27
Nov

4 Better and Cheaper Alternatives to Hotels

Posted By Trav

A monster chateau in France for a fraction of the price of a hotel.

It’s no secret that I prefer airline miles over hotel points by a wide margin.  The reason for this is that I when I’m traveling, I really enjoy staying at places that provide what I deem a more authentic experience.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have any hotel points, because I do.  And don’t get me wrong, I’d appreciate a stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome or the Hilton Bora Bora Resort as much as the next person.

But while those places are amazing in their own right, as a general rule of thumb I look for other alternatives when traveling.

Here are 4 different ways that you can stay in a place while traveling that offers an experience that is unique from the typical chain hotel experience.  Oh, and I should mention:  they’re almost always cheaper!

Hostels

A room at the Traveller’s Cave Hostel in Goreme, Turkey.

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about why hostels are better than hotels, so if you’re a skeptic of hostels, I urge you to go give it a read.  In short, hostels are far different from the perception that many people have of them.  Nowadays, they are much more like unique, boutique hotels (try saying that 5 times fast) as opposed to slummy, skeevy dens full of backpackers.

In fact, one of the major reasons I recommend hostels over hotels is that they have much more character to them.  Each one is different and has its own quirks and personality, which makes them far more memorable than a concrete monolith emblazoned with some corporate logo.

The vibe is usually much more friendly and social, and the staff usually has a much more vested interest in your enjoyment, seeing as they are often the owners themselves.  I could go on and on about the virtues of hostels, but again, I’ve already done that.

Give hostels a try, and I’m betting you won’t regret it.

Resources:

Hostelbookers– My first stop when looking for a hostel because they charge the hostel owners less than other sites.

Hostelworld

Hostels.com

Hostelling International

Couchsurfing

The popularity of couchsurfing has exploded in the past few years and for good reason:  couchsurfing is about as authentic an experience as you can get!

The premise behind couchsurfing is that you, the traveler, stays at a local’s house or apartment for free.  That’s right, a stranger opens their home to another complete stranger…asking nothing in return but to learn from each other!

This may seem completely nuts to some of you (as it did to Heather when we first started doing it), but really, it is an amazing experience for both people.  I have both “surfed’ and “hosted” and each and every time, the experience has been a great one.

Obviously, couchsurfing has a high element of trust, both as the surfer (“I hope I’m not staying with some lunatic”) and as the host (“I hope I’m not hosting some lunatic”).

However, the Couchsurfing website has continued to add more and more safeguards each and every year to ensure that both parties can feel as comfortable as possible without having met the other firsthand before.

How Couchsurfing Works

The first step is to create your Couchsurfing profile, filling in details like your age, where you live, awesome experiences you’ve had, etc and adding any pictures you want.  You’re also required to then fill in if you have a couch available and if you can host.

From there, Couchsurfing will send you a postcard to the address you have listed with a confirmation number.  Once you enter the confirmation number in to your profile, your location becomes “verified”.  You can also have your identity verified by offering a small donation to Couchsurfing.

After those safeguards are passed, you can also have people you know on couchsurfing serve as references for you.  This is just another way for people to “get to know you” without having met you before.  The more references you have, the more legit you’ll be in the eyes of others.

Since Couchsurfing has become so popular in recent years, if you are looking to stay in an area, there will often be multiple people who have been verified and also have numerous references.  This helps alleviate some of the anxiety or nervousness of staying with that person, since they have been vouched for many times over.

The same goes for hosting people.  I am much more likely to host someone who has an active Couchsurfing profile, has had a profile for longer than a few weeks, and who has references under there belt.  The more ways you can prove your trustworthy and safe, the better chances you have of getting hosted.

Why Couchsurf?

The “Why Couchsurf?” question is hard to encapsulate in a few sentences but easy to understand if you’ve ever done it.  Here’s my best attempt:

Couchsurfing provides an incredibly unique opportunity to see how someone who is a local lives.  Maybe this means a crazy experience like staying with a family in a hut in Africa or maybe it simply means having someone to point you to the best pizza joint in New York City.

Regardless of where it is, you’ll be able to pick the brain of someone who knows the area much better than you, and getting to see the local side of things is something I’ve always loved (and being pointed in the right direction when it comes to the best places to eat is priceless)!

On top of that, you’ll get to meet someone completely new.  If this person is opening up their home to you, chances are they are an awesome person.  I don’t know how many people have built lasting friendships at hotels, but I’m willing to bet the percentage is much smaller than those who formed great bonds over Couchsurfing.

