The right accommodation for you may not be a hotel. Have you ever considered the alternatives?
Maybe you should. Your budget may love you for it, and your travel experiences may be more meaningful as well.
In this article, I will cover different types of accommodation you can consider when planning your next trip.
It is essential to know your Travel Personality before you start planning so you can choose the most suitable accommodation for you, your travel style, and your budget.
You can find more information in this post – What you need to know about Travel Personality and Trip Planning.
Sometimes travel can seem out of reach, too expensive. But it’s possible that you haven’t thought of the alternatives.
It’s nice to stay in a hotel, but it can be costly. Many alternatives provide you with the opportunity to interact with other travellers and locals as well as being budget-friendly.
I am always looking for a more authentic travel experience. If I do stay in hotels, I usually choose smaller ones that provide a warm, friendly and personal service. I accredit a tight budget for finding more exciting accommodation, with personal interactions, ones I wouldn’t have necessarily had staying in a larger hotel.
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I don’t like staying in touristy areas, although sometimes in places like Venice that was unavoidable (I needed a hotel that could accommodate my group).
I prefer the neighbourhood locations. I don’t like the idea of walking out of the door and being surrounded by only tourists. Have I mentioned how much I hate crowds?
I want to be amongst cafes and restaurants that are popular with locals — café bars where I can hear the native language spoken while sipping on a glass of local wine.
If you stay in an apartment, you have kitchen and laundry facilities which are handy if you don’t want to be trying to wash your underwear in a hotel sink and hanging it in the shower.
A lot of apartment owners have a Welcome Pack for their guests. These can contain helpful information about the area with suggestions on where to shop, eat, drink and recommended things to see that you may not have considered.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is budget more important or comfort?
- Do you prefer 5-star luxury or 2 – 3-star hotels are adequate?
- Would you like something a little quirky?
- Do you want to be in the centre of the city or the suburbs?
- Are you looking for a “living like a local” experience?
There is no right or wrong. There are your preferences and budget to consider, and that’s it. You will need to consider others if you are travelling in a group, and open communication is the key before planning and booking.
Hotels are the most obvious place to start, and the easiest. Of course, this is the most common form of accommodation around the world, and you can find everything from sheer opulence and luxury to budget basics.
Some hotels provide more than a room for the night, including facilities like pools, gyms, restaurants, concierge, minibars, laundry services, room service, free wifi and business facilities.
The critical thing to remember when organising your accommodation is the type of experience you want and the money you are willing to pay.
Room with a kitchenette
I have dietary issues I need to manage so being able to shop and prepare my food is essential, AND it significantly reduces the meal allowance.
There comes the point in a trip where I cannot eat out anymore and want something simple and home-cooked.
For example, when I visit New York, I try and stay at the Beacon Hotel on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
The rooms are large with a small but functional kitchenette and dining area. The hotel even has laundry facilities. It is well priced for Manhattan and located in a friendly neighbourhood. Across the road is a Fairways supermarket making self-catering easy with heaps of choices.
Self-catering is one of the easiest ways to save money when you are travelling. And let’s face it some days after hours of sightseeing, you don’t feel like going out for dinner.
Finding a hotel room with a kitchenette can be a good combination.
And of course, there are boutique hotels that just hit the mark with everything – smaller in size, beautiful rooms, personalised service, excellent food, extras – the lot.
For us, this was the Villa Marsili in Cortona. Because I was hosting a small travel group, our needs were different from what I would personally book if I were travelling solo. The hotel was perfect for our group.
Like anything worthwhile, doing your research and reading reviews is essential because the prices and standards vary greatly.
Apartments, Villas & Houses
There are a lot of good companies you can rent private apartments and villas and homes through.
And with Airbnb on the scene, those choices have become even more abundant.
Apartments are my preferred style of accommodation for many reasons.
I like experiencing life a little like a local, and a lot of the places available are in local neighbourhoods and not tourist areas. I also love a kitchen so that I can cook, a laundry or washing machine to catch up on washing and a space that I can relax in when travelling gets too tiring.
Be aware there are some issues with Airbnb in locations like New York and Paris as well as other cities. Be prudent and do a bit of research before using the service.
I like Airbnb for its original philosophy of allowing people to rent out rooms to travellers and earning extra income. I do prefer my own space and bathroom. With this in mind, I try and book studio apartments that may be attached (or under) the owner’s home, or in their yard or attached to their business or house. Included in our last stay was a free breakfast at the café that the unit was connected to and also owned and operated by the owner. It was a pleasant surprise and an appreciated bonus.
