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Six Cheap Alternatives to Staying in a Hotel

Joan PabonFeb 9, 2018

Some might argue, and not without reason, that there is a considerable difference between tourists and travelers. While a tourist might prefer comfort and convenience over experience, a traveler will generally seek opportunities to explore and enjoy their intended destination as locals do, authentically and without much fanfare. If you’re craving authenticity or are simply traveling on a budget, here you’ll find some alternatives to staying in a ritzy hotel.

While checking into a clean, comfortable hotel may be tempting for most people traveling for work reasons or with family, aspiring globetrotters and frequent travelers may prefer a more down-to-earth experience that allows them to mingle with locals and discover hidden gems oblivious tourists are likely to miss out on. Aside from obvious choices like staying with family, friends, or mutual acquaintances, there are several different alternative lodgings that could be worth your time and money. Here’s a few of them:

Short-term Rentals

Short-term rentals refer to various types of rental properties, from more traditional options like rooms and apartments to alternative housing and high-end lodgings. There are currently several online hospitality networks that allow users to rent or lease various types of accommodations around the world. Among the most well-known short-term rental marketplaces in the industry is Airbnb, which offers a comprehensive list of properties from rooms and apartments to castles, treehouses, and whole islands. Their site provides an extensive range of options for travelers and adventurers and even allows users to make reservations with local restaurants and explore popular activities or "experiences" they could have in their destination of choice. Travelers who shop for short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeStay can also opt to share the property with their host and learn about Country's language and culture from the locals themselves.

Pros: Short-term rentals offer a host of affordable options for budget travelers. Those looking for greater privacy or wanting a homier experience are sure to find this option a perfect fit.

Cons: Some potential drawbacks about short-term rentals are having to share the space with the host and perhaps his or her family if you're on a tight budget, and that cleaning services are not included unless the host provides them for an extra fee.

Vacation Rentals and Timeshares

Vacations rentals are another great alternative to staying in a hotel. These types of accommodations are typically fully furnished apartments, houses, condominiums, villas, or cottages. Some rentals, particularly higher-end villas, often include maintenance, housekeeping, concierge services, and additional amenities such as secondary motor vehicles, watercraft, pools, hot tubs, home theaters, you name it. Timeshares, on the other hand, differ from your typical vacation rental home in that they are owned by multiple individuals who share the house and agree to use it for pre-established periods every year. Joint owners also share the responsibility of covering maintenance fees and home repairs. Some timeshares are use rights only, meaning the person leasing the property doesn't own any part or share of its value.

Pros: Vacation homes and timeshares can be an excellent alternative for large groups and families who want to vacation together in a more intimate setting. Since they come fully furnished and include appliances and other small comforts you would find in your own home or primary residence, either of these types of properties could be ideal safe havens for families and friends craving a weekend getaway or extended vacation.

Cons: If you're not splitting the cost with travel companions, rental homes and timeshares can be much more expensive than hotels. Price isn't the only consideration to keep in mind; if you value convenience over comfort or simply want more things to do, a hotel may still be a better deal.

Inns and B&Bs

Inns and bed and breakfasts are a good option for those looking for smaller, low-key accommodations as well as food and/or drink. The main difference between these types of lodgings is their size and what they offer. While bed and breakfasts are typically converted private homes, they tend to be smaller and serve free breakfast only. In contrast, Inns are larger, dedicated establishments comprised of a dozen or more rooms and sometimes a common hall for food and drink. While some inns include breakfast and/or dinner with the cost of the room, others charge additionally for such services, as would a hotel or restaurant. These types of accommodations, particularly bed and breakfasts, vary greatly and can be as conventional as any multi-unit home or as unconventional as manors and "boatels."

Pros: Inns and bed & breakfasts are a safe and comfortable alternative to staying in noisy, crowded hotel chains. In addition to being more affordable, these types of accommodations typically include food and offer some hotel-like comforts, like cleaning services, cushy furniture, and private bathrooms, while coming closer to the ideal of local authenticity.

