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Travel

August 21, 2014

Room for savings: Travel and stay for less

Want to stretch your vacation budget? Discover your accommodation personality and check out these online options to save a lot of cash.

It's a sad reality: Canadians don't get a lot of vacation time. In fact, a survey by Mercer human resources consultants found that we receive less holiday time than any other developed country in the world, averaging only 19 days a year.

This explains why, with precious little time for travel, we treasure those days, and try to get the absolute most out of them. It's also why so many of us include travel in our retirement plans, hoping to spend some of that new-found free time exploring the world.

But unless you're planning on staying in hostels or couch-surfing around Europe, travel doesn't come cheap.

Fortunately, finding affordable accommodation is possible; in fact, the options are many and varied, and don't involve sacrificing those creature comforts you've come to love -- like having your own bathroom.

For most of us, where we stay is going to take up a large amount of our research time online, for good reason: Depending on where you go, accommodations can represent nearly a third of your total travel budget, not counting your airfare, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association. So researching where to stay is time well spent.

If you're responsible for shopping for your family, you have plenty of experience comparing options, evaluating quality and finding value for your dollar. You just need to apply those same skills when shopping for accommodations online. But you'll also need to understand your ''accommodation personality."

Not only where but also how you stay is a reflection of who you are and the kind of experience you want when you travel. Do you like the consistent service offered by a four-star hotel, or do you prefer to live like a local for a more grassroots experience? Do you rely on a helping hand, close at hand, or are you more independent? These preferences are going to dictate where and how to look for places that fit your accommodation personality and, in turn, help you find the value you're looking for. We've uncovered five basic accommodation personalities:

1. For the hotel traditionalist: BackBid 

If you like to know exactly what you're getting, this site offers a great way to save money after you've booked a specific hotel. Register your existing reservation with BackBid, and other hotels at the same star level near your already-booked location can offer you cheaper rates to help fill their empty rooms. If you prefer the new rate, you just cancel your previous hotel room booking and take the cheaper alternative. The best part is, you'll know exactly what is being offered before having to make a decision.

2. For the roll-the-dice traditionalist: Priceline

If you're a control freak, this may not be the perfect site for you, since it's a blind auction and you won't know exactly where you're staying until after you've paid. Place a bid for what you are willing to pay for a hotel in a specific area and star-rating, and see if your price is accepted. If it is, your booking is confirmed immediately -- often for 40% less than regular rates. The downside (here's where the control freak part comes in) is that if you don't like the hotel you're booked at, it's too late to change your mind, since you've already been charged.

3. For the people person: bed and breakfast (In Canada, BBCanada)

For travellers who like a more personal experience, B&Bs offer good value because you aren't paying for larger hotel amenities, plus the price includes breakfast. And while there might not be a concierge desk, most hosts are usually happy to offer recommendations for favourite restaurants and attractions from a true insider's perspective. Most cities have bed-and-breakfast association websites, so simply search for B&B associations by city name, and you'll usually find multiple options.

4. For the think-global-stay-local adventurer: Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO)   

If you like the idea of living like a local, this site offers private residences in cities around the world, which their owners rent to travellers. Because you can cook for yourself, this is a great way to save on extended stays, or if you travel as a family and don't want to eat every meal at restaurants. But remember, these are individuals who are renting to you, not companies, so use the site at your own risk, and make sure you feel comfortable with the terms being offered.

5. For the mi casa, su casa house-swapper: HomeExchange

If you are willing to leave your home in someone else's hands in exchange for theirs, this is one way you can literally stay somewhere without paying for the roof over your head. House swapping is essentially an accommodation barter system, where you exchange your house with another member in the network, for a mutually agreed-upon timeframe. Accommodations don't get much cheaper than this.

And while you're thinking about your travel budget, remember to factor in the cost of travel insurance, so an unexpected illness or accident doesn't put a damper on your plans or your finances. 

Whatever your travel style, spending a little time online can save you a lot on your trip. Because no matter what your budget may be, there's always room for savings.

Jane Canapini provides information and inspiration for travellers over 45 at Grownup Travels.

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