This tip is simple and it can save you hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars.

Hotels can quickly eat away at your travel budget. A decent hotel in a city can easily be $300 a night. Even AirBnB prices climb pretty high, especially once you add in all the fees. Sure, you can save money by picking a cheap motel (at your own risk) or staying at a hotel outside of town (and dealing with traffic and parking).

There’s a way to save money on hotels without worrying about hacking your credit card points or joining every loyalty program possible or buying through sketchy third party sites.

Step one: Don’t stay in hotels

Yup, it’s that easy. You can avoid spending money on hotels entirely, without resorting to camping or sleeping in your car or forgoing your vacation altogether.

There are two main options for having a great place to stay without paying anything: home swapping and house sitting.

Home swapping

Rather than having your home sit empty while you pay to stay in a hotel room, you can switch homes with someone else. Guest to Guest makes it easy to find people who want to visit your hometown.

Exchanges don’t have to be simultaneous. Even people who don’t have vacation homes to trade have times during the year when they’re staying with family or on business trips. Most sites also have options to get points so you can do uneven exchanges. Swaps are usually for a week or two, but they can be any length you agree on.

This works best if you live in a city or near a tourist destination. My apartment in Toronto isn’t particularly fancy, but it’s centrally located, so I get a lot of offers from people with luxury homes who want to visit Toronto and be in the heart of the city. I also get offers for some amazing trades during TIFF and over the holidays.

This is fantastic if you have kids or pets. Swapping homes with other families means kids can have their own room and toys to play with. Swapping homes with other pet owners means you save money on a hotel and a pet sitter.

freshly made bed in a beautiful bedroom through a home exchange. Photo by Rhema Kallianpur on Unsplash

House sitting

If you don’t live in an area people are excited to visit or don’t have a home that’s swap-ready, you can still avoid paying for hotels by house sitting. Trusted House Sitters connects homeowners with travelers.

Usually this involves pet care, but sometimes homeowners just don’t want to leave their place empty. There’s nothing like taking a dog to the park to make you feel like a local.

Sits can range from a weekend to several months long and there are sits all over the world. House sitting is great for longer trips, since you can easily go from one sit to another.

It’s easy to get started as a house sitter.

Does this really work?

Yes, it does! I’ve done tons of home swaps and pet sits. I’ve stayed in a gorgeous three-story renovated Victorian in Boston, a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment with a breathtaking view, and tons of other homes that were far nicer than any hotel. It also meant I could cook if I wanted to, had plenty of space to hang out or work, and had all the amenities of home.

This is just one of the ways I can travel for months at a time without going broke.

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