Travel can be expensive or it can be cheap. It all depends on your priorities.
For most people, the most expensive part of travel is getting from point A to point B. The second most expensive part is paying for a place to sleep every night, but there are plenty of ways to minimize those expenses. Here are a few ideas on how to save money on lodging.
Free camp As cyclists, we spent many nights on the side of the highway – we just head back into the woods and find a place to camp. Unless you’re cycling, that strategy most likely won’t work well for you. In the USA, you can camp for free in all national forests and on BLM land, as long as it isn’t posted to camp in designated sites only. Simply find a dirt road heading back off the road, drive for a mile or so, then find a place to put your tent. It’s free and it’s easy and, in the western part of the USA, very easy to find a spot. In the eastern USA, it’s not such a good strategy as there aren’t many national forests and very little BLM land.
Couchsurfing Using hospitality sites such as couchsurfing, warmshowers (for bike tourists), or hospitality club can be a great way to keep costs down. Not only will you have a free place to stay, but you’ll meet wonderful people. Be sure to be very up-front about what your plans are so your host knows what to expect.
Pay camp Camping in campgrounds is the next cheapest option. All national parks have campgrounds and many national forests and monuments have them as well. In addition, there are private campgrounds in nearly all popular tourist destinations. Fees vary tremendously from around $5 to $30+/site/night. KOA tends to be the most expensive, but sometimes they are the only game in town and they are still cheaper than a hotel. In high season, be sure to make reservations in advance as campgrounds tend to fill up.
Hostels Hostels aren’t nearly as popular in the USA as they are in many other countries, but some do exist. For solo travelers, hostels are nearly always cheaper than hotels because you pay per bed and share a room with others. Be aware that hostels tend to be more expensive for a family, that’s why we didn’t use them much in our travels.
Local motels Older, local, Ma & Pa motels tend to be cheaper than big chains. Granted, they aren’t as nice as the more expensive places, but if you’re looking to save money they’re worth it. As we cycled through the USA, these were the only motels we stayed in. They tend to be located on the OLD highway into town rather than along the interstate. The interstate, being new, is lined with new hotels, but find the old road into town and you’ve found the older, more established community.
Chain motels or hotels If you need to have lodging lined up in advance, this is the way to go. This level of accommodation can be found on the internet and prebooked through one of many hotel comparison sites. You can find any price range here from relatively cheap to outrageously expensive – for that major splurge 🙂