Me? I prefer a cheap, centrally located, private room. These days—thank you world wide web—finding a cheap sleep is quite straightforward if you know what you want.
Most people assume that since I’m a budget traveler I use hostels. Hostels are cheap and often centrally located, but I don’t usually stay in them due to the lack of privacy. Sure, they do sometimes have private rooms, but for the price for two of us it’s just as cheap, or even less expensive, to stay in a modest B&B or budget hotel. Not that I’m anti-hostel: if you dig a party scene and want to meet like-minded travelers, hostels are super (though they can be kind of grubby.) Couchsurfing is popular with a certain sort of budget traveler and obviously has major advantages: you get to know locals and it’s free. $0.00 is truly my favorite price, though regrettably insomnia and need for privacy rules out this particular sleep scenario. Renting empty dorms during the summer and sleeping a night or two in a monastery are also viable options.
Most of the time it comes down to this: a hotel, a B&B, or an apartment. Let me break down the advantages and disadvantages for you.
*Long reception desk hours: hotels keep their desks staffed most of the day (larger hotels for 24 hours) so if you’re not certain of your arrival time, you can still count on a person being there to let you in. If you have a question or need directions, there’s someone on site to help you right away.
*Hotel breakfasts: while I wouldn’t pay extra for a hotel breakfast, when it’s included in the price HOB and I take full advantage. Some more business-oriented hotels have spectacular hot breakfast buffets which are so satisfying on those days we otherwise subsist on cold picnics.
*Deals: traveling off season I’ve often lucked into some great deals, such as 4 star hotels for under €40 a night for a double. I don’t need a fancy place, but if it’s a deal and centrally located why not? Plus I can steal all the shower caps and mini sewing kits.
*Predictability: when you travel intensely and frequently change locations, having a predictable room (where you know the layout, how to control the room temperature, and have a WiFi password) is comforting and efficient.
*Sneaky fees: you need to be alert with hotels because some of them will nail you with sneaky fees. Make sure you understand in advance if there’s a fee for WiFi or early check-in, and stay away from breakfast unless it’s included in the price. (And I don’t need to warn you to never, ever touch the mini bar, do I?
*Availability: if you stay in off-the-beaten-path places, there are often just no hotels. Or if there are hotels, they are closed during the low tourist season. During high-season, prices are inflated and the more affordable rooms sell out early.
B&BS AND GUEST HOUSES
*Immersion in local culture: staying in a bed & breakfast or a guest house is the best way to make a personal connection to a local culture. You may actually be staying with a family and will have an up close experience with their lifestyle, children and pets.
*Friendly and personalized guidance: I always think about what a hard job it is to run a B&B—do these people ever get a day off? Inn keepers must be doing it for love, and it shows. We’ve had people pick us up from the bus station, loan us books, buy local food treats for us to sample, and go to great lengths to be sure our time spent in their town is the best it can be.
*Price: guest houses are almost always the cheapest option for a double room.
*Privacy: did I mention I’m a privacy freak? The personal experience of staying in a B&B or guest house makes me feel under constant scrutiny. It’s like being a guest in someone home where I don’t want to use up their toilet paper or to be a nuisance—I don’t ever feel entirely relaxed, and after hectic days of travel I’m pretty desperate for relaxation time.
*Breakfast: I love breakfast, but breakfast at a B&B is a pain in my sizable behind. Since it’s usually just a couple people running a B&B, they understandably serve breakfast on a set schedule, later in the morning than we like to eat. As we are early risers and often catching a morning bus or train, waiting around for breakfast time just isn’t practical. And for every delicious home-cooked breakfast we’ve devoured, we’ve been served twice as many consisting of shrink-wrapped supermarket pastries, boxed juice and sub-par coffee.
*Checking in: arranging a check-in time at a B&B can be a hassle, and even the most organized traveler can’t control for transportation delays. Want to feel like a jerk? Keep a nice couple waiting to let you into a room while your train creeps along three hours overdue.
*Rules: guest house and B&Bs come with rules, like “no eating in the room” and “no laundry allowed”. While generally my life of crime is limited to the occasional act of jay walking, rules like these force me into a dark underworld. Any day now a famous crime writer is going to write a thriller about how I resorted to washing my underpants in the shower, and how I stealthily hid empty yogurt containers and banana peels beneath more innocent appearing trash.
*You can cook: sure, I live to picnic but oh man do I ever start craving hot food when I’m on the road. I don’t really have time to do proper cooking while traveling, but even just something simple like pasta with sauce and cheese is pretty much the best thing ever after days of living out of a backpack. Plus, you can store stuff in the fridge for breakfast. You’ll save money by not being tempted to go out to a restaurant and you’ll eat healthier to boot.
*Sometimes there’s a laundry machine: I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, MACHINE WASHED SWEET-SMELLING PANTS.
*Privacy: unlike a B&B, I don’t feel the presence of a mother hen-like host hovering nearby, so HOB and I feel free to let rude bodily noises rip, to have a loud argument about an inconsequential matter—in other words, to be the same inelegant slobs we are at home.
*Check in: here’s an excerpt of an email from the owner of an apartment we are staying in next month: “This is not a hotel. There is no reception or front desk. This is an apartment in a residential building and the owner does not live there. Please, announce your arrival so that we can know when to be there, waiting for you. I will do my best to help You, but I cannot help You at all if You do not communicate with me.” Again, this is all understandable, but nonetheless another step in our already complicated travel arrangements.
*You’re on your own: after check-in, you generally won’t see your host again. So if you have a problem or need directions, help is not easy to come by.
To anyone asking my advice, I’d recommend a B&B or guest house as their first choice for budget travel sleeping. Though just between you and me, I’m always going to have a soft spot for cheap chain hotels and I’ll book them every chance I get.
So back to my original question: budget travelers, where do you like to sleep?
King Kong, the dog who came with our guest house in Seville.
In Vidu Izei, the owners of our guest house dressed us in traditional Romanian clothes.
In Alberobello, we slept inside a UNESCO-protected Trullo house.