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5 smart ways to find cheap accommodation, the best (and newest) booking platforms, and what safety protocols to check for in 2021. Edited by Louise Joy

We’ve all had to learn how to adapt our home and work lives based on keeping communities safe. And these changes have impacted the way we travel for the foreseeable future.

As value-conscious women, we already consider the budget, location, and availability when searching for accommodation. Now, we have to carefully examine factors such as social distancing and cleanliness.

The travel industry is responding to this challenge by implementing safety protocols. Plus, new and exciting accommodation options are emerging based on the changing needs of travelers.

Whether you’re fortunate to be in a destination where you can enjoy local adventures, need to take a work trip, or are planning a future getaway – these are our tips for finding accommodation in the next era of travel.

Need to fly in the near future? Feel better prepared by reading these flight experiences and safety tips from nine world travelers.
camping camp tribulation Australia

Before booking your accommodation

Research travel restrictions

In 2020, travel restrictions were changing for each country at the drop of a hat. As we move towards a vaccine, we’re all hoping that most restrictions will be lifted soon. However, it’s important to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your local government advisory, and that of your intended travel destination for regular updates in case anything changes. Not every place shares the same restrictions, so if you’re moving from country to country, you’ll want to ensure you’re up to date with the different restrictions for each.

Need to travel soon? Don’t forget anything with our winter packing list and summer packing list with a hygiene kit.

Consider a staycation

If you’re traveling for leisure – why not stay close to home to save even more money? Try being a tourist in your own town and experience seeing it through new eyes. Or consider jumping on the train to somewhere nearby and stay in budget accommodation.

It’s lovely gallivanting across the world to discover new cultures and that’s something we can all look forward to in the future. However, sometimes the main purpose of our trip is to escape the stresses of everyday life and this can be done very easily in your hometown.

Then you can relish in the fact that you already know the travel restrictions and have the extra confidence that your living space meets your own safety standards completely.

Buy travel insurance that covers COVID-19

You should already have travel insurance for any upcoming trips, but with so many holidays being canceled due to the pandemic, having a back up is more important than ever. Make sure you don’t get caught out if your plans have to change.

We also recommend booking any trip on a credit card (if you have one) for a backup option if you need to claim money back, and always check for a cancellation policy for wherever you book.

Travel more safely with SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance, which now covers COVID-19 for new policies purchased. 

Check the safety protocols for each accommodation

The CDC says that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you do travel, they recommend renting a house or cabin with people from your household. When traveling overnight there are steps you can take to minimize your risks.

  • Choose online or contactless options for making a reservation, checking in, accessing your room, and making payments
  • Ask about the accommodation provider’s cleaning policies and if the staff are required to wear masks before you book
  • Check for other prevention practices such as plexiglass barriers and social distancing signage
  • Wear a mask in common areas
  • Avoid areas where you may come in close contact with other people
  • Consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Hopefully, most websites will have a section dedicated section to answering these questions, but on occasion, you may have to reach out and ask yourself. These are all concerns that may still be relevant in the following years, so don’t forget to check before you make a booking.

The Safe Travel Barometer can help make this easier by providing an overview of whether hotels provide thermal screening, require face masks, provide hand sanitizer, and disinfect rooms. In addition to hotels, you can also search for safety information on airlines, airports, and other activities.

safe travel barometer hotel comparision

Where to find cheap accommodation in 2021

1. Free camping and RV sites

It’s no surprise that as social distancing recommendations increased, so did the number of people booking outdoor getaways. Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I purchased camping equipment to use on a 17-day road trip in Queensland, Australia. The gear cost less than $300 and we easily made the money back by saving money on traditional accommodation.

Many countries around the world offer free wilderness camping such as Norway, Sweden, Kyrgyzstan, Scotland, Iceland, Estonia, Finland, Mongolia, and Turkey. Other countries may have designated free camping spots.

In the US, you can search on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and in Australia, you can use the WikiCamps app. Camping in national parks will often have a nightly fee attached however it’s a small price to pay to experience the wonder of being close to nature.

Renting an RV (also known as a camper van) is another affordable and safe accommodation alternative. Not only will you have your own set of wheels, but also a bed and cooking implements. The type of RV that you rent, will influencer the kind of site that you need (powered or unpowered). So, we recommend reading our guide on how to plan the perfect RV trip.

See RV rentals in your US state or city.

camping Noosa everglades Australia

2. Hipcamp for glamping, camping, and cabins

Another way to search for camping and RV options is on a site called Hipcamp. Their listings don’t stop there – expanding to caravan parks, cabins, and glamping across all 50 US States as well as in Australia. The concept is similar to Airbnb, where landowners can list their properties and welcome guests.

Campers have the opportunity to escape the city to reconnect with nature in a more sustainable and safe way. When searching for accommodation, you can filter by including pricing, amenities, accessibility, and terrain. Hipcamp has safety standards for hosts based on the latest recommendations from the CDC in the U.S. and the Australian Government Department of Health.

HipCamp search filter options

3. for self-contained apartments has been my go-to for travel accommodation on a budget while traveling abroad. It’s easy to use and usually has a flexible change and cancellation policy. You can accrue points as part of your “Genius” membership for discounts, upgrades, and perks like complimentary breakfast. During my backpacking trip to Southeast Asia in 2019, I received a 40% discount on a 2-star hotel which saved me over $100 USD.

Now Booking has a COVID-19 support page including their cancellation policy if it relates to the virus. When searching for accommodation, you can also use filters for budget and apartments with kitchens for self-contained options with reduced risk of contact with others.

Booking search filter options

4. Airbnb for weekly and monthly stays

In March 2020, we decided to leave our new home in Ireland and fly back to Australia. Thankfully my home state of Queensland had very low case numbers compared to other destinations around the world. This has meant that we’ve been able to travel locally since May.

Max and I have stayed at ten different Airbnbs in the past six months, with two more booked for the beginning of 2021. The reason we’ve used this platform exclusively, apart from our camping adventures, was the ability to book self-contained accommodation. We also found it to be the most affordable option in Australia, especially with discounts for weekly and monthly stays.

Here are my tips for choosing an Airbnb in 2021:

  • Select self-contained
  • Use filters for kitchen, washing machine, & WiFi
  • Check the cancellation policy
  • Read reviews
  • Book weekly or monthly stays for big discounts
  • Self-check-in for contactless arrival.

By reading references left by previous guests, you can get a better idea of the owners and the property. As with any website, check for additional fees before booking.

Airbnb in Cairns Australia

5. flOasis for remote work experiences in nature

Anyone who has experienced a strict lockdown in a densely populated city and/or small apartment, probably found themselves yearning for wide-open spaces. That’s exactly what inspired the new platform of flOasis to provide unique stays in nature for remote workers.

I’m particularly excited about the launch of flOasis because they cater their listings to those who work online – whether you are a remote employee, online business owner, or freelancer. Understanding our need for reliable WiFi, workspace, and monthly rates. Some listings are completely self-contained apartments, while others provide private rooms in a community setting.

flOasis is launching in early 2021, starting off in Europe but will be expanding quickly. A few locations are already online including a surf and yoga camp in The Canary Islands, retreated in The Netherlands, and glamping in Azores, Portugal.

See more tips to travel cheaper in the future including free accommodation with Couchsurfing and Worldpackers.

Originally written in 2015 and updated in 2020.


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5 smart ways to find cheap accommodation in 2021

About Chantell Collins

Avatar for Chantell CollinsChantell is a perpetual bargain hunter, veggie lover, and minimalist. She created Budget Travel Babes for women, like YOU, who want more affordable, responsible, and sustainable travel.