Travel is hard on the body, and for me, a good night’s sleep is essential. Generally, I prefer to wake up surrounded by luxury, at either a four-or five-star accommodation in the heart of a city. For years, I steered clear of hotel alternatives for fear of giving up comfort just to save a few dollars.
While many cheaper options do just that, we are happy to report that there are alternatives to hotels that don’t require a lifestyle sacrifice but rather expand our cultural learning.
Check out our list below. For readers keeping a close eye on the budget, we concluded our list with several money-saving hotel alternatives.
Whether you are headed out for long-term travel, or just going for the weekend, read on.
Hotel alternatives: Community-based cultural immersion
If you are a homeowner and comfortable without a concierge in a new city, then a home swap may be for you. In its simplest form, you trade your home (and sometimes car) with another family for a selected amount of time. As you see photos of the house and talk with the potential partners before agreeing on the exchange, the level of luxury is up to you.
While this is a great way to travel internationally, in many ways, it’s even better for domestic travel.
To date, we have swapped our New Zealand home three times, ranging from a two-week exchange to one that lasted nearly nine months.
The hidden bonus is that when we live in a home, we can participate in local community events. Thus, we become a part of our own adventure rather than just looking on as a tourist. Don’t miss our best tips for a successful home exchange or head to HomeExchange.com to start your adventure.
Similar, but different, many people also try house sitting.
Hotel alternatives: Luxury
Take a cruise
Like hotels, the level of luxury is rated with the number of stars and your choice of cabin. If you want the best, it will cost you. However, we have always been happy with a balcony cabin on a 4-5 star cruise line like Princess or Azamara.
To date, we have spent over 160 days at sea and have lots of cruising tips to share. If your goal is luxury, book early and select a suite or balcony cabin midship. However, if budget is your top priority and you can be flexible, book late and get a great deal. We once sailed with one week’s notice at 74% off the booking price. Regardless of an early or late booking, we always find the best deals at Cruise Direct.
Stay in a castle
What could be better than staying in a castle or a palace? While this option often requires a bit of planning, there are several interesting options around the world. In Spain, they are called Paradores and can be booked here.
All-inclusive resort and spa holiday
While many people think of these as hotels, they are much more. All-inclusive resorts are like land cruises. Everything you need is in one place, and you can stay and enjoy watersports, meals, drinks (often an extra fee), games, crafts, massage, and more. This is a vacation. An opportunity to relax and be pampered.
Of course, the option to leave is always there, so you can discover the town, region, or area you are visiting. Or not. It’s up to you.
Bed and Breakfast
Bed & breakfast is exactly what it sounds like, at least it is traditionally. Now you have to read the fine print, as some include a hot cooked breakfast in the main part of the owner’s home, and some leave a cold brekkie in the fridge.
To me, the best thing about a Bed and Breakfast has always been meeting and talking with the owners. We love getting a local’s perspective, and we seek this out when we explore BnB options.
We often find fabulous BnBs on booking.com, although in New Zealand (our home country), we use BookABach.
Hotel alternatives: Money-saving ideas that may have nicer options than you thought
Backpackers and hostels
While the traditional backpackers have bunk/dorm rooms and shared bathrooms, we found many offer family rooms with private baths. There is nearly always a shared kitchen and lounge, so they are great for meeting other travellers. Most of the backpackers we encountered were friendly and welcoming.
The exception was in Munich when the response to a question I asked was to be told I was probably too old to be staying there (they had family rooms, so who were they expecting?)
Cabins at campsites
I was surprised to discover that many campsites worldwide offer cabins with private bathrooms and sometimes self-contained kitchens. One of our favourite get-away spots is Papamoa Beach Resort, a campsite in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty where we can stay in an affordable, self-contained, private ocean-front villa with a deck.
Best of all, we have access to the shared facilities and the added benefit of the camaraderie of other travellers. Or, we can keep to ourselves and enjoy our luxury getaway.
Originally short for “glamourous camping”, glamping while still in a tent just doesn’t feel that way. The initial photo on this page highlights the interior of the glamping tent just below.
Difficult to tell on the outside, the unit has solid wood floors, a small kitchen, and a private bathroom. It even has a loft area with an overhead flap so you can sleep under the stars without the bugs if you choose.
Hotel alternatives: Ultra budget ideas you may not have thought of before
The name sounds funny, but the concept is successful. People offer a no strings attached place to sleep in their home, sometimes in a spare room, sometimes a spare apartment, and sometimes on a couch. Couchsurfing has its own membership site.
Many convents, monasteries, churches, and temples open their doors to guests. Sometimes for free, often for a small to a moderate fee. Sometimes there is a prayer requirement, but not always.
They can be found throughout the world. Accommodation will be clean, yet plain. There may be rules and curfews. You can learn more about this at Monastery Stays.com (we haven’t tried this yet).
Another option that I haven’t used since I was in my early 20s is academic housing. Did you know that worldwide, many universities offer a cheap overnight stay in their unused dorm rooms during the offseason?
Farmstays and WWOOF
Farmstays and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) are working holidays. In exchange for either free or more affordable travel accommodation, guests help out with certain chores. However, many farm stays are becoming more tourist-focused, so the rates will be more in line with other local options, but activities like horse riding might be included.
Pitch a tent
While tent camping is a great way to save money, it’s not for me. However, it’s often ideal for many budget-conscious travellers.
