Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good websites for finding cheaper travel accommodations? My husband and I love to travel but hotel costs eat up our budget so much that we can’t afford to go as often as we’d like. We’ve used Airbnb with some luck but are wondering if there are other options for budget-conscious retirees. — Retired Travelers
Accommodations are typically one of the costliest travel expenses. But, if you’re willing to do a little research and preplanning, there are a number of ways you can lower or eliminate your lodging costs and live more like a local when you travel. Here are some different options to consider and some websites that can help you locate them.
If you like staying in bed-and-breakfasts and have a spare bedroom yourself, check out the Evergreen Club (EvergreenClub.com) and the Affordable Travel Club (AffordableTravelClub.net).
These are B&B clubs for travelers over ages 50 or 40 that offer affordable lodging in the spare bedroom of other club members, or they may stay with you when they’re on the road. You pay a modest gratuity of around $20 per night, with breakfast. And the clubs charge membership fees of $65 to $75 per year.
There are literally millions of privately-owned properties in the United States and abroad that are offered as short-term rentals. This has become a very popular alternative to hotels for retirees.
Renting a fully furnished apartment or house is usually cheaper than hotel rooms of comparable quality, and they almost always offer more space, a homier feel and a kitchen, which can save you the expense of eating out every meal.
Short-term rentals are offered through the individual property owners or property-management companies. Some of the best sites for finding them include Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com and FlipKey.com. These sites are free to use for travelers.
Another nifty site you should check out is The Freebird Club (FreebirdClub.com) that connects 50-plus travelers with 50-plus hosts.
Unlike Airbnb and the other previously listed lodging rental sites, Freebird users pay a $31 fee to join and to have their identities verified. They then fill out a questionnaire asking where they’d like to travel and how much interaction they’d like to have with their hosts. On the other end, hosts are not offering rental properties and a key in a drop box, but their own homes, along with conversation and companionship, for much less than the price of a hotel.
If you have a flexible schedule and you don’t mind doing a few household chores when you travel, housesitting is another option that offers lodging for free.
How it works is you live in someone else’s home while they’re away for a long weekend or even a few months. In exchange for the free accommodations, you take care of certain responsibilities such as their pets, lawn, garden, mail, etc.
To find these opportunities, try sites like Nomador.com, MindMyHouse.com, HouseCarers.com and TrustedHousesitters.com — they all charge a small membership fee.
Another way to get free accommodations when you travel is by swapping homes with someone who’s interested in visiting the area where you live.
To make a swap, you’ll need to join an online home exchange service where you can list your home and get access to thousands of other listings. Then you simply email the owners of houses or apartments you’re interested in — or they email you — and you make arrangements.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.