John Keats’ House and Garden, Keats Grove, Hamstead, London, England. Summer, 2013
So here we go to the second half of planning and budgeting the HOUSING part of your trip. Last week we covered the pros and cons of resorts, hotels, motels, and B&Bs. If you missed it, check it out here. Now we’ll get into the less conventional travel lodgings: hostiles, rentals, and couch surfing. Again I’ve done most of these though not necessarily under regular circumstances.
Our favorite hostile, Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer, 2012.
I’ve recently become a huge fan of hostiles. For the majority of my last trip, my sister and I spent every night in them ranging from bigger chains to individually owned locations. In case someone doesn’t know, a hostel is a place where you can rent anywhere from a single bed to a whole room based on the rules of the specific location. There are usually different kinds of rooms ranging in size from singles up to 20 something beds. Some rooms are public—if you are staying in that room, strangers will be in there with you—while others are private—you pay for the whole room like a single but may cost more because may be for more than a single person. Some are set up in suites—you have your bed, bath, and kitchen all in one room—to dorm styles—you have a bunch of beds in one room and a kitchen and bathroom in other areas of the hostel. Some hostels have rooms separated by sex while others are coed. Some hostels take up whole buildings while others are in the lowest floor of brownstones and they can be out in the boonies or in the busiest parts of a city. Basically, there are a lot of types of hostels and you can find them almost anywhere.
The biggest perk of hostels is the price. You can work around your budget by looking at which kind of room you can afford at that point in your trip. They are generally the lowest priced transient living quarters while still having the security of locks and keys and other travelers in similar situations as you. We started out our trip getting a single so we could get use to being away before sharing a room with anyone else—this ended up being perfect since our luggage got lost including our PJs…but more on that later when we cover packing. Our room wasn’t overly large but large enough for two of us sharing a bed and a closet to place our bags and any valuables in. We had a key to our room and no one else could get in. It was located a few blocks from Kennedy/Eyre square (depending on who you ask) in Galway which was pretty central to most of the places we were there to see.
So beyond affordable prices, generally good locations, access to kitchens, and meeting other travelers like you to keep company with are some of the pros of choosing hostels. Some even have washers (clothes, usually not dishwashers) that you can use—some for free and others for a low cost. Each hostels website will list what amenities they offer and whether they are for hire (cost) or free.
On the front of meeting other travelers, this is something that really made our trip. We were able to meet people, go out to a pub or show with them, share stories about where we’ve been and where we all were from, and then go our separate ways with great memories. Some we ran into more than once and so you have more laughs to share on the antics you’ve been up to since you last met. It’s like creating a new group of friends who all have one thing in common—you’re traveling and exploring and experience a common space. Most people we met were great and we felt really safe with everyone. However, just like anywhere you could be, beware because there are creepers everywhere (doesn’t mean it should spoil your trip, though!).
While I really do recommend hostels, there are some cons one must take into account. These residences are designed for travelers on a budget, leaning more to student types in their late teens through there twenties or those who don’t mind less than ideal lodgings. Sometimes showers run cold, windows look a little worse for wear, mattresses aren’t plush, and so on. When you look up hostels on travel or their individual websites, you’ll probably read through the reviews. Look at who wrote them and compare them to you. When I saw travelers’ reviews who considered themselves novices and were in their 40s but still chose to stay in a hostel, I took their words and complains with a grain of salt. Think about who these lodgings were made for before booking.
Unlike the other lodgings, you buy by the bed not the room (unless you are renting out a private suite or a single) so if there are a lot of people with you, splitting a hotel room may be cheaper, but you’d have to do the research and calculations on that to know for sure. In terms of cleaning, hostels are usually DIY (do it yourself). Some will have pre-made beds and others give you bedding to sort out yourself. After your stay, you gather your bedding and drop it in the laundry. If you cook, pots, pans, and utensils are supplied but you have to clean up after yourself. Basically, they supply the room, bed and things you’ll need in return for pulling your weight in personal chores.
Personally, I preferred non-chain hostels over chain ones. In our experience, because chains allow for larger hostels, staffs tend to be larger and that can cause cliques. Part of this comes from the ways people can be hired in this system. Unlike hotels or resorts, most workers in the hostel system aren’t there on a permanent basis or looking to get into the hospitality services. Many are also travelers who are pausing their travels to get some money during the travel season and then move on. This isn’t their profession so they aren’t necessarily all about careering to your every need.
