside the City – There are 3 reasons why you should always stay outside of a major city if you are planning a long term stay: Parking, Parking, and Parking. Seriously though, unless you are staying somewhere within walking distance of everywhere you want to be, you’ll often pay way too much when staying in an urban center. Consider staying in one of the outlying suburbs to save money that you can then use for fun. Also, what you save on your rate will more than make up for the occasional cab ride or other public transportation into the city when needed.
Look for Office Parks – If you are looking for a quiet spot with easy accessibility to a city, look for an office park. There are usually many extended stay options nearby for all the business travelers and they are usually quite safe and quiet on the weekends.
Book Longer Than You Need – This tip only works on some occasions but it’s worth looking into. There have been several circumstances where we need to stay somewhere 5 – 6 nights. If you book the nightly rate it will sometimes cost you more than it would if you booked the hotel at the weekly rate. Be careful with this though, while it’s never happened to us, I’ve heard of hotels going back and charging the nightly rate if you stay less than the week.
By far the simplest and most effective way, amassing and collecting points is the easiest way to convert your daily spending into free accommodation. Here are a few of our favorite programs:
Chase Ultimate Rewards – We have a several Chase cards and happily use them to accumulate the Ultimate Rewards Points. Not only do they have great sign up offers, but you can have more than one card and can easily collect all the points into one account for redemption. We use both the Chase Freedom Card as well as the Chase Ink Plus Card for our business expenses and at one point we also used the Chase Sapphire. Oh, I almost forgot! You can also transfer your points equally from Chase to many popular airline reward programs to stack rewards that way as well.
American Express – The American Express Blue card is our longest held credit card for 2 reasons. Easy Cash Back and No Annual Fee. While technically there are no points with the Blue Card, you can use your saved up cash for anything, so why not travel? We save points in the account until we want to book some travel, and then just use points as a statement credit. Easy Peasy!
Swagbucks – Lauren has been an avid user of this site for nearly 5-years, and recently hooked me on using it as well. With very generous points offers, you can easily accumulate rewards that you can trade in for gift cards or cold hard cash. The best part is you can earn lots of points through travel booking sites, while also paying with one of the credit cards above. It’s like double dipping :-) On top of that there are many daily offers (surveys, videos, etc) that you can take advantage of even when NOT spending money that will help you build up that travel fund.
InboxDollars – Similar to Swagbucks, Inbox Dollars offers the same kinds of programs and allows you to cash out for both cash and gift cards. Why are they both listed then? Because we use both :-) !! Since both sites offer free earnings every day, it can add up relatively quickly.
Hotel Rewards Programs
LaQuinta Rewards – Over the years La Quinta hotels have served us very well in our travels across the US. With free Wi-Fi, Breakfast, and No Pet Fees they are an affordable chain with lots of value. Their points program is well built, easy to use, and allows you to build up free stays very quickly.
Marriott – Marriott hotels have one of the best and most flexible points programs around. The Fab Four are four ways to get your points to go even further and make your membership even more fabulous: Points Sharing, Points Advance, Redemption Stay Credit and NEW Cash + Points are some great ways to use your Marriott rewards.
SPG – Starwood hotels can be found in over 100 countries and amongst 10 brands. You can use your points for hotel stays, upgrades, and even flights.
IHG Rewards – With almost 5,000 hotels worldwide, IHG has a little something for every kind of traveler. You can even earn points shopping and dining with their partners so your free nights add up faster.
Booking Site Rewards
hotels.com – If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of things that are quick, easy, and just work! Well that’s what you get with the Hotels.com rewards program. How easy is it? Book ten nights, get one free. That’s the kind of easy I like. Plus their app is easy to use, and you get lower pricing when logged into an account vs searching through an aggregator.
Expedia – Being the largest travel booking site in the world gives you some pretty serious credibility when setting up your rewards program. Much like every other program you earn points by booking your travel or by using their nifty app. Not only do you get their Price Guarantee and the points you can use with no blackout, but you can totally book through a rebate site (like Swagbucks) and use a credit card ( like the Chase Sapphire) and basically triple dip your earnings.
We hope these tips help you find some great accommodations on your next long or short term trip. Did we miss any tips or one of your favorite sites? Just let us know in the comments below!