The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Budget Accommodation
Not all forms of budget accommodation are created equal.
You’re planning a trip. Exciting! Time to piece together something that resembles a travel budget. Flights, check. Activities, organised. Transport, sorted. Then we get to the pricey matter of where you’ll be resting your head. Accommodation is arguably the biggest expense for mid to long-term travellers and minimising these costs can go a long way to keeping travel affordable.
So, which options are available to adventurers that don’t have friends and family, with blow-up mattresses or comfy couches, dotted around the globe? I’ve stayed in various forms of budget accommodation; saving thousands as a result. These are primarily made of from Hostels, Airbnb’s, House sitting residences and Couchsurfing homes. Each method has their positives and negatives, but all will save you bundles, compared to staying in the more costly alternatives.
Let’s begin with the classic backpacker melting pot…
The Good – Location, location, location.
Famous (and infamous) stories of hostel life are a pre-requisite for backpackers and long-term trekkers. They’re typically the first place weary travellers catch some z’s when they arrive at a new destination. Apart from socialising with like-minded people and the all-night happy hours, convenience is the major attraction for most hostels. They’re typically found in the heart of the action; alongside famous monuments and close to all the must-try activities. It’s easy to roll out of your bunk, grab an often complimentary breakfast and hit the streets running.
The Bad – Watch for dirt traps.
Because of the high influx of bodies passing through their doors, hostels are notoriously unhygienic, especially in dorms with a high number of bunks. Yes, this is a stereotype, and, yes, there are some super clean, super new backpackers out there, but I’m always wary heading into new hostels. The workers, who clean the rooms, are ordinarily just other guests who exchange their accommodation for services; not professional cleaners. There’s no shame in showering with ‘thongs’ (flip-flops or jandals for the non-Australians); tinea isn’t an enjoyable travel takeaway.
The Ugly – Irritating roommates.
I’ve met some of the most genuine, free-spirited people in hostels, however, you have to take the good traits with the painfully bad. On a trip to Melbourne, I shared a dorm with a student visiting from Hong Kong. We had a great conversation about where we’d been, what we’d seen and where our adventures were taking us next. We even owned the same camera! Then bedtime arrived and I realised why he had previously been in the dorm room alone. The noises he made at night were unfathomable. His nostrils noises were a cross between a grizzly bear giving birth, a chair scraping along gravel, a pool suction cleaner and horse with the flu. Due to this unbearable snoring cacophony, I got zero sleep and was, unsurprisingly, an ungainly mess in the morning.
The Good – Luxurious getaway.
Fortunately, my infatuation with travel and the ‘house-sharing movement’ both gained traction at the same time. As a result, I’ve stayed in Airbnb accommodation right from ‘the beginning’. It’s like staying in a serviced apartment, without the exorbitant price. Perfect for when you need a break from crowded backpackers. With over 3 million registered houses across the globe, there’s no shortage of choice.
The Bad – They can get pricey.
As far as ‘budget travel’ goes, Airbnb is easily the most expensive. While you still save a packet, compared to staying in hotels and motels (especially in more expensive cities), you chew through your funds much faster than the other forms of budget accommodation.
The Ugly – They can also be unpredictable.
Airbnb’s aren’t as reliable or regulated as other paid forms of budget accommodation. While travelling through Germany, with an old girlfriend, we organised to stay at a lovely high-rise Airbnb apartment for a couple of nights, in Cologne. However, despite feverishly ringing the doorbell, for over half an hour, on arrival there was no response. The owner wasn’t answering her phone, and we honestly didn’t know whether we had a place to stay that night. Being stranded in a foreign country was not on our to-do list. Eventually, a bell-chiming bicycle carrying the owner, her shopping and our keys came flying around the corner, much to our relief.
The Good – They’re more or less free.
If you’ve flicked through the ‘Journal’ section of the blog, you’ll know I tend to wax lyrical about House Sitting. When it comes to saving money on accommodation and long-term travel, it may be the perfect approach. It’s generally absolutely free (including bills), and ‘sits’ spanning longer than a month are very common. How awesome is that! There is a whole host of additional house sitting benefits, here are my top 5.
The Bad – You need to be disciplined.
With great (money saving) power, comes great responsibility. I think Spiderman said that. Or was it his Uncle Ben? Anyway, I’m sure they both knew that nothing if life comes for ‘free’. More often than not, sitters will be required to take care of the home-owners animals and maintain the property. This means you need to behave yourself; no week-long benders or extended periods away from the house.
The Ugly – There are always unforeseeable circumstances.
Accidents do happen, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. Touch wood, I’ve been lucky on my journey, thus far, and nothing has gone ‘cat’astrophically wrong. However, two long-time house sitting buddies of mine, regrettably, had to call their holidaying home-owners and pass on the news that their cat had sadly been run over by a passing car. Not a pleasant situation. All you can do is minimise the risk and deliver the house, pets and belongings in the best possible condition for their return.
The Good – A strong sense of community.
While Couchsurfing also holds the tag of ‘free accommodation’, it’s the online community that separates this budget accommodation from the others. Couchsurfer travellers, as a rule, are extremely open-minded and hospitable. This accommodation isn’t simply about ‘finding a place to crash’ on somebody’s floor, it promotes meeting new people and building long-lasting friendships. On top of ‘a place to call home’, there are countless community-led events that connect travellers with fellow explorers, expats and locals.
The Bad – Them freeloader feels.
You can only absorb so much of someone else’s hospitality before your subconscious kicks in. Couchsurfers essentially occupy the generosity, time and personal space of their hosts; after all, you are ‘leeching’ off their resources! As a result, many travellers are uncomfortable staying at a home for any more than a few days at a time – leading to a constant accommodation shuffle.
The Ugly – A certain level of uncertainty.
With all ‘shared accommodation’ methods there is an underlying sense of luck. Despite all the meticulous study and careful vetting you will never 100% know what you’re getting yourself into. Again, similar to my house sitting experiences, I thankfully have had nothing awful or awkward to report. This, unfortunately, isn’t the same for everybody. A mate of mine, while travelling through Paris, took up the kind offer from a Couchsurfing host for a night’s rest. I don’t want to betray her trust by telling you the whole story, but… let’s say the words ‘uncomfortable foot massage’ and ‘ran the flip out of there’ were mentioned. Maybe it’s a French thing? Just be diligent.
So, which type of budget accommodation suits you?
Everybody has their limitations. Some travellers can’t bare spending any more than $30 on a night’s accommodation. Others can’t sleep in dorm rooms with more than 4 people. While some refuse to share at all! That’s fine. With anything, you need to what you can handle and where your flexibility lies.
As a long-term traveller, you have to be as adaptable as possible. Often, your travelling companions will either be holidaying (and looking to spend) or already at the end of their budget’s capacity. Here’s an example: over the past month I’ve stayed in an Airbnb with four Germans, camped with two Germans and two Canadians, house sat in a modern apartment in West Melbourne, Couchsurfed and hostel hopped with a Swede, an Argentinian and a girl from Hong Kong and, as I write this, I’m house sitting ‘Sweetpea’ and ‘Harry’ the Burmese cats in Hobart’s charming suburb of Bellrieve.
Life moves fast and that can be unsettling when you don’t have your own space. People are hardwired to be comfortable in their everyday surroundings. But adaptability and flexibility are skills that need to be nurtured as a traveller, whether it’s short-stay or long-term.
So, what have I missed? What are some other forms of budget accommodation that I need to try out? Leave me a message in the comments!