Amazingly enough, services like Couchsurfing, where people are helping out others and not asking anything in return, tend to bring out the best of society, and that’s something I want to be a part of.

So What’s the Couch Look Like?

The last point to consider is what type of place you’ll stay in.  On the Couchsurfing profile, you’ll usually get a pretty thorough run-down of the sleeping arrangements and comfort level that each person provides.  Many will even include pictures of the actual set-up.

This can range from “I’ve got a super tiny apartment and you’ll be sleeping on the floor of my kitchen on an air mattress” to “I’ve got a whole wing of my house devoted to guests with multiple queen-sized beds and its own kitchen and bathroom”.

Since you’ll be able to see this beforehand and almost every person is honest when talking about their hosting situation (I can’t think of any real reason to lie about it, seeing as that person will show up there), you’ll be able to pick and choose ahead of time what fits best for you.  If you’re past the point where you want to be cuddled up next to the stove, then simply choose another host.

I know that Couchsurfing isn’t for everyone, especially those traveling in large groups or with children, but it is for more people than you may think.  “Seeing the sights” is only one part of traveling, so get out of your comfort zone a little bit, stay with a local for a day or two, and you’ll be richly rewarded with stories that people in hotels can only dream of.

Resources:

Couchsurfing Official Website–  While there are other smaller sites that promote this style of travel as well, Couchsurfing is the major player and run amazingly well.

My Couchsurfing Profile-  For those interested in seeing my “not recently updated enough” profile.  Also, if you do decide to join, send me a friend request and I’ll gladly friend you back, giving you a little bit more validity love!

House-sitting

An available house-sit at a chateau in Normandy…no big deal.

House-sitting is a great opportunity for people who are looking for to stay in some amazing homes and properties and do so for free!  Yep, you read that right; for free!

The great thing about house-sitting is that it can be for short-term vacations of 1 week all the way up to year long sabbaticals.  It all depends on what you want!

How House-sitting Works

House-sitting is pretty straightforward.  Many people who will be away from their home for any extended amount of time want their place looked after.  Sometimes this is because they have pets that they can’t bring with them, sometimes this is because they want someone to look after their garden and yard, and sometimes it is simply because they want someone to occupy their house while they are gone for safety reasons.

Whatever the reason, people will offer up their homes and properties to be house-sit.  In exchange for taking care of the animal(s), yard work, or whatever the owners wants, the house-sitter will be allowed to stay at the property free of charge (although sometimes the owner will ask you to pay utilities).

Why House-Sit?

A stunning seaside property in Suffolk, Uk available for house-sit.

There are a few reasons that house-sitting can an incredible way to spend your vacation.  Like we’ve already mentioned, it is usually free (a big, big perk).

The second reason is that house-sits can allow you to enjoy some really fabulous and amazing properties.  The size, style, and condition of the property can vary greatly, but I’ve seen castles (literally castles) available for house-sits as well as places such as off-the-grid home in the rainforest in Costa Rica that is only accessible by boat.  Of course, there are more “normal” places like apartments in the center of major cities or townhomes in the suburbs.  The point is, the breadth and scope of the available house-sits is huge, which makes for some really cool opportunities.

Another great thing about house-sits is that you can find some for extended periods of time.  While having a place for free is great for a short vacation, it really comes in handy when you are thinking of going somewhere for more than week or two.  House-sits can range from a few days up to “indefinite”.  If you have a profession that allows you to be location independent and you really want to immerse yourself in a culture, it doesn’t get much better than taking a house-sit for a few months.  You’ll have all the comforts of home (just not your home, although it will probably start to feel like it after a few weeks) and you’ll be living for free.  It’s hard to argue with that!

Just like Couchsurfing, there is an element of trust that goes in to house-sitting, on both the owner and the house-sitters part.  While the owner is entrusting their most valuable asset to someone else, the house-sitter also has to trust the owner that that property and the conditions of the house are up to the standards specified.

Luckily, there are some great sites out there that can help you learn the ins and outs of how to score a good house-sit and how to make sure it works out for both parties involved.

Resources:

Dalene and Peter Heck’s site, Hecktic Travels, is far and away the best place to go to learn all about house-sitting.

They’ve been doing it for a number of years and have had numerous experiences, both good and “not so good”, which they openly share on their blog.

Heck, they’ve even put out a guidebook with all their best tips.

On top of that, they have some amazing photography, so I highly recommend you check their site out.  You can’t book house-sits on their site, but you can learn a “heck” of a lot!

There are a number of membership sites out there that connect owners and house-sitters.

