Hotels are not the only options available to the long-term or short-term traveller. Of course, I've got nothing against hotel accommodation. In fact, I love staying in hotels. But I like to broaden my horizons and experience new things. And a hotel is not always the best option for your finances either.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is more to travel than heated bath towels and the mini-bar. Airbnb has become so popular that we’ve forgotten what a hotel costs and as a result, keep paying higher prices for someone’s spare room. I use Airbnb all the time and it's great. However, don't discount all of the other options.
What are some unusual places to stay and alternative accommodation options for the adventurous traveller?
In this article, I'll look at different and unusual accommodation options. Hotel alternatives range from treehouses to Couchsurfing, glamping and monastery stays, there are plenty of special places to stay that don't figure on the top of anyone's list (yet).
Alternative Accommodation for the adventurous traveller
Couchsurfing is one of the oldest sites in this list (founded in 2003) and has helped millions of friendly travellers find somewhere to stay for the night (or longer). ‘Friendly’ is the key word here as introverts and weirdos will not endear themselves to the host. The site uses a rating system to vet guests and hosts. Difficult couch surfers will soon find their ratings/feedback statistics somewhat below par.
Of course, if you like having weirdos sleep on our couch then you know how to find them, and everyone is happy.
In theory, Couchsurfing is designed for travellers with a smaller budget and for hosts to meet new people from around the world.
Couchsurfing.com works like this:
Travellers ask to stay with a host that is offering a couch or spare room for a period of time. The host reads the traveller's profile and decides whether or not to allow this possibly smelly, potentially psychotic person to stay at their place.
It’s all good fun and can be a great way to make friends and for everyone to benefit from the sharing economy. It works most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally, Couchsurfing.com receives backlash on internet forums for being almost ‘Tinder for travellers'. Many users of the site have used the service to organise dates á la Tinder, prompting a call for a reanalysis of the company's focus.
Couchsurfing began as a non-profit organization in 2003, changed to a profit-drive business and raised funds in 2011, but has remained unprofitable. It is still a great option for finding accommodation and meeting people so I recommend checking it out.
Alternatives: TheHospitalityClub, BeWelcome
Sharing is caring
Housecarers.com is a fantastic way to stay in a house that you might otherwise feel is out of your reach. People entrust their homes, complete with wide-screen tv, walk-in wardrobes, jacuzzis, massage parlours, steam rooms and home cinemas to strangers. It sounds reckless but it works very well. 99.99% of people are honest and genuine. There are systems in place to deter the crazy ones.
The important thing is to treat the house like it's your own, thus helping the site to continue providing house-sitting opportunities. It's a fantastic resource and I really wish it a lot of success. The sharing economy lives on.
A second option is Trusted House Sitters which is aimed at pet lovers. You must be able to take care of pets. It goes without saying that if you don't love animals this isn't an option for you.
Alternatives: LuxuryHouseSitting, MindMyHouse
If you own property and don't mind lending it out while you're away then you could swap your place for someone else's at your destination. There are monetary transactions (as long as you own a property) and you can effectively stay for free all over the world.
Nightswapping provides a service for contacting homeowners in your target destination and also provides insurances to both parties. For each night you allow someone to stay at your property you get one ‘free' night which you can use on your travels. The site has an Airbnb feel to it and they appear to be focussing heavily on Facebook ads and other advertising streams to gain traction.
The home swapping concept is really taking off now and several other options are available to travellers with homes to swap. Home For Exchange is a fee-based service with a great reputation that offers a free 10-day trial so you can see how it works.
Go Full Monk In A Monastery Stay
Staying in a monastery might not be top of your bucket list but it's a viable solution to finding accommodation and might turn out to be a highlight of your trip. Monastery stays were once a common accommodation option. Long distance travelers would often look for monasteries that would take them in for the night. Monasteries can be found in most European countries and payment is based on donation or fixed price. Beds can be private or dormitory-based so there are options for every budget. For stays in Italy, in particular, check out MonasteryStays.
This amazing looking monastery in Hungary is situated on extensive grounds and offers all of the luxuries of a hotel stay.
Matador has a great piece on monastery-hopping that's well worth a read.
Work For Your Supper
Kibbutz living isn't for everyone but if you are able-bodied and can commit to a few months then a kibbutz could be a life-changing experience. Many people think of a kibbutz as something resembling a peasant farm with people slaving in the hot sun to receive their night-time meal of cold soup. We've seen Kibbutzim with swimming pools and restaurants and all the other mod cons you might expect from a resort. The focus, however, is on work in exchange for lodging and study options.
It can be a great way to meet a really diverse group of people and immerse yourself in another culture.
Check out the Kibbutz Program Center for more information.
Carry On Camping
Don't forget camping as a low-cost alternative for the more adventurous. Nature-lovers will relish the opportunity to be close to the ground (literally) and there's nothing like stepping out of your tent to the sound of birds and the rustle of leaves. Depending on the campground you stay at you may step out of your tent to the sound of screaming kids and blasting music but there are a huge number of campgrounds all over the US and Europe in particular so lack of choice is not an issue.
Glamping? It's a mixture of Glam and Camping. Obvious, right? When stylish hipsters, the outdoors, and travel come together the result is glamping. When more extreme hipsters get involved the result is Treehouse Glamping. Yes, you can stay in style on a campsite but you can also live stylishly suspended in the trees. Just like you did as a kid, but with a comfy bed.
If you want to live like a wealthy hobbit then head to New Zealand and check out Underhill. The outdoor bath is a nice touch. Not having to pitch a tent is even better.
Get ‘rustic' by staying in a Yurt in Utah. A yurt is a large tent traditionally used by Mongolian nomads. Up to 9 people can stay in these glamour tents in the Zion National Park.
Treehouse Glamping in the UK isn't cheap but it's definitely alternative. Brocklock Treehouse Eco Retreat in Durham is very popular and it's easy to see why. The facade gives the impression of some kind of wooden water tank. Inside you've got all the mod cons from subtle lighting to comfortable bed and bath.
Road Trip It
I once lived in the back of a Toyota Corolla for 4 months, while travelling around New Zealand. New Zealand and Australia, in particular, are excellent countries for this type of travel as they are under-populated countries with amazing places to visit. Traffic is not a big problem, roads are good and camping in parks and campgrounds is well catered for.
Backpackerboard has some good advice on buying a car or van to travel New Zealand. Backpackaround have some tips on doing the same in Australia. You could also rent a Motorhome instead of buying a car and selling it again. Check out the EuropeByCamper blog for some great articles on Motorhome travel across Europe.
Living out of a car or a van while travelling a foreign country is a very liberating experience and can work out a lot cheaper in the end. Special places to stay don't have to be fixed locations.
Take The Train
If you are looking to save money on accommodation at any opportunity then choosing night flights and overnight buses are viable options if you travel a lot. You might not get the best sleep, particularly on a flight, but long-distance buses in many parts of the world can be quite luxurious and with lie-flat beds costing a fraction of a seat on a plane there's a good chance you will emerge refreshed after a long night of travel. Trains are also a great option and Europe has a really well-developed (if slightly expensive) rail network. Check out the excellent Seat 61 site for a comprehensive guide to European Rail travel.
Need info on trains, planes, and automobile? Rome2Rio is one of the best transport finding sites on the internet and it's an excellent way to find out your long-distance bus options. It will also provide prices for flights so you can compare the relative costs and then decide on options. The beautiful interface is also very user-friendly.