If the purpose is to connect with locals, I don’t see much point in renting an apartment that is one of many owned by one person (or company) and operated purely as a holiday rental.
If you would like to use Airbnb, you can click this link and receive a discount off your first stay.
The thought of a hostel can conjure up the image of 20 something-year-old backpackers having a blast, partying and experiencing life to the fullest. And loudest.
But not all hostels are like that, and if you do your research, you can find ones that cater to couples and families.
Some have private rooms with ensuite bathroom.
I am not the biggest fan; I have to admit.
But I include it because it is a great budget option, and if you don’t mind shared kitchens then this could be the perfect option for you. It is an excellent way to meet other travellers, and a popular chose for solo travellers looking to interact.
I stayed in a hostel in Germany with my family of four. I chose that particular hostel it for various reasons. It was family orientated with a kid’s programs (not that my kids wanted to participate!) although most days we were out sightseeing every day.
And it was a castle, Burg Stahleck, a 12th-century fortified castle in the Rhine Valley, Germany and the kids were beyond excited when I told them my plans.
It is sits perched above the medieval village of Bacharach and overlooks the Rhine. Seated in the courtyard with a cup of wine in my hand (purchased from the front desk for €3) and watching the sunset over the river below, was a magical experience.
Our family room could have fit eight people, all in bunks, and included a basic private bathroom.
The only problem I had is that I am relatively tall and didn’t quite fit into the top bunk very well and it was under the sloping roof.
I had moments where I felt like I was sleeping in a box with the lid slightly open (or coffin). I was sleep deprived!
We paid for half board and ate breakfast and dinner at the hostel. Never again! The food was far from average.
The Hostel catered for families during the European summer, and there were kids everywhere (pesky kids!)
But hey, we got to stay in a castle, and it was a unique experience.
You can rough camp in approved areas or utilise the beautiful camping grounds that dot Europe. You will, however, need to carry your gear with you.
If you want the experience of camping, and not have to worry about equipment, or even set up then there are companies like Eurocamp, a UK company that have camping resorts all over Europe.
Accommodation ranges from large resort-style parks to smaller grounds offering standard tents, safari tents, cabins, lodges, treehouses and more.
A Dutch company, Tentsetters also has facilities in France and Slovenia.
I can hear some of you protesting. No! Not camping. I know my partner Dan would be.
I know camping is not for everyone, but we were campers and loved it, and the fact that we didn’t have to set anything up was fantastic.
We used Tentsetters and camped for a week at Lake Bled, Slovenia. It was a difficult booking process with Tentsetters, (no online payment facilities at the tie) a website that doesn’t have an English option and I believe I had to send a cheque!! Yikes!
But I had my heart set on visiting Lake Bled, and this was our best, and cheapest, option.
It turned out to be a fantastic experience. We turned up. Our name was on the board, and the tent was ready, complete with an indoor camp kitchen and an outdoor table setting.
We met our Belgium neighbours, spending a couple of nights exchanging stories (or at least what we could understand of each other) over a few too many wines and beers. How many times can you be told to be quiet by management? It was only 9 pm for goodness sake. Although if the sore head I was nursing in the morning was anything to go by, maybe Management had good cause to intervene.
The campground was immaculate, the shop well stocked and the restaurant excellent. And it was across the road from Lake Bled.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Lake Bled, and I would return tomorrow if I could.
You can check out Camping Bled here – their new cabins look fantastic!
The disadvantage of camping was that we had to add sleeping bags, travel pillows and towels to our already bursting luggage.
That was a bit of a trial, but I sourced Roman Palm Lite Ultra-Compact Hooded Sleeping Bags. Usually, I would get a bit cold in a sleeping bag, but these were great for summer.
Another option is to find a camping ground that offers cabins. These are self-contained but usually, have a minimum weekly rental condition.
The facilities at the campground in Switzerland were excellent. The restaurant provided the opportunity for the occasional respite from cooking. And there was a large laundry to use.
We experienced a lot of rain that week but were cosy and dry and able to go out exploring between showers. It was the perfect base to explore from, and even staying inside more than usual we didn’t feel trapped.
It was close to the train station so that we could easily explore the surrounding areas and it was in the most beautiful location I have ever seen with the sound of the Staubbach Falls across the road lulling me to sleep every night.
There was a lovely veranda on the front where we could enjoy the stars and a glass of wine in the evening.
