Lodging expenses make up a large part of any travel budget. When you're looking for ways to trim your travel expenses, bunking in with friends looks like a good idea. You don't have to pay for a hotel room, and all you have to do in return is take your hosts out to dinner. Right?
In reality, staying with friends can be stressful instead of relaxing. You will be living in someone else's home, disrupting your host's routine and coping with a schedule you have not planned. Are the cost savings worth giving up control of part of your vacation?
After taking a closer look at the pros and cons of staying with friends on your next vacation, you may change your mind and book a room at a budget-priced motel. On the other hand, you may decide things will work out wonderfully. If that's the case, pick up the telephone and give your friend or relative a call. Remember to start saving for that "thank you" dinner.
Advantages of Staying With Friends
- Free lodging. Of all the reasons to stay with friends, free lodging is the most compelling. Depending on where your friends live, you'll save from $50 -$250 (or more) per night by bunking in with friends.
- Free or low-cost meals. You may not get to try many local eateries, but you'll save money by eating meals in your friends' home. Remember, polite houseguests chip in for groceries.
- Insider travel tips. Your friends know how to get things done. They can direct you to the best dry cleaners, budget restaurants and tourist attractions in town. No guidebook can give you the insider tips you'll get from your hosts.
- Transportation assistance. In most cases, your hosts will be willing to pick you up from the airport, train station or bus terminal, at the very least. If you're lucky, they'll also offer to take you to subway stations or bus stops each day and pick you up when you return, saving you the expense of renting a car.
- Laundry facilities. Having a place to wash clothes is extremely helpful. You can pack just a few outfits, avoiding or reducing airlines' checked-baggage fees, and wash your clothes once or twice during your trip.
- Emergency assistance. It's comforting to know you can telephone your hosts if things go completely haywire. You won't have to cope with problems all by yourself.
Disadvantages of Staying With Friends
- Someone else's schedule. Your life, of necessity, will revolve around your host's daily routine. Pets or children may wake you up early. You may need to be dressed and ready by 6:30 a.m. on workdays in order to get a lift to the subway station. You might find yourself staying up late or going to bed early, especially if you're sleeping on a living room sofa bed.
- Someone else's menu plan. Home-cooked meals are great, but what happens if you're staying with your vegetarian brother or with a family that dines on chicken nuggets and corn dogs? You're pretty much stuck with the meals you're served unless you plan to sightsee through the dinner hour and eat in restaurants every day.
- Less privacy. In most cases, you'll be sharing a bathroom and perhaps sleeping in the main room of the house. Expect early risers to tiptoe past your bed to let the dog outside or warm up their cars for the morning commute.
- Sofa beds or air mattresses. If your hosts don't have a guest room, you'll be sleeping wherever there's room – and you won't get your choice of beds.
- Pets. Find out in advance whether your hosts have pets. This could be a deal-breaker if you're allergic to animals.
- Someone else's sightseeing itinerary. Your hosts are locals, true, and they do know their way around. Or do they? It's hard to politely insist on seeing the National Museum of Dentistry if your host wants to take you to the National Air and Space Museum.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit
- Ask for honesty when you propose your visit and be ready to handle rejection. Your travel plans may not coincide with their availability.
- Stay with people you truly enjoy being with, and try to make sure they feel the same way about you.
- Taking hosts out to dinner is thoughtful, but you should also offer to help with groceries, gas money and chores. Your hosts may decline your offer, but you should at least ask.
- Don't overstay your welcome. Before you arrive, agree on an arrival and departure date with your hosts. Unless an emergency arises, stick with your planned travel schedule.
- Accepting hospitality means you must be ready to offer it in return. Encourage your hosts to visit you, and welcome them with open arms when they arrive.