Next to your flight, your accommodations can absorb a huge part of your travel budget, but it doesn't have to. Here are 5 budget friendly options to stretch your money further, while enhancing your vacation experience at the same time.

1. Friends and Family

Some of the most memorable times I have had traveling is reconnecting with friends and family that I have stayed in contact with around the world. The more I travel, the more I meet people! Do you have some distant relatives somewhere in the world who might be excited to finally meet you? I found relatives in Poland, who although were poor as church mice, opened their home and fridge to us (I'm not kidding, despite our protests they wouldn't stop trying to feed us!) Make sure to have something to give in return either that you brought from home, or something you picked up along your travels to thank them for their generosity and hospitality.

If you don't know someone personally, you would be surprised who the people you know can put you in touch with. Just a simple posting on 'Facebook' or other social networking sites can open up invitations that you may not have even thought of, and if they don't have a place for you personally, they might know someone. You can also join travel clubs within your community through organizations such as "Meetup" or online travel forums.

2. Learning to Couch-Surf

Couchsurfing is a growing online community based on trust and donations, and I've met some great people from it. When I was in Holland, I had my wallet stolen on the way to a party for 'Carnival' (which by the way, I would not have known about had it not been for checking the events on the site.) Not only did the guy hosting the party take me to the police station to file a report as soon as I got there, I ended up staying for a week in Belgium (just over the border) with some other couch-surfers while I was getting my banking details and life sorted out again.

Situations happen while you are abroad, and it's great to be part of a community that is so willing to help you no matter what part of the world you are in. If you want to start opening doors for future travels, start by becoming a host yourself. This could mean opening up your home or 'couch' to a surfer in need, or just extending a welcome into your city by meeting them for a coffee and showing them around. Couching surfing does not have to be for the college backpacker. There are people from all ages and walks of life on the site, and it's a great way to start learning about other cultures, practice a language, and meet new friends from all around the world. And just like karma, the more you are willing to give, the more it will come back around.

3. Home Exchange

Another free alternative, especially if you have a comfy place of your own is to do a house exchange. The advantage of course is having your own comfortable home or apartment away from home if you don't mind being in someone else's space. Although it doesn't provide you some of the benefits of a hotel (such as housekeeping and room service) you could end up with a relaxing getaway in a mountain chalet, or a Tuscan Villa, or somewhere else far away from the hustle and bustle of a busy tourist hotel. It's almost like owning a timeshare somewhere, without having to worry about the cost of maintenance or exchange fees or the hefty purchase price.

Of course the downside would be the trust factor, which if you haven't noticed by now is becoming a recurring theme through many of these options. Good homeowners insurance is definitely a must, as is making sure your home is secure while you are away. (Probably best to not leave the diamonds or the best china out while you are on vacation anyway.) Set up your home as if you were renting it, and let a neighbor know when you will be away so they can keep on eye on things for you. The online profiles and verification process will build trust between members and help you select the right candidate for your exchange. Most websites out there will charge a small membership fee to join but http://www.geenee.com, allows you to view profiles and pay after your first exchange.

4. Hostels and Guesthouses

For many people, this is not even an option they would consider because of the bad reputation that Hollywood has given them. Yes there are the bed-bug infested halfway houses out there as well as the party hostel full of backpacking college kids, which is why planning and a little research can go a long way in finding comfortable, clean accommodations.

There are plenty of websites out there that you can find reviews and pictures of the property so you have an idea of what to expect before you get there (and it doesn't hurt to price things around either.) There are actually many places that have private rooms and guest apartments which can include luxuries such as your own kitchen or even a washer in dryer, for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. (This is how my dad and I traveled around through most of Europe.) For unbiased reviews you can check out websites such as TripAdvisor, or book them directly through hostel search engines such as http://www.hostels.com.

5. Villas and Condos

For larger groups and families, the most comfortable accommodations will be in villas or timeshares, but if you can't afford to purchase one yourself, you can still find rentals online for a fraction of the price without having to worry about maintenance fees or attending timeshare presentations. I have found extremely great deals for timeshares on skyauction.com which allows you to bid on unused inventory. There are also vacation clubs you can pay a membership fee to have constant access to these exclusive deals, but be careful for hidden fees and look for companies that charge a one time flat fee, versus charging different access levels.

No matter where you decide to stay, with a little creativity and planning you can still have first class vacations at a fraction of the cost.

Author's Bio: 

Liz has been living out of her suitcase now for the past 2 years and has been finding ways to make money and support herself to pursue her two passions in life: travel and writing. She has traveled extensively in Europe, parts of the Middle East, and North Africa through 24 countries and counting now. You can visit her website full of travel tips and other adventures at http://www.lizwrightnow.com or if you would like to start planning your own adventures, be sure to subscribe to her Newsletter for success tips from a Travelpreneur.