My earlier post on picking the best accommodations touched on some of the different options available for housing when you travel. For this post I’ve tried to make a comprehensive list of all of the different types of accommodations there are. I’ve included personal notes on the ones I’ve used and at least some basic info on the ones I’ve never had the guts to try. 🙂 I’m sure this list doesn’t cover everything but it should be a good start.
Types of Accommodations:
- Bed and Breakfasts
- Vacation Rentals
- Couch Surfing
- House Swapping
- House/Pet Sitting
Hotel’s are probably most people’s go-to for a place to stay when traveling. They can be large multi-national chains or mom and pop boutiques and they’re offered in every price range from extremely posh to extremely budget.
- The front desk is almost always available around the clock which is good for late night check-in or emergency travel needs.
- Your room gets cleaned daily. (In theory, at least.)
- You’ll get amenities and conveniences like room service or in-room coffee; this varies of course, depending on hotel class.
- Rooms are often small and most don’t have a kitchen, which means you have to eat out for every meal (and forget about bringing home leftovers).
- Privacy issues: walls can be thin and some folks would rather their room not be cleaned at all than have a stranger entering their space.
It’s easy to compare hotels using an online aggregator. I like Expedia (especially if I can bundle the deal with airfare to get a discount) and I’ve found that the offerings don’t change a whole lot between other sites like Hotels.com, Travelocity, etc.
The best way to analyze your search results is to sort first by guest rating, then scroll down the options until you find something with the location you want and within price range. This way you’ll ensure that you’re getting the highest rated hotel out of the ones that meet your other requirements.
Only one small letter off from “hotels” but quite a bit different! Sometimes referred to as “youth hostels,” these are communal living spaces where you typically share a room and a bathroom with others. There are certainly still places that put an emphasis on “youth,” where there is an age limit to guests, but most of them offer cheap accommodations to anyone, regardless of age.
Hostels are much less expensive than a hotel, but budget isn’t the only reason you might want to stay at one. They are infinitely more communal and offer camaraderie with your fellow travelers, so are especially good if you’re exploring solo. When I was touring the UK in my twenties I arrived at my Dublin hostel in the evening, directly off the ferry from Wales, dropped my backpack at my bed and headed into what I thought was the bathroom. It turned out to be an adjoining bunk room where six other people immediately invited me out with them. Within ten minutes of getting to town, I was at a bar, Guinness in hand, enjoying the company of my newfound friends.
Even if you aren’t traveling alone, it’s nice to meet kindred spirits who are sharing the same experiences. Throughout the years I’ve met countless people at hostels – some who I’ve kept in touch with, some who I run across on Facebook or other social media and some who just live on in my memory as “that really nice guy who bought me a beer and bonded with me over a shared love of the Kaiser Chiefs.”
- Budget friendly.
- Perfect for solo travelers. Lots of chances to make new friends.
- Forget about privacy, you won’t get any here.
- Accommodations are usually very basic.
You can use sites like Hostelworld.com to find a good place to stay and I would recommend the same strategy as if you were searching for a hotel. Sort by top rated first and then find something in the location you want and at a price you can afford. Unlike hotels, hostels are priced per person not per room so don’t expect to split the nightly rate with anyone. Some hostels have private rooms with an ensuite bathroom, but most will be shared spaces with anywhere from 4 to 24 or more beds. Usually, the more beds in a room, the cheaper the price. The least expensive place I ever stayed was in 2008, in a 24 bed room at a Singapore hostel called Sleepy Sam’s. It was about $8 a night. There were a lot of people in that room but it was a clean bed with clean sheets and even had a welcome note on it when I arrived.
Sharing a room with others is no problem as long as you follow these two rules:
- You MUST bring earplugs. Do not forego these unless you love listening to the sound of someone else’s snoring or relish being woken up by your neighbor stumbling around at 4am, searching drunkenly for his bed.
