When working within a budget while traveling, accommodations are usually the biggest drain on your funds (except for the occasional crazy night out). There are a few ways to soothe the pain of paying more than you expected for a hotel or hostel.
They exist for a reason! A few minutes perusing the reviews can tell you about the value of the facility. You'll know quickly if the location is central, if the staff is nice, or if the free breakfast is any good (or if they have free breakfast at all!).
Does the property have a kitchen or a place to prepare food? This feature can and will save you money on meals. Buying some cheap and easy to store groceries for some light meal-prep will definitely save you some cash.
[Pro Tip] Once you're there, scope our the fridge: most hostels have a labeling policy. Loads of hostelers buy groceries to cook and then leave extras for other people to use- so keep your eyes open for anything labeled "FREE"
Its rare, but it can happen that larger facilities or chains offer promotional rates. It could be something that is used like a coupon code or a promotion like "Stay X-nights and get a night free." Keep your eye out for these deals, because they're not often well-advertised.
An activities calendar
Lots of hostels offer either hostel-run activities or discounted admission into local attractions. When shopping for accommodations, see if the property offers free events and activities. This is a way of seeing your destination without having to meticulously plan an itinerary (and anyone who has traveled extensively knows how exhausting it can be having to map out each day-- especially if you're solo).
Note: If they offer activities/tours/events, they probably have a few area-experts kicking around. These people would be great (free) resources and can share which places are "must see" versus "meh."
Its not quite as common in the US, but some places offer a work-for-stay deal. Many I've seen require a certain number of hours each day or each week, but offer a free bed and some offer a free meal or two. A couple popular sites are Work Away and HelpX.
My #1 tip is to always book accommodations that offer free breakfast. You may find that certain cities/destinations don't offer free breakfast at all. For example, I found that most of the places in Nicaragua did not include breakfast. In that case, find out how to eat like a local. Bigfoot Hostel in Leon was a good example: they offered tour packages, great atmosphere, and reasonable accommodation prices- but no breakfast. BUT, after consulting an employee, we were directed to a local spot immediately next door and paid under US$3.00 each for our meals.
- What is your favorite type of travel accommodation?
- What kind of tricks do you use to ensure you get the absolute most out of your accommodations?
- Where have you stayed that has been a great, well-rounded value?