8 Alternatives to Staying in a Hotel

By: Kirsten Schlewitz

One of the excuses people often give for not traveling often is the expense. Fortunately, there’s now a wide range of alternatives to traditional hotel stays, which often ate up a large part of the traveler’s budget. And no, we’re not just talking about dormitory rooms in hostels. Here we’ve found 8 great alternatives to hotels that allow travelers to immerse themselves in other cultures, get their hands dirty, or simply stay in a really, really cool place.


8. Curl Up Right Inside the Airport

Most of us have been there: a flight is delayed, or canceled, or there’s simply no way to get from point A to point B without spending the night waiting inside the airport. But in some cases, voluntarily spending the night in the airport might actually make a lot of sense. Those with early morning flights who want to save cash should take a look at The Guide to Sleeping in Airports to find out whether it’s possible to catch a good night’s sleep in their desired locale. Some airports offer reclining lounges, armrest-free seating, and even sleep pods and dedicated rest zones. Keep an eye on amenities as well: with everything from showers and free WiFi to airport museums, brewery tours and swimming pools, travelers might wonder why they’re bothering to leave the airport at all.

Sleeping in airport

7. Secure an Entire Apartment (or a cottage, houseboat, or even a windmill)

Any seasoned traveler knows about Airbnb, and is probably using it to, at a minimum, compare room rates to those of nearby hotels. But there are other options out there as well, including VRBO, which will search across all the HomeAway vacation rentals to find the perfect property, and FlipKey, which partners with TripAdvisor and offers trip planners the option to choose rentals in categories such as “lakefront,” “luxury,” or “kid-friendly.” And for those that want a truly unique experience, intriguing properties abound. It’s possible to stay in a windmill in Santorini, Greece, for example, whil the Netherlands has plenty of houseboats on offer. There’s a water tower for rent in London, or a treehouse in Tuscany. Perhaps the ultimate indulgence, though, is the Downton Abbey-esque Scottish castle, which goes for $1170 per night.

I AM NIKOM / Shutterstock.com
I AM NIKOM / Shutterstock.com

6. Become Part of the Family

For anyone looking to really immerse themselves in the culture of the region they’re about to visit, arranging a home stay is an ideal solution. And no, we’re not talking about renting a room in someone’s house, a la Airbnb. To learn what life is like in another country, it’s best to be part of the action, smack dab in the middle of a family. This helps a visitor learn not just the language, but customs and traditions. Those staying with families get an idea of what an average citizen might eat, drink, read, watch, and even talk about, all while spending much less money than they might on a hotel room. To arrange a home stay, it’s best to search the country or city desired, along with “home stay”, as few sites exist that group these options throughout the world. The experience is worth the effort, however.

Arriving for home stay

5. Get Back to Nature

There’s no rule that says travelers must leave behind their camping gear when heading across international borders. Of course, it might be a pain to lug a tent and camp stove around, but imagine just grabbing a sleeping bag and waking up under the stars, thousands of miles from home. Of course, there’s a bit of risk to laying your bag down in just any old space. Fortunately, there are sites like Gamping, which advocates “Garden Camping,” in which travelers can find themselves a spot of land on which to rest their weary heads. If staying just outside a private home doesn’t appeal, take that risk and try wild camping. Seek out trails near lakes, in the hills, or simply follow the ocean to an isolated spot. Trust in your instincts – they’ll let you know if a place is safe to spend the night.

Camping at Lake


4. Try and Snag a House Sitting Gig

We’re not going to lie – it’s not all that easy to get a prime house sitting gig, especially if you’ve never done it before. But for those looking to be both immersed in a culture and maintain their privacy, house sitting is definitely the best option. It’s also great for travelers who are willing to be flexible about their destination and dates: simply visit a site like Mind My House and browse until a listing appeals to you. There’s an application process and a registration fee, but $20 seems like nothing when the result is two weeks (or more) spent in someone’s lovely home. Trusted Housesitters offers up the chance to bond with pets while the owner is away – sometimes for months at a time, so any animal lovers looking for the chance to experience living abroad, without paying for an apartment, should definitely consider this option.

House Sitting

3. Lend a Hand on a Farm

For those with a bit of energy to burn, staying at a working farm just might be the perfect alternative to a hotel. In exchange for a free place to sleep, volunteers pledge a certain number of hours they’ll spend helping out around the farm. While it’s possible to set up such stays individually, it’s far easier to go through an organization that helps connect volunteers to hosts. One recommendation is WWOOF which, despite its name, has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with organic farms. WWOOFers can sign up for farms in over 100 countries, where they’ll volunteer 4-6 hours of their time per day, and in exchange receive meals and accommodation. Depending on the location desired, those interested can learn about everything from beekeeping in Argentina to pineapple cultivation in Togo to helping educate schoolchildren in the Philippines.

GillianVann / Shutterstock.com
GillianVann / Shutterstock.com

2. Make a New Friend, Crash on Their Couch

Saving money on traveling by sleeping on someone’s couch for a few nights used to be much more difficult. You needed to know someone in the city you wanted to visit or, failing that, be a charmer who could entice a local to let you crash at their place. But with websites like CouchSurfing, it’s now a whole lot easier to find a free place to stay. But be warned: the idea behind CouchSurfing isn’t simply to show up at someone’s apartment, drool all over their pillows and set off for the bus station at dawn. Most hosts expect a little interaction, whether it’s a chance to practice their language skills or to sample a meal their guest has prepared. In return, though, these lovely people will give more than just a couch – perhaps a bike tour of their city or the opportunity to hang out with their friends in a pub a tourist would never discover on their own.

Sleeping on couch

1. Be a princess or a prisoner – your choice!

Anyone who wants a great story to share with jealous friends upon returning from their adventures should try their best to seek out unique accommodations. And while infinity pools stretching to turquoise oceans would certainly impress an audience, it’s not necessary to have a similarly infinite budget in order to find cool digs. It’s possible to pay hostel prices, yet sleep in rooms carved into caves in Goreme, Turkey; stay underground in Coober Pedley, Australia; or inside a renovated jet in Stockholm, Sweden. Two other extremely cool hostel options are that of St. Briavels Castle in Gloucestershire, England, which encourages guests to imagine themselves as traveling lords and ladies, and Hostel Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which goes to the other extreme, allowing guests to lock themselves behind bars at night, just like the inhabitants of this former prison.

evantravels / Shutterstock.com
evantravels / Shutterstock.com