>It’s not surprising that a lot of time and energy can be spent trying to choose suitable accommodation for your travels. It’s often a big chunk of your budget and can make or break the trip, depending on whether it’s good or disastrous. I’ve learnt now, through much trial and error, that there are no hard and fast rules to the best place to stay: expensive doesn’t always equal good and cheap doesn’t always mean a hostel. The best thing I’ve found is to mix it up a bit; generally when I go away, unless it’s a mini-break, I’ll end up staying in various different places. Sometimes I’ll stay mostly in hostels, then have treat of a nice hotel, or I use and abuse friends’ hospitality and combine with budget guesthouses. Here, I’ll just outline the main options and in what situations they might be best. It’s by no means a definitive guide, simply a subjective view!
Often the first place considered by young travellers on a tight budget, hostels actually come in all shapes and sizes and nowadays have much to offer travellers of all ages and means. There are the really basic, not-for-the-faint-hearted options, literally just a crash-pad when you’ll be spending all day and most of the night out. At the other end of the scale, there are more ’boutique’ hostels, with smaller rooms, the option of private rooms, a pool, lounge, games-room, computer suite…. However, hostels shouldn’t just be considered because of budget, they are actually a great option if you’re a solo traveller in a new place as they are very social, friendly places with the opportunity to meet lots of like-minded people. Sharing tips with your roommates or breakfast companions is a great way to find out about the hidden gems of the city. Of course, there is the risk that you’ll be rooming withhysterical 18-year-olds who wake you up at 4am when they rock in drunk, but more often than not, you’ll end up with people you can have an enjoyable chat with. Who needs sleep, anyway?!
www.hostelworld.com is a great starting point.
With everything from 1-5star and hundreds of contradictory reviews, it can be hard to know where to start when booking a hotel. One thing to note is that this is not necessarily a more expensive option than a hostel, especially if there are two of you sharing the room. When you need a bit of personal space and peace, rather than a new social life, a hotel is going to be a better option. www.booking.com is one of the best sites I’ve found – it has very competitive prices compared with other search engines and covers a mind-boggling amount of hotels. It’s very easy and simple to use and great deals can be had. Also worth considering are the secret hotels by the likes of lastminute and expedia, which offer more upmarket hotels at much-reduced prices, but they don’t tell you which hotel it is until you’ve booked it. I did this when I went to Barcelona and ended up in a lovely hotel for very little money indeed!
3. Homestays, friends, contacts!
I am shameless when it comes to taking advantage of the friends I have living in different countries! I don’t just rock up on their doorstep or anything, but this is a really great option, and not just for the money you might save. You get a local’s perspective on the place, which is a rare insight for a visitor. It also offers you a real ‘home away from home’ where you can cook a meal with food bought from a supermarket, without having to share one hob with 50 million people, something that’s quite a novelty if you’ve been hotel and hostel hopping for a while. I’m not saying you should abuse your friends’ hospitality – always take a gift and muck in with the cooking and cleaning – but it can be a really refreshing style of travel accommodation. If you’re in a country where you don’t have a network of friends on hand to put you up, consider local homestays or couchsurfing options – these are usually significantly cheaper, if not free, options and again offer the chance to get an insider’s view, rather than a tourist’s. The only downside is that the location might not be quite as convenient, but this is a very small downside, compared with all the advantages.
The key is, as far as I can work out, not to stress about it. Explore your options, see what your budget will allow, and go with the flow. Mix it up a bit, by arranging a different type of accommodation for each part of your trip, that way even if one doesn’t suit you, you’ve got the next one to look forward to! But above all, treat it as a place to lay your head at night. You can book into a hotel at Stansted airport if you really want to (or have an early flight!) – you haven’t come to see the inside of a bedroom; you’ve come to see what’s out there! Life’s too short to spend hours reading the minutiae of hotel websites; treat it all as an experience, learn the type of place you like, pick up tip-offs along the way and enjoy the ride!