The hostel is a quintessential part of both the backpacker experience and image, and has been for decades. They have changed and improved drastically over the years, with levels of comfort, cleanliness and originality getting increasingly better with time and competition. But they are no longer the only option for adventurous backpackers.
Backpackers and independent world travellers now have a bewildering array of accommodation options to choose from on their round the world adventures. Attempting to blow away the stereotype that backpackers just stay in hostels, this article attempts to lay just a few of those options out for you.
Pretty much self explanatory, these are one of my all time favourite types of accommodation. Simple, clean, cheap, and literally right on the beach! What more could anyone ask for?
Guest houses are often a low to mid range option for backpackers offering a private room and sometimes even an en suite for far less than a hotel would cost. In years gone by it wouldn’t be unusual to find the most basic accommodation with very little in the way of amenities, but in recent years – like hostels themselves – guesthouses have really upped their game with amazing private rooms, great common areas and often friendly, family run services too.
Traditionally fixed firmly in the mid range price bracket of backpacker accommodation options, boutique hotels have had a quality revolution in recent years and now compete with many hotels in terms of quality and service, for a fraction of the price. In fact there are many that surpass bland chain hotels, and have the added bonus of often being unique and sometimes quirky too. Never a bad thing. Boutique hotels are often my first port of call when I want to upgrade to flashpacker status for a few nights or so, and more often than not they aren’t that expensive either compared to larger hotels.
Many backpackers tend to stay away from hotels primarily because of the cost involved, On the whole I do tend to agree with that. There is no getting around the fact that they are expensive and often really low value too, especially with bland chain hotels, but as always, there are exceptions to this rule.
If you look beyond the vapid chain hotels there are a vast range of unique and experience rich hotels that are worth staying in, even if it is just a night or two. Some hotels are so luxurious so unique or so iconic, that it is worth the extra expense just for the chance to say you have done it. I once stayed in the 3 room grand suite of a luxury heritage hotel which had gold plated taps and a shower bigger than my entire bathroom at home, and because it was in a very untouristy part of Java, I paid much less than a B&B would cost back home too! Where else am I ever going to get the chance to stay somewhere like that? For a couple of nights the experience was worth the splurge. Experiences are exactly what gap years are all about, and why would you close yourself off to having different experiences just because it isn’t the backpacker ‘norm’? The thing is, it isn’t always as expensive as you think to stay in really nice hotels either. You can get awesome discounts off season, especially if you walk up and just ask ‘is that your best price’? And if you stay in budget accommodation most of the time and budget well, then any extra you have left in your budget can be used to splurge a little. Even the tightest of budgets has a little wriggle room to allow any backpacker to afford to upgrade to flashpacker status once in a while to use a power shower, watch some TV and recharge their batteries. If it is just a night or two it isn’t going to break the bank.
This comes closer to the American idea of what backpacking is, and is probably one of the cheapest ways to travel, but isn’t something that is recommended for long term round the world travel, not least of which because you will have to carry all your camping gear with you! What it is good for however is short stints during your trip. From time to time opportunities will present themselves where you can hire a tent on a patch of land near a hostel for next to nothing, or you can take an organised trek into a jungle or desert region with overnight camping stays, and these can be great opportunities to have a unique experience for very little money and are well worth doing for short periods as an experience, rather than as a way to travel. You will probably also hear of wild camping, where you can easily carry a hammock or equipment with you and camp overnight in various locations. I have done this many times in jungles, deserts and mountainous regions when I have really wanted to get away from it all, but I cannot really recommend this option to the majority of travellers unless you really know what you are doing and can survive out in the wild. I have had both training and experience in these fields and feel comfortable doing it.
This is another way to experience a new area you are visiting that has grown in popularity in recent years. Basically you sign up for any one of the myriad of house sitting services and you look after someone’s home whilst they are away themselves, which can be for weeks or even months at a time. This isn’t just a free ride however, these house sitting stints are a serious responsibility. You are being relied on to look after someone’s home, and this often involves other duties such as looking after pets or mild maintenance such as cleaning too. It is essential that you find the right company to work with at first, and make sure all responsibilities and expectations are worked out and signed beforehand. A lot of house sitting is based on reputation, and if you build up your reputation as a solid, reliable house sitter who will really look after someone’s home/pets, you can really work yourself into a great way of travelling the world slowly and long term, and seeing a side of any given country that many travellers won’t.
Renting an apartment may seem counterproductive to travellers, after all it is one step away from settling down, the very thing many travellers are trying to escape from! But if you think about it for a moment it can be a great middle ground between staying in a hostel which is vastly cheaper but crowded, and a hotel room which is more expensive. The best way to think about apartment rentals is like serial settling down. You get to roam from city to city, country to country, and have your own little home in each one for a short while. Sites like Airbnb or Wimdu, despite many of their recent controversies have become popular with travellers eager to embrace an alternative to the traditional accommodation industry. If you are travelling for an extended period and travel slowly enough to stay in one town or city for a while, and you are at a point in your travels where you want or need your own space for a while as opposed to sharing another hostel dorm, then apartment rentals can be a great choice for you. You get your own space, your own kitchen, your own – well, home away from home. Often one that is very central too.
Staying with locals in their own home is something that has become really popular in recent years and there are a range of hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing and Global Freeloaders that have sprung up to me this demand. They aren’t without their own individual problems of course but are on the whole great ways to travel whilst meeting locals. All offer slightly different things but the concept is the same, you get a free bed when travelling from a local host. These networks often work best in cities or larger towns, and provided there are service provisions in the places you are visiting they are a great way to meet local people and save a lot of money.
Wwoofing stands for world wide opportunities on organic farms, and is a great way to essentially work your way around the world with just a little bit of manual labour. No skills or experience is required, you just get to trade basic, honest labour for a free bed. The barter system at its purest. You can even assuage your guilt for the fact that you are getting experience for your CV and a free bed by the fact you are giving back to the local community!
The unique stay.
These are the sleeping options that defy categorisation. Wherever you go in the world there will be some form of unique accommodation option that will often be the highlight of your trip. There are dorms in castles, houseboats and converted hotel canal boats, monasteries and churches, capsule hotels and many more besides. I have stayed in traditional longhouses in Borneo, slept on the deck of a traditional felucca on the Nile and in tree houses and hides in the jungle. I have stayed with Buddhist monks in China and camped out with the Tuareg in traditional tents. I have even on occasion wild camped out in deserts, mountains and jungles. And these are just a small sample.
My point is that there are so many unique options out there that it is a crime to limit yourself to just the traditional backpacker hostel. As great as hostels are, as experience rich as they are in and of themselves, and despite the fact that you may spend most of your time in them for budget reasons, there is so much more out there too! Don’t limit yourself. Try out as many different types of accommodation as you can. Really experience your time out on the road.
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