How to Find Amazing and Affordable Accommodations While Traveling Solo

by Oct 21, 2018Solo travel

One of the biggest challenges for solo travelers is having enough money to avoid hostel dorm rooms and instead being able to afford one’s own private room in some fabulous hotel or Airbnb. Even more difficult is being able to afford a place with a bit of character, history, or style like a boutique hotel or 100-year-old inn. Even more of an uphill battle is finding a place with some luxury like a bungalow on the beach or a hotel with a pool or one with your own balcony so you can sit outside with a cup of coffee watching the sun rise or a glass of wine looking out over the horizon as the sun sets.
If you’re traveling with another person, you can easily split the hotel room bill for a boutique hotel or a bungalow on the beach. But for solo travelers, we’ve got to cover the whole bill ourselves. As a result, it can make finding something a bit more amazing and luxurious out of reach.
Of course, solo travelers can always stay at hostels. However, some of us just can’t do hostels anymore. I, myself, used to love staying at hostels. That was when I was in my 20s and early 30s. They were great places to meet people and to join organized activities not to mention they were all I could afford.
As I got older, my sleep routine and physical health made staying in hostels not as enjoyable as they once were for me. Not only am I tossing and turning all night, but when I do finally fall asleep, I can’t sleep longer than 5.5 hours, which means that I’m usually awake at around 5:00 am. Then I need to use the toilet. Try climbing down a bunk bed without disturbing the person on the bottom bunk at 5:00 am? Not gonna happen.

What’s more, my body just isn’t as flexible as it once was so climbing in and out of bunk beds is slow and painful. I feel sometimes like a big old elephant.

Finally, after a long day of sightseeing, I just need my privacy and space.

I can do dorm rooms once a while, but I can’t spend a whole vacation moving from one to another.

So what’s a solo traveler to do? How can a solo traveler afford a 125-year-old Japanese inn with hot springs, a luxury cabin on a Halong Bay cruise ship, an Airbnb in a penthouse in downtown Hong Kong, or a brand new boutique hotel in downtown Kyoto? How can a solo traveler add some luxury to her travels when she’s on a hostel-budget?

For some places like Vietnam it’s easier to find an affordable hotel room than in others like Japan or Singapore, where staying in hostels is unavoidable. But solo travelers don’t need to stay in them all the time on a trip. There are many ways to minimize hostel stays and maximize hotels or Airbnbs. Here are 5 things that I do to be able to ditch dorm life and instead grab accommodations that are both affordable and amazing while traveling solo:

Solo Travel Tip #1: Look at the Big Picture

I don’t think in terms of one night when budgeting for accommodations. Instead, I budget according to how much total I can spend on accommodations for my whole trip. For example, I won’t take a lump sum of money like $1000 and divide it equally for each day of my trip. Instead, I’ll first decide where I want to splurge like on an island in Thailand. I’ll then allocate more money to a place like that and less money to other stops during my travels. I might even stay in a hostel in some places so that I can get a bungalow with a seaview.

Let me give you an example by showing you what I did when I traveled through Japan this August. Since Japan is a lot more on the expensive side than in other countries in Asia, I couldn’t afford to stay in hotels throughout the whole trip. I had to stay in a dorm room at times. I traveled throughout Japan for 18 days making 7 stops along the way.

Destination #1: Tokyo

Dorm at Wired Hotel US$35/night x 4 nights = $140

I stayed for 4 nights in a dorm at the Wired Hotel in Tokyo. I paid around US$35 a night. For 4 nights, that’s $140 total. The dorm room was nice. There was a curtain for privacy, a lock box, lamp, a shelf to put stuff on, and a closet. The sheets were nice, clean, and white so you could tell if they were dirty, and the mattress was perfectly soft. Bathrooms were clean, private, and modern. There was a nice lounge and kitchen area that looked like it came from an Ikea catalogue. For a hostel, this one was pretty comfortable and I didn’t mind staying here at all.

Destination #2: Takayama

Rickshaw Inn:US$65/night x 2 nights = $130

For my second stop, I needed some privacy and wanted some character, so I splurged on a traditional Japanese inn in Takayama. I stayed at the Rickshaw Inn, which was gushed about in Lonely Planet. I paid $65 a night for 2 nights for $130 total, nearly double what I paid in Tokyo. The location was excellent. The hotel was a traditional style inn, which unfortunately meant that the bathrooms were shared. Staying at the Rickshaw Inn gave me a chance to experience a room with tatami mats and futons. And I got two very good recommendations from the hotel staff on where to eat in Takayama.

Destination #3: Kanazawa

Dorm at The Share Hotels Hatchi:US$25/night x 3 nights = $75

Next, I traveled to Kanazawa and stayed in a dorm room at The Share Hotels Hatchi for $25/night. Like the hostel in Tokyo, I had my own private space with curtain, lamp, small bed-side locker with lock, and space beside the bed to put things. It was super clean. There’s a restaurant in the lobby that serves good but pricey food. If you stay, make sure to order the fish and the sashimi. This hostel and the one in Tokyo were pretty bearable for someone like me who finds hostels uncomfortable. I got a clean,private, safe, and comfortable space–almost as good as a hotel.