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B&B and Guesthouses
B&B’s and Guesthouses are similar. A Guesthouse may be bigger than a B&B offering more rooms.
The standard and inclusions can vary considerably from the bare basics sharing a bathroom to luxury accommodation and decadent breakfasts, so it is worth reading the description and reviews thoroughly.
They may also be called Residenza or similar. Usually, there is no 24-hour reception desk or breakfast available. The accommodation can be basic and may or may not have the option of ensuite rooms or shared bathrooms.
I stayed in a Residenza in Bologna, that stated it was a Guesthouse. It was a converted wing of the monastery. The room was fantastic, airy and bright and clean. It was not large, but it had everything that I needed for a comfortable stay. The bathroom was roomy and well-appointed.
It did not have a 24-hour reception desk, only someone there in the mornings and did not provide breakfast. All the information was clearly stated on the website. I would stay there again and will look for similar accommodation in the future. It is very cost-effective and excellent alternative to a hotel.
With a B&B you might get a good room, with breakfast (usually), and possibly the benefit of the owner’s knowledge if they live on the premises.
I have stayed in traditional B&Bs where the hosts live in the house, we had a shared bathroom and a home-cooked breakfast in the morning.
And others have been like a small boutique hotel, run by staff. And others have been like an apartment.
I have found the overall experience of B&Bs and Guesthouses to be a little hit and miss.
In the Black Forest, Germany we stayed with a lovely couple in a very traditional home (unfortunately with THE WORST BED in all of Germany if not the Universe!!). The owners were friendly and helpful and full of advice for our stay in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. They even lent us an esky (cooler), so we could buy groceries in Germany to take into Switzerland, to save money.
The B&B owners had a friend who worked in a hotel in Grindelwald, a place we planned to visit, so a stop to drop the esky off was easy. It was very thoughtful of them.
The B&B in Orvieto was an apartment with minimal breakfast provisions, but overall it turned out to be a great, fantastic experience.
And the B&B in London was average, with a damp basement bedroom. But they did serve the best breakfast.
And then there was Venice. Not a B&B as far as I was concerned, but a very cheap and nasty hotel.
They got our booking wrong, served packet croissants for breakfast and had terrible coffee. How is that even possible in Italy?
B&Bs and Guesthouses can be a great accommodation option, but ensure sure you research thoroughly.
I wanted to talk about this option which I am yet to try but thought worth mentioning because it’s free.
Free accommodation. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
Although I haven’t housesat, we did engage a house sitter to look after our dog and house while we travelled for 2.5 months.
The experience was fantastic. I want to try this in the future as I believe it will take me to places I would otherwise not consider. There is a range of things that can be included in a housesit such as food in the pantry or a car to drive, but each experience is different.
Basically, you get free accommodation, usually with a pet (or two) to mind.
I found our house sitter on Aussie House Sitters, but there are other sites that I will be looking at when the time comes.
Of course, there are more types of accommodation, and once I have experienced those, I will update this post. Monastery stays, and University accommodation are a couple of options I would like to try offering cheaper accommodation, some with breakfast included.
There is also Couchsurfing to consider and wild camping, both of which I won’t personally be trying, although I think if you are up for the challenge, it could be worthwhile.
We recently met a couple of young people rough camping at one of our local lookouts and asked them back to our house for breakfast and a shower. It was a lovely experience for all of us, and I believe this type of travelling is conducive of that.
Researching your Accommodation
Research is essential even if you are using a Travel Agent to book for you.
An agent booked a hotel near Disneyland for us, and I didn’t check it out. After mouldy breakfast muffins and a hole in the bathtub hidden under a bathmat, I vowed never again to take their word for it.
Had I done my research I would have realised that the hotel received terrible reviews and was not close to the Disneyland complex at all, instead it was a 20-minute walk away.
Even though I hear a lot of people say that the standard of accommodation doesn’t matter too much as they will be out exploring most of the time, it’s still important. Even though TripAdvisor reviews are not always reliable, you can still see if there is the same complaint being made over again to give you a good idea.
Even if you don’t want to book your accommodation through Booking.com, you can use it as a search engine. Utilise the filters for budget, location, ratings and more and make your task easier.
Once I find accommodation I like, I jump onto the website. If I can book direct, I do, but not all the sites are set up well or secure, and some link back to Booking.com. Book on whatever platform you feel most comfortable.
I have used a few third-party booking sites, and Booking.com is by far my favourite.
