Photo courtesy of The Daily English Show, via Flickr
In an effort to resuscitate Japan’s tourism industry after the recent tsunami and nuclear disaster, the country’s tourism agency announced plans this week to offer 10,000 free flights to Japan in the coming year. Travelers interested in taking advantage of the offer will need to submit an application to the agency.
Even if you have no plans to apply, this is a good time of year to think about travel, believe it or not. The first couple weeks of December are arguably the cheapest time to fly. If you book early–which is to say, if you book now–you can save even more.
Now that the transportation is free or cheap, let’s talk about accommodation. In the interest of having the cheapest possible vacation, here are three services that will help you find a place to sleep for little or nothing:
CouchSurfing.org is a site primarily aimed at young, broke, and adventurous travelers, but really anyone can take advantage of it. The idea is simple: join the network, and browse to find other members who will give you a place to crash for a night or more, free of charge. Potential hosts can be rated by former travelers, and a host with great reviews gets to show those reviews to other potential hosts when they travel.
The site is free to join and use, but don’t expect any four-star resorts. Do expect to meet some friendly people.
Unlike CouchSurfing, AirBnB will not offer a free place to stay. And while the “BnB” is short for “Bed and Breakfast,” you’re unlikely to find a lot of genuine bed-and-breakfasts on this site, either.
AirBnB is a network of private rooms and apartments that the owners have decided to rent on a night-by-night basis, sort of like hotel rooms. The website feels a little bit like Yelp.com. Users can browse maps and use search terms to find rooms in specific areas, and can organize rooms based on their user reviews.
The site also has the advantage of offering rooms in a variety of price ranges. Some of these might even be preferable to nearby hotel rooms. And the rates are always competitive.
For now at least, AirBnB is only available in a few select cities.
If you like AirBnB, you’ll probably like Roomorama— the idea is essentially the same. Property owners are invited to post their rooms and apartments on the website, and travelers are invited to read reviews, look at photos, and book online.
Roomorama seems to have a more upscale image, though, so it’s worth checking out on its own. Additionally, both renters and property owners are required to submit photo IDs before they can list or book, so the site offers an additional level of security.
This extra hoop to jump through also means the selection is a bit smaller, so there is a trade-off. If you’re interested in finding a place to stay using this kind of business model, I recommend searching both sites.
Also, like AirBnB, Roomorama is available in only a handful of cities for now.
The Hospitality Club
Like Craigslist, The Hospitality Club is a useful site with astoundingly ugly site design. Don’t let that deter you. The Club is an informal, international network of people who want to help out fellow travelers, whether it be by offering a place to stay, answers to traveler’s questions, or even a guided tour.
Membership is free, as are any services offered by hosts. Most users report having good experiences, but as with CouchSurfing or any other hospitality service, it’s good to exercise common sense and precaution.
Have your own tips for finding cheap or free places to stay? Please let us know in the comments.