Lodging expenses make up a large part of any travel budget. When you start looking for ways to trim your travel expenses, staying with friends might seem to be 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 rather than 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 savings worth giving up control of part of your vacation?
After looking at the pros and cons of staying with friends on your next vacation, you may change your mind and book a room at an affordable hotel. On the other hand, you may decide things will work out wonderfully. If so, pick up the telephone and give your friend or relative a call. Remember to start saving up for that thank you dinner.
Advantages of Staying With Friends
Depending on where your friends live, you'll save from $50 -$250 (or more) per night by bunking in with them.
Free or Low-cost Meals
You may not get to many local eateries, but you will save money by eating meals in your friends' home. Remember, polite houseguests chip in for groceries.
Insider Travel Tips
Your friends can show you the best shops, restaurants and tourist attractions in town. No travel guidebook can give you the insider tips your hosts can provide.
Your hosts will probably be willing to pick you up from the airport, train station or bus terminal when you arrive. If you are lucky, they will also offer to take you to and from subway stations or bus stops each day, saving you the expense of renting a car.
Having a place to wash clothes is extremely helpful. You can save money on checked-baggage fees if you are able to wash your clothes during your trip. Your suitcase will be lighter, too.
It is comforting to know you can telephone your hosts if things go wrong.
Disadvantages of Staying With Friends
Someone Else's Schedule
Your life will revolve around your hosts' daily routine. Pets or children may wake you up early. You may need to be dressed and ready by 6:30 a.m. on work days in order to get a lift to the subway. You might find yourself staying up late or going to bed early, especially if you are sleeping in the living room.
Someone Else's Menu Plan
Home-cooked meals are great, but what happens if you are staying with your vegetarian brother or with friends who dine on chicken nuggets and corn dogs? You are stuck with the meals served to you unless you plan to eat in restaurants every day.
Less Privacy — Or None at All
You will probably be sharing a bathroom and may be 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.
Sofa Beds or Air Mattresses
If your hosts don't have a guest room, you will have to sleep wherever there's room – and you won't get your choice of beds.
Find out whether your hosts have pets. This could be a deal-breaker if you are allergic to animals.
Someone Else's Sightseeing Itinerary
Your hosts are locals, and they do know their way around. Will they take you where you want to go? It is 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.
Make the Most of Your Visit
Ask for honesty when you propose your visit. Be ready to handle rejection. Your travel plans may not coincide with your friends' availability.
Stay with people you truly enjoy being with, and try to make sure they feel the same way about you both before and during your visit.
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 ask.
Don't overstay your welcome. Agree on arrival and departure dates with your hosts. Unless an emergency arises, stick to your planned travel schedule.
Pick up after yourself. No one likes to host a thoughtless houseguest.
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.
Remember to write a thank you note.