Rick Steves' Best Advice For Finding Accommodations On A Budget

If you're finding the cost of accommodation when you travel a bit astronomical these days, you're not alone. Accommodation is usually the largest expense, not including flights. In 2023, CNBC reported the night rates of hotel rooms were up 8% from 2022, and if you're traveling to popular destinations like Los Angeles, that jumps to a whopping 30%. Airbnb isn't any less expensive, says travel expert Loren Christie, who told CTV News, "Prices are noticeably higher then [sic] they were pre-pandemic for both hotels and Airbnbs." The outlet reported on data that found the average price of an Airbnb in Toronto was only $33 cheaper than a hotel room, which doesn't amount to significant savings.


Luckily, trusted travel guru Rick Steves has published a lot about this very topic on his popular website, Rick Steves' Europe, writing, "Expensive hotels can rip through a tight budget like a grenade through a dollhouse." He also notes that the more you spend on accommodation, the more you are going to feel compelled to get the most from your money and stay indoors rather than explore. "As far as I'm concerned, spending more for your hotel just builds a bigger wall between you and what you traveled so far to see," he writes. So how do you avoid those big London, Paris, and New York price tags for accommodation? Dare to sleep cheap in 1-star hotels, don't be fussy about amenities (like ensuite), and embrace the youth hostel, even if you're older!


Stay in a hostel

If you're taking a gap year or love backpacking around the world, you're probably well acquainted with the youth hostel: a dorm-like accommodation where young people sleep in bunk beds and use communal bathrooms and kitchens. Hostel dorm prices in many cities can be as low as $50 in Amsterdam or $15 in Thailand. However, perhaps you feel your dorm days are behind you, or maybe you want youth hostel prices but your own room. You're in luck! Rick Steves writes for Transitions Abroad, "A hostel membership pays for itself in four nights. And it's not limited to youths. In fact, those over 55 get a discount on a hostel card. Using the hostel's kitchen, you can cook for the price of groceries — a great savings for traveling families." Many hostels offer ensuite private rooms, more expensive than a dorm but less expensive than a hotel.


If you're not fussy about the ensuite aspect of the room, you can save even more. Steves writes on Transitions Abroad that "Opting for the shower and toilet down the hall can save you $30 a night" at a 1-star hotel. He goes on to write on his website that he prefers those types of hotels because of their charm and affordability and because they're "run with a respect for local traditions, and not listed in other guidebooks ... I'm more impressed by a convenient location and a fun-loving philosophy than flat-screen TVs and pricey laundry service."

Haggle with the hotel

Another great trick Rick Steves lives by is using booking sites like Booking.com to find accommodation but never actually booking through them. He writes that hotel-listing aggregators are middlemen who take a cut of the money you pay for your room. Instead, he suggests using those sites to find the hotel you like and then calling the hotel directly to haggle for a price. Writing for USA Today, Steves notes that "owners are free to give you whatever price they like. I usually ask for a room without the commission mark-up (or for a free breakfast or a free upgrade). Hoteliers are more likely to accommodate any special needs or requests if you're in touch with them directly." If you want to book online, he says, book directly on the hotel website, not the third-party aggregator site. On Transitions Abroad, Steves further advises that, "you'll have the best chance of getting a discount if business is slow," aka during the off-season, and if you offer to stay at least three days while paying in cash.


Steves also notes on his website that perhaps the best way to get the most for your money while on a budget is to eschew the big-name chain hotels and opt for a mom-and-pop local hotel. While they "may not have room service ... their staffs are more interested in seeing pictures of your children and helping you have a great time than in thinning out your wallet."