When it comes to budgeting for your travels, there are several different types of accommodations that can help you save over traditional hotels. The biggest factors to consider when choosing where to stay - budget, location, private vs. shared bathrooms, and other amenities. Using the value travel approach, you can adjust your choices according to the experience you want to have.
Before we get to the different types of accommodations, let’s have a quick look at how these factors impact the price of your stay. Once you’ve found affordable flights (here’s a guide on that), the next biggest piece of your travel budget will, mostly like, be spent on where you stay. If you're heading to Europe, here's a a step-by-step guide to planning your indie travels!
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Planning for Different Types of Accommodations
It’s always a good idea to start your travel planning by having an idea of the accommodation budget for your trip. This will give you some guidelines for your search. Each of the different types of accommodations will have a variety of prices so knowing what you want and what you have to spend is going to make the process much easier. For me, I make it a game to see if I can find a place with everything I want for less than my actual budget. This leaves me with more money to spend on other things, like trying all the local food! (If you want to learn more about planning your travels, check out the Indie Travel Collective community.)
What’s available in your price range is going to vary wildly, depending on where you’ll be traveling. For example, when my husband and I went to Denmark, we paid about $100 per night for a tiny room in Copenhagen. It was seriously about the size of something on a ship and it was a bit outside the main center, so this was actually a pretty great deal compared to what else was available! On the other hand, I’m writing this from a very comfortable little studio apartment near the center of everything in Tirana, Albania that cost me about $26 per night. This may be something to consider before choosing your destination.
The closer you are to the center of what most tourists come to see, the more expensive accommodations tend to be. The convenience of being in the heart of your destination may be worth it to you, but you can still have easy access without breaking the bank. Many cities have excellent and affordable public transportation which means you can stay a little bit outside the center and still get there easily, which can save a ton of money! Look for places near a metro, tram, or bus stop on a route that stops near the places you want to visit. Even a few stops out can make a huge difference in price.
Before you even start searching for different types of accommodations, decide what amenities you absolutely must have. If you’ve rented a car, parking will be a consideration. If you’re on a tight budget, having a place to store and cook your own food can offer big savings. Maybe you just want a place to store your things, have a shower, and sleep, which allows you to skip many of the more expensive places because you don’t need or care about the frills. Of course, it’s all about the experience you want to have so get clear on what you’re looking for before you begin your search.
Private vs. Shared Bathrooms
Strangely, this is one thing that can make a HUGE difference in what you pay for accommodations. Many different types of accommodations have options with a shared bathroom that are much cheaper. Sometimes you’ll be sharing with another room or two and, in other situations, it may be a larger bathroom area with toilet and shower stalls. To find out, simply read the descriptions and scroll through the pictures. If you’re really uncomfortable with the idea of sharing bathroom space, that’s totally fine! Just know it’s a great way to save some cash, but like I said in this post about value travel, it’s all about creating your ideal experience.
The Five Different Types of Accommodations
What’s going to be best for you is going to vary based on which type of traveler you are, where you're going, who you’re traveling with, and how you want to spend your time. If you’re headed for a big city, your needs are going to be different than if you’re headed to a mountain getaway. I’ve listed the different types of accommodations from the cheapest to the most expensive. There will always be some crossover, so look at all the types that appeal to you. Booking.com is my favorite for finding most of these options all in one place. After we cover the different types of accommodations, I’ll share more about searching for them. You can jump to that here, if you want.
Now I know this isn’t for everyone and definitely not for every situation, but if you’re going somewhere to experience the natural wonders, it’s such a great option, especially in the more expensive countries in Europe. Camping works best if you're planning to rent a car and see the countryside. Most of the major cities don’t have campgrounds near the center (Reykjavik, Iceland and Budapest, Hungary are the only two I’ve used). Campgrounds in Europe are really nice - showers, laundry, common areas, etc. - and super affordable. The most expensive one I’ve ever stayed in was in Denmark, where everything is more expensive, and was still only $35 for the night. Outside of Denmark, the most I’ve ever paid for a tent site is $15 and it’s usually closer to $10.
One of the other great things about camping in Europe is that you don’t really need to plan your route in advance. Campgrounds are plentiful and can almost always find a piece of lawn for you to pitch a tent. If you choose this option, it means you’ll probably have to check a piece of luggage for your flight. Even if you have to pay extra for this, you’ll more than make up for it with what you save on accommodations. (Here are some tips for saving on your flights too!) All of this assumes you have camping gear you’re willing to pack up and take with you. Some places do rent gear, but be sure to research that in advance.
What typically comes to mind for most people when I talk about hostels is either the horror movie or some version of a giant room full of bunk beds, all-night parties, and no sleep. While those hostels are out there, many now offer private rooms you can book for a fraction of what a traditional hotel room would cost! Another option I like, when traveling alone, is booking a bed in one of the small (4 or 6 person) female dorms. I’ve done this in many different places around Europe and always had a pleasant experience. I usually make new friends in the process!
Typically, hostels come with more amenities than a traditional hotel. You’ll have a shared kitchen and refrigerator, which is great for stashing picnic supplies or making dinner on your own with fresh goodies you picked up at the local market! The main difference between a private room in a hostel and a traditional hotel is the shared common spaces and no cleaning service. You get all the amenities and you just have to be in charge of keeping your room tidy. Pretty easy! Hostelworld.com is my favorite site for searching specifically for hostels.
