One of the first steps in planning your trip to Europe is reserving a place to stay. Your budget, how many people are in your party, and your personal preferences, will help determine which lodging options you choose. Staying with a friend, couchsurfing, or staying in a hostel are the least expensive types of lodging available.
Staying in different kinds of accommodation adds interest to your trip. It can help keep your budget under control by balancing inexpensive places with ones that cost more. I like to vary my choices throughout the trip. On a couple recent trips, I stayed in a luxury hotel, a hostel, a bed and breakfast (B&B), an apartment, a small hotel, and with a friend.
The least expensive option is to stay with a friend. When my daughter and I stayed with her friend in Ireland, we paid for the friend’s meals during the stay as a “thank you.” Not everyone has friends or relatives in Europe though, so if you want this type of lodging, you might need to make a new friend.
Couchsurfing is an organization that coordinates offers of a friendly couch with your need to sleep on one. The host may offer more than a couch; sometimes you will even get a private room and bathroom. Couchsurfing’s slogan is “Stay with locals & make travel friends.”
If you want to take advantage of the Couchsurfing network, you need to register. Many participants agree to host in exchange for being hosted. The organization is self-policing, which means that participants leave reviews about their hosts and guests. Poor hosts and guests are reported; great hosts and guests are, too. Be sure to carefully read Couchsurfing’s safety tips and the reviews for the place you choose to avoid unexpected conditions.
Hostels are another low-cost lodging option. They are not only for youth, as nowadays most hostels welcome people of any age. Low-cost hostels are a good choice for an expensive city, keeping the total cost closer to average. Staying in Switzerland can be expensive, but Villa Sonnenhof in Interlaken, for example, starts at $35 per person.
Hostels vary widely in price and amenities. You may have a choice between a dorm room with several bunk beds (usually separated by gender) or a smaller room with 2 to 6 beds. Prices can be as low as $20 per person in a dorm room, and up to $60 or more or person for a private room. Private rooms might have a partial bath attached (toilet and sink) but the showers will be down the hall. The hostel in Switzerland included a small breakfast, internet and a token to wash a load of laundry. In some hostels these items won’t be included or they will cost extra.
Think about the location when choosing a hostel – or any place to stay. If the hostel is far from the center of town, you will have extra transportation costs. Most hostels have lockers for the guests to use – be sure to bring a padlock. Some hostels only accept payment in cash so be prepared with enough to cover your bill.
I like using a hostel when I am only spending one night in a city – they are great for a quick in and out. Hostels can be a good place to meet other travelers – which can be especially nice if you are traveling alone. The hostel may have lounge areas, it may have a bar with (loud) music, or it may be quiet. Reviews from other travelers will tell you about the character of the hostel.
To find a hostel in the area you plan to stay, start by looking at hostels.com or hostelworld.com. These two sites, owned by the same company, list over 30,000 hostels around the world. Hostelling International is a chain of hostels and their website, hihostels.com, is another great place to look. Each listing on these sites tells about the hostel and shows the price. You can book there or go to the hostel’s own website and book direct.
Staying with a friend, couchsurfing and staying in hostels are the least expensive types of lodging while traveling. Each one has benefits, but may also have downsides. Research carefully and you will have a great stay.
Next week I’ll talk about other lodging options – bed and breakfasts, apartments, small family owned hotels and large chain hotels.