Of course, you can search for the type of accommodation you think you would like, but be warned you should have a clear picture of what you are looking for otherwise you could literally lose days searching through everything.
I talk about creating a content scorecard a little further down. A scorecard will help maintain your focus and stop your attention wandering.
Well-known travellers like Rick Steves and Nomadic Matt have travel forums that you can read through. It is a great way to pick up recommendations, but it can be time-consuming.
I have found in recent years that Facebook Groups are a valuable source of information. If you do join one or more Facebook Groups make sure they are relevant to what you want either in the location you want to travel or the specific area you need help, e.g. travel planning or packing. They are a wealth of knowledge and handy when trip planning.
As I find posts that interest me and recommendations and tips in the comments, I save the post to read later.
You can join my Facebook Groups, or I recommend these that I am a member of:
Once I have gathered all of the information about my accommodation and destination, I set aside time each day, week or month (whatever suits) to read through and make notes, deleting any information that is not relevant.
What the hell is a scorecard?
A scorecard is merely a series of questions that you answer whenever you come across accommodation you like.
- Is it in my price range?
- In the right location?
- Is it large enough for my needs?
If the answer to all of those is yes, check it out further. If you answer no to any of those, move on.
Don’t waste time on something that will not suit you no matter how fun, quirky, cute or exciting it looks.
Travel planning is time-consuming and if you don’t stay focused it can take you longer than it should.
The two main factors I look for when I am choosing a hotel apart from the cost are:
Is it centrally located so I can walk to most places?
Does it have a kitchen?
These two questions form part of my Travel Criteria Scorecard I create for myself when researching accommodation. My scorecard is different every time I travel, depending on whether I am travelling solo, with my partner or a group.
Create your criteria and stick to it. The following points might help determine your criteria.
Cost is one of the key planning factors for a lot of people. Accommodation and airfares are the most significant costs you will incur so finding the right accommodation for your budget is essential.
Work out a cost per night you would be happy with and stick to it.
Remember when looking at sites like Airbnb the price you initially see is not the price you pay. Different factors and additions will adjust the end price like time of year, admin fee and cleaning fees.
Also, remember to include the city tax that must be paid in person in some European cities. It’s not usually a large amount but can add up and impact a tight budget.
Sizes of rooms can vary depending on where you are. In Australia and the USA, the hotel room sizes are quite generous, in Europe not so much. You will find a lot of the hotels are in historic buildings and can be quite small and differ in layout.
Most room descriptions will include the size so take a look before booking, so you are not surprised. Also, be aware that when booking twin share accommodation the beds may be pushed together and there may not be a lot of room to push them apart.
Ensure your accommodation is in the right area. If the price seems too good to be true, it might be outside the city centre and require you to catch public transport each day to sightsee. That may be fine for you, but best to be aware.
Remember a 15-minute walk may not sound a lot, but it can feel terribly long after a day of sightseeing and with sore feet. I made that mistake in Verona and will never do it again.
Check out the neighbourhood.
Is it safe? Will you be travelling solo? Will you feel safe?
Shared or private.
If you are on a tight budget, you can save a lot of money if you compromise and opt for a room with a shared bathroom. Or in some instances, you can have a private bathroom with external access. Handy to pay less money for a minor inconvenience.
It’s a personal choice. I always opt for an ensuite bathroom.
Booking Sites or Booking Direct?
Booking sites like Booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com etc. are easy and convenient to use. I have used Booking.com because I find when planning an overseas trip, it makes it easier to use the filters to find accommodation in the area I want, I can read the reviews, compare prices and create a trip list where I can save all the accommodation I like for easy access later on.
I find Booking.com easy to use. I have also used Wotif.com in the past to find last minute deals but have not used it in a while.
Be aware, that when using a third party booking system, the company does receive a hefty commission from the hotel/accommodation, and if you want to support local business then book direct.
I have not always been able to book directly with a hotel or accommodation, and in those cases, I book via Booking.com. My first choice is still to book direct if I can.
Booking through an Agent
Check on booking sites and TripAdvisor or Booking.com if you want more information like reviews (remember they can be subjective so read as many as you can) to see if you are happy with what you are being quoted.
Also, remember to check the location of the hotel to see if it is where you want to stay. Don’t rely on the agent to know your preferences.
A little research on your own goes a long way.
Whatever accommodation you decide, make sure you are comfortable with your decision. There is no point choosing a Hostel to save money, only to end up hating it. It could ruin your trip.
The trick is to find the right balance between comfort and budget.