How to NOT Spend Your Life Savings on Travel Accommodations

This post is from my new website, The Seasoned Travelr. If you like this blog, you’ll also enjoy my more recent posts! Happy travels!

Traveling can be expensive. Like, crazy expensive. Especially if you don’t do your research. People ask me all of the time how I’ve managed to travel around the world, and assume that I must be getting some type of financial help – but that’s not the case.

I’ve learned how to travel smart, and I’ve made it work for me. My first two years working in Spain I was only making 300 euros a month (pathetic, I know)… and yet I visited 10 countries during that time. 

One of the most expensive parts of traveling is the cost of where you’ll sleep – which, to me, is the least important part of the trip. Sure, if you’re on your honeymoon or on a romantic getaway, it can be nice to have a lovely room or apartment to stay in because you’ll be spending a lot of time there. But if you’re like me, when I travel to a new city or country, I try to stay out of my room as much as possible so that I can really get to know the area. I literally am only there to sleep. So why does it matter if the room is fantastic?

Of course, each person is different. Some people require higher levels of comfort and a minimum number of stars with a brand name hotel or resort. If that’s you, perhaps this article isn’t for you.

But, if you’re looking for some good ways to save money, and aren’t super picky with your accommodations (don’t get me wrong, you can still find super nice places to stay using my advice below), you can save a lot of money using the following sites:

1. Find amazing rooms or even entire apartments on Airbnb.

This is definitely my go-to site whenever I’m planning a trip. If you spend some time comparing your options, you can almost always find a cheap yet clean and sometimes even super stylish room or apartment in your city of choice (sometimes even better than a hotel!).

It isn’t always the cheapest option available, but you have to evaluate your needs on every trip and see if a little bit of extra money is worth it for you. It becomes even more affordable if you travel with friends or family, because you can share the cost (be careful that when you make a reservation, you say exactly how many people will be staying there, the cost can sometimes change a bit depending on the number of people).

When I was traveling alone or with a friend or two, I’d generally find a cheap hostel to stay in (see #2 below) because I didn’t need anything fancy and it was a great way to meet fellow travelers. When my now-husband then-boyfriend and I began traveling together, we’d pitch in a little bit of extra money and get a private room using Airbnb, and then realized it would only be slightly more money to have an entire apartment to ourselves. Now that is the only way we travel.

If you opt to only rent a room in someone’s house, you need to keep in mind that the owner/family will probably be there a lot of the time, and you need to be respectful of their space and property. I’ll admit that a couple of the times we stayed in a room, we felt a little bit awkward or as if we were walking on eggshells around the rest of the family. Don’t get me wrong, all of our experiences were lovely and we met a lot of great hosts, but you have to bear this in mind before you go. If you’re looking to party or stay up late, Airbnb is not for you.

Another bonus of Airbnb is that it is quite common to have access to a kitchen, and this can save you a lot of money as well. You can go to the grocery store and buy food items for breakfast, snacks, etc and have a fridge to keep things cool. But, of course, for me half of the fun is going out to different restaurants and cafes, so this isn’t a useful addition for some travelers.

Pros:

  • cheap
  • comfortable
  • can have an entire apartment to yourself
  • kitchen, so you can save money and cook for yourself
  • sometimes you have access to washing machines/dryers
  • you can get some good advice and ideas on things to do from a local person (your host)

Cons:

  • if you opt for a room, you don’t have as much privacy
  • can be a little more expensive than other options
  • you’re staying in someone’s house/apartment, and therefore need to treat it with more care and respect than if you were staying in a hostel/hotel
  • it isn’t as easy to meet other travelers

If you decide to try out Airbnb for the first time, sign up here. You will get a 25 euro travel credit to go on your first trip! You can sign in with Facebook, Google or another email. You need to provide a photo, an “about me” and some verification of your identity (such as your passport or ID). It may seem a little strange at first, but it makes sense – if you stay in a hostel or a hotel, they also need to see ID. It is super simple to sign up, and you can start searching for places to stay right away!

2. Stay in a hostel.

If you’re from Europe, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “well, duh.” It is super common for young people to stay in hostels throughout Europe because they’re super cheap and you can find them in abundance in almost every city. But if you’re a fellow American, this might be slightly out of your comfort zone – we don’t even really have hostels in America, and those that I’ve seen were awful and overpriced. Then add on top of that the 3 “Hostel” horror movies… it’s enough to make you swear off ever staying in a hostel.

I remember I was terrified of staying in a hostel for the first time (read about my experience on my old blog here). In fact, my first experience wasn’t fantastic, but hey… it was eye opening. But hey, at least I didn’t die (movie reference)! You just have to be prepared for it, especially if it is your first time. Check out my tips for first-timers at a hostel here (coming soon).

