The right accommodation for you may not even be a hotel. Have you ever considered the alternatives?
Maybe you should. Your budget may just love you for it, and your travel experiences may be a little more meaningful as well.
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In this article I will be covering the types of accommodation I have experienced and recommended (and not recommend) and why, as well as accommodation that I would like to try in the future.
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 can be costly. Many alternatives are providing you with the opportunity to interact with other travellers and locals alike.
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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Know your Travel Style and Preferences
I prefer not to stay in touristy areas, although sometimes in places like Venice that was unavoidable (I needed a hotel that could accommodate my group).
I would preferably be located in a neighbourhood than walk out the door and be 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 staying in an apartment, you can have the benefit of kitchen and laundry facilities which is 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 and sometimes a Visitor’s Book. 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.
The Villa Marsili in Cortona
Types of Accommodation
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 just 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 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 travelling. And let’s face it some days after hours of sightseeing, you just don’t feel like going out for dinner.
So 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 and extras – the lot.
For us, this was the Villa Marsili in Cortona. Because I was hosting a travel group, our needs were different from what I would look for personally. The hotel was perfect for our group.
Like anything that is worthwhile, doing your research and reading reviews is essential because the prices and standards vary greatly. And of course, don’t forget the type of experience you want, and your budget.
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 see our room at the top
You can rough camp in places 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.
Ranging from large resort style parks to smaller grounds offering a range of accommodation from standard tents, safari tents, cabins, lodges, tree houses 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 laborious 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. 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.
Bed and Breakfasts are a great option when travelling. You not only get a room and a good breakfast (usually), but you get local hospitality and the benefit of the owner’s knowledge.
Most of the time. The standard of B&Bs vary greatly, and I highly recommend you do research and read many reviews.
I have stayed in traditional B&Bs where you are in the house of your hosts, with 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 B&B experience 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!!). The owners were friendly and helpful, full of advice for our stay in Switzerland. They even lent us an esky (cooler), so we could buy groceries in Germany to take into Switzerland, to save money.
Switzerland was scarily expensive.
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 so thoughtful of them.
The B&B in Orvieto was an apartment with basic breakfast provisions but turned out to be an overall 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?
I wanted to mention 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 would like to try this in the future as I believe it will take me to places I would not otherwise 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 or write another one. Monastery stays, and University accommodation are a couple of options I would like to try offering cheaper accommodation and some with breakfast included.
There is also Couchsurfing to consider and wild camping, both of which I won’t be experiencing personally although I think if you are up for the challenge it could be worthwhile.
We recently met a couple of young friends rough camping at one of the lookouts where we walk some mornings and asked them back for breakfast and a shower. It turned out to be a wonderful interaction for all of us, and I believe this type of travelling is conducive of that.
Wild Camping in Scotland
Researching your Accommodation
Research is essential even if you are using a Travel Agent to make your booking 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, but 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.
There are many ways to research your accommodation. I like to read what other travellers recommend and I usually start with Pinterest and find related blog posts.
I like to create a board relevant to my trip and pin as many relevant pins as I can to start. I then read through them listing accommodation mentioned which I will research later.
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 it is 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 used this method years ago, but now I start with Pinterest but make sure you find travel bloggers you can relate to.
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, eg 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 my information I set aside time each day, week or month (whatever suits) to read through and make notes, deleting any information that is not relevant.
Create a Content Scorecard
What the hell is a Content Scorecard?
A content scorecard is merely a series of questions that you answer whenever you come across accommodation you like.
For example, is it in my price range, in the right location and will it suit 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 interesting 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 content scorecard I create for myself when researching accommodation. You might like to consider the following factors and then add your own.
This would have to be one of the key planning factors. Accommodation and airfares are the most significant costs you will incur so finding the right accommodation for your budget are 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 usually 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 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 of differing sizes.
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.
In the past, I have been able to prise them apart somewhat giving my friend and I some personal space. Again, something to be aware of.
Ensure the accommodation you choose is in the right location. If the price seems to 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.
Check out the neighbourhood. Is it safe? Will you be travelling solo? Will you feel safe? Whatever booking site you use read reviews. Remember you can always look at booking sites and then book the hotel directly after you have made your decision.
A lot of hotels prefer you to book directly, but some prefer a third party booking site like Booking.com.
I like to be guided by the accommodation and see what they prefer.
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. I do have some digestive issues, particularly when travelling, and it gives me peace of mind having my own bathroom.
Booking your Accommodation
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 though, that when using a third party booking system, the company does receive a fairly hefty commission from the hotel/accommodation, and if you want to support local business then you can book direct.
I like to book direct where I can. I like to support the business. But there are times when the hotel/accommodation prefer you to book through a booking site like Booking.com.
There have been times that I have tried to find the hotel and cannot because they have listed their Booking.com listing as their website. Some business like the ease and convenience a booking site provides them.
So my advice is to book direct if you can. If the hotel prefers you to book through a site like Booking.com you can do so confidently. If the same deal is not offered on the hotel website as on Booking.com, then email and ask if they can match it.
Booking through an Agent
Check on booking sites and TripAdvisor if you want more information like reviews (remember they can be subjective so read as many as you can) and comparisons 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 on, 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.
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