I’ve had a lot of people asking me lately about accommodation options when I was in Europe… Which is the cheapest way, safest way, funnest way etc etc etc. Well, since I can say I’ve been around a fair extent, I can probably answer this pretty satisfactorily. Of course, my tastes may not match everyone else’s. Like the time my sister cried when she saw the hostel I had booked for us in London, while I was like THIS IS GREAT VALUE!!! (In her defence, she did a little research and found hotels in the same area for the same price. Oops. But then in my defence again, I had been traveling solo for so long, the mere idea of hotels was way beyond my comprehension. 2 reasons mainly- 1… I would be terrified and very bored if I had to stay alone, and 2… There is no way I could have ever found a hotel room that cost less than a single dorm bed.)
When I was dipping my toe in this fantastic world of solo travel (just over a year ago), I went through numerous blogs and articles to put myself at ease. Hostels and AirBnB are easier to get okay with. Couchsurfing is a stretch. Really. The number of Couchsurfing posts I’d read at that time and still nearly chickened out 2 days before I was due to begin… Uncountable! So anyway, since I have been there and done that to a decent extent, I think it’s my time to pay it forward to the rest of the world.
AirBnB is, in the website’s words… ‘a community marketplace where guests can book spaces from hosts, connecting people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.’ I started with this one on my first solo trip because it was the closest to a hotel and I had already used it a couple of times before. The last 2 times, though, I wasn’t alone and we had taken up the entire apartment. Since both experiences were positive, I decided to use it on my own as well. So in Luxembourg, I booked a private room for 3 nights in an apartment that was shared by 2 girls. One of them was away the whole trip, and the other was there for just one night. So it actually worked out like a private apartment. I was a little terrified, but it worked out just fine, as you can see!
The next accommodation option I used was the very next night when I went to Metz. Auberge de Jeunesse de Metz is a basic hostel. But it was a good induction into the world of hostels because I had a girls only dorm with 2 other girls (and I ended up becoming good friends with one of them). But since then, I’ve stayed at so many types of hostels… 4 person to 16 person. Girls only dorms to mixed dorms. Dorms that were absolutely full to dorms that were completely empty. Air-conditioned ones (of both varieties- where the ACs worked, and where they didn’t) and non AC ones. Made friends in some and didn’t talk to anyone in some. Party hostels and Chillout hostels… I think you get the point.
Number 3 finally, was Couchsurfing. This is definitely the most terrifying, the most hard work, but also probably the most rewarding. I was beyond terrified when I started out (especially since ALL my friends warned me about everything that could go wrong… But, evidently, nothing did 😀 See?).
So let’s do a quick overview of all three options.
AirBnB: Usually much cheaper than a hotel in a similar location.
CS: ‘Free’. And that’s in quotes because you should definitely gift something to your host, split the grocery bill or, if you’re really
kangaal broke, cook for them someday or SOMETHING!
Hostel: Cheaper than AirBnB, again for a similar location. Obviously.
AirBnB: You just have to coordinate the first time when you’re actually picking up the keys. But beyond that, you’re paying for it so you get your own keys and you come and go as you please.
CS: Depends on your host. If they want to give you extra keys, lucky you, but otherwise you have to follow their schedule. If they leave home at 7am… So do you.
Hostel: Some hostels have lockouts and curfews. Those are annoying, but otherwise no problem. If you reach before check-in time, you can still keep your bags in the hostel. The day you check out, you need to clear out your bunk, but most places allow you to use their facilities for the rest of the day, which comes in very useful if you have to catch a late train or something.
AirBnB: You get to see pictures and detailed descriptions of the place you’re going to stay at, and there’s usually something for every budget. So you more or less get what you pay for. Usually you can use all the equipment at the apartment, but you need to buy your own stuff.
CS: Depends on the host. I’ve slept in a large private room (with a balcony, no less!), on an ab-exercise machine in the dining room, and everything else in between.
Hostel: Most decently rated hostels have good facilities. Beds, sheets, (sometimes) towels, lockers, bathrooms, kitchen- no problemo. You have to be okay with sharing, but then, sharing is caring 🙂
AirBnB: AirBnB seems to have a pretty secure system. Since all communication is through the website, you do have some sort of guarantee.
CS: Horror stories are all over the place, you don’t even have to look too hard to find them. I, personally, have never had a problem. I’ve surfed several times and I’ve hosted once too. But I’m so SO careful with reviews!! I read and re-read, and then I read the reviews of some of the reviewers.
Hostel: Probably the safest of them all. Too many people around.
AirBnB: If you get an apartment, nothing like it! Private rooms are good too, cause you don’t really have to engage with your hosts since you’re paying for the room. It’s like a business transaction. That’s all.
CS: It’s a cultural exchange. If you want to sightsee all day and come back home and crash, CS is not for you. You WILL have to spend time with your hosts, and that is what makes this such a wonderful thing. If you get a room, which is unlikely, but does happen, you do get some privacy. But if you’re in the living room on a couch, sometimes with other surfers… Enjoy it 🙂
Hostel: Ha. Forget it. Unless you take a single room, in which case you might as well go for AirBnB.
AirBnB: I don’t have much experience here, so I can’t really say. I don’t think it’s very likely though, because this is mostly all about the money, honey!
CS: Again, cultural exchange here, so you do become friends with whoever you stay with, atleast to some extent. I’m in occasional touch with most of my hosts, and on long email terms with some. And it’s not just the hosts… You become friends with other people surfing with you too!
Hostel: Winner. I made some really good friends in hostels even though I’m not that very outgoing. Anyone is bound to! You meet so many people.
Accepting invitations from people you meet on the road
I’ve done this twice, and both times I had a blast. The first time was in Split when I met these three people in a restaurant and stayed with them the next night.
Very good idea because they talked me into joining them on an island visit the next day when my original plan was to leave earlier. And then I would have missed this.
The second time I was in Bucharest. It was past 8pm and I had nothing booked and Liliana (who I met on the train) insisted that I stay with her. And thank God she did because all hostels were overbooked that night, I found out later. She also gave me a box of nuts to take withe me on my journey the next day 🙂
Both times I was taking a huge risk. I knew nothing about these people, didn’t have any peer verified reviews to fall back on, had no guarantee that they were good people… Except my gut feeling. It’s a fact that I didn’t sleep very well. But I’m happy I went for it because now I have two more stories to prove that the world is not a bad place after all, and, no, I don’t need pepper spray inspite of being a solo female traveler!
I think I gave a decent idea of all 3 (+1) options, though, of course, there is sooooo much more to it. I tried to make it as unbiased as possible, because I know that what is good for me may not be good for you. In fact, what is good for me today, may not be good for me next week. Like the time I went to Zdiar, I was given a studio apartment kind of room in an adjacent building which I hated because I really wanted company and some noise. But I know if I had got the same room at the end of my trip when I was in Rome or Split, I would have been overjoyed because by then I was exhausted and I just needed some peace and quiet.
So what do you say? Would you ever venture out of the world of hotels and into hostels, AirBnB, CSing and *gasp* No.4? Let me know which is the most appealing option to you, and which point was the deciding factor. Any more questions? Ask me in the comments!