- Travel Topics
Every destination has a multitude of accommodation options, it’s difficult to choose which one to go with. Sure, we talked about Couchsurfing, hostels, and hotel stays on this website, but there’s also apartment rentals, house sitting and more! What are the major differences between these and how do you decide what’s right for you? Let’s discuss.
We’ve talked about Couchsurfing so many times on this website you probably get the idea by now, still, if you weren’t aware, Couchsurfing is a website where travelers search for locals offering free accommodation Clearly, it’s aimed towards the travelers on a budget and if you’re looking to save money in an expensive country this is a powerful option. However, aside from just a money saving option it’s really a fantastic place to meet locals and possibly enjoy a very unique experience. Vicky and I have been shown around the city, cooked for, and just had long, engaging talks with our hosts. They can provide information related to the city and in most cases have no ulterior motives so their recommendations for restaurants and activities can be some of the best.
Generally we try to book Couchsurfers a few weeks in advance – at least two and potentially more. In popular countries, particularly Europe in the summer, spots fill up fast. Unlike with other types of accommodation standards, you CAN be turned down – there’s no guarantee. Moreover, there is a lot of potential back and forth involved in communicating with the host to make sure that the directions are crisp and there is a general understanding of expectations (when the get up in the morning, what amenities are available, etc). At times you will find your host does not live in the most ideal location or have the nicest amenities and it is difficult to work all this out in advance of your stay. This sometimes makes Couchsurfing more difficult than it’s worth.
We Couchsurf when we are looking to save money or potentially have a really unique experience. It’s not a guarantee that our host is going to be fantastic and at times it can be frustrating. More often than not it’s been very enjoyable and has resulted in the most memorable experiences and connections. In a few cases it would have been a better idea to just stay in a hostel. At the very least, however, it is a guarantee that you’re not going to spend a lot of money if you don’t want to.
Hostels are the bread and butter of budget travel – a staple food part of every backpacker’s diet. Compared to hotels they generally run much cheaper and are geared towards backpackers. Often hostels will have their own restaurants and bars, movies, and organized events intended to create a social atmosphere for travelers to meet each other. They usually have detailed directions and many of the best hostel websites have built in review systems to insure that the best hostels are being represented. Often these don’t need to be booked very far in advance and there is little money required up front. In non peak seasons Vicky and I will usually choose to book a single night at a hostel a few days before and, if we like it, we book subsequent nights post arrival. On a really lazy/rainy day you can usually just hang around, maybe eat at the restaurant there and watch some movies, or talk with some other travelers. At times there are even activities at the hostel – dumpling making parties, hot pot dinners, etc, which can be a great way to meet people or just do something different.
In some instances hostels can be pricey, as they charge per person (unlike hotels, apartment rentals, etc). Moreover, there is a lot of price differentiation such as whether or not you share a bathroom, or if you want a private room vs. a dorm room with X amount of people. While I think people generally regard hostels as being safer than Couchsurfing on account that they are established institutions, every backpacker who’s been on the road for a number of months probably has at least one hostel horror story. Lastly, not every hostel is designed for residents to mix and mingle. Vicky and I go through plenty of hostels and frankly never meet anyone. Personally I think meeting people is more a function of your personality and less a function of where you’re staying. If you do meet someone, it’s not likely they’re going to be a local, but another traveler. Amenities are generally pretty limited, though the best ones may have a common area featuring movies, sofas, billiards, etc.
Hostels are usually a low hassle, inexpensive way to travel. In many cases, since they are specifically geared towards backpackers, they have a homey feel to help make the road a little less lonely. There’s a much better chance in being able to book them last minute and they come with a strong referral system. You can pretty much always count on them being in the city you are heading to and the information is spelled out on the websites – plain and simple.
