Parents and kid playing on a huge swing in the backyard of a house in the forest

Beach or mountains? A spring break or holiday getaway? A long weekend or month-long excursion? Planning a vacation is full of decisions. And once you’ve nailed down the destination, timing and duration, you’re faced with yet another query: Where will you stay when you get there?

Nowadays, a multitude of options (ranging in cost, amenities and more) can make it challenging to decide, leaving even the most avid travelers stumped. From traditional hotels to glamping, here’s a primer to help you narrow down your lodgings for your next adventure.

Check out hotels

If you like to chill by the pool or lounge on the beach, you’ll want accommodations that can rise to the occasion. And while that premium experience often comes with a high price tag, hotels also offer a long list of amenities like in-room dining, laundry, toiletries, medical help, WiFi, airport shuttles and concierge services that can bring your trip to the next level.

Hotels have plenty of options in terms of how you can book. Scheduling directly through the hotel may offer more flexibility and earn you reward points, while hotel deal sites (Hotels.com, Kayak or Expedia, for example) might offer better prices. While booking, keep an eye out for additional costs like safe, pet, resort, internet, baggage storage, and extra person fees.

Investigate hostels

Even though they’re often called youth hostels, these accommodations can be an excellent alternative for budget travelers of any age. A bed in a shared dorm room is often the cheapest option, but you can get a basic private room at a hostel for significantly less than the cost of a hotel. Another cost-saving feature? They often have communal kitchens. So, if you’re a cost-conscious traveler, you can save money by cooking your meals.

Sites like TripAdvisor or Hostelworld can help you find the right fit with reviews and recommendations. Bear in mind that you may have to pay a key deposit, charges for using a credit/debit card, and bed linen and laundry fees, in addition to your nightly rate.

Test out a homestay

If affordability is your most crucial accommodation factor, sleeping in someone’s spare bedroom or on a living room couch can be one of the cheapest ways to travel. It’s a great way to connect with locals and, in many cases, it’s free.

Homestays can be organized in advance through a hospitality network like Servas International (or if you’re looking for something a little less conventional, check out Couchsurfing). Note that networks like Servas require an interview process and encourage you to get involved in your hosts’ local communities. Beyond that, the terms of a homestay are generally worked out in advance between the host and guest and include details like length of stay, housekeeping or work required, curfews and other house rules.

Go bigger with vacation rentals

Whether it’s a London flat, a Bahamas beach house or a Colorado cabin, vacation rentals can offer unique accommodations all around the globe. They’re typically a rentable furnished apartment, house or professionally managed resort-condominium complex, which often means they offer more space, privacy, or unique features than a standard hotel. Depending on the destination, more space can mean a better deal for families or larger groups looking to split the cost. And having your own kitchen (with a view) can save you serious cash on restaurants.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to booking a vacation rental — TripAdvisor, HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb to name a few — just be sure to read the fine print for costs like cleaning, service, and occupancy taxes and fees before you commit.

Seek a short-term room rental

If you love the chance to meet new people or share a glass of wine and conversation, a short-term room rental might be right up your alley. This popular and ever-growing trend in the travel world is like a cross between vacation rentals and homestays.

You can rent a room in someone’s house or apartment for a low nightly rate — usually in the sub $100 range. It can be a great deal and give you the locals’ point of view when it comes to your traveling destination. Find the right size and fit for your next trip on sites like Airbnb, Homestay and 9flats.

Get cozy at a bed and breakfast

Feeling a little rustic?  B&Bs can be a great option for travelers that don’t need all the modern amenities (like a flat-screen TV) but are still looking for a little bit of pampering during their stay. Although you may have to share a bathroom, a cozy B&B can be more cost effective and since breakfast is covered, you’ll save on meals too. Just be sure you’re up for a more community-style experience since a social breakfast with strangers usually comes with the territory. And the savings keep coming, typically, B&Bs are all-inclusive with no additional fees like resorts or hotels.

Try a home exchange

Love travel but enjoy the comforts of home? Swapping houses could be the best of both worlds (and let you live your best Kate Winslet/Cameron Diaz rom-com life). Bonus? It’s one of the most inexpensive options since you’ll typically only pay an annual fee that costs about as much as a night in a hotel room to become a member of a home exchange network like HomeExchange. So, after the first couple of nights of your vacation, your membership will have already paid for itself and more.

Get out with camping

Are you looking for more granola than glamor? Sleeping under the stars can be one of the most memorable and cheapest ways to vacation. Just be prepared for cooking on a camp stove or fire, washing dishes and dealing with inclement weather. Camping isn’t without its expenses either; upfront costs include campsite rental fees and equipment such as tents, sleeping bags and more. And don’t discount camping if you’re not the outdoorsy type. You can always look into renting a cabin or glamping (where nature meets modern luxuries).

Think outside the box with academic and religious housing

If you’re looking for a unique stay and a creative way to save, try calling local campuses to see if anything might be available during your trip. Yes, that’s right, many colleges and universities open their dorms to visitors during the summer, offering affordable but basic lodging.

Many religious organizations such as monasteries, convents and religious guest houses across Europe and the Middle East offer similar accommodations. An internet search or a visit to a local tourist board’s website can help you uncover these opportunities. When browsing, watch for the same fees a hotel or hostel might charge, although they are generally minimal.

 

 

Save your way

Where you stay is an important part of any vacay but your accommodations don’t have to break the bank. See exactly how much you’ve saved (and far you have to go) for your big European backpacking trip or that dream getaway with Buckets, a feature of Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account.

 

Start with an Ally Bank Online Savings Account.