- Remember that you are essentially sharing a room with strangers. I’ve never had a bunkmate try to steal anything from me but I did stay in a hostel in Budapest that was broken into and I awoke to find someone rifling through my backpack. When I groggily questioned him, I got a blank look and a one word question back: “Cannabis?” before he decided to make a run for it. Since then I’ve always slept with my valuables locked up (many hostels offer lockers) or on my person. Better to be paranoid and have your things with you in the morning, than laissez faire and spend the rest of your trip at the embassy trying to get an emergency passport.
The bigger hurdle is sharing a bathroom but once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that bad. You’ll need to bring all of your own toiletries, including a towel – preferably one that dries quickly and packs up really small (like this one, that you can get on Amazon), and a pair of flip flops for the shower. The only thing that is reasonably sure to be provided is toilet paper. Although it never hurts to have an emergency pack of tissues with you, just in case. (I’m looking at you, South Korea.)
BED AND BREAKFASTS (B&Bs)
Bed and breakfasts are kind of like an upscale hostel. They offer an intimate, communal style of accommodation with added perks like breakfast and an afternoon cocktail hour. Most B&Bs are large, converted houses that offer just a few rooms, so while you won’t find bunk rooms with multiple beds, you may share a bathroom with other guests. You’ll have a host and/or hostess attending to you while you are staying there and often they live on site as well so it’s kind of like staying over at a doting, rich aunt’s house. As with a hostel, you get the benefit of socializing with your fellow guests, but with the privacy of having your own room that’s usually much better appointed than a hostel bunk. B&Bs aren’t really considered a budget option, although you can find reasonably priced ones. They feel more quaint, serene and relaxed than staying at either a hotel or a hostel and are often sought out as a destination unto themselves.
- You get hotel amenities along with the community feel of a hostel.
- A hosted experience and built in social activities make planning your stay easy.
- Not great if you want to be an anonymous traveler or keep to yourself.
- Can be pricier than other types of accommodations.
There are multiple sites that cater to listing just B&Bs and small inns, like bedandbreakfast.com and theinnkeeper.com. I’ve never tried either personally but now that I’ve written this section, I definitely want to!
Vacation, or short term, rentals are my favorite right now. These are houses or apartments that are usually rented out by an individual instead of a corporation although there are plenty of management companies that will help folks who want to rent their place. Sometimes the home is used purely as a rental, but could also be a primary residence that is rented out when the owner is traveling or could simply be just one spare room of an otherwise occupied house or apartment. I love using vacation rentals because they feel more locally authentic than a hotel room, they offer a little more privacy and come with a full kitchen which is great because Brian and I love to cook, even on vacation. It can be tiring and expensive to eat out for every meal.
- You usually get a whole house to yourself. (But there are options to share a room in someone’s house as well.)
- Generally a better value for your money compared to a hotel.
- Great option for larger groups who want to stay in a place all together.
- Key exchange needs to be coordinated and can sometimes be tricky, especially if you are arriving late at night.
- Fewer conveniences than a hotel: no room service and no daily maid service.
There are quite a few sites that you can use to find vacation rentals although my favorite is Airbnb. They have a lot of listings and do a good job filtering out spam reviews.
Short term rentals aren’t just for vacations! Brian and I got married in a fancy house on Canyon Lake in Texas. But if you do plan to host an event, be sure to read the fine print on the contract as some rentals allow it and some don’t.
Somewhere along the way, the idea of crashing on a friend’s couch because you have nowhere else to stay, was turned into an online community where you can actually access a network of strangers’ couches to sleep on. It sounds weird, and sometimes it is.
The only place I know about where you can connect with others in this regard, is the aptly named website, Couchsurfing.com. Much like hostels, the idea behind couch surfing is to foster a sense of community and accommodate folks who are traveling on a tight budget, but with a much more personal flair. After making an account on the Couchsurfing site you can search for couches to stay on and offer your own for weary travelers to rest their heads. I’ve done both, with mixed results.
More than just a couch and a roof overhead, your host will often take you under her or his wing and show you around town, give you directions, point you to some hidden gems and generally help you to fit in like a local.
