Photo by Jon Hadley

Online research is quickly taking the place of guidebooks and travel agents, especially amongst independent travelers. In this article, Craig Martin looks at his top 10 websites for finding budget accommodation.

Hostels

Unsurprisingly, hostels often offer the best value for money. Most hostel booking sites supply ratings and reviews from past visitors (and you can expect an email requesting a review soon after your stay). Keep an eye open for booking costs; most take a non-refundable percentage as their share, but some sites also charge a booking fee or membership fee.

1. Hostelbookers is normally my first stop for hostel accommodation. No booking fees and 24-7 online chat/customer service make the difference. Although listings include B&B’s and budget hotels, hostels make up the bulk of options available. One-click list ordering by customer rating or by price make it easy to narrow options down.

2. Hostelworld has recently undergone a massive facelift and, as a result, gives a smooth and hassle-free browsing experience. Hostels are available all over the world and listings also include B&B’s and budget hotels. Of note? Their cityguide podcasts and most-popular hostels of the month to help out the cool crowd.

3. Hostelz
has a spartan site design, but is heavy on information. It prides itself on not allowing hostel managers to censor reviews and its large database of options (but I wonder if they could allow spelling and grammar to be edited). One of the site’s major draws is the real-life contact details for the hostels themselves!

4. Gomio has joined the club recently by removing booking fees, making some of their listings cheaper than other sites. Navigation is easy enough, but not as user-friendly as I would like. This puts me off, but since they specialise in European hostels it is perfect for those heading in that direction.

5. Krumlov House is an excellent independent hostel in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic and I trust their advice. Their links page is the gateway to other “homely” hostels around the world, so I always take the time to glance at their hand-picked suggestions.

6. HI Hostels is the last stop on the hostel route. Although Hostelling International/the Youth Hostel Association used to be the place to stay, independent options are often cleaner, friendlier and more comfortable. Saying that, some HI Hostels are unbelievably fantastic. Discounts are available for members (and memberships are cheaper in some countries. Cough. Bulgaria. Cough.).

Cheap Hotels

Many of the hostel-booking websites above list budget hotels amongst their options, but these two sites can help you to splurge!

7. Superbreak
can just supply accommodation options but also offers package tours and inclusive “short breaks”. I normally just look for a place to sleep using the “Find Hotel Breaks” feature. If I want a treat or hostel sites haven’t turned any suitable options this is my first stop.

8. Last Minute fills in when Superbreak lets me down. The deals here are a bit out of my regular price range, but excellent hotels, and I mean five-star, can be found for 50% off the rack rate. You certainly couldn’t travel the world like this (without a serious income stream at least!), but it’s perfect for a week’s pampering or a weekend escape.

Community

What is travel without people? Not much. Hostels often provide lively encounters, but these last two sites provide opportunities to connect with the land and its people.

9. WWOOF is not the sound a dog makes, but “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”. They are one of the most popular work-for-accommodation organisations around. A small fee will gain you entry into the organisation and sign you up for a newsletter with opportunities around the world. Remember: “dot org”, not “dot com”.

10. Couchsurfing
isn’t yet an Olympic sport, but they’re doing it at Bondai. This website — and the community that gives it life — offer beds for travelers in spare rooms and on couches around the world. People open up their homes and often prove to be generous and enjoyable hosts; make sure to return the favour.

That’s my pick for the top 10 websites for cheap accommodation. Think you can add to it? Drop a comment below and let us all in on the secret.

________________________________

One of Matador’s newest contributors, Craig Martin has been living on the road since leaving Auckland, New Zealand in February 2006. In fact, he hasn’t slept in the same bed for more than two weeks all year! He podcasts at the indie travel podcast and, along with his wife Linda, regularly blogs at Our Crazy Travels. He’s about to go to sleep in a bed he booked using Superbreak.