Hostels are especially great if you’re travelling with friends. For example, if you are traveling with 3 other friends, it is super common for hostels to have a room with 4 beds, so you can reserve all 4 and in that way you don’t have to worry about sharing a room with strangers. To be safe, always email the hostel to be clear that you want all 4 beds together, in the same room!

Staying in a hostel can also be a good option for solo travelers, because it helps you meet people. They often hold events or tours so that you can get to know other travelers, or even organize outings together so that you don’t feel so alone. I’ve met a lot of great people this way!

Pros:

  • almost always one of the cheapest accommodations available
  • sometimes there is breakfast included (or for a very small fee)
  • there’s generally many hostel options available in every city
  • they can provide you maps and other useful information
  • they often hold social events and tours

Cons:

  • not a lot of privacy
  • sometimes not the cleanest or most comfortable (always check reviews!)
  • you never know who you’ll be stuck in a room with, and sometimes people aren’t very considerate
  • noise from roommates or nearby rooms

Image result for hostelworldImage result for hostels.com

If you decide to stay in hostels, I recommend the sites HostelWorld and Hostels.com. I’ve used both of these sites many times, and find it very useful when comparing various hostels. They make it easy to compare prices and reviews, and to visualize where in the city they are located.

Image result for booking.com

3. Find locally owned hotels.

If you have a little bit of extra money to spare and want more comfort/privacy, you can stay in a local hotel. These hotels are generally cheaper than big, name-brand hotels and resorts but can still offer the same comfort. It is also very common for them to provide breakfast and tours.

My favorite website for booking hotels is Booking.com! They make it easy to compare prices, reviews, and amenities, and have discounts all the time. If you’re planning your trip last minute, they often provide even more discounts! If you’re planning your trip more in advance, they generally offer free cancellation 24 hours in advance and don’t charge you until you arrive, which can be nice in case your plans change. It is free to sign up.

Pros:

  • comfortable
  • private
  • cheaper than big brand hotels
  • often provide breakfast, maps, tours, airport shuttles, etc
  • easy to book (and cancel, if need be)
  • amenities (if you’re lucky a pool, restaurant, etc)

Cons:

  • more expensive than a hostel

Image result for couchsurfing

4. Try out couchsurfing.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find free accommodations on CouchSurfing.com. Yes, I said free. This option definitely isn’t for everyone, though. The idea of the site is for local people who have extra space in their homes (whether that be a couch or extra bed) to invite travelers to come and stay with them for free. These are generally people who enjoy meeting people from other cultures and who enjoy exchanging stories and advice.

If you’re staying in a place for more than a couple days and would like to see and learn about the city from a local’s perspective, this is a great option. But if you’re only staying for a day or two and plan to be out exploring all day, perhaps you’re better off paying for a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb. Hosts on CouchSurfing don’t like to be treated like a hotel, and are generally only offering you a place to stay in exchange for some quality company.

Of course, you also have to feel confident and be smart about staying with strangers. I’ve personally never done this option, but not because I haven’t tried (hosts just weren’t available during the times I was travelling). If you’re a carefree, easygoing spirit, give it a try and let me know how it goes for you! I’ve had friends who have done this and said it was one of their favorite travel experiences, so definitely don’t knock it until you try it.

Pros:

  • free
  • great way to meet people
  • local’s perspective and advice

Cons:

  • security
  • sometimes can be difficult to find a willing host during specific dates
  • you have to expect to spend time with your host, not just crash on their couch and leave

Have you used any of these types of accommodations? Which is your favorite? Have you tried any other websites or options that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know! Leave your comments here or on my new website, The Seasoned Travelr. Good luck on your journey!

Happy travels!

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Your Guide to Santander, Cantabria, Spain

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings – I promise there are some great tips if you plan to travel here! 🙂

Admittedly, I didn’t spend nearly as much time in Santander as I should have. My original plan was to visit San Sebastian and Bilbao for the 4 day weekend, but my host family insisted that Santander was worth seeing. They told me it was only a short drive past Bilbao, but it ended up being about 1.5 hours past Bilbao. Plan accordingly!

When I researched Santander, not much came up online. That worried me a little, because this would actually be my first trip ever alone (besides moving to Spain in the first place, that is). There weren’t many hostels available in the area either, so if you’re planning to take that route as well, be sure to take that into account.

When I told people I would be going to Santander, most people asked “But… why? What’s there?” It’s true, it isn’t the biggest tourist destination, especially for Americans and Brits. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a pretty popular destination for Spaniards.