If you’re traveling alone, hostels are a great place to meet other travelers. When I was staying in a hostel in Sarajevo, I made friends with my roomie and we ended up road tripping to Budapest together! We still stay in touch via social media and I love having those memories and a friendship that came from simply being placed in the same room. So before you dismiss the idea of hostels completely, have a look and see what’s available. You might be surprised!
These are set up the same way as traditional hotels, but much cheaper. Typically the rooms are smaller, they may not include breakfast, and may not come with a daily cleaning service. Typically, you’ll have your own bathroom, but probably not a refrigerator or cooking area. It’s a good alternative to a private room in a hostel, if that’s too much sharing space for your liking.
You can find budget hotels in pretty much every major city and even some of the smaller towns around the countryside. Personally, I prefer either the private room in a hostel or the bed and breakfast experience. You can usually find these located near train or bus stations and I typically use these for staying just one night before catching my ride to the next spot. It’s perfect for that!
Bed & Breakfasts, Pensions, and Guesthouses
These are all pretty similar, but are named differently depending on where you are in the world. These are private rooms, much like a hotel, but usually run by locals, which I prefer over supporting big, generic chains. Sometimes these have shared bathrooms, but it’s typically only with another room or two. Stan (my husband, if you’re joining me the first time) and I do this often when we travel. It’s fun to get to know the hosts and most of them are willing to share their local knowledge, which lets us get off the beaten path.
One of my favorites was when we stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast in Amsterdam. Our host, Nessie, made the most amazing breakfast for us each morning and gave us all sorts of wonderful information about the city. We wouldn’t have known about the Museum of Handbags and Purses without her recommendation. And, thanks to her, we also discovered the amazing Indonesian food and had a delightful rijsttafel dinner. (Check out the B&B listings on Booking.com here.)
Apartments & Vacation Homes
This has become a personal favorite with the rise of sites like AirBnB and VRBO. While these sites do have listings in Europe, I’ve found that more people list their places on Booking.com outside of the US. Plus, with Booking, there aren’t any surprise service or cleaning fees. The price you see is actually the price you pay.
I’ve been using Booking to find apartments in Europe for at least the last four years and had great luck! If you’re renting an apartment on Booking, I recommend sending a message to the host right away to find out about checking in. Many of them use WhatsApp to communicate so you can stay in touch as you go. Also, follow up with them a day or two before your arrival to make sure you know where to go and how to get in (they may have a lockbox or someone will meet you). For these, make sure to update your arrival time on the booking and so they know when to expect you.
In the spirit of full transparency, I have had a couple of these that didn’t go according to plan. But of the dozens I’ve booked and used, only two didn’t go well. To be fair, I didn’t do my part in communicating our plans and making sure everything was coordinated. Lesson learned, hence the recommendations above about staying in touch with the hosts.
Finding the Different Types of Accommodations
Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to get searching! If you haven't notices already, Booking.com is my absolute favorite because you can find all the different types of accommodations in one place, especially outside the US. That’s where I found all of the places I’m staying on this trip through the Balkans, most of which are apartments! Bonus, they’re all under $40 per night, most are under to $25.
Booking offers great ways to filter your results based on review scores, different types of accommodations, location, amenities, etc. Personally, I love the map view so I can see the location of each place and compare it to where the attractions and transportation are.
If the hostel or camping route seems like your jam, Hostelworld is the best place to find them. Many times, Booking does list hostels, but you’ll find them all in one place on Hostelworld. You can also filter your search by places with private rooms or other amenities, which makes it easy to pick the place that best meets your needs. The map view is great on this website as well so you can see exactly where the place is in relation to everything else.
For camping, you can use sites like Camping Europe or Camping.info to find a site, but many campsites aren’t listed. Honestly, if you just keep an eye out for the tent symbol, you’ll find them in pretty much every countryside town. If you’re on the road and want to get some information, you can stop at the local pub or gas station and they’ll be able to tell you where to go. I’m assuming that you’re an adventurer if you choose this route and the uncertainty of not knowing where you’ll pitch your tent until you arrive is okay with you.
If you want to learn more about creating your own travel experiences, hop over to the Indie Travel Collective so you can learn how to put all the pieces together on your own terms and meet a community of like-minded travelers!
Mix & Match the Different Types of Accommodations
If you’re like me, your trips don’t include just one type of activity. Maybe you spend a few days in a city and then you want to venture out and see more of the country you’re visiting. An apartment or hostel may be your choice in the city, but further out, you’d like to experience a traditional bed and breakfast. There’s no wrong way to do it! This is what I love about indie travel, especially using the value travel approach.
The other thing I like about Booking.com is that you can look at all your reservations in one place, which makes it easy to stay organized, especially if you’re going to be moving around a lot. The messaging function which allows you to communicate with the properties before you arrive, which is super helpful if you’re staying in an apartment. You can also let the place know when you’ll be arriving, which makes checking in so much easier.
Now that you know more about the different types of accommodations that are available for your travels, I hope you can see ways to save money and still create the experience you want. Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
Sometimes being an indie traveler can be lonely. If you're like me want to meet other like-minded indie travelers, then check out the Indie Travel Collective community! We get together regularly to hang out and talk travel, share resources, and swap stories. We even have "travel classes" every month where we learn from experts about ways to save, plan, and make the most of our travel experiences!Even with all the best research skills, it's still hard to know if the information you've found is right for you. If you want a little help figuring out the details or talking to someone who's been to where you're going see if these consulting services designed specifically for indie travelers like you -- sound useful to you!
What different types of accommodations do you use on your travels? What’s been your favorite?
Share yours in the comments!