Heard of them? Old-world comfort, old-world pricing. A good option if: 1) you’re only staying a night or two and want to ritz it up a little, 2) you happen to have points to cash in (although you should probably use those for flights instead), or 3) you’re in a country where hotels are very cheap, or 4) you’re a real adult with a real job and want to act like it… Who are you trying to impress? Hotels are also a terrible option for people traveling alone — even worse value and little chance of meeting anyone.
Hostels are the best and worst places on earth. We’ve made great friends, had memorable experiences, and got mediocre sleep in many hostels around the world. They are really fun in your 20s. There’s a whole community of backpacker-type kids running around almost every country, drinking shitty booze and telling funny stories. It’s an experience I would advise everyone to have at some point. But given the lack of privacy and constant partying, they are death to productivity and healthy living. They are typically pretty cheap, but uncomfortable and a crapshoot — you might be staying next door to an entire Swedish volleyball team, but more often you’ll share a bunk with a 48-year-old man who always thinks it’s his turn with the guitar. www.hostelworld.com and www.hostelbookers.com are the main sites we’ve used.
The emergence of Airbnb has been really good for us. It’s a nice blend — you can generally pay what you want (relative to the country, of course) and get good value on the money. Two ways to go:
“Private room.” You can have a sort of hostel experience, though less reliably — shared Airbnbs with rented rooms are rarely a party scene, and they’re often downright quiet. Sometimes, of course, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. And it’s possible to meet wonderful people down the hall. They tend to be a slightly older, more refined crowd.
“Entire home/apt.” Pros: Lots of space. Good value for long-term stays (where a hotel would bleed you dry and a hostel would tempt insanity). You always pay higher than market rate on apartment rents, but that’s to be expected. You can cook for yourself (comfortably — not jockeying for a burner and ruined pan over a beat-to-shit hostel stove). Cons: Can be isolating, maybe even more than hotels.
This is a cool option that we’ve only recently learned is a thing. Homestay.com is a service that links you up and puts you with locals who’ll show you around, and some of them even teach classes as part of the package. In the spirit of productivity and either maintaining or building new skills/habits, this could be a really cool way to combine accommodation with those interests and also meet some awesome people. Some sweet ones we’ve found that are definitely on our list are a yoga homestay in Chile, cooking classes in Malaysia, and live-in Spanish tutoring in NY. Meeting people that are outside of your friend group / traveler community usually makes more memorable travel experiences, so we’re really liking that aspect of Homestay.
Most budget-conscious travelers are familiar with Couch Surfing. Like-minded traveling folk open up their homes and couches to other friendly foreigners. It’s a really cool community and they host events and things, so it’s a great way to meet some interesting people even if you’re not hosting or surfing. I (Vince) hosted some people in LA years back and have remained somewhat active on the site over the years, but I’ve never actually stayed with anyone else. I have lots of friends who have though. It’s typically completely free, but buying your host a bottle of wine or dinner or something is probably a nice idea. It’s not for the high-maintenance traveler; you’re basically crashing on a buddy’s couch.