Destination #4: Matsumoto

Capsule at Hotel M at Matsumoto:US$50/night x 1 night = $50

My next stop was in Matsumoto where I stayed at a capsule hotel called Hotel M Matsumoto, the same  places that Japanese businessmen stay at. Yes, there were lots of Japanese businessmen staying there, but they were in a different section of the hotel. I was in the female area where it was mostly young Japanese women not on business trips. You needed a key to get to the female dorms. I stayed in a room with a curtain rather than a door over the entrance. I was on the bottom bed of a bunk bed. I had a locker, light, fan, desk, and shelf beside my bed. This hotel was private, clean, and comfortable. It was very close to being just like a hotel room.
The bathroom at the Hotel M was stock piled with everything you could imagine: shampoo, lotions, gel, hair dryers, straightening irons, and so on. The hotel cost me a bit more at $50 a night. I actually booked it the night before, so I was left with a higher priced room.  The only beds available were in a mixed dorm

Destination #5: Kyoto

Hotel Resol Kawaramachi Sanjo: ♦ US$75/night x 5 nights = $375

After not having my own bathroom since coming to Japan, I finally splurged on a beautiful hotel in Kyoto, the Hotel Resol. Here I paid $75 (it’s usually $120) for 5 nights for a total of $375. A lot of people say that Japanese hotel rooms are small, but if you’re just one person, the size is not an issue. This hotel was incredibly comfortable. It was located in downtown Tokyo near the Geisha quarter, markets, and several bus lines. As a solo traveler, location is really important. Since I’m walking around sometimes at night alone, I want a place where there are lots of people around. I don’t want a hotel tucked away on a dark street somewhere.

Destination #6: Hiroshima

K’s Hostel: ♦ US$25/night x 1 night = $25

On my next stop, Hiroshima, I was back to hosteling. But it was only for one night, so I didn’t mind. In Hiroshima, I stayed at K’s Hostel, a hostel chain that you can find all over Japan. K’s Hostel cost me $25 a night plus $1 for a towel.

Unlike, my other two hostels in Tokyo and Kanazawa, there was no privacy curtain. It was an old-fashioned dorm room with bunk beds. Not having  privacy curtain made it much easier to meet people than at the other hostels. The other hostels may have been nicer, but they were also quite isolating. You could easily avoid talking to people by closing your curtain. At K’s, I made friends with another traveler and we spent the evening eating okonoyimaki, traditional Hiroshima food.

K’s Hostel also had lots of travel information and activities for travelers.

Destination #7: Hakone

Fukuzumiro Ryokan: ♦ US$200/night x 1 night = $200

After Hiroshima, I traveled to Hakone, a small city outside of Tokyo. I stayed in a 125-year-old ryokan with onsen, Fukuzumiro. It cost me $200 a night. I was served dinner and breakfast in my room. The dinner and breakfast both consisted of multi-course meals of several dishes. The ryokan, which is the name for a traditional Japanese inn, had an onsen (a hot spring) that you could bathe in. There was a private onsen and one public one for women and another for men.
I was served dinner and breakfast in my room. The dinner and breakfast both consisted of multi-course meals of several dishes. The ryokan, which is the name for a traditional Japanese inn, had an onsen (a hot spring) that you could bathe in. There was a private onsen and one public one for women and another for men.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/J4L3KMTUZxU" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>
This video shows what I saw and heard outside of the room’s window. I could hear the roar of the rushing water all night long.

Destination #8: Tokyo

Tokyu Stay Tsukiji: ♦ US$125/night x 1 night = $125

On my last night in Japan, I stayed at a business hotel in Tsukiji market called Tokyu Stay Tsukiji so that I could wake up early and go to the tuna auction. The hotel was expensive for me at US$125 a night. But the location couldn’t have been better. It was literally right in Tsukiji’s outer market. I could walk out the door of the hotel and be right in the hustle and bustle of the market. It was fantastic. Probably the best thing was that when I got to the hotel, it was really late at night. I hadn’t eaten but I needn’t have worried because a stone’s throw from the entrance of the hotel were a plethora of sushi restaurants where one could get some of the freshest seafood in the city. The hotel was really comfortable and clean. The photo is above is of Tsukiji outer market near my hotel. I don’t have any pictures of the hotel.

It had what I considered one of the most unique but useful appliances in a hotel room I’d ever seen: a washing machine and dryer.

So how much did accommodations on my trip to Japan cost me?

Tokyo: $35 x 4 = $140

Takeyama: $65 x 2 = $130

Kanazawa: $25 x 3 = $75

Matsumoto: $50 x 1 – $50

Kyoto: $75 x 5 = $375

Hiroshima: $25 x 1 = $25

Hakone: $200 x 1 = $200

Tokyo: $125 x 1 = $125

Total: $1,120 / 18 nights = $62.22 / night

Now if I had stayed in only hostels, my average daily budget would of course have been lower, but I didn’t want to do hostels every night during my 18-day trip.

