Technology can free us to travel and still make a living while we do it, but travel is expensive. One of the biggest wallet-emptiers is shelter. A barely acceptable hotel room in the United States can run anywhere from $50 per night in rural areas to $200 in New York. Internationally, hotels tend toward the higher end of that, even in countries where locals pay far less for everything. For example, I've seen $160 per night fares for hotels in El Salvador, a country where you can buy lunch for $2.
[ See also: What kind of digital nomad are you? ]
If you want to stay in some location for a month, paying $50 per night adds up to $1,500 — an unwelcome additional cost, especially if you're still paying a mortgage or monthly rent back home. Location-independent travel isn't the same as vacation travel. If you're picking up the tab (rather than expensing it), you're looking for a temporary house, not a hotel. Four awesome new Web 2.0 resources have emerged recently that help you find cheap shelter. I'll tell you about those in a minute. First let me share another strategy for cheap sleep: recon rooms. Most people are unaware of the fact (which I have discovered the hard way) that you can pay a premium for any room that can be arranged in advance. Sometimes it's cheaper to find a room after you arrive. Nearly every touristy place I've traveled to offers privately operated "Rooms to Let," advertised only by a sign hanging a wall on some side street. These can usually be rented by the week or month, and include bed, bathroom, desk and sometimes even Wi-Fi. They cost about one-third the rates of nearby hotels. First, make sure local hotels have walk-in availability in case you can't find a room. Try to arrive at your destination in the late morning, and start looking for rooms to let. Ask local merchants, and wander around in the area where you would prefer to stay. Chances are, you'll run into one. Most I've seen simply say, "Room to Let" with a phone number. Just call the number to inquire about price, etc. OK, that's the old-fashioned way. Now for the new way. Four Web 2.0 services have emerged in recent months that connect people who want to earn a little money renting a room with people who want to save a little money while traveling. The sites are called Roomorama, iStopOver, Airbnb and Peer to Peer Travel Club. Each of these is slightly different from the others in small details, but all let you find a range of rooms at the destination of your choice. You can look at rates, photos and other data, then contact the owner to book the room. Payment is typically facilitated via PayPal and/or something similar. Nearly all of them offer single rooms and also entire apartments and homes, so you'll usually have the full range of prices. Many have user ratings, and user certification to give you extra confidence before you show up with your suitcase. Besides saving money, there are several advantages to this kind of accommodation. One is that you can find shelter in places where there are no hotels. For example, in New York City, late-booking hotels are nearly all in midtown Manhattan, by the airport or some other unfashionable district. But on these services, you can find rooms right there in the Village or on the Upper East Side or near the park. You can find accommodation on or near the beach in cities like L.A. or Miami for a fraction of what the beach hotels are charging. There's no waiting in line, or being charged a parking fee. Best of all, these services can lead you to shelter that's more livable, convenient and cooler than some boring hotel. Have you tried one of these services? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience. Please post in comments. Are YOU interested in location independent, digital nomad living? Please add this blog to your RSS reader and follow me on Twitter!