Getting There

Santander is about a 1.5 hour bus ride away from Bilbao. There are some lovely views along the way! There is also a train, I suppose it would take about the same time or perhaps a little less. However, be sure to plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance, especially on weekends. When I tried to leave on Sunday to return to Bilbao, I couldn’t leave in the morning like I had planned because both the train and bus were sold out! Luckily I wasn’t in a rush, but that could definitely ruin your trip.

Where to Stay

I stayed at a “hostel” in the Puerto Chico region of Santander, only because during that time it was the only (cheap) thing available. The hostel actually turned out to be a spare room in someone’s apartment, but my stay was nice nonetheless. Since it was my first time travelling alone, I was hoping to meet people at the hostel, so it was a bit disappointing. But I had a nice and pleasant stay with them, the family was very nice (but spoke no English, so be prepared with a little Spanish). If you’re interested, you can book it here on the hostelworld website.

There are also many hotels in the area if you’re not on a budget, and many of them are located more centrally near the peninsula. Airbnb is always good to check, too!

Puerto Chico (Port Area)

If you’re coming to Santander by bus or train, you’ll be dropped off in this area. However, this is not the central part of Santander. At least, not where most of the touristy things to see are located. There is the port, which is quite nice to walk along, and there are many delicious pinchos restaurants to choose from. And, since it isn’t a huge tourist city, you can find some amazing deals on food!

I had a lovely walk along the coast enjoying the view of the villages on the other side of the bay, the views are pretty spectacular (even though the weather wasn’t fantastic). There are also a few parks along this route, with some nice sculptures to admire. Nearby, there is also a sailing school, so you’ll probably see some amateur sailors taking advantage of the day.

The Arch of Banco Santander

In this area, there is also the original Santander Bank (if you don’t know why this should be important, don’t worry – it’s just a very popular bank in Spain). It is nice to check out, especially if you’re into architecture. It was built in the early 1920’s by architect Javier González de Riancho.

The Courtyard of Banco Santander

As you wander along the streets nearby, you’ll find lots of cool street art- if you’re into that kind of thing. I walked around this city alone at night, and while I don’t recommend doing the same, it is a safe and beautiful city to explore if you have the time.

If you wander back towards the coast, you’ll find some lovely parks and statues. Grab a gelato, take the hand of a loved one, observe the sailors… take advantage of the beautiful walk.

I noticed that there were many lovely buildings throughout the city of Santander. Just keep your eyes open, you never know what you’ll find 🙂

If you keep walking north along the coast, heading towards the peninsula, you will pass by the sailing school and also the strangest government building I’ve ever set my eyes upon:

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the main downtown area of Puerto Chico to this region, and then perhaps 10-15 more minutes to reach the beach and peninsula region. There are buses that you could take, but as of May 2015, google maps did not have them listed in my phone. But I assure you, the walk is worth it!

Peninsula de la Magdelena

After walking along the coast, you’ll find yourself at a nice beach. There is a path that goes along the cliff, or you can slip off your shoes and enjoy walking across the sand. At the end of this beach, there will be another path that’ll lead you towards the main entrance of the park on the Peninsula.

Not a shabby place to live, eh?

The Peninsula is definitely worth a visit, and many tourist sites recommend at least three hours to fully explore it. There is a huge park, a small zoo, and even a palace! The views from this peninsula are breathtaking, even on a cloudy day. And the best part? It is completely free! I guess there are tours inside of the palace, which you can pay extra for. There’s also a little shuttle that you can pay for to take you around the peninsula, but I highly recommend just walking it.

If you follow the path to the left first, you’ll find yourself at their small zoo. They don’t have much, but it is still pretty cool! There are penguins (a funny sight to see with the beach in the background) and seals. If you continue following the path, you’ll come across a mermaid with 3 ships – a very typical photo moment in Santander!

Continue further and up the hill, stopping to admire the views off of the cliffs. After a few minutes, you will see the palace. It isn’t anything super impressive, but it is pretty. You can walk all along it, and then continue on the path back down the hill, on the other side of the peninsula. There are a couple of different paths that lead more inland or closer to the cliffs.

Just imagine having a picnic here. Either on the grassy knoll, or surrounded by beautiful trees with a distant view of the mountains or horizon. Think: jamon serrano, a tasty yet inexpensive wine, some olives, a handsome Spanish man by your side…

Playa de los Peligros

Peña Vieja and the Beaches

When you loop back around the peninsula toward the entrance, if you continue through the gate and to the right, you will find yourself at another lovely beach called Primera Playa (or First Beach). The first thing you’re sure to notice is Peña Vieja (or Old Rock), with lovely views of the other main area of Santander behind it. I’m sure this beach would be lovely during the summer! I went during the Spring, and what with the weather being wetter in the North, the weather varies quite a bit from day to day.

