Thursday, May 15, 2014

Newsflash: Hotels are Out; Apartment Rentals are In

One of the biggest draws of spending time studying abroad -- especially in European countries -- is TRAVEL. For many students, a semester or year abroad is their first introduction to international travel; understandably, they want to take advantage of their time and see as many of the sites as possible! Unfortunately, this type of adventure can come with a pretty hefty price tag. Students can maximize their budget by taking advantage or free museum admission and discounted plane tickets (thanks, Ryan Air!), but the cost of a hotel room -- even for one night -- can be a tough pill to swallow. That's why I recommend alternate accommodations. Although a little less orthodox than a typical hotel, these options -- from courchsurfing to hostels to apartment rentals -- allow students and other travelers on a budget the chance to save their cash for the things that really matter. (Food.)

I know that not everybody is a fan of alternative travel accommodations ... one Google search for "AirBNB horror stories" is enough to convince anybody to look skeptically at apartment rentals! But my own experiences with alternative accommodations have been, overall, extremely positive. I've found them to be both fun and practical: even a young traveler on a budget can benefit from the current popularity of apartment rentals!

Types of Alternative Accommodations

The list of different types of alternative accommodations is as long as the list of reasons why you should use them! There are a wide variety of alternative accommodations that span a wide degree of price and privacy.

First up, there's Couchsurfing, the website that the tattooed guy you met in Amsterdam couldn't stop talking about. The site is a "hospitality exchange" that allows travelers to stay for free with hosts; although no money changes hands, guests are encouraged to share their own cultural expertise with their hosts. Or something like that. I have never "couch-surfed" ... and if we're being honest, I don't think I ever will. The idea requires a certain type of recklessness confidence that I just don't possess. Bottom line: although the site comes with its fair share of safety concerns, people who use it tend to swear by it.

Another hugely popular alternative accommodation among young travelers and backpackers is the youth hostel, or auberge de jeunesse. Guests rent a bed in either single, double, or dormitory-style rooms and usually have access to a communal bathroom and kitchen. (Single rooms offer the highest degree of safety and privacy, but dormitory-style rooms are the least expensive.) Hostels range in price, depending on location, quality, and amenities, but tend to be much less expensive than traditional hotels. While some hostels offer an inclusive package, the average hostel tends to be a little more spartan ... unwitting guests can wind up being charged for everything from breakfast to bedding! To ensure safety and quality, it's generally recommended that potential guests stick to certified hostels (like those on Hostel World or Hostelling International). Bottom line: a hostel can be a great alternative accommodation option, but only if you do your research.

If you're travelling with your family or a sizable group of friends, an apartment rental might be the way to go. While many home rental sites cater to an exclusive clientele, there are many websites that offer an affordable apartment rental experience. Two of the most popular rental sites on the web right now are HomeAway and AirBNB.

After a successful first experience in Paris last October, I used AirBNB for almost all of my travels, including stops in Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. I've never used HomeAway, but my impression is that it is a slightly more hands-on service that provides its customers with a certain degree of security. (The sample case that tends to be used in comparisons is a booking that falls through at the last minute: while AirBNB will refund your money, HomeAway will take the additional step of arranging a replacement.) Additionally, while AirBNB offers both apartment and private room rentals, HomeAway deals exclusively in entire properties.

Things to Remember

It's important to remain realistic.
Along with the high price tag of a hotel comes the assurance of at least some degree of customary service; this is a perk that you might not always find with alternative accommodations.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Check out reviews and don't be afraid to ask hosts specific questions in order to make sure that you know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Are you interested in signing up for an account with AirBNB? (You'll need one if you want to travel or rent out your own space.) Go to If you register for an account with this link, you'll get $25 off your first qualifying rental and -- full disclosure -- I'll become eligible for a discount on an upcoming trip!

Have you used AirBNB or any of the other alternative accommodations discussed in this post? Comment and tell me about your experience!

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