We all know that accommodations can make or break your trip. They can certainly make or break your budget. However, if you don’t know your options when you go to book, you might be missing out. Or paying too much. Or getting into a shady situation.

Not to worry. We’ll help you out.

Types of Accommodations

First things first: You need to understand what the different types of accommodation are. After that, you can make the best choice for you and your travels.

Hotels

This is the one that most of us are familiar with. With hotels, you can pretty much choose exactly what you want. In fact, if you book with a hotel chain, you can often choose the exact room that you want to stay in, so you know exactly what it’s going to be like when you get there. Another option is independent hotels, which are quite common in Europe. These might be older and therefore not as up-to-date as chain hotels. However since they’re usually family businesses, they’re usually still quite nice and comfortable.


Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)

These are charming alternatives to hotels. B&Bs are often quite small, with only a dozen or so rooms maximum. They’ll be small, family businesses, with a cozy, home-like atmosphere. Many times, you’ll get just a room, and share a bathroom with one or two other rooms. This isn’t as uncomfortable as you’d think. Because B&Bs are small, there aren’t usually that many people getting ready in the mornings, and everyone is up and at ‘em at different times anyway. One of the biggest selling points for B&Bs is that – as the name implies – breakfast is always included in the price. If you, like me, are adverse to paying $12 for a cup of just-okay coffee and a muffin, then the option to have a hearty, home-cooked breakfast included in the price of your stay is definitely a point in favor.

Hostels

Hostels are similar to hotels and B&Bs, but they’re much cheaper. Depending on where you are, you can find a bed in a hostel for as little as $10 a night. This is possible because you’re just renting a bed, not a whole room. Most hostels offer a dorm-style accommodation, with each guest being assigned a bunk and a locker for their stuff. The majority of hostels will have options for coed dorms, all-male dorms, or all-female dorms. Price of the bed goes down as the number of beds in the room goes up. For example, a bunk in an 8-bed dorm will be more expensive than a bunk in a 12-bed dorm. Some hostels offer private rooms, with one, two, or four beds, making them great options for groups of friends traveling on a budget.


AirBnBs

I consider AirBnB options separately from B&Bs, because the range of accommodations that they offer on their site is so wide. You can find anything from a room in an apartment to a whole house on this site. The posting will always tell you whether you’re booking a room or the whole house, so pay attention to that. The prices listed are for the entire unit that you’re renting. So, to get the price that you’ll pay, divide the price between the number of people who will be staying there. This is a great option for groups of friends traveling together, who want to be able to spend time with just their group while traveling.

House Sitting

I must admit, I’ve never used this option before. The premise is that you stay in someone’s house while they’re away. In return for making sure that their mail gets taken in and that their property stays safe, you can stay for a reduced rate or even free.

Things to Consider

When you go to choose one of these options for your trip, there are several things that you have to keep in mind. I recommend taking all of these things into account.

Safety

This is hugely important, and any reputable site will have a section about the safety of the property you’re looking at. As a solo female traveler, this is something I look at right away. If there’s anything that looks off, I skip that property immediately.

This is going to be especially important for budget accommodations. Hostelworld.com provides a safety score for each property they list. This score is submitted by guests who have stayed in that property, so you know it’s not being fudged by the proprietors. They’ll take into account the security on the premises, but also the neighborhood the hostel is in. After all, it doesn’t matter how secure the front door is if you have to walk through a rough neighborhood with no streetlights to get there. They’ll also take into account how safe they felt inside the property. If you’re opting for dorm-style accommodations, this offers major peace of mind. More than once I’ve made my decision about hostels based on this feature. Anything less than an 8 (on a 10-point scale), and I book elsewhere.

Now, let’s talk about AirBnB. Many people are concerned about the safety of staying in random people’s spare rooms. I’ll admit that there have been problems on that front. However, AirBnB, to their credit, has done a lot to make sure that the landlords who list on their site are vetted and responsible. One thing they’ve done is to make it possible for guests to review the landlord on the site. So, if you’re interested in a room that you see on AirBnB, look at the reviews of the landlord before you hit book. If there is anything at all on the landlord review that gives you pause, don’t book with them. If something does happen while staying in one of these properties, you can complain directly to AirBnB, and they’ll block the landlord from listing again.

With this in mind, my friend and I are big fans of AirBnB, and when we went to Palma de Mallorca, we stayed in someone’s spare room. We were waffling between two different rooms, and ended up making our choice based on the reviews of the landlord. She was absolutely great, and we had no problems at all.