From there, walk further along the coast and you’ll find Parque de Piquío, a small break in between the two main beaches of Santander. They have some lovely gardens and benches and of course a magnificent view of the beach in both directions.

The City near the Main Beaches

After you’ve had enough of the beach (if you can ever have enough of the beach), you can head inland to explore the city area on this side of the peninsula. I noticed lots of unique buildings and enjoyed just strolling through the city. In fact, since my phone wasn’t allowing me to find a bus route home, I just walked straight through the city to the other side and back to Puerto Chico (see above). This was quite a long walk, however, and if you could find an alternative route, that’d probably be for the better.

Another popular tourist location on this side of Santander is the Gran Casino Sardinero. When I was there, there was a big formal event going on, so I couldn’t go inside. But other travel websites say it’s definitely worth a look, even if you don’t gamble!

Food and Drinks

So, you’re in Spain. Of course you’re going to expect the best of the best when it comes to food and drinks. You’re in luck, because Santander has some amazing restaurants, both for a midday “menu del dia” and for some lighter pinchos in the evening with delicious wine. Some of the places I went to I had researched beforehand, and others I just happened to be hungry and went to the first place I could find. All of them were delicious, I think it’s hard to go wrong.

My first night, after walking all through the city, I was exhausted. But I can never be too exhausted for a drink. I stopped in a themed bar named “Little Bobby Speakeasy.” It was still a little early in the evening, so when I entered, there weren’t too many other patrons. However, the place itself is quite lovely and well decorated in the 1920’s style. All of their drinks are inspired by old movies and TV shows. I highly recommend stopping by!

I realized I was a bit hungry, so I decided to go to a place that I had found recommended online: Dias Desur. I only planned on having one or two pinchos and some wine, but that turned into 4 pinchos and 2 glasses of wine. It was amazing, even after having such ridiculously decadent pinchos as I had in San Sebastian. This is a must stop for anyone visiting Santander! It can get quite busy, but it is worth the wait. Something even as simple looking as the teeny weeny mini burger they recommended just had the perfect flavor combination to make my eyes roll back in delight.

On my second day, I walked into a random restaurant along Calle Castelar near Puerto Chico. I ordered the menu del dia (if you’re unaware, it’s amazing – each restaurant puts together a couple of possibilities for a 2-3 course meal, generally with wine and dessert included, for a low, fixed price. I’m not talking about small dishes, either. I’m talking massive plates that’ll make you walk away wishing you had your big Thanksgiving pants) and was blown away by the food. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name now, but I am pretty confident that you wouldn’t be disappointed with any options here.

Don’t be afraid to be a stereotypical tourist… order the paella!

I forget what the name of this was, but it was an unusual name for pork… and it melted in my mouth.

Before catching my bus, I decided to stop at one last place in the Port area for some pinchos. This place was called Casa Lita, and it had a great variety of pinchos, although admittedly not as amazing as Dias Desur (it is hard to beat perfect)… but still quite good.

List of What to See

  • Peninsula of Magdalena – Beautiful views of the bay and nearby beaches, with free entrance to the park and zoo.You can go by foot (recommended) or pay extra for a little trolley to take you around. There is also a palace at the tip of the Peninsula, you can pay extra to go in.
  • Playa Primera de El Sardinero
  • Piquío Park – A lovely park separating two beaches, with great views on both sides.
  • Parque de Cabo Mayor – Panoramic views
  • Puerto Chico – Lots of restaurants and bars, a nice area to walk around near the port.
  • Edificio del Banco Santander – A nice archway and courtyard in honor of Santander banks in Puerto Chico.
  • Menéndez Pelayo Library: Calle de Rubio, 6 – Beautiful library inside and out, with lots of stained glass and old wooden shelves stuffed to the brim with books.
  • Gran Casino Sardinero: Plaza de Italia, s/n, 1 – Worth seeing, even if you don’t gamble.
  • Barrio Pesquero – A run down area, but worth it for the seafood restaurants.

Where to Eat (AKA The Most Important Part)

  • Café Pub La Rana: Calle de Daoíz y Velarde, 30 – lively joint that is popular with its young clientele who want to line their stomachs before a night out; famous for its patatas bravas, but also serves hamburgers and sandwiches.
  • **Little Bobby Speakeasy**: Calle Sol, 20 – A fun, well decorated 1920’s style bar with great cocktails.
  • La Conveniente: Calle de Gómez Oreña, 9
  • Asubio Gastrobar: Calle Daoiz y Velarde, 23
  • ***Días Desur***: Calle Hernán Cortés, 47 – Absolutely amazing pinchos and delicious wine
  • Casa Lita: Paseo de la Pereda, 37