So you are just about ready to go. You have narrowed down your flight arrangements, you know where you want to go, but what about places to stay abroad? A regular hotel? An Airbnb? A hostel? Is there anything else? Well we will look at a few of the more popular answers to this well asked question.
A Regular Hotel
The easiest thing for most people is just to book a plain old hotel room. It could be a local or international chain, but with most of us it is the tried and true. The familiar. We all kinda know how hotels operate and we can usually count on them being the same and having a certain set of standards based on the level of accommodation I pay for. At the mid range level they are similar in most major cities with TV/AC/WIFI and possible pool, room service, fitness or some type of spa. The more you pay, usually the greater the amenities.
If you feel nervous about traveling this could be a good choice to have some normalcy in your stay. You usually know what to expect. On the other hand it is not the most adventurous choice and doesn’t get you as close to the place you are visiting. You don’t want to be tempted to do more in the hotel than you do outside of it, right?
AIRBNB Or Room Rental
This went right to the next spot under hotels as the popularity of room rentals has grown. There are a few other companies besides Airbnb like Wimdu, VRBO and Tripping.com, for example. There are a variety of accommodation including renting whole apartments or rooms in someone’s home or apartment. With an apartment rental you have the advantage of a kitchen and more space than a hotel room. With a room in someone’s house you have the added luck of having locals to help you out and sometimes it can be a new friendship and meals or drinks together. On the other hand it may not be so great at all if personalities don’t mesh. Accommodation can vary in cleanliness and location, but it is usually very close to experiencing local life. Research has to be a little more diligent in terms of paying close attention to reviews and reading between the lines when people are hinting that a room was not as good as they wanted when they focus all of their review on the host and not the details. Some hosts have ratings so good that their rooms are almost always booked. Usually that is a good sign.
You should always be diligent in choosing a place that others recommend in your level of comfort as far as safety. The cheapest ones are not always the best and many are overpriced but usually there is a good amount of middle range rooms.
Traditional B&B’s, Pensions, Inns & Lodges
Many of these are listed on the same websites that you can find room accommodation like Airbnb and VBRO. A traditional B&B is sometimes an established spacial home in a unique location that offers that old home feel with meals. Some can be quite expensive and offer more than a stay having a connection with local events. Pensions are usually family run homes with rooms to rent but they vary in quality from place to place and some seem to be popular for local travelers versus foreign. With the rise of Airbnb type of rentals they are not a prevalent as before. An Inn can be similar to a B&B or just a small boutique hotel, sometimes like a lodge, in a unique location where they are the established place. Sometimes Inns and lodges are located just outside of the tourist zones and can offer a great local feel. Many lodges are basic while some quite extravagant and are specialty environments based on location such as wilderness or mountain settings like nature and snow sports. Those with more of an adventure bent to their travel will usually be at such establishments versus regular hotels. You will also hear the term Guest House. These can be houses with rooms for rent or small regular hotels or inns. The term in recent years has become generic overall.
This is the big question mark I get from many who have never been abroad. The average American has never stayed in a hostel and I didn’t even know about them until well after college age. Bad movies from Hollywood have probably given them a bad reputation but than again some have earned it. BUT…….don’t rule out hostels. There are many levels of hostels and they can be surprisingly great places to stay.
Hostels vary in comfort level, cleanliness and value. They basically are dormitories of bunks. Some rooms 2-4-6-8 bunks. Could be more. There is a shared bathroom. Usually more than one. There can be co-ed or single sex rooms. Bigger operations offer single rooms with a shared bathroom with another single room. There is almost always a common area and some type of recreation like a pool table or ping pong and music of some sort. They can be loud and rowdy or surprisingly quiet. They have some sort of lockers for storage. Some offer or sell toiletries but most bring their own soap and towels etc. The more expensive ones offer more amenities. You may find mostly young people but there are hostels with middle age couples and single travelers in their 30s traveling in groups. You will find it all. I have stayed in many at all levels!
Hostels will surprise you! A party hostel will be obvious by the reviews and stories on the web. Alcohol, hook ups and noise. Some upscale hostels are almost like boutique hotels with nice amenities and better facilities. You can pay as much as a small hotel for a single hostel room with WIFI and free breakfast and a nice bathroom. So why would you? They can be very social. It is easier to meet other travelers unless you are super insular. You can find new friends from other countries, and I got used to seeing folks in their early 20’s having great conversation with travelers in their mid 40’s and older sharing a cold drink! That is what travel does to us. It helps with barriers as we tell our tales of the road!
Most hostels are as safe as hotels because there are always people coming and going. Most travel in groups or pairs. I haven’t heard of more bad things happening in hostels in comparison to closed room hotels and theft is surprisingly low. Of course the better ones are better for more than just money. They may not be for you but they are never ruled out for me. Some are basically backpackers havens, but there are some that started to focus on “flash packers’ who tend to spend more. I have stayed in dorms during low seasons, saved money and had mostly empty rooms. I have had single rooms with a shower and single rooms with a shared bathroom down the hall. I have tried most. Recently I was looking at a quiet hostel in Medellin that was laid back semi sociable with a clean rep. To look further try Hostelworld, Hostelbookers, or Agoda. Booking.com also has hostel bookings.
There are ways to actually stay for free in some cases. Staying at a locals home without paying is the domain of sites like Couchsurfing and Globalfreeloaders. I have stayed on many a couch outside of the sites but I finally have put up a profile on one. People will allow you to stay with them, (not always a couch) for free, just because they are hospitable people. Of course it takes a little research as every match isn’t perfect. As a traveler you hear the stories of unmatched folks but for the most part what you hear is people sharing their culture and meals with people from around the world for a few nights of warm fun. Just like Airbnb, look for folks that are well reviewed with decent photos and information about themselves. Some won’t stay unless there has been a verification process (paid). Usually you share communication via computer long before you meet. You have to use your own mind but millions of people have done it with the vast majority better for it!
Many have taken up the task of watching someone’s house (and pets in many cases) for free accommodation around the world. This is quite a growing field and it takes a process of joining an organization and developing good standing. Basically with your profile serving as a resume, people will decide if you match and invite you to watch their home and goods for a predetermined length of time. Imagine that you are a local member of a particular community for say, a week, while you take care of the home, basic dusting or cleaning, bringing in the mail, walking and feeding a pet or whatever normal daily activities you would want done at home. The home is lived in and more secure. The sitter gets to enjoy that place abroad at a local level, and save on accommodation! Sites like House Carers and TrustedHousesitters are sites that can lead you down that path.
Where to Book
Most of the big travel sites we talked about in another post will have flights and hotels. Kayak, Momondo, Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline, Booking.com, Airbnb,VRBO, and more. You should always double check a hotels own site for deals that may be better than third party sites. Most places prefer you book with them directly and sometimes connecting with them may get you more amenities even if the prices are not always better. As far as how far in advance to book? Well that depends in large where you are going and when. The more popular a destination and the more popular the time of year than the earlier the better. Also, if your particular accommodation is highly reputed then they will fill up quick. For just the average time of year in a city that is always busy anyway, 3 months out should be fine to start looking. If it is NYC during the busiest time at the best hotel, than you could start earlier. If it is a beach destination in Thailand, you will almost always find some level of room even a week before with some exceptions. Always book with a decent cancellation policy in case you find better before you go. Most will base it on how close to the booking date you cancel before there are penalties.
One more thing…..nowadays almost every accommodation has a social media presence so check it before you decide to stay. More information is usually a good thing.
leave a comment if you have a second below, and thanks for reading this!