Alternatives to staying in a hostel…because it doesn’t hurt to mix it up
In the past, I’ve called hostels “hotels for student travelers”, and it’s still very true. They’re cheap (most students studying abroad can’t throw down the cash for a queen sized bed and room service every night), and they usually provide everything you need: bed, sheets, a locker, and some sort of breakfast – cornflakes anyone? The truth, however, is that you can find a pretty sweet place to hang your hat even on a budget – just take a look at that place on the left. For those trips when you’re looking for something a little different, here are 5 alternatives to staying in a hostel.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of advantages to staying in a hostel: A bed costs about $25 a night, you can meet a lot of other travelers, hostels are usually conveniently located in the city center, and the people that work there are often locals (i.e. you’re getting help, information, and recommendations from people who actually know what they’re talking about). But that doesn’t mean you automatically have to put on your blinders when you’re going to book your travel accommodations. Keep your mind open, and check out these other options.
I know, probably the last thing you were expecting. However, often times you can get a room at an above average 2 star hotel for the same price or cheaper than a bed at a hostel. This was actually the case for my friends and I during our trip to Paris. It took 8 months of traveling, but we had finally become “experts” when it came to booking accommodation, and we were able to get a great price on a couple of rooms in a hotel right in the city.
Benefits of a Hotel (in our case):
- Each room had two beds and a full, private bathroom (i.e. no 18 man room with bunk beds)
- There was a safe for our passports and valuables, and no one else could go in and out of our room
- Our room was swept, dusted, and vacuumed, and we were given new towels and sheets everyday
- Everything in both our rooms as well as the entire hotel was fully functioning and clean
I’m definitely a fan of the lively atmosphere and cool people you find at hostels, but every now and then there’s nothing wrong with moving up in quality and comfort for the same price.
2. Couch Surfing
Couch surfing is another awesome (and free!) alternative to hosteling. It’s a simple concept, and back in the day, it just meant crashing on your friend’s (or a complete stranger’s) couch. You had a roof over your head, and a “bed” to sleep on. Nowadays, couch surfing has taken on a whole new form, due in large part to the CouchSurfing International community. They focus on social networking to help members organize activities including bar crawls, meetings, and sporting events.
Benefits of CouchSurfing:
- No fee except for expenses you incur yourself (e.g. food)
- Safety – There’s three methods designed to verify all potential hosts and surfers
- CouchSurfing provides travel guides and forums
- There’s also a searchable database of activities like pub crawls, sporting events, and camping trips organized by CouchSurfing members
I know of other study abroad students who really enjoy going this route, and I even had a friend CouchSurf his way across America last summer.
3. Bed & Breakfast
I stayed in a Bed & Breakfast with my family in Edinburgh when they came to visit me in Scotland. It had never crossed my mind to stay in one (I used to think they were more like vacation homes for people with gray hair), and had it not been for that trip, I probably never would’ve had the B&B experience. Our B&B was run by Miri and Pots (almost positive that’s not how you spell their names, but oh well). Sure, they weren’t on the young side, but a couple of people who’ve been doing anything and everything in Scotland for the last 75 years definitely had some good stories (and local culture) to share.
Benefits of a B&B:
- They’re usually cheaper than hotels (although more expensive than hostels)
- A better breakfast than just about any hotel or hostel provides
- If it’s something you’re looking for, you’ll feel much more at home at a B&B than just about anywhere else
- Quality food, i.e. a big breakfast with meat, eggs, breads, muffins, and probably plenty of fruit
- With only a few rooms in each house, service is much more personalized
It’s the convenience and culture you get by CouchSurfing, combined with the quality and comfort of a hotel. And whether it’s with Miri and Pots in Scotland, or at a B&B in Paris, if you want an authentic breakfast, there’s no better place to get it than in a local’s kitchen.
Being from New Hampshire, camping has one of two meanings: spending your summer vacation roughing it in the woods with your family when you’re younger, or spending your summer vacation with some beers and burgers by the lake with your friends during college. I never thought I would camp while studying abroad, but that’s exactly what we did when CET took us on our trip to the Great Wall of China. No tents (we did have them, just didn’t use them), no toilets, literally just us, the Great Wall, and the stars. Like I said in my post about our trip, it was surreal.
Benefits of Camping:
- Mobility – since you’re already carrying everything you need, you can plant yourself almost anywhere
- Even with the cost of renting supplies, it’s extremely cost effective
- You can travel and camp with as many or as few people as you want
- Variety – you can use a sleeping bag and tent on the Great Wall, a hammock in the Philippines, or a yurt in Central Asia
In my case, camping also allowed me to connect with both the history and culture of the place I was visiting. Not to mention, how many people will ever be able to say they camped out on the Great Wall of China, the Amazonian Rainforest, or the Australian Outback?
5. Short Term Rental Apartments
If you’re looking for something personalized, unique, or just something that isn’t a chain hotel or hostel, the sky’s the limit when you stay in short term rental apartments. I unfortunately overlooked it on all my travels in Europe and my travels so far in Asia, but it’s one I plan on checking out the next time I leave Beijing. Think about it – you have your own space for your entire stay, you don’t have to worry about a curfew, friends can come over without checking in at a desk, and you just pack up and leave when your time’s up.
Benefits of Short Term Apartments:
- More often than not you have much more space (and it’s all yours)
- Housing of all types are offered up for rental – high-rise apartments, villas, lofts, etc.
- Short term rentals are available for just about any budget
- You’re living like a local (I mean you’re legitimately living in a local’s home)
Whether you want to spend a few nights in your own houseboat in the canals of Amsterdam, crash in your own Hutong after riding a rickshaw around the streets of Beijing, or even if you’re just looking to spend some time in a typical apartment in Berlin, your options are really limitless.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below!