Accommodation options

Although most backpackers choose to stay in hostels, there are plenty of other possibilities to spend the night. You could try camping (i.e. in a tent), staying in a hotel, boarding with a family in a private house, sleeping on the beach, etc. This article discusses all your accommodation options while you’re on the road.

Hotels

The main differences between hostels and hotels are that hostels usually have dormitory-style sleeping arrangements and are usually cheaper, while hotels offer private rooms, often provide a bigger bed and are usually cleaner than hostels. Obviously, the more you pay for a hotel room, the better it will be (for the most part), but then this is true for hostels as well.

Guest house.

A paradise-like guesthouse.

The hotel type of accommodation is usually above a backpacker’s budget, and they’re not quite the kinds of places a backpacker’s looking for to spend his or her night’s rest in. Nevertheless, if you’re in desperate need of a bed and a shower and there’s nothing else available, they’re always an option.

That said, there are exceptions in some cities (or areas of a city) where a hotel is a better value than a hostel. It may be cleaner and safer than a hostel, and may be located in a better part of the city. As well, paying for a hotel room may provide you with an opportunity to sleep more people in the room (ie. on the floor), thus lowering your price-per-person ratio.

While traveling in Egypt, we paid $10 US per night for a hotel room in the heart of Cairo. We had our own room with a locking door, a big bed and nice balcony looking out over the city (although through the smog). We had three people in the two-bed room, dropping the price to about $3 US per person. The hostel option in Cairo consisted of terribly run down places that were dirty and not much cheaper than what we paid for a hotel. So consider hotels if you get the chance and feel it is affordable. As in most travel experiences, check around before settling on a place to stay for the night.

Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)

Contrary to what many travelers might think, many B&B’s also offer affordable accommodations. They can often be found in some of the most amazing locations. More comfortable than a hostel, and often with more amenities, a true bed & breakfast is a home situated in a residential area with the emphasis being on hospitality in a family setting. The homes may vary in design from heritage homes to modern bungalows. Guests are greeted at the door, provided overnight accommodations which often include breakfast.

Rest, relaxation and interesting breakfast conversation is usually the norm with fellow travelers and hosts who can supply information on local attractions, amenities and are genuinely interested in providing an enjoyable experience for their guests. Guests want to stay in B&B’s for their uniqueness, quiet relaxation and the desire to meet fellow travelers and share experiences. It is not unusual for friendships to develop among guests from all parts of the world.

Hostels

Hostels are available in every larger city. They provide a bed -and usually breakfast too- for a reasonable price. Sheets and blankets are often included. You’ll be sleeping in dorms (several people in one room), probably on a bunk bed. Toilets and showers are shared. Sometimes there’s a kitchen available so you can make your own cheap meals. Backpackers areabound in these places, which makes them great to get in contact with other backpackers.

Especially in peak season, it is a good idea to book your next hostel from your present one, essentially creating a chain of places to stay as you move about. The easiest way to do this is to make reservations online. Thanks to the internet, making reservations in advance is a matter of minutes, and it’ll save you a lot of hassle to find a place that’s not fully booked. Booking hostels online requires a credit card with which you’ll pay an up-front deposit of 10 percent.

Read more on hostelling in: Hostels.

Camping

Campings are not very expensive, and if the climate allows it, it’s a great way of exploring the country. Complete freedom… You’ll need a mattress, a sleeping bag and a tent (but not necessarily). A stove to cook your own meals on can come in handy too. The easiest way to find a campsite is through a guidebook, a detailed roadmap or the local Tourist Information Center.

Tents in a field.

Camping in an open field.

Camping is a very affordable way to spend your nights. Campgrounds range from $10 US right down to free if you pitch your tent in an open field or on the beach. Watch out for private property though or you may find yourself being tossed out of the area at a way-too-inconvenient time.

You have two basic options when you camp with a backpack. You can either tent or you can go without a tent. The main problem with a tent is that you have to lug it (and your sleeping supplies) around with you. However, it gives you some protection from bugs, it keeps you dry (or keeps the blowing sand off of you), and it also gives you some privacy. If you are in warmer climates though, a sheet and a bug screen to drape over you may suffice.

For warmer climates, you can sleep without a tent. Just go bare and lie on the ground or use a hammock slung between two trees or posts to keep you off of the ground.

Open air

Sleeping in the open air can be an attractive option because it is absolutely free. Whether or not you can actually go through with it depends on a few factors: the outside temperature at night, the weather conditions, if you can find a suitable spot, and on your travel gear (you will need a mattress and a sleeping bag, perhaps even a tent). Good locations can be: on the beach, in a public park, an abandoned house, in a field, and so on. Make sure you’re in a visually protected place, be careful for police and always keep close to your belongings. This type of accommodation is not for the weak and frightened.

Boarding with locals / hospitality exchange

Staying with locals isn’t only very cheap (or even free), but also provides a good opportunity to learn more about the place you’re visiting, the local people, their culture and habits.

Boarding is a great way to spend your nights. Friendly people in many cities around the world offer their spare rooms to foreign travelers for low prices. They often include home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and interesting conversation and offer a great way to get to know the genuine local culture. You might have your own small house to stay in or just a spare room.

Some guide books may list boarding facilities but often you will just meet these people as you are walking by. Beware though of scam artists or people mis-representing themselves. It is often safer to board with one or two traveling companions.

There’s a great online hospitality exchange service that helps bring travellers together: The Hospitality Club.

Other sleeping options

  • If you are taking a train long distances across a country or two, take a night train and sleep on the train. You can sleep for free (or buy a sleep-car ticket) and you wake up at your destination. You won’t waste any day time traveling. The only downside is that you don’t get to see the countryside as you travel and you miss some great nightlife in the cities.
  • In Turkey, you can stay in a tree house.
  • When taking long ferry rides at night (i.e. from Greece to Turkey), sleep on the boat deck. This is where it comes in handy to have a sleeping bag if the weather is cooler.
  • Sleep in the airport on benches or on the floor.
  • If you are renting a car, sleep in it.
  • In Coober Pedy, Australia, you can sleep ‘Down Under’ – literally – in underground hostels
  • Stay at a university or college. Many institutions open their residences up to travelers in the summer months.
  • Some countries in Southern Europe and Africa have caves to sleep in.
  • Befriend one of the local girls or guys and stay with them.
  • Be friendly and meet people as you go. If you get their phone number and address, you can stay with them when you are in their neighborhood. Hopefully you can do the same for them if they come to your country.

Accommodation resources