Personally, I recommend and subscribe to Trusted Housesitters, which is not only the most user-friendly but also is growing the fastest (probably because it is set up so well).

Every day I get an email with the new postings and I can’t help but check it immediately, which is a bane to my productivity but wonderful for dreaming about where I want to head next.

Click here to get a special discount available only to EPoP readers.

The other good membership site I recommend is Housecarers.  It was one of the first house-sitting sites and has a lot of listings.

The problem for years was that it was set up like it was the 1990’s.

Just recently, they’ve begun updating their site (which, oddly enough, looks very similar Trusted Housesitters), which means their design and ease of use is (slowly) catching up to quality of their listings.

Apartment or House Rentals

Cozy Parisian flat next to the Notre Dame for rent on Air BnB.

Most of what was written about house-sitting can apply to apartment or house rentals with one major caveat; it isn’t free.

However, you also won’t have to worry about having any major responsibilities like taking care of an animal, so you have much more freedom.

Why Rent?

Renting an apartment or house is way better than staying in a hotel for a number of reasons.  One, you can usually find rentals much cheaper than hotels, especially if you are in a large group.

Two, you have all types of amenities that might not be available to you in a hotel, such as a kitchen and washer and dryer.

Third, rental apartments won’t nickel and dime you for things like internet and/or parking.  If the place has internet and parking, you’ll often be able to use it for free.

Lastly, if you get a chance to meet the owner of the place, they’ll often have some great advice on what to see and do in the area (and maybe even draw you killer handmade map with insider info like “all the best-looking girls are on the 2nd floor” and “mention my name to the owner and he’ll give you a free drink”….thanks Clint!)

Renting places has become much more common recently, and in almost every area I’ve looked, from Louisville, Kentucky to Munich, Germany,  I’ve been able to find good rentals for a fraction of the price that I’d pay for a hotel.  Every time, I’ve been extremely happy to have a rental as a home base.  Not only have the properties themselves been great, but so has the experience.

Resources:

AirBnB–  Find apartments or house rentals anywhere in the world, with reviews from other people who’ve stayed there.

Craigslist–  I’ve snagged apartments for super cheap both in America and abroad through Craigslist.  Don’t be afraid to look at this as an option.

Final Word(s)

Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and give some of these other options a try.  The amount of awesome experiences and crazy adventures I’ve had by staying in hostels, couchsurfing, or taking over someone’s apartment or house are innumerable.  It is these experiences that I remember long after I’ve left a place and the backbone of why I enjoy traveling so much.

Branch out, fellow travelers.  You won’t regret it!

Are there any other options other than hotels that I’ve missed?  Have you given hostels, couchsurfing, house-sitting, or renting a try?  What did you think of it?

(photos courtesy of mindmyhouse, hostelbookers, couchsurfing, trustedhousesitters, airbnb)

 

21 comments

  1. Elena Garcia says:

    Use this code “hscouple” to get 25% off Trusted House Sitters membership :)

    1. Trav says:

      @Elena Garcia- Awesome, thanks for the info. I’ll put it in the actual post and of course, give you credit!

  2. Scott says:

    This is an awesome resource, thanks. In our travels we’ve been planning on using all of these methods. This past summer we (my wife and I) couchsurfed while we traveled in the states and it was a great experience; everyone’s polite and has a great story to tell–while still giving you the privacy you need to rest. Early next year we’re going to have our first AirBnB experience in Mexico.

    We’re also planning several long-term stays through AirBnBduring our year of world travel (12 countries in 12 months), and in the most expensive country (UK) we have access to an entire 2 bdrm apartment for $715/mo, all fees/taxes/services included. Ridiculous. I pay more than that in a dinky house in the middle of Utah.

    I would also suggest something else that’s been pretty effective: trading services for room/board. There are several sites out there that act as hubs to connect travelers to places to work, and oftentimes you can do so without any work visas or extra costs. One major one is wwoof.org, they connect people to organic farmers around the world, and you don’t need any prior experience to help out. It’s a great program. If farming’s not your thang, I know a guy that just asked around and found an expedition that was going to help rescue penguins on Antarctica and they needed an extra hand. Again, he had no prior experience, and he took a 3 week trip to Antarctica for free to go chill with everyone’s favorite awkward bird. All it takes is asking around and being open to new things.

    1. Scott says:

      To clarify, by “dinky house” I mean 2 bdrm apartment. A house for ~700 would be a pretty good deal.

    2. Trav says:

      @Scott- That’s some awesome advice! I’ve known people who used wwoof.org but I personally haven’t experienced it. Everyone I know had a great time, though. And getting to Antartica? Wow, that is one heck of a trip. What a great story! What type of work did he have to do?