- Extremely budget friendly.
- Great way to immerse yourself in another culture and get a more local experience.
- Big variability in accommodations and host personality makes couch surfing more of a crapshoot than traditional places.
- Although Couchsurfing.com employs some vetting measures, this kind of accommodation is inherently more risky, especially for a solo female traveler.
Couchsurfing.com has expanded beyond just travelers needing a place to stay. They host local events and they support forums and community groups for people who share the same values and interests. I joined a group in Austin who was learning Spanish together, taught by an awesome couch surfing couple who volunteered their time to help the rest of us muddle our way through the basics. It was muy divertido.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You trade your house with someone else for a set period of time. Sometimes you can trade vacation homes and the two vacations don’t necessarily need to happen simultaneously. But the gist of it is that you offer your home in exchange for staying in someone else’s. There are a lot of websites that will help you connect with others and most of them charge a yearly fee. Some of the more established sites are International Vacation Home Exchange ($159/yr), Homelink ($90/yr) and Intervac ($99/yr). I can’t offer feedback on any of these as I’ve never done a home swap. Based on a little web research, but without personal experience to back it up, here are what I perceive to be the general pros and cons.
- Basically free accommodations and they could be quite nice.
- Can be useful if you’re visiting an area that has few commercial options for places to stay, or if a big event is making availability scarce.
- You have to let someone stay in your house.
- It might be hard to find swaps if you yourself don’t live in a sought after location. Your Parisian flat for my trailer in Paris, Texas?
While there are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that you’re not giving up your home to thieves or vandals, I personally will never be comfortable having a stranger sleep in my bed, use my bathroom, leave my lights on, or stand too long holding my refrigerator door open. It works for a lot of people. I am not one of them.
HOUSE / PET SITTING
This is sort of like a home swap except instead of swapping your home for theirs, you are swapping your services as a house sitter and sometimes pet sitter. This too, goes both ways: it’s a great service to use if you’re traveling and need an inexpensive house or pet sitter! Again, the rule applies that it will be harder to find someone for the task if you don’t live in a very desirable location.
I’ve never tried this route but recently my friends went to Japan for two weeks and used House Sitters America to find someone to take care of their house, their kitty, and their sweet little chihuahua. As a homeowner, it was free for them to post a request but for potential house sitters, the fee to use the site is $30 per year. House sitters peruse open requests and submit their info to the ones they’d like to “apply” for. According to my friends, who live in Austin, they received over a dozen replies to their post. So, relying on house sitting to find a specific place to vacation might be tricky as you could be competing with many others for the “job.”
- Extremely budget friendly.
- You get to love on cute, sweet, animals.
- Competition for these “jobs” could make finding a place in a specific location difficult.
- Taking care of a house or pets may interfere with your actual plans for doing vacation-y things.
I have definitely been camping, although I have never camped as an actual means of shelter in an otherwise non-outdoorsy kind of vacation. But while doing research on the topic I realized that camping can be so much more than just an excuse to gorge yourself on s’mores. There are big differences in the type, amenities, safety and ease of camping depending on country and region, and by far, Europe seems to have the best infrastructure. A lot of European campgrounds are within the city limits and most have internet access and an on site restaurant. Websites like EuroCampings.co.uk make it easy to find and reserve a site. There’s an article on BootsnAll that gives a really comprehensive overview about Euro camping. One new thing I learned is that some campgrounds have inexpensive accommodation for folks who haven’t brought their own tent – usually simple bungalows or cabins. So camping in Europe might be a thing even I could try. 🙂
- Very budget friendly.
- More communal than a hotel room and some people might even think it’s fun.
- Bugs, etc.
- Can be dangerous, depending on where you are.
- Weather can wreak havoc on your plans.
Since I found such a wide variety of information on camping in other parts of the world, I made a quick breakdown of camping, by continent, that is by no means comprehensive, but will give you a general idea of what it’s all about.
Camping, By Continent
Do you know of other places to lay your head while you’re away from home? I’d love to hear from you!