Cheap accommodation: a comparison of today’s options

29 Apr, 2017

Cheap accommodation: a comparison of today’s options

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Cheap accommodation

Which type of cheap accommodation is best?

In today’s online world there are lots of options when it comes to finding cheap accommodation. The internet has enabled all manner of search tools across the world, whether you are looking for an inexpensive hostel, a housesitting gig, or a free sofa somewhere fun. Nick Caley one of our registered housesitters and a regular contributor to the HouseSitMatch Blog shares his thoughts on which type of cheap accommodation is best.


Diagram showing similarities between house sitting, vacation rental services, and hotels/hostels
A comparison between accommodation services

Cheap accommodation and cheap travel – accessible anytime on the net

Whether you always look for cheap accommodation or the best range of options there’s never been a better time to find cheap travel. Whilst the world has always been full of unique and inexpensive places to stay, they have for a long time remained unknown, invisible to those who didn’t know where to look. The internet changed this forever. Now we’re all only a few clicks away from cheap accommodation, with new services to help us on our way emerging all the time. Without a doubt, we’re living at a time where we can find amazing places to stay faster and more simply than ever before. The options we have now seem almost infinite.

But such limitless choice always has a drawback. Where do you even begin looking? How do you know which kind of service is more suited to finding the cheapest and the most suitable accommodation for you? The web is saturated with options, both traditional and alternative, which are all suitable and adaptable to very different needs. In this short article, I’ve split the options for finding cheap accommodation into threes type of services. See for yourself how they compare and differ to one another, and learn which online service can offer you the most value and the best experience at the lowest price.


a yellow couch in front of a mountain
An unused couch can become an extremely cheap form of accommodation

Vacation Rental – as Cheap Accommodation


  • Flexible/last minute
  • Simple
  • Meet new people
  • Cheapest type of accommodation
  • Ideal for singles


  • Less reliable
  • Lack of personal space
  • Many sites dominated by professional letting agencies
  • Not always suitable for couples

The past few years have seen a surge in vacation rental (VR) services operating online. Their increasing popularity is part of a growing ‘sharing economy,’ which uses digital platforms to connect people with underused resources with other people who can borrow those resources either at a fair price or in exchange for a service. An empty bedroom becomes someone else’s holiday home, in the case of VR platforms. It can make finding a quick and cheap place to stay very simple and flexible. There are many different forms of VR. Some sites like AirBnB contain standard listings, such as a single room or apartment to rent, sometimes a whole house, alongside less conventional listings such as empty warehouses, boats, and even renovated camper vans in a field. Other sites, most famously Couchsurfing, allow you to share accommodation with the host, cohabiting, sometimes on the couch like the service suggests, though often in a separate bed or something similar. It all depends on what’s available at the right place and the right time – and that’s the risk taken to in order to find cheap accommodation and pay the very least for accommodation almost anywhere in the world. This kind of accommodation is usually best for solo travellers only staying for a short while. Though couples and families also use these services.

VR sites such as these have been established for a little while now. And today you can even find some rather luxurious places on offer, these services are normally better suited to those who don’t mind a little uncertainty, and sometimes a few surprises. It’s always wise to remind yourself that the most desirable and comfortable options are almost always more expensive; sometimes using a VR service turns out to cost a lot more than you might have expected. This is increasingly true now that they’ve become extremely popular, and people are looking to make as much money as possible from the opportunities that are now possible. VR services all have different methods of trying to make users experiences as safe as possible, though naturally there will always be some element of risk whilst staying with strangers.


Hotel sign behind palm leaves
A more traditional type of accommodation

Hotels/Hostels – as Cheap Accommodation


  • Reliable
  • Comfortable
  • Secure
  • Usually in most convenient locations
  • Personal space


  • Most expensive option
  • Can be isolating/anti-social
  • Hostels can be loud/busy/uncomfortable
  • Usually in most expensive/least interesting part of the city
  • Prices rise in peak seasons

It goes without saying that hotels and hostels are where people have traditionally chosen to stay on their travels. As much as VR services have expanded onto the market, many travellers still opt for the tried and tested route of the service industry. Hotels offer the highest levels of comfort and security, as well as a range of other services, but at a greater price. Hostels are cheaper, though far more basic and often loud, busy, or not maintained very well. The most affordable hostel this blogger ever stayed in was full of insects and vomit stains. Conversely, when I spent more than I ought to have on a posh hotel, I found it quite antisocial, soulless and empty. Extremes at each end of the social spectrum, granted, but it’s something to take into consideration – at least the frugal traveller knows what they’re getting from their money.

Hotels and hostel are generally quite impersonal. This can be good or bad depending on what you want to get out of a trip. There’s little in the way of establishing trust and gaining local insights from a knowledgeable host. For some people, however, this is an acceptable price for what is ultimately a predictable, formal agreement. This type of accommodation, which doesn’t need to go through a third party service to be viable, has been around long before the internet made a sharing economy possible. For now, at least, it is how most people travel. But the massively reduced cost of alternatives might be changing this considerably.


dog staring out of car window
Can a dog take you places that you never imagined?

Housesitting – as Cheap Accommodation


  • Security
  • Home comforts
  • Animal companionship>
  • Free!
  • Establish trust
  • Chance of gaining priceless local knowledge


  • Easy to get attached to pets whilst house sitting
  • Travel only to where house sits are
  • Might never want to pay for accommodation again

House-sitting sits somewhere between VR services and traditional hotels and hostels. Both other services, whilst they might save you some money, will inevitably incur a cost. To put it bluntly, they’re both just different ways of swapping cash for a place to sleep. With house sitting, another factor is in play. The sitter exchanges their experience, pet /homecare and time for accommodation bound more by trust than money. In other words, it’s completely free.

Rather than sharing with a host or other strangers, the house sitter might only share with resident pets, if they have to share at all. Houses of all types – apartments, villas, townhouses – are available all over the world, both in the sprawling city and remote countryside. The relationship between host and guest is even more important than in VR services, so it’s vital to be trustworthy and reliable in order to even organise this kind of free accommodation. Though once this is done the sitter can enjoy a completely unique place to stay, as well as having a level of comfort and security equal to (or better than) any hotel. With last-minute house sits frequently posted, it’s surprisingly effective for more impulsive travellers. Though the kinds of housesits available are diverse, some lasting months at a time.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of house sitting is that there isn’t as much choice as either VR services or traditional accommodation types as yet. Though this might be seen as a benefit too. House sitting can take you to incredible and unexpected places that you might not ever have thought to visit otherwise. Even though you can find yourself somewhere rather exotic, every home comfort is right at hand, and you get to live like a local as the saying goes, learning the best of someone’s local neighbourhood often with the very best local tips. You get the inside track on their home turf so to speak.

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