There are a lot of things to consider when you’re in the planning stages of a long-term trip, and accommodations are an important thing to research.
Traveling long-term is different than your typical vacation, and the landscape for accommodations has changed quite a bit, even in the last 5 years.
Have you researched all your options? Do you know about services like CouchSurfing, Airbnb, and house-sitting? Even if you’ve heard about all these things, there are a lot of misconceptions flying around about them, so read on to learn more.
Hostels are good for any traveler
If you’ve never traveled long term before, wrapping your head around the idea of staying in hostels, cooking in shared kitchens, and waiting to book your accommodations until arriving in a new city can seem weird and a bit overwhelming. There are some things you should consider about hostels, even if you’ve always been a hotel person or if you’re traveling with a large budget. If you are traveling solo, you should really give some thought to staying in hostels at times, even if you can afford hotels. If you are older than college-aged, traveling with a partner or family, or as part of a small group, it’s time to dispel the myths of hostels.
So not only are all ages welcome, there is little reason to worry about feeling self conscious about your age if you are no longer in school.
The hostel movement started in Germany almost 100 years ago as a way for young people to travel cheaply, by making them share in the chores and even locking them out all day to discourage them from hanging around. But the modern hostel movement shares few of those characteristics. Very few places have any sort of upper age limit now, and it’s quite common to see retired travelers staying alongside students and nearly every age in between.
So not only are all ages welcome, there is little reason to worry about feeling self conscious about your age if you are no longer in school. Sure, younger people will make up the largest group most of the time, but hostelling is not only an accepted way of keeping costs down, but also of socializing for all age groups. Most hostels have common rooms, communal kitchens, computer stations, and some even have a bar and/or restaurant. It’s a great place to meet other travelers!
Most hostels also have private rooms
Some of us aren’t fond of the idea of sleeping only a few feet away from seven strangers with whatever collection of odd habits seven strangers might have. The trend most hostels are going toward is offering private single and double rooms in addition to the infamous dorms. A single or double room in a hostel is almost always going to cost substantially less than a private room in a nearby hotel.
The key is to do your homework. Research particular hostels, find out which ones are renowned party hostels and which are family friendly. The information is not very difficult to find. Alternatively, if you don’t book your rooms in advance, you can simply wander around a new city after arrival and check out various hostels, choosing the one that best suits your needs.
The bathroom/toilet/WC situation in hostels scare many people who have never stayed in one. And while there are certainly horror stories, the vast majority of the time the bathroom situation is perfectly fine. Many private rooms have private bathrooms as well, making this point moot, but even the shared bathrooms in reputable hostels are in good condition. There’s plenty of privacy, and they are cleaned often.
Other advantages to hostels
The price is a major plus, but there are also other advantages to hostel life. Nearly all hostels will have a community kitchen stocked with all the pots, pans, plates, and glasses you’ll need. So this can be a great way to save some money on food and make a few friends in the meantime. Most hostels don’t have TVs in the rooms, but they usually do have a TV room/lounge/common area for all the guests. Many even have bars on the premises, making meeting people even easier. These are the things that make hostels so valuable, to a solo traveler in particular.
Traveling alone is great, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a complete loner while on the road. Many budget hotels around the world have breakfast included in the room price, but sitting a table or two away from another guest while eating your cereal still makes for a social canyon that is very difficult to bridge. People staying in hotels just don’t tend to socialize with one another. And after breakfast your opportunities to meet other guests pretty much disappear until the next morning.
In hostels, even for those staying in private rooms, you have little choice but to interact from time to time. Where is the coffee? Where do these dishes go? Where did you buy that baguette? Have you been to the cathedral yet? It’s understood that common rooms in hostels are places where strangers can socialize without feeling desperate.
Another selling point of many hostels is location. When in a big, bustling city like Buenos Aires, Tokyo, or Barcelona, the hotels located in the desirable locations have prices that go through the roof. A hostel offers those same locations at a fraction of the price.
