Saving Money on Housing: Travel Hacks for the Frequent Traveler or Nomad

I’ve been a full-time nomad traveling the U.S. since September 2020, and I’ve learned (and surely nobody is surprised): that hotels, housing, and accommodations are by far the biggest expense of nomad life.

I have a $2,000 monthly budget for lodging, but my actual spending in that area depends on the cost of living in the city that I’m visiting and the type of accommodations I choose (which, hooray, I have complete control over)!

Fellow travelers, you have a lot of choice if you do a little research. The first question: Airbnb or hotel? Let me share my methods and we can explore a few aspects of each.

First, I do a universal search of both Airbnb and Booking.com (my favorite hotel aggregator) to get an idea of prices and neighborhoods. DON’T FORGET, the nightly rate that Airbnb displays in search doesn’t include their service fee and the host’s cleaning fee — both of which are already absorbed in a hotel’s nightly cost. Be sure to check the TOTAL price — as Airbnb tacks on several more fees than you see on hotels — for a true comparison.

On both platforms, you can select your filters, like dog-friendly, kitchen/kitchenette, parking, etc. Pro tip: More hotels than ever before are allowing dogs and providing kitchenware and appliances, making long term stays much more comfortable (like the Hyatt House I stayed at in Pittsburgh-Shadyside). Plus, if you book direct with the hotelier, you get rewarded for loyalty, something that Airbnb doesn’t offer. (Oftentimes I’ll just book through Booking.com if the hotel is obscure and I’m not concerned about the hotel’s loyalty points — Booking.com has its own discount program based on usage levels!)

Speaking of loyalty, I want to spend a little time on that. When you book and sign up for rewards with Hilton or Marriott or Wyndham, for example, you get points for the number of stays and the number of total nights. The more stays and the more nights, the more points, and you can later cash in those points for free stays. And the higher your loyalty status, the more your points proliferate!

I’ll give you two real scenarios using two different credit cards.

  • Scenario #1: I stayed in an Airbnb for 14 nights, costing $1,400. I used my American Express Blue Cash Everyday card, which garners 1% cash back on purchases ($14). Total value for stay: $1,386
  • Scenario #2: I stayed in a Hilton hotel for 14 nights, costing me $1,600. I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earned 3,200 Chase points (worth roughly $40) AND 40,000 Hilton points (estimated around $200 to be redeemed on a future stay). Total value for stay: $1,360

Well lookie there!

Speaking of, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is offering a sign-on bonus of 100,000 points if you spend $4,000 in 3 months. The yearly fee is $95, but the benefits, especially for frequent travelers, are WELL worth it. Apply using my personal referral link here: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/m/6c/6L5/GJZB/1576754229
By the way… those 100,000 points when redeemed for travel are valued at $1,250 (you better believe I met the threshold!)

There also tends to be a long-term discount on hotel bookings past 8 days. I booked a hotel near Portland, ME that had a nightly rate of $235. When I looked at other room options, I found a long-term discount of $109/night — you better believe I booked that rate immediately! I’ve also seen some Airbnb hosts discount their nightly rate up to 50% on stays over 28 days, but it definitely depends on the host.

Other ways to cut costs? Consider staying in a hotel farther out of town away from the action — these will be significantly cheaper. Also consider booking a single room in a shared home on Airbnb. The nightly rate will be much lower because others are living in it at the same time and spaces are shared. This helped me cut costs in an otherwise expensive city with just a small impact to privacy. 

THE RECAP: I’m a single nomadic person with a dog, so a lot of times, a studio hotel suits me just as fine as a one-bedroom apartment. And I definitely appreciate the customer service that hotels provide and the consistent experience, something that can vary wildly by Airbnb host and rental. And I love racking up those points! For these reasons, lately, I’ve been staying in more hotels than ever before!

Why else am I digging hotels right now on the nomad life?

  • There’s always coffee, sometimes free breakfast, and sometimes a free cookie (here’s looking at you Doubletree)
  • They have luggage racks and elevators so I don’t have to lug my things around the hard way
  • There’s (occasional) housekeeping, a definite perk
  • The basics are always covered: desk and office chair, plenty of towels, shampoo/soap, hangers, coffee maker
  • More and more hotels, especially those billed as “long term stay,” have amenities like guest laundry on site, networking/working areas, gyms, and in-kitchen suites
  • Security measures, safes, and parking lot lighting
  • The experience tends to be pretty reliable by brand across locations, in terms of quality, consistency, and customer service

When would I choose an Airbnb over a hotel?

  • When I have a group with me and costs will be split
  • When I think I’ll be entertaining
  • When I want a yard or a specific, random amenity
  • When I actually do want to home-share (shoutout to Jon in Durango!)
  • When it’s significantly cheaper than a hotel

By the way, you’ll notice from the examples I showed you that I’m likely to go over my budget. Such is life, especially in late summer, a high-demand time in the northeast. I am just going to try to make it up another month — luckily, nomad life flexibility means I can choose a more affordable place to lay my head!

More questions about budgeting for the nomad life? I’ll be sharing more travel hacks on my blog/vlog (be sure to subscribe). Leave any questions you want covered in a comment!

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