Final thoughts on hotel alternatives
While we still stay in hotels the vast majority of the time, there are plenty of alternatives to hotels out there that don’t require us to give up a good night’s sleep. But, the real advantage of the alternatives is usually the opportunity to meet locals and better embrace the culture.
Have you discovered any new hotel alternatives for your next travels?
Save on your trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or VRBO (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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Which of these hotel alternatives will you try?
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Staying in a castle would be awesome. I know when we stayed in Fiji we were in a resort which had 2 sides; the family side and the quiet side. At first after staying 2 nights in the first we heard people have arguments with each other and children up at 6am so we switched to the latter – was much quieter and nicer.
I would love to stay in that castle! I actually prefer simpler accommodation to expensive hotels. I think the more rustic the place is, the more character it has. I’m not big on camping though!
Great post, Rhonda – I am definitely an advocate for all kinds of accommodation to suit the occasion. I think the only kind I’ve never tried from this list is on campus accommodation while traveling or house-swapping. I’d love to house swap, but I had always been unsure that I would find a good match as I don’t live in the capital or in a big city. I guess you never know… I should probably try it anyway 🙂
what a fabulous post-you put a lot of energy into this! Thanks!
I’m intrigued by the monasteries!
I actually got to stay in a castle in Tuscany! It was through a Groupon deal, so it was a small castle, but still counts haha. I ‘ve never tried the home swap thing but I think that sounds like such a great idea!
Great list of alternatives. We once stayed in a wine barrel in Slovenia. The castle in Spain sounds good.
L. Diane Wolfe
One of our B&B was an old railway car and it was so neat!
There are many options to choose instead of hotels, love your suggestions. I have tried guesthouses , home stays and Bed and Breakfast too other than hotels. I decide according to my budget and where my sightseeing locations are located. Love this post !
I had no idea that you could stay in religious accommodation! I would definitely be up for staying in a castle.
Great post! I have been considering house swapping, I live in Daytona Beach. I also like the idea of renting dorm housing too. Great tips!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
You’ve sold me on staying in a castle! I have stayed in a lot of bed and breakfasts. I remember them being much cheaper and much nicer than hotels in the UK.
Hi Rhonda – I presume a re-post … my days of travel are probably just about over … but I do admire those who are adventurous. You’ve given everyone a great list of ideas … when they can all get back out there … but home is in most ways best – stay safe – Hilary
Linda Jo Martin
My strangest hosteling experience was at the bastille in Quebec City, Canada. I think it was in 1971… it was weird enough to spend the night in an old prison, but we arrived on the eve of St. John’s Day and there were revelers up all night long celebrating, right there in the bastille. I got little sleep, and the place was extremely crowded.
These are wonderful alternatives to hotels you have compiled, Rhonda. I’ve often wanted to stay in a B&B. Once, back in the late 1970s, hubby & I went on a Marriage Encounter Weekend in California and stayed at Mission San Miguel founded in 1797. Very minimal accommodations in room with twin beds & dresser & not much else – shared bathrooms down the hall, no TV, radio, etc., but that was the whole purpose. The weekend was one to focus on each other as a couple, not to have distractions! Meals were prepared by the Franciscan monks who live there and the food was fantastic. The Mission itself is so interesting. It was a wonderful weekend! So I can tell that staying in a Monastery would be just as interesting. I enjoyed your article and will remember these hotel alternatives for any future travel.
Staying in a monastery sounds promising! I would love to try that! 🙂
Thanks for the tips! We’re always look for a hotel with a pool, our kids a little fish!
Troy A. Gray
If you have planned your trip yourself, which means you have not decided to use a package from a travel agent, sometimes finding accommodation when you arrive is the best option.
These are all fantastic options… I should probably watch less horror movies tho. Because I could see something horrible going wrong in every scenario. But I’ll still go.. I’m weird like that!!
I’m a fan of cruises and B&Bs.
Never tried anything other than hotels– but these sound like nice tips.
Hi Rhonda .. great tips .. love the alternatives available .. and wondered how long you needed to book for each? Some must be overnight possibilities, other must be a month at a time I guess …
… and I see you’re off in less than a week – enjoy … cheers Hilary
All can be any length of time. Home Exchanges and house sits tend to be a week to a few months (we did a 9 month home exchange last year). However, they are what ever you agree on. We once had a home exchange request for a weekend. The other options tend to be shorter.
Good tips Rhonda I’m looking forward to hearing about your new travel stories and photos 🙂
Have a fantabulosa week 😉
The experiences you all have had blow me away. I look forward to hearing more
Great alternatives, and it worked out well that you already got to see a lot of Barcelona before your ship set sail. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure. Let me know if you’re planning a hometown visit, as it would be fun to see you!
LOL- We love tent camping, a Bedouin tent would be awesome. You have so much fun. I said it before-adopt me please.
Sounds like you found some great alternatives for places to stay.
Great list. We are about to do our first home exchange. We decided to give it a try after you wrote about your one in Spain.
Book late for cruises – that’s good to know!
I knew about bed and breakfasts and student hostel accommodations from living in London. (And traveling there of course.) Much cheaper than hotels.
I don’t have any alternative. Our boat? That’s about the only other place we stay if we aren’t traveling. If we are traveling we stay in hotels. I want my comfort.
Have a terrific day. 🙂