Are you dreaming of exploring Asia, but think you may not have the budget to make it happen? While air fair can be steep, especially if you are flying out of the US, you can save a lot of money on accommodations. The trick is NOT to book your hotel/room through the internet. While this may seem completely counterintuitive, since most people have come to regard the internet as the only source of finding discounts on everything under the sun, you would actually be overpaying at least 50%, for the “best deal” you find on line. Instead, for real savings, you can find your accommodations upon arrival to your destination.
While arriving to a foreign country and not having a place to stay right away may seem like a crazy idea that in your worst fears may lead you to be mugged, stranded or even killed, you can put your paranoia to rest. The reality is that if you travel to any small city, or island in Asia that is considered a major tourist destination, you will be greeted by dozens of nice, kind people looking to help you, not hurt you.
From personal experience and from meeting many tourists from all over the world, I find places such as Jogja, Bali and the Gili Islands in Indonesia, Phuket in Thailand, Goa and Udaipur in India, perfect examples of the kinds of places where it is safe to look for accommodations upon arrival. I would not recommend finding accommodations on the spot in huge metropolises, such as Jakarta, Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangkok, etc. These cities are very difficult to navigate, people are not as friendly to tourists, and crime rates are high.
If you are thinking it is too much hassle, think again, because experience shows that you would have at least 2-3 places to choose from within an hour of arrival (chances are you would spend more than one hour searching for a place on line). Does it involve a bit of an adventurous spirit and an open mind? Sure it does, but then again, if you are flying thousands of miles away from home, you might as well live a littleJ
Why finding accommodations upon arrival actually works
The reason why it is so easy to find a host of cheap places to stay upon arrival in many small cities and islands in Asia is because these places are solely economically dependent on tourism. This means that the primary source of income for many local people comes from either owning a small family-style hotel or renting out a few rooms in their own homes to tourists. However, all these locals looking to rent their accommodations are NOWHERE TO BE FOUD ON THE INTERNET! Why?
Simply because at least 90% of locals are not tech savvy enough or speak enough English to create a listing or launch a website on the internet! Certainly, they do not have money to spend on advertising on the internet, to partner with big travel sites such as Expedia, Obitz, etc. They may not own a computer or have access to the internet, or they may not even know that they can list their hotel/room on the internet. Yet, they all desperately want your business, and will charge at least 50% less for the same or better accommodations that you can find yourself online. So, not only will you save money, you will actually help stimulate the local economy, as opposed to paying to stay at a large hotel, or a chain owned by some foreign company.
How cheap is cheap?
Local accommodations can be astoundingly cheap, which is the reason why Asia attracts backpacker tourists from all over the world with super tight budgets. If you are not looking for anything fancy, you can rent a clean room with a fan (it will likely not have an AC) in a good location, from $8-12/night, in many instances with breakfast included! If you are willing to spend a bit more money ($15-25), you can find a really nice room with an AC, and hot water. If you are looking to splurge, you can stay in a lavish villa for about $100-150/night. This is a steal considering the fact that similar upscale accommodations online go for at least $300/night.
It’s important to note that if you are planning to stay for an extended period of time you can bargain with the owners and bring the price down by about 10-20% depending on your length of stay. Most people are willing to give you a discount if you stay for at least 2 weeks.
Last summer, I spent two months with my daughter in Bali, and I was paying $8/night for a huge room (no AC, no hot water), private bathroom/shower, with breakfast, which was a 5 minute walk to the beach and a 1 minute walk to a local food market, where we had dinner almost every night.
Other perks of staying with the locals
In addition to saving hundreds of dollars on accommodations, there are many other major perks to staying with the locals that will create unforgettable memories. First and foremost, you will get to experience local culture in a way that is not possible when you stay at a big hotel, which is a world apart from local life. The family that you stay with will gladly tell you where to eat and shop to get the best deals, what things to see, that you would not read about in a tourist guide book, and much more. They will do this for FREE, simply because they want to share their life and culture with foreigners and appreciate your business.
For example, our hostess in Bali took us around the island on her motorcycle, babysat my daughter when I needed to work, helped us bargain when we wanted to buy something at a local craft market, and in general made us feel at home during our stay.
Tips on finding accommodations upon arrival
-Book a flight that arrives in the morning or afternoon, so you have time to look around without panicking that its almost night time and you have no place to sleep.
-Upon arrival ask a cabdriver to take you to a popular beach or the center of town. Don’t be afraid to go into local shops, restaurants and little hotels to ask for accommodations. Everyone speaks basic English, and you will have many people looking to take you to see a place.
-Always bargain! The first price is you hear anywhere in Asia, you can safely slash in half. You will either get your asking price or save at least 30% from the original price.
-If you have time, try to check out a few places before settling down.
-If you are scared you will not find anything, book a room for just one night on the internet, and then look for different accommodations upon arrival. You will have peace of mind that you have a place to stay, and you will be surprised at how quickly you will find alternatives.