It might also be a good idea to invest in travel locks. I always carry luggage locks with me. Even one of those dinky TSA-approved luggage locks will prevent petty theft, which is the most common problem for travelers. If you’re going to be staying in people’s spare rooms through AirBnB, you might want to get a portable door alarm, which will let you know if someone tries to enter your room.


Price

This is the most obvious criterion for accommodations. If you’re on a budget, the place you stay is often the easiest place to save a few dollars. The whole point of hostels is to provide cheap accommodations for budget travelers, and they’re hugely popular with college students and backpackers for this very reason. Bearing this in mind, sometimes the cheaper option is a B&B or, if you’re with a group, an apartment on AirBnB.

When you go to booking sites, you’ll be able to search for accommodations on various criteria, including price. You can enter the maximum price you’d like to pay per night, and see only the results that match that price point.

Be sure to book as far in advance as possible to get the best rate. Just like with airplane tickets, the price of beds starts out cheap, then goes up, and then drops if they haven’t been booked. However, just like with airplane tickets, there might not be a bed available for you if you wait until the last minute. Don’t gamble. Book in advance.

Cleanliness

I’ve had bedbugs. TWICE. Trust me, you absolutely want to avoid them like the plague they are. You cannot get rid of these little suckers. The best way is to just avoid them altogether.

If you’re looking at hostels, Hostelworld.com has a cleanliness score that guests can submit for each property. This includes everything from the bedsheets to the floors to the kitchenware. I love this feature. I’m a fairly fastidious person, as anyone will tell you, and I’m terrified of getting bedbugs again. The cleanliness score is definitely one of my top considerations. It’s right at the top of each property listing, so you can’t miss it.

The reviews of any given property are also really helpful here. If there is any mention of bugs – any mention at all – run away. Like, click off that option as quick as you can.


Location

Always look at a map to see where a property is before you book it. I prefer properties that are within a few kilometers of the downtown area. After all, who wants to be a hour’s commute from all the stuff they want to see? The cheapest options are often the furthest options. In fact, they’re cheap precisely because they’re farther away from the good stuff.

Most of us are bound by public-transport when we travel. Look to see where the property is in relation to bus, tram, or subway stops before you book. In the big cities of Europe, hostels tend to cluster around subway and bus stops just outside the old town areas. That means that they’re outside the zones with expensive rents, making them cheaper options, but they’re still only a few minutes’ commute from all the attractions.

It’s not just the proximity to the stuff you want to see that you should consider. You’re going to be coming into town with a duffel or a backpack that is jammed full of your personal items. You need to make sure your accommodation is in a location that you can comfortably carry all that stuff to. Almost all places will let you leave your luggage with them before you check in, so it’s nice if your hostel is between the train station and the attractions you want to see.

Amenities

Budget travel options do not always have the best amenities. That being said, some of them have good amenities. You just need to decide which ones are most important to you.

Personally, I always look for breakfast included. I fully admit that I’m an absolute gremlin when I get hangry. This means that a healthy meal at the beginning of the day is important for the sanity of both myself and others. Breakfast in hostels is usually nothing special. It’s usually just yogurt and cornflakes, coffee and tea. Even so, it’s better than walking around a new city on an empty stomach.

Another thing to look for is linens. Some hostels do not provide towels, so if you’re planning on taking a shower, you’ll have to bring your own. Same goes for hairdryers and locks for the lockers. Some of these places may have these items available, but require a deposit for using them. Be prepared to part with a €5 note at the beginning of your stay if you need to use one.

Many hostels also organize activities for guests to take part in, like local walking tours or pub crawls. If that’s important to you, check for those!


Best Websites to Use

Here are my three favorite websites to use to find accommodations while traveling:

Hostelworld.com

Not only does every posting include scores for safety, cleanliness, value for money, staff, atmosphere, location, and facilities – which is a lot – but you also get better prices here than on other sites. Hostelworld.com offers options for free cancellation, a map of the location, and a comprehensive list of amenities. Also, their site seems to lead faster than others, which is an important consideration when relying on spotty hostel wifi.

AirBnB

There are many great options for all budgets on this site. Not only that, there are safety features built in, so you can make sure that you protect yourself while traveling. You can also find really interesting properties here – once, in Copenhagen, my friend and I stayed on a sloop. How cool is that?

Booking.com

This site offers multiple ways to search for accommodations, such as accommodation type, price point, and places of interest. Personally, I like them for hotels, although my mother has booked apartments and even entire houses with them. They also provide great support. When my parents got lost on the way to their accommodations in Palermo, Booking.com was able to help them contact the property manager and navigate them directly to the front door.

Bottom Line:

There are tons of options available for every price point and every kind of traveler. Look at the posting for a property carefully before booking. If there is anything at all about that posting that puts you off, don’t book it.


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