Hotels & Airbnb properties are not the only options available to travellers, be they short-term or long-term travellers. Don't get me wrong, I love staying in hotel accommodation. But also I like to broaden my horizons and experience new things.
When most people think of hotel alternatives these days, Airbnb will likely spring to mind. Some people love the home sharing service so much that they’ve forgotten what a hotel costs (hint: often less than an Airbnb these days). They just keep paying higher prices for someone’s spare room. But Airbnb rental prices are no longer the most attractive feature of the website. In fact, Millenials prefer hotels to Airbnb in 2018. I use Airbnb all the time and it's great. But it's not cheap and the most interesting rooms are either booked or well out of my price range.
But there are alternatives to Airbnb and hotels that you might not know about. If you're looking for an exciting place to sleep at night or a cool spot to hang out during the day, try some of these unusual places to stay.
Alternative Accommodation Options For The Adventurous Traveller
Finding accommodation is easy if you know where to look. Don't settle for ordinary.
Couchsurfing – For Backpackers And Chatty People.
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-driven 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
With almost 60,000 rooms in 160 countries, Homestay is a great option for people that like a more immersive travel experience. With Airbnb, you rent someone's apartment or room, but Homestay is a little different. The service offers a way for travellers to stay with families that have spare rooms in their houses or apartments. Renting a room gives you not only a place to stay but a connection to the locals.
Travel has changed a lot in the past 20 years. I can move around the world staying in clean apartments, eating food from back home, all the while staying connected to friends and family back home. To take it to the extreme, it's now possible to travel without having a single local experience. Homestay is the antidote. Meet the locals, learn a little, enjoy a welcoming place to stay, and make your trip a little more interesting.
House Sitting – For Dog Lovers And Local Culture Lovers
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.
House Exchange – For Home Owners and Families
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 is a home exchange service that lets you contact 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.
HomeAway's 2 million properties in 190 countries (pretty much all of them) gives you a lot of options. Homeaway is part of a network of vacation rental property websites that include VRBO (the Airbnb alternative). Lots to choose from here.
Monastery Stay – For History Fans & Culture Vultures
Go Full Monk with A Monastery Stay! Sleeping in a monastery might not be top of your bucket list but it's a viable solution to finding accommodation. And it might turn out to be a highlight of your trip. Monastery stays were once a common accommodation option. Long distance travellers 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.
Staying on a Kibbutz isn't for everyone. But if you are able-bodied and can commit to a few months, living on a kibbutz Israel 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. I've seen Kibbutzim with swimming pools and restaurants and all the other mod cons you might expect from a resort. But the focus 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 – For Outdoor Enthusiasts
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.
Happy Glamping – For Flashpackers & Instagram Fiends
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.
Expect to see more ‘conkers' to rent in the near future. Conker Living is a new living space concept that has grabbed people's attention. Think of it as a sort of space-age glamping Airbnb alternative. Designed as a sort of a garden building, conker living pods are perfect for the digital nomad, adventurous, low maintenance travelling types
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.
Checkout Glamping Hub for a large collection of Glamping grounds.
Minivan, Bus & Car Sleeping – For The Free Spirits
I once lived in the back of a Toyota Corolla for 4 months, while travelling around New Zealand's North and South Islands. 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 offers good advice on buying a car or van to travel around New Zealand. Backpackaround has 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.
Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I've been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.