Hotels can take a big bite out of your vacation budget, and that’s a shame because they’re usually the least memorable part of your trip. Book some of these cheap and unusual places to stay, so you can afford to do more and stay gone for longer. These lodgings are way more than just a place to lay your head.
For the price of a seedy motel, you can stay in a fully-furnished teepee that’s big enough to sleep six. The teepee pictured here is in the Badlands/White River KOA, and costs just $51 a night for a family of four, or $45.90 if you have a Value Kard Rewards membership. It comes with beds, so you can leave your sleeping bags at home, and just bring linens.
Fire Lookout Towers
If you want a room with a view, a fire lookout tower is pretty hard to beat, and the price is pretty hard to beat, too. Most go for $25-75 a night, but reservations do fill up fast, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
If you’re more of a glamper than a camper, consider staying in a yurt. They’re as spacious as any hotel room, and they usually come with amenities, like electricity and air conditioning. We stayed in this yurt in Glendo State Park in Wyoming for $50 a night. It was furnished with a kitchen table and enough beds to sleep six. Plus, it had a nice porch, picnic table and fire ring for us to enjoy.
Planning a summer vacation? Then, you may be able to save big by staying in a dorm room. Many colleges and universities around the world make extra money in the summer by renting out their empty rooms to travelers. If you don’t mind bringing your own sheets and sleeping in a twin bed, this is a brilliant way to dodge the high hotel rates in popular travel destinations. Find out if the school’s cafeteria will be open during your stay. You’ll save even more if you’re able to eat some of your meals there.
How to Book a College Dorm:
Use UniversityRooms.com to book dorm rooms in Europe, Australia, Canada or Argentina. Check directly with college or universities, if you’re interested in staying at a school in the United States.
Take a break from city life with a stay on a farm. Lots of farmers have accommodations that you can book for your next vacation. Some offer bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations, with a room in the farm house; others have private cabins that you can rent. If you’re willing to work, there are even farms where you can stay for free.
How to Book a Farm Stay:
If you’re just looking to enjoy rural accommodations and a big country breakfast, book a stay through Farm Stay U.S.. If you want to help out with farm chores, book a stay through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Dodge the hotel markup around National Parks and historic landmarks by staying in a bunkhouse. For $60-80 a night, you’ll get a private bunkhouse with just enough room for two to three sets of bunk beds. Most include heat and air conditioning, as well as a porch and fire ring. We stayed in this bunkhouse (listed as a one-room Camping Cabin) at the Buffalo KOA for $81 ($72.90 after our Value Kard Rewards membership discount). It had cable TV, plus the nicest campground bathrooms and showers I’ve ever seen.
Where to Find Bunkhouses:
Jellystone Park and KOA both have bunkhouses (referred to as Camping Cabins at KOA). If you need to accommodate a large family or group, Jellystone Park has bunkhouses that sleep 12-14 people, and even some that sleep 20-28 people. Many private campgrounds also have bunkhouses.
A hotel can’t compete with the magic of staying up in the treetops, so book a tree house for your next vacation. Some tree houses cost as much as a boutique hotel stay, but if you’re willing to dig, there are still plenty of options in the $100-$150 a night range, including this tree house in Keyhole State Park, Wyoming, which accommodates five and costs $130 a night.
Where You Can Stay in a Tree House:
Want to see what it would be like to live in a tiny house? Find out on your next trip. Stay in a converted silo, shipping container or bus, or experience life in an RV or tiny trailer. There are lots of options in the $100-150 range; and with a full kitchen, you won’t have to pay for as many meals out.
Where You Can Stay in a Tiny House
Search Airbnb for a tiny house, or do a web search for “tiny house hotel.” Jellystone Park has park models and tiny homes that you can rent at some of their campgrounds, and KOA has deluxe cabins that come fully equipped with a pint-sized bathroom and kitchen.
Get a taste of pioneer life by camping out in a covered wagon. For $60 a night you can stay in a covered wagon on Charles Ingall’s actual homestead. Each covered wagon sleeps three or five, and includes mattresses/mats to sleep on.
Where You Can Stay in a Covered Wagon:
There are a number of private campgrounds where you can get the covered wagon experience, some even offer modern ammenities, like electricity and air conditioning. To locate an option near you, just do a search for “stay in a covered wagon.”
Staying in a hotel isn’t memorable, but staying in a caboose sure is! We stayed in this fully-decked-out caboose at the St. Louis KOA for $135 ($121.50 with our rewards card). It came with beds, linens, air conditioning, a microwave, mini fridge, cable TV, grill, fire ring, porch and full use of all the campground amenities, including a large pool, jumping pillow and gaga ball pit.
Visiting somewhere that’s near a river, lake, canal or ocean? Then, staying in a house boat might be an option. This is true whether you’ll be visiting somewhere off the beaten path, or heading to a major city. And it’s surprisingly affordable, too. House boats in Paris, France, for example, start at just $153 a night.
How to Book a House Boat:
Monasteries and Convents
If you want to stay somewhere that’s guaranteed to be quiet and truly unique, consider booking a room in a monastery or convent. You’ll find options in scenic hideaways and in busy metropolises. Lodgings often includes some, or all meals, so the typical $40-$70 a night rate is a real steal.
How to Book a Stay in a Monastery or Convent
The nightly rates quoted in the article are based on a family of four, and are subject to change.