Solo Travel Tip #2. Be strategic about where you splurge and where you save

It’s not possible to afford a hotel room in every location. Sometimes you’ll have to stay in a hostel. For example, it’s pretty hard to find a decent hotel in a good location for a price lower than $150 in Singapore. Then I’ll probably stay in a hostel in Singapore. But in Kyoto, you can find something nice for less than $100.

I don’t always avoid hostels. Sometimes hostels are a better choice than hotels even if you can afford a hotel because hostels offer group tours for activities that you can’t do on your own. For instance, Bagan has a hostel, the Ostello Bello with a sunrise group tour. When I was in Bagan, I stayed at a hotel (I didn’t know about the sunrise group tour). I missed out on seeing the sunrise because I didn’t feel comfortable going off on my bike alone in the dark through the countryside. Getting good photo opportunities is important for me. Now I look for hostels that have a lot of group activities and tours and try to book them. If I can find one like that I might choose it over a hotel.
And in Phnom Penh and Hanoi, supply seems to be bigger than demand, so prices for nice hotels are reasonable. I found an excellent hotel in Phnom Penh with a pool called the Blue Lime with pool for around $50 and a great boutique hotel in Hanoi called Meracus Hotel 2 for the same amount.
When I’m in Southeast Asia, I like to get a bungalow on the beach. How do I afford it? I need to save money somewhere else, so I stay in cheaper accommodations in other places along the way. That’s what I did in Vietnam.
When I was in Vietnam, I splurged on the island of Phu Quoc and got a bungalow at the Bamboo Cottages right on the beach for around $150 a night. On the rest of my trip, I spent $35 to $50 a night on hotels.

Solo Travel Tip #3 Choose your time wisely

Ok the next piece of advice doesn’t work in every location. It does work in places where wealthier people from big cities like Tokyo or San Francisco or New York visit on the weekends or that are popular with tourists in the summer.

For example, when I visited Big Sur in California, which is a favorite place for people from San Francisco to visit on the weekend, I had two options: camping or paying an arm and a leg for a hotel. I found that most places were around $200 a night. That is, until I booked on the weekday during the non-busy season and one or two days before I wanted to stay there. Then prices dropped on some hotels to around $120 a night. That’s still expensive, but I really didn’t have much of a choice if wanted to stay overnight in Big Sur. Prices for rooms that are not sold drop significantly 1 to 2 days beforehand. This is the only option for a solo traveler who doesn’t have a lot of money and doesn’t want to camp alone.

I did this when I went to Hakone, a city an hour and a half outside of Tokyo and a popular weekend destination for people from Tokyo. Weekend prices for Fukuzumiro were over $300 but weekday prices were $200 for a ryokan with onsen (hot springs bath). I arranged my travels around Japan so that I stayed in Hakone on a weekday.

Solo Travel Tip #4. Find Hotels that Haven’t Opened Yet

I scan the hotel booking sites for hotels that haven’t even opened yet. These hotels just need warm bodies through the door. They haven’t built up a reputation yet, so they’re more likely to discount their prices considerably. This was how I got a fabulous hotel, The Hotel Resol, in downtown Kyoto for $75 during the high season. Now I see on Agoda that the hotel is over $120 per night on a weekday in the middle of December and it’s sold out for a weekend in November.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking how I know whether the hotel is any good if it hasn’t opened yet. Easy. I book enough weeks ahead of time so that I can scan the reviews once it does open to see if they’re positive or negative. For the Kyoto hotel, they were overwhelmingly positive. And when I got there, I was not disappointed at all. The Hotel Resol was in downtown Kyoto near the markets, the Geisha quarter and near loads of buses.

Solo Travel Tip #5: Go in the off-season

I put this one last because it’s a well-known piece of advice. Going in the off-season will definitely be lower your budget. I don’t have a lot of experience with this strategy because I usually travel on the edge of the high season. I’m usually traveling during Christmas, but I don’t stay in popular island destinations like in Thailand right on the holiday. I arrange it so that I’m staying there a week or two before Christmas and staying in a small laid back city during Christmas. If you’re traveling in the high season, you’ll probably need to stay more often in hostels, cheaper hotels, or Airbnbs. But if it’s the low season, you can afford something nicer.
Most of my experience has recently been in Asia and the United States. It’s been a while since I was last in Europe. If you have any insights into what it’s like finding good accommodations while on a budget in Europe, South America, or any other places around the world, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below. And if you can, I’d love it if you can share this post on social media. Thank you!
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The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel & digital nomad blog, dedicated to helping women over 40 travel the world safely, cheaply, and comfortably. Whether you’re going for a one, two- or three-week vacation, exploring the world as a digital nomad, or staying home and discovering the world from the comfort and safety of your home, you’ll find loads of information to help inspire and inform you in your wanderings.

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