Cons: Inns and B&Bs mostly cater to people traveling alone or in pairs who are looking for a peaceful and quiet place to rest and recharge. As such, these lodgings are not ideal for large families or those traveling with young children.


Hostels are best for young backpackers or seasoned travelers who plan to be out and about exploring their destination and simply need a place to rest and recharge at the end of the day. As one of the most budget-friendly alternatives to hotels, these establishments are often gathering places for globetrotters, adventurers, and interesting individuals from all walks of life. Hostels offer communal accommodations, meaning sleeping quarters, kitchens and bathrooms are shared with other guests. Some hostels provide lockers or some form of storage for personal belongings, yet that's as private as it gets.

Pros: Again, hostels are among the cheapest lodging alternatives available and could be excellent places to socialize and find temporary travel companions. These accommodations are also much more flexible about booking than hotels and inns, and some even offer social and cultural opportunities like group outings, tours, and game nights.

Cons: Since hostels are more akin to student dormitories than hotels, they may not be the best alternative for those looking for peace, quiet, and limited human interaction. Other potential drawbacks to staying at hostels are the fact that private bathrooms cost a little extra and guests are required to clean up after themselves, especially after cooking. Those considering this option are advised to keep a sharp eye on their personal belongings when communal accommodations must be shared with very large groups., as sharing living quarters with so many other travelers can leave one vulnerable to pilfering.

Homestays and Home Exchange

Homestays and home exchange are probably the most inexpensive alternative to staying at a hotel. The homestay system, which accepts both barter and currency, is quite simple: a host opens up his or her home to a guest, and the guest repays the gesture by agreeing to serve as host for them at a later time, through monetary compensation, or by cleaning, cooking or performing other housekeeping services. Homestays can be arranged through an organization or directly between the interested parties, who will agree upon the kind of accommodation, the length of the stay, and the remuneration. Home exchange programs also follow this model, but are typically membership-based and take the concept of homestays a step further by allowing members to swap houses, all for a minimum annual fee.

Pros: Homestays are very inexpensive and can even cost less than a night in a hotel. For the price of a membership fee, travelers can choose from homes across the world and have a true cultural experience with a host or host family. Hosts often provide meals and transportation, so this option is great for students looking to travel abroad or anyone wanting to experience life as locals in another country do.

Cons: Since homestay services and organizations vet their pool of participants and hosts carefully, there is very little chance you will end up having a disagreeable experience. However, you'll be expected to respect your host's property and rules, regardless of your age. Homestays may not be a good option for people who are unwilling to learn or practice a new language.

Religious Housing and Academic Housing

Academic and religious housing rental is yet another alternative to the hustle and bustle of hotel chains. Lodging with a religious organization such as theological schools and monasteries can be inexpensive and offer an excellent opportunity for introspection in simple, peaceful surroundings. Colleges and universities also rent out dorms and other types of accommodations during holidays and in the summer.

Pros: If you're looking for a quiet retreat that is ideal for contemplation or meditation, religious lodgings may be an option worth considering. Academic housing, on the other hand, may only be an option for those traveling to college towns or seeking fast-paced environments with plenty of places to eat and drink.

Cons: While staying in a monastery or an accommodation provided by a religious organization can be peaceful, these types of lodgings have very few luxuries, and some can be almost austere. The same can go for academic housing. If you're looking for comfort and amenities, a hotel or B&B could be your best bet.

Although there's nothing wrong with staying at a hotel, immersing oneself in another culture and learning about the traditions of others can expand our horizons and teach us to view the world and those around from a new perspective. Becoming a world traveler isn't only about visiting many countries, it's also about experiencing those places and letting them change us for the better, yet that requires open-mindedness and flexibility. If you're looking to try something new, meet locals and learn their ways, or simply contribute to the local economy of your country of destination, we encourage you to consider these alternatives.