I’ll show you the cheapest and also the best types of accommodation given your travel needs throughout Europe. This includes the websites where you can book the accommodations and how to choose between the different types of accommodations, as well as how I make this decision.
For this list, I am going to focus on the four main options that you have for most cities.
I am starting with the obvious. Usually when you think of booking your accommodation you think of booking a hotel. This may suit your needs but it is also the most expensive option, usually.
I’m not going to spend much time talking about this because you, presumably, already know about these. The one thing I will say is that the cheapest hotel in a city is often the last place on earth that you want to find yourself.
That said, hotels can often times be a better option than the generally cheaper hostels. This is because in hostels, as explained below, you pay per person per bed and, depending on the number of people with whom you travel and the city in which you travel, Amsterdam is a perfect example, you can pay the same or less for a decent hotel room compared to a decent hostel.
So, though this option is usually the most expensive, you will still want to do a quick check to make sure, given your group size and the city in which you are staying, that it is not worth it to stay in a hotel.
Also, never book a hotel at the front desk! Always try hotels.com first and compare that to the price the hotel itself will give you. 90% of the time, hotels.com will give you a significantly cheaper price for the same hotel and same room.
Website for booking: http://www.hotels.com
Hostels, ahh the good old hostel. This is a staple for any serious traveler, especially the under 30 or 40 crowd and especially ESPECIALLY for the solo-traveler. This is almost always the cheapest option (excluding couchsurfing) and it is the first type of accommodation for which I search.
Here, you pay for a bed in a dorm room and the price depends on the size of the room (the number of other beds in the room in which other people can sleep). Here is a good description of what hostels are like.
Also note that you can get a private room in a hostel and some of these rooms do have their own bathrooms, which makes them like hotel rooms. If you are looking for privacy but don’t want to pay a hotel price, this is sometimes worth it. I say sometimes because hostels in some cities, like Amsterdam, sometimes charge more for a private room than a hotel would charge – you simply need to do a quick search to find out which is cheaper.
Hostels are the go-to accommodation type for budget travelers, but make sure to read the reviews for each hostel because, just like with hotels, you can get some sketchy and horrible hostels.
Website for booking: http://www.hostelworld.com
Before this past year, I almost never booked an apartment because that usually involved going through a semi-shady website and dealing in cash with no guarantee of what would or would not happen with the apartment.
But now, with Airbnb.com, it is almost as easy to book an apartment as it is to book a hotel and, often times, it is much cheaper. You do all of the booking and payment through their website and they keep you and your payment details safe.
I love using airbnb and have done so maybe 5 times throughout Europe in the last year with not a single problem. As far as price goes, this option is almost always cheaper than a hotel, especially if you have more than one or two people traveling with you. Plus, you get a kitchen and a living room and you can come and go as you please without worrying about anyone coming and bothering you.
This is probably my favorite way to stay in a city when I am not traveling alone.
Website for booking: http://www.airbnb.com
This is the cheapest option as it is FREE! Yes, you can stay in wonderful cities around the world for free! The catch is that you will, as the name implies, be sleeping on someone’s couch or maybe an extra bed if you’re lucky.
This is probably the craziest sounding option to most un-seasoned travelers and, to be honest, I still think it’s a bit crazy. But, I have met many people that have used this option and about 95% of those people have had good experiences with it.
Using the website listed below, you can message people in a city and basically just ask them if you can stay on their couch. It’s as simple as that. The best thing is that people leave reviews and comments on their stay and you can search through listings like you would a hotel or hostel. It is more like a social network with the aim of connecting people and facilitating travel.
The second draw, after the fact that it is free, is that you usually get an automatic friend or tour guide for this new city that you are visiting. This is great because you get to see the city from the perspective of a local and you often times get to go out with them if they are not working.
Website for booking: http://www.couchsurfing.org
I use all of the above options except for couchsurfing. The only reason I don’t use couchsurfing is because I like my own space and I don’t like to feel like I have to hangout with someone if I don’t want to (i.e. the host) and I want to feel free to stay in a place for a week or two if I want; couchsurfing just doesn’t fit in with that kind of travel and that is the only reason I haven’t done it yet.
The process I use for determining which accommodation type to use is pretty simple:
How many people am I traveling with?
If I am alone, then a hostel is always the best option because it will be the cheapest and I will very easily be able to meet other travelers.
If I am traveling with one or more people and a hostel is not the cheapest option, I think about if I will use a hotel or apartment. The choice between the hotel or apartment is, for me, largely based on availability. Some cities just don’t have a lot of airbnb options and some, like Paris, have enough that I can always find what I want. After that, it is a matter of price. The best thing is to look up hotels on hotels.com and apartments on airbnb.com and see which has the better prices.
As you can see, it is a pretty simple determination for which type of accommodation I will use. Though, one thing never to forget is that hostels are a great place for the younger and/or solo-travelers. If you have never used this option before, I suggest that you look into it for your next trip, and don’t forget to smile and be social so you can meet some new cool people in the hostel :).
Your thoughts on these or other types of accommodations in Europe?