I personally love hotels. I love having someone clean my room and make my bed. I sleep like a baby. I just never get tired of them. That being said, I look at many different options before deciding where to day.
Let’s explore accommodation choices!
A quick look on Booking.com reveals as many as 20 different types of accommodations, depending on the location. From bed and breakfasts to renting an apartment, farm stays and villa stays to luxury glamping tents, there are endless ways to sleep in a travel destination. Seeking out hotel alternatives can add to the excitement of a trip or location.
Below we will cover just a few of them, from the now common to the more unique.
VRBO and Airbnb
VRBO came first, and then Airbnb, and they changed the way even casual travelers approached accommodations. If you aren’t familiar, both platforms started with people renting out a room or unused vacation homes to travelers for a reduced rate. My very first Airbnb back in 2015 cost $50 USD for an entire two-bedroom apartment.
Since those early days, prices have skyrocketed and, in many areas, they have wrecked local housing options. Out-of-market investors buy up properties and rent them out to tourists, oftentimes crowding out residents who need places to live.
However, there are still a lot of homeowners who have gone to great lengths to create fun, safe, clean and often unique spaces for guests to help others affordably explore their area. Many genuinely love the spirit of travel and meeting new people. VRBO and Airbnb are still great hotel alternatives, especially for those who want to “live like a local” or for long-term travelers who can negotiate better terms for long stays.
Some things to keep in mind when going this route: With both of these sites, you can choose a shared space, a private space or a whole place. A shared space means you may be sharing common spaces or even a bathroom, and a private space means you will have your own bedroom and possibly bathroom but might share a common entryway or hallways. A whole place means you will have the whole home to yourself. I have rented many shared-space Airbnbs, especially in the early days, and I have some funny stories … and some less-than-funny stories.
If you are traveling as a family or a large group, this is an excellent accommodation choice that can accommodate your whole party. You can use the kitchen to save on food expenses when renting an entire place. Read the reviews carefully, look at all of the terms and check the fees.
House-sitting isn’t an alternative for everyone. House-sitting is a mutually beneficial arrangement and is particularly great for solo travelers or couples. In exchange for free accommodation, you take care of someone’s house and pets while they are vacationing. There are a lot of things to consider with house-sitting, and I cover this pretty thoroughly in the “Housesitting: A Great Way to Travel” piece. Keep in mind that often you will be taking care of someone’s pet, so that will limit your opportunity to be gone for long hours. But it’s also a great way to get to know an area and live like a local. You will need to register on one of the house-sitting sites, submit your information for a background check, write a very compelling profile and pay an annual fee. One of the most popular platforms, Trusted Housesitters, is $129 per year.
The most popular website dedicated to people who want to couch surf or host couch surfers is Couchsurfing.com. If you really want to get out there and meet people, this is a great way to do it. This is not for everyone. We’d suggest you read up on others’ experiences. Neither of us has tried this yet, but I’d really like to. I have, however, hosted someone I never met who was traveling through my area, and he and I have stayed friends. Couch surfing doesn’t mean you have to sleep on the couch! A lot of hosts will put you in a spare bedroom. Keep in mind that some travelers and hosts are using this as a hook-up opportunity, so vet any stays carefully if you go this route. The yearly cost is $15.
Woofing is a very specific initiative started in 1971 as a cultural exchange program based on organic farming. Their mission statement reads: “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a worldwide movement to link visitors with organic farmers, promote a cultural and educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming and sustainability practices.” If you are interested in working on an organic farm in exchange for lodging and meals, this is a hands-on way to immerse yourself in a community. This would be a suitable option for someone with more than a week to travel who is less interested in sightseeing and more interested in exploring other cultures.
Similar to Woofing, Workaway is an exchange program in which you work for four to six hours a day in exchange for food and lodging. The type of work varies greatly — anything from caring for small children to housekeeping, from cooking to outdoor work such as farming, light construction or gardening. Hosts have profiles set up, and you can apply as a single person, couple, traveling pair or group. This is another great way to immerse yourself in a community and do a real cultural exchange. Workaway.info has a $49 per year membership fee for a solo traveler.
Monasteries, Abbeys, Convents
Are you looking for a peaceful, affordable and absolutely unique accommodation? Did you know that regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof) you can stay at one of these properties at a small fraction of the cost of other types of stays? I love the site https://www.monasteries.com/ for finding these unusual stays. Simply plug in the city you are traveling to and see what’s available in that area. Rooms are typically simple but comfortable, and you can find accommodations for singles, couples and families, depending on the property. Properties range from stunning to simple, city center to remote. I love this hotel alternative in Rome’s city center for just $50 per night for a single room. Check out their rooftop terrace overlooking the city!
Hostels are available all over the world and provide multiple benefits to travelers! Most properties offer different types of rooms. Private means a private sleeping space with either a bathroom en-suite (attached to your room) or a shared bathroom space. A dorm can be mixed — men and women in the same dorm — or single-sex, with only males or females in the dorm. They can range from four beds up to large dorm room spaces (20-plus).
There are many things to consider when booking a hostel, but they can be incredibly affordable hotel alternatives. If you want to meet other travelers, this is a fantastic way to make new friends. Many have shared kitchen spaces for cooking and sharing meals, and even game rooms or cocktail bars. That being said, some can get quite rowdy. This is another accommodation option for which reading the reviews is important; I personally will search for hostels for “older” travelers. Trip Advisor typically has pretty extensive reviews. Take a spin around hostelworld.com to see all of the various hostels available. Remember, you will likely be sharing space with others and exchanging some privacy and quiet for affordability and the chance to meet other travelers from around the world!
If you’re willing to undergo a bit of training, you can become certified to teach English in another country. This is a way to truly immerse yourself in another culture — to learn the language and customs and make lifelong friends. Common certifications include TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). TEFL programs are available nearly anywhere — sometimes even online — and are easier, faster and cheaper. A fair number of schools, however, require the CELTA, offered by Cambridge University in major cities throughout the States. The training is more difficult and costly, but it will open up greater opportunities, especially in Europe. (I — Julianne — passed a monthlong CELTA course in Denver. It requires a literal month of work and study, day and night; you can also spread out the classwork and training depending on where you sign up for the program.)
Once you’ve secured a certification, you can look for positions as short as a summer or as permanent as the country’s visa will allow. There is a lot to consider: pay, new-teacher support, housing options, children versus adults, even the type of country in which you’re working. (Living in South America as a woman is very different from living in Europe as a woman, which is very different from living in China, which is very different from living in Saudi Arabia — all places hiring teachers.) And you have to be hired, of course! TeachAway.com is a good place to start.
Another means of trying out English language instruction is Angloville. You’re vetted first by the program; if accepted, you pay for your transportation to a major city in Europe (mostly eastern Europe) on specific dates, usually a week to ten days. You’ll also pay for your first night’s accommodations. They’ll meet you in that city the next day and offer you a tour, then bus you to a hotel or resort outside the city where you stay for free. You engage in conversations with adults or teens on-site in the morning and afternoon, helping them to learn English; the evenings are yours to relax or take part in group activities. The cost of transportation is not insignificant — particularly because your travel time frame is set by the program — but you gain a true sense of place by discussing work, family, free time and other topics in free-flowing conversations with people native to the country, and the settings for the language instruction are generally lovely.
Whatever accommodations you chose for your travels, be sure to read reviews, read others’ experiences and try new things. Happy journeying!
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