      $715 for a month in London is amazing. With most of those things, the longer you stay, the better deals you can get. I know people who have done the same with hostels; they’ve stayed for a few months and gotten ridiculously cheap rates. In the end, its working out for both parties. The hostel or apartment owner is getting a guaranteed tenant for that time, and you’re saving a boatload. Win/win!

  3. Ken says:

    Don’t forget VRBO and HomeAway for rentals as well.

    1. Trav says:

      @Ken- Thanks for the two extra resources. I’ve never used either of them. Have you? If so, how do they rate compared to AirBnB?

      1. Aykut says:

        I generally use HomeAway and I think it’s better than AirBnB.

        1. Trav says:

          @Aykut- Yeah, both have their strengths and weaknesses. Why do you prefer HomeAway?

  4. Dalene says:

    Hey Travis – thanks so much for the shout-out! (I’ll even forgive you for all the Heck jokes, I am that appreciative!) This is a fantastic resource you have put together, nice work. :)

    1. Trav says:

      @Dalene- No problem at all. You guys are THE source for great house-sitting information and your site has helped me tremendously. A shout-out is the least I could do!

  5. Erica says:

    I like http://www.roomarama.com; like airbnb, but I’ve seen more competitive prices. I would also say be careful using Craigslist. I got scammed in Paris.

    1. Trav says:

      @Erica- I’ve also heard some good things about roomarama although I’ve never used them. Nice to have another option to price check with. I’m sorry to hear you got scammed using Craigslist. I’ve used it multiple times and never had a problem, but I guess that is one of the major downsides to it not being a “company” like AirBnB or Roomarama.

      Care to elaborate as to what happened so others can be on the lookout of what might constitute a scam on Craiglist?

      1. Erica says:

        Sure. I found an ad for a seemingly legit “Bernard” who offered a flat near Montmartre. He had official looking papers for me to fill out, and even had fake references in the States and in London. I e-mailed one person in the States, who spoke of Bernard’s praises, and called someone in London who also said the flat offered by Bernard was amazing. I forwarded “Bernard” a deposit of $300. When we arrived at the location however, there was no Bernard to meet us. I called the number I had in London, the person told me that he would call Bernard and to call back in 10 minutes. Of course, when I called back, there was no response. It was quite upsetting, but my Dad and Grandma handled it well. We went to a restaurant with free Wifi, grabbed a croissant and coffee, and found a hotel to stay at near the Louvre. I would just warn against sending money to Craigslist folks. I was also worried as “Bernard” had my UK details; I asked my landlord to check in on my flat to ensure that I didn’t get robbed twice.

        Lesson learned; I won’t use Craigsllist again.

        1. Trav says:

          @Erica- Thanks for sharing that. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, and it definitely gives me pause in the future about using Craigslist. I think most of the times I have used Craigslist I have paid the person AFTER I have met them in person, at their apartment, and on the day that I would be actually staying there (i.e. I was there and I was moving in at that moment). However, once or twice I believe I did send a “good faith” deposit; luckily, I haven’t been burned.

          I guess the takeaway from all of this is that when using Craigslist, something without built in safeguards, it pays to take extra precautions that aren’t as necessary with Airbnb or other such sites. I know that even though I have had good experiences, I’ll certainly heed this warning.

  6. Lisha says:

    I second vrbo and homeaway. I’ve had good experiences with both.

    1. Trav says:

      @Lisha- Great to know. I’ll have to give them both a try soon!

  7. ChiliPalmer says:

    Seriously. VRBO should be the top of this list.

    1. Trav says:

      @ChillPalmer- Great to know. I’ve never used it, but with all this positive feedback, looks like its time to start!

  8. Diana says:

    Air BNB has scammed some people too. My sister lives in Paris. Her best friend was coming to visit her and gave a deposit to a guy on Air BNB. When she got to Paris, they guy had rented out the apartment to someone else and didn’t refund her deposit. She had to stay at some low budget hotel because she didn’t have any more money. This was her honeymoon, btw. Have a backup plan in case you primary place to stay falls through.

    1. Trav says:

      @Diana- I’m sorry to hear that, and like all companies, occasionally, bad people do bad things. However, I’ve had really, really good experiences with AirBnB personally. My one good friend who has had to use their customer service also had a great experience with that too, and even got refunded AND given $200 extra dollars when her AirBnB place wasn’t up to par when they arrived.

      I do agree, always have a backup plan.

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