Even if you are more of a hotel person, if you are traveling alone, you might consider occasionally checking yourself into a private room in a hostel, and before you know it you might have the option of joining some other travelers on a city tour or a pub-crawl. Upon return from a RTW trip, travelers will often tell you about the great people they met, like the Australian guy in Berlin, or the Brazilian girls in Bangkok. Staying in hostels is the easiest way to create your own global network of friends, and it’s usually quite a bit easier than meeting locals when you travel, for better or for worse.
When it may be better to stay in a hotel
Sometimes you just need a break and want to splurge, so getting a hotel every so often is a great change of pace. In certain situations, it can also be just as affordable. Oftentimes hotels cater to business travelers. It’s typical for both hostels and budget tourist hotels to keep their prices within a fairly tight range, usually only changing with the season and usually not by too much. But larger hotels that rely on business travelers can be jammed for months in a row and then nearly empty for a week or two, in between trade fairs or during holiday periods. This is the time when savings are best.
This tends to happen in large cities like Milan, Hong Kong, and Sydney – where most of the rooms are booked for business – as opposed to places like Venice or Miami Beach where tourists rule the hallways. So you might be heading for Milan where a private room in a hostel might be $45, and the cheapest one-star hotel might be $90, but if you look in the right place, you’ll discover that many two and three-star hotels are empty with rooms available for as low as $50. Suddenly the $45 hostel room doesn’t seem so inviting.
There are other cases where these pricing anomalies might occur, so it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open. They tend to only offer these unusually low rates as the empty periods draw near so it’s hard to get these deals very far in advance. Some websites specialize in last-minute deals like this. One bit of warning though on these deals – they’ll show cheap-sounding rooms in just about every city you search in, but often the cheap places are out by airports or other far flung locations. Be very careful of location before you book.
Couchsurfing has really blown up in recent years, and if you are unfamiliar or immediately dismiss the idea because you think it’s for hippies and college kids, you may be missing out.
There are over 10 million Couchsurfing members in over 200,000 cities in every country around the world. The idea isn’t just to get a free place to crash (though that’s a nice perk), it’s to be able to meet a local and really immerse yourself into that city’s culture. Sometimes you’ll have a spot on the couch. Sometimes your own bed. Sometimes your own room. It can be for singles, couples, or even families.
Many people worry about the safety of Couchsurfing, but keep in mind that you need to sign up for a profile, providing personal information. You are rated as both a guest and host, and just like any hotel or hostel site, these reviews are public and help you make a decision about where to stay. It’s a thorough process, and it’s not like you just turn up at the train station and choose a random person’s couch to sleep on.
Check out the following resources to learn more about Couchsurfing:
- 10 Ways to Use Couchsurfing: A Multi-Tool for the Indie Traveler
- Couchsurfing: Tips for a Smooth Experience
- Listen to why one solo female traveler recommends Couchsurfing for career breakers
Traveling slowly is the best way to stretch your budget and avoid the dreaded travel burnout. It also gives you the opportunity to have a “home” for a while and really dig into the culture you’re visiting.
With the advent of sites like AirBNB, renting a room in an apartment, an entire apartment or condo, or a house, is now easier than ever. You can do this in pretty much any city around the world, and if you decide to rent for a longer period of time, like a few weeks or a month, you can most likely negotiate a lower daily rate that will be comparable to a private room in a hostel or a hotel.
We rented an apartment in Buenos Aires for a month during our RTW trip, and it cost $25USD per night, less than most private hostel rooms around the city. It was an incredible experience that allowed us to unpack our bags, have our own kitchen and private spaces, and made us feel like part of a community. We had our own favorite corner stores, parks, bars, and restaurants. It’s a great way to break up a long-term trip like this, and it won’t even cost you more money. This option is especially perfect for traveling couples and families!