The difference I found between the large and small systems is the difference my sister and I experience between Dublin, Ireland and Edinburgh, Scotland. In Dublin we stayed in a chain hostel—they had two locations in that single city—who seemed to have hired a whole group of people in their early twenties from Spain who seemed to only want to do their own thing. We enjoyed our stay there, but left feeling that we never really got to know many of the people who were also there; the longer term workers and residence didn’t interact with anyone who wasn’t in their group. In Edinburgh, we stayed in the Bus Station Backpackers hostile which is a small hostile in the middle of the city, an easy walk from the bus and train stations. The staff was small—I mean two people small—but right away, we felt like we were guests in a home; like family. Our first night we went out with Kiley and “Skippy” Jo as we lovingly refer to the young man who was just learning the ropes during our stay, and explored the city and a few of it’s pubs. It’s one of the places I would go back and visit to stay there again because I felt welcomed there.
Where you stay really shapes your trip, so picking the type of place you feel good about and in is a really important part of planning. This is the website
I recommend, but remember to read the terms of each hostile as some have requirements like a call or email the day before arriving to confirm.
Rentals are great for groups who are planning to stay in one place for longer than a few days. We stayed in a rented flat in London for a little over a week and have stayed in rented time shared in the US as well. When you have multiple people who don’t need the extra services manned lodgings have, this could be a cheap and easy choice. The definite pros are real independence and a real feel for the place your in. You are much less likely to run into your average touristy type or feel pressured to go out so a cleaning staff has a chance to get into your room. You will most likely spend less money on your food because you’ll be able to cook for yourself. These can equally be cons, however.
Just like with the hostels, you have to be willing to do a lot yourself, like cleaning up after yourself. You don’t see as many travelers so you are more or less on your own with the people you are rooming with. EVERYTHING is up to you; no left over guide books or brochures to plan with on the fly. Again, this is best for a long stay so if you’re passing through, I would pass on a rental as well. Just like everything else I’ve mentioned, you can find information on these for most anywhere by searching online.
I haven’t actively participated in this trend but through another traveling program I took part in did have a home stay section that was similar. This trend basically comes down to individuals renting out individual rooms or couches for a night or two—pretty temporary it seems—to strangers to make some extra money. This is probably the most adventurous but cheapest form of housing. Again, this isn’t something I have really experienced but people I know who’ve tried it have enjoyed the experience. My fear, of course, would be in security. This seems largely for individual travelers and you aren’t likely to run into anyone else traveling this way, and your security rests pretty solely on the strangers whose homes you are staying in. My best bit of advice if you would like to try this trend out for yourself would be to really research your selection. Try contacting someone who has stayed there before and contacting the residence. If anyone wants me to research more, let me know and yes, information can be found through internet searches.
Now, like I said in my last post, location is just as important as pricing! You may be spending less money on one place over another, but is it a huge advantage if you have to trek miles to see any of the places you’ve already book marked?
When you have made your selections (like hostiles over hotels) based on your research, start putting the possible selections for each town into your “HOUSING” tab. (Don’t forget to save the pages of these selections into your internet favorites; I recommend making a “travel” folder). After final decisions you can calculate the total housing costs to subtract from the total. This will let you know if you are under, over or on track for your overall expenditures. If you are on track, nice job and keep it up! If you’re under, even better. Enjoy spending that extra bit on the trip. If it’s too much, don’t worry. Go back over your budget. Maybe you can down grade some of the time; choose one of the less costly lodgings for places you’ll only be at a small portion of your travels. Why spend big if you’re not going to be there for very long?
And remember, the amount of money you put into your lodging should reflect how much time you expect to spend at that location. So, if you are only sleeping at a high-end and high priced hotel while you sleep and are running around outside the rest of the time, do you need to spend the big bucks? Think economically but only to the point where you are comfortable. After all, if you can’t sleep due to lacking accommodations, saving money won’t help all that much any way. All things in moderation.
And, as always,
I’m leave-on-the-wind, helping you soar