Although generally oriented towards vacationers who are seeking some luxury and relaxation, there is definitely a small window of opportunity for hotels, even for budget backpackers. For starters, hotels do not charge per person, which makes them a great option for couple travelers. Moreover, they might very well provide some additional services, such as a free breakfast. Hotels often have rewards programs and if you utilize rewards cards right you may find that you’ve earned a few free nights at a hotel. Websites such as Expedia make finding them pretty easy. There are other sites as well, such as Priceline, where you can set your price and bid for hotels in a given area. When you start to add this up and compare it to a private room/private bathroom in a hostel, you may find that a hotel isn’t much more expensive. Lastly, hotels are probably even more pervasive than hostels so at least you can always depend on them to be around.
Most of the time they are significantly more expensive. To top it off, in some cases, unless the hotel is really not top notch, the experience won’t be any better than having stayed at a hostel but will be more costly. It’s less likely that they’ll have facilities such as a laundry area since they are not focusing on long-term travelers.
Vicky and I like the hotel option when we’re looking for a treat. After over two months of travel we’ve stayed in two hotels, one of which I’d say was really a treat, while the other was very blah and didn’t even have wifi. We’ve already got an eye on one hotel for our upcoming trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, which, at less than $30 a night and breakfast included is not significantly more expensive than many of the hostel options in the area.
Many people have spare apartments that they lease out, or simply lease their own out while they are away. There are numerous sites specifically geared towards finding apartment rentals online, and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there are lots of options. Apartment rentals are a great way to combine the homey feeling from Couchsurfers with the privacy aspect of hostels and hotels for a price which is generally somewhere between hostels and hotels. They don’t usually charge per person and therefore economize well with groups of two or more. In many cases a kitchen area and refrigerator will be available and this will allow you more control over your eating habits. They also might be privy to other amenities such as a community pool.
Unfortunately these still tend to run on the expensive side. While I tend to think of apartment rentals as being more of a long term commitment that isn’t always the case, and the one time I stayed in an apartment it was actually only for a few days. There is a bit of a safety aspect involved because the owner is not a reputable institution. Reviews are often minimal, if at all, given that it is still a new system and many people have only had a few interactions.
We’re always on the look out for a nice apartment to rent but have yet to come across a deal that worked out for the right price. I read recently that some of the best places to look are actually local Craiglists sites as people offer better prices there, though, I find the format of Craiglists kind of confusing.
These are rarely talked about and even more rarely done but I think they’re on the rise. It’s just a matter of time before an established website comes along and really brings this into the mainstream, similar to what Couchsurfing has done. The idea is that as people go on vacation they may be looking for someone to house sit for them. This is exactly what it sounds like – you maintain the house while the owner is away. I can’t imagine a more “homey” experience. Moreover, in many cases the owner has pets (part of why they are looking for a house sitter) and if you’re a pet lover like us this is a real treat. If you install an America’s Pet pet door, then the task of taking care of the pet becomes much easier. I’d say in many ways it’s equally oriented towards backpackers and vacationers alike – it just depends on whether or not the situation works for both parties.
Unfortunately, as cool as it sounds, there are a lot of drawbacks. The first, in my opinion, is just how difficult these are to find. There are some websites but for the most part they do not have a ton of options and in many cases require a membership fee. What is available books up fast. Rarely is there any sort of review system in place since this is so new and few people have done it more than once. It requires a lot of back and forth with the owners as well as a sizable commitment from the sitter. You have to be willing to maintain the home for the period of time that the owner is away, so you’re somewhat bound by their schedule and not so free to venture out on your own (at least, farther than out of the immediate area) especially if you have pets to take care of. This could be up to a month, so, if you have other plans in mind this may not work for you.
Admittedly this is not something that Vicky and I have done yet but I have spent time delving into the websites and have read about some absolutely amazing experiences. As the world becomes more trusting and this builds up a reputation of being a safe option I expect this to really break into the travel scene in the next ten years or so. As for now, it requires too much flexibility from anyone with a set itinerary. The best situation, I think, is if you have flexible time off and can be on the look out for a house sitting opportunity that suits your schedule.