See how you can “go local “on your trip by renting a house or apartment
A relatively new advancement in accommodation options for travelers, house-sitting and swapping almost seems too good to be true. On a site like MindMyHouse, you can sign up for a membership for $20USD per year and get chosen for house-sitting assignments all around the world – a round the world traveler’s dream come true! Sites like Love Home Swap offer home exchanges with over 46,000 members in 150+ countries around the world.
A good buddy of mine house-sat his way around Europe, a notoriously expensive region, for about 4 months last year, only having to pay for accommodations a few nights here and there in between gigs. You don’t pay a penny outside the annual membership fee, though you are responsible for various household tasks like taking care of pets, watering plants, and general maintenance tasks. Like Couchsurfing, you fill out a profile and are chosen by the homeowner based on your profile and “interview.” Another great option for couples and families.
Read the following articles about house-sitting:
Booking in advance vs. waiting until arrival
First, a quick bit of economics. Nearly every destination in the world will have almost as many hotel rooms and hostel beds as they need to put up their typical kinds of visitors during their busiest season. This isn’t to say there will almost always be cheap rooms available, just that there will almost always be some rooms available, except during the absolute peak season. These are just the laws of supply and demand, and they are true pretty much everywhere except communist and recently-communist countries.
So with that in mind let’s look at a place like Venice. They might be near capacity, particularly in the more affordable places, most of the summer and during their carnival. So during the other 8 or 9 months of the year you can arrive in town and just look around for a place. Your first choice might not be available, but it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be shut out of a room altogether, unless you arrive so late at night that many places have closed their front doors.
Most of the time, in most places, you can arrive in town and find a decent place without a problem. Traveling this way gives you the sort of freedom these RTW trips are often all about. Without advance reservations you can arrive a day later due to your hangover or because you stopped at some small town on the way. Plus if you arrive in a city early enough, you’ll have plenty of time to wander around and find the place that’s just right for you.
Sometimes you should book in advance
There are times when it makes a lot of sense to book in advance. If you are flying into a city as opposed to arriving by train or bus, it’s often worthwhile to book your first night in advance. Unless your flight arrives by the early afternoon, you might be adding a lot of stress to your visit without a bed booked. Your plane might arrive late and then the mad scramble to figure out transportation into the city gets crazier as you aren’t even sure which neighborhood you need to go to.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to book your first night’s accommodation in a new city in advance regardless of your method of transport. That way you don’t have to stress or worry about it. Because time is on your side, it’s not the end of the world if you have to spend the next morning wandering around the city trying to find a new place to stay because yours ends up being less than desirable.
Don’t forget about holidays, high season, and festivals
The other times it can be good to book in advance are during peak visiting seasons for that particular place. It’s almost always obvious which places are busy during summer and around Christmas, but there are different holidays all over the world and some of them fill local hotel rooms while others will empty them.
Consider that in the US, three of the busiest hotel weekends of the year are around Memorial Day in May, July 4th, and Labor Day in September. Most every country has equivalent holidays, but they are rarely on those same weekends. If you randomly arrive in a city at one of these times you might be lucky to find a room for double the price it was just a week earlier.
Religious holidays can also be unpredictable. Easter actually falls on different days in different places, and Lent, which is 40 days before Easter, often triggers a huge week of celebrating in some countries while it’s ignored in others. Even if you aren’t necessarily going to book a room in advance, you can usually figure these things out pretty efficiently by researching prices and reading up on your destination before you arrive.
- Do some research and realize that hostels are good for any traveler
- Read up on hostel dorms, what they’re like, and if they would be a good fit for you
- If traveling with another person or a family, research hostel and hotel prices in your first few destinations to check price differences
- Read stories about other travelers and their experiences of booking in advance vs. waiting-Keep these in mind when planning your strategy
- Remember that most of these decisions can be made on the road, but being prepared is always good
- Develop a strategy for when you will book in advance and when you will wait (realizing that this is not set in stone)
- Start making a list of holidays, festivals, and high, low, and shoulder seasons in the regions you plan to visit and keep these in mind when finalizing your itinerary