Taste the World on a Budget (3): Where to Stay!
After flight tickets, hotel expenses are the most common reasons why trips become too expensive. Sometimes, we dream of luxurious resorts by the beach or in the middle of a safari camp but until we can afford those, we should still be able to travel. Some of my most adventurous and memorable travel experiences have occurred while staying with people in places other than nice hotels. This list of places to stay when you travel on a budget are options I have personally used at least once and I believe they can all be safe and sanitary. You can also check out the Part 1 (where to go) and Part 2 (how to score travel deals) of this series. So, here goes – where to stay when your goal is to taste the world on a budget!
1.Friends and Family
This is the most obvious one to start with, so let’s get it out of the way. If you have a close friend or family member living in Casablanca and you are comfortable with them, staying with them might be the best way to cut your trip costs in half. As Nigerians, it is highly unlikely that someone does not know someone in major cities like New York or London. However, in other places, if you ask around from you mother or your father’s pastor’s daughter, you just might find someone willing to host you.
I am very careful with this option because with things like things, trips and relationships can easily go sour. I gladly stay with family and friends only when I am very close to them or the situation requires it. However, if you take this option, be careful not to overstay your welcome and pay close attention to house rules. While you’re at it, take advantage of the insider knowledge that you host has. But don’t knock the option out for no reason.
Couchsurfing (CS) is a platform that allows you meet people offering up rooms, couches and even entire homes for short stays around the world. At first glance, CS might be met with skepticism but my first experience was one of my best experiences with a local in another country. Since CS is free, potential guests (and hosts) must ensure that they pay attention to details so that trips don’t end up as stories for the gods and what you get is well, what you get. There is also an open review system so the bad ones weed themselves out. CS offers a pretty neat verification process one of which includes sending postcards to addresses to ensure that the hosts live there.
So, after spending two nights in a hostel in Gothenburg, Sweden, I spent the next two nights Couchsurfing with someone I had never met previously. She was a mum of a 6-year old son and shared custody of her son with his father, which meant that I ended up alone in a 6-year old’s bedroom with a cat for company. On the first night when I mentioned to her that I would like to rent a traditional Swedish outfit for a photo, she called around and found a sweet couple who owned a folk dancing company and offered to host us at their home, teach us a couple dances, lend us outfits for a photo…all for free. It is not likely that I would have been able to get this deal on my own or while staying in a hotel. It turned out to be more than just a photo session for my host and me. This same host also showed me around Volvo offices and asked a group of Swedish firefighters to lift me for a photo in front of an ice cream shop. We ended up exchanging postcards and books, long after I returned from Sweden (no surprise, she gave me the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I gave her The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and Chimamanda Adiche’s books).
Airbnb is one of my personal favorite ways to travel the world and not spend a fortune on accommodation. On Airbnb, guests can search for places to stay in pretty much every city of the world and find several hosts within their desired price range. The variety that Airbnb offers is one of its best appeals, as well as the option to pay for what one wants. Airbnb will not pay the host until both guest and host have certified the trip complete and satisfactory, making it rather transparent. Some hosts offer up their entire palatial homes while others offer single rooms in the homes they live. You’ll find everything from quirky unique stays to free breakfast to free bus-passes and hosts willing to show you round their cities. You’ll also find hosts whom you might not meet throughout your stay. There is something for everyone. I have stayed with a number of Airbnb hosts; all different but great experiences and while I hear of bad experiences, I have not yet experienced one. Malick in Zanzibar hooked us up with taxis to everyone of our tourists sites, cooked with us and shared African jokes. Our hosts in Leeds offered us complimentary breakfast. While I was a host in Edinburgh, I had the privilege of hosting everyone from an older German couple to a French PhD student and a Canadian dancer.
It is important to check reviews because you can hear from previous guests of your potential hosts, as well as find out how guests were if you are thinking of hosting someone. Reviews are important, but not all-in-all for me. I say this because someone trusted me when I was a newbie, stayed with me without a review when I first started hosting guests in Edinburgh and gave me my first review. Then, the cycle continued. But, it is important to take note of some things before staying with a host who has no review. This is where ‘gut-feelings’ come in. It may not be wise to stay with any host that you feel could become uncomfortable. Check to see what they say on their profile, how they say it and what they do. It helps in making a decision when people are upfront about their lives and occupations.
If you went to boarding school in Nigeria, you are probably forever disillusioned with hostels and your experiential wiring might forbid you to ever willingly stay in a hostel. But, hear me out before swearing off this one.
Hostels, like hotels, have categories. There are ridiculously cheap hostels with shared rooms of twenty people and unclean shared bathrooms. But, there are hostels with fewer people in each room and cleaner amenities for travellers. Take these two hostels I highly recommend for example, one I stayed in for two nights in Gothenburg and one I stayed in twice in London. Both are differently priced and one is modern while the other is a converted inn. The one in London offered free breakfast and free walking tours of the city, even though it was much cheaper and an older hostel. Both of them had excellent night time activities in the lobby. You will also find a few hostels with single-gender rooms, single rooms but shared bathrooms or double rooms instead of bunk beds. Hostels are the ultimate backpacker or adventure traveller’s option because you are likely to meet other people looking to do similar things as you in a new city.
If you are travelling on a budget and you are spending more than three nights, a hotel might quickly become an expensive option. However, there are cheaper hotels offering decent beds but reduced complementary offers such as internet and breakfast.
You can also hack this option if you are traveling in a group. Often, hotels will not double the cost of the room if two people stay in it but merely increase the cost by a little. This way, two or three or even four friends can share a room with one or two beds, as the case may be, and end up splitting the cost four ways. On a trip to Malta, my friend and I shared a room and were able to put saved accommodation costs towards things like cruising on a ship to see the Azure Window. Granted, we sacrificed on quality internet but we were within walking distance to all the cool spots and we overlooked the blue ocean.
Like everything on this list, it is always wise to check out reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc to ensure that you have an overall picture of other people’s experiences at that hotel. If a hotel has five star reviews and one or two star ones as well, check the low ratings to see what complaints people had.
6. Virtual Friends
No, don’t stay with someone you’ve had two chats with on Facebook. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Nigerians love to travel and explore new places, but why do we see so many limitations? There is an abundance of information on the internet on how people can travel for cheap but the vast majority of this information is for travellers from Europe and the Americas. Our blog aims to fill the gap in information for travellers from Nigeria. In this Taste the World on a Budget series, we explore the opportunities for Nigerians to travel and experience exciting adventures without breaking the bank. See the other stories from this series below:
- Part 1: Taste the world on a budget (1): Deciding where to go (from Nigeria)!
- Part 2: Taste the world on a budget (2): Scoring the best travel deals.
How have you cut costs on accommodation while traveling on a budget? Share with us by leaving a comment or on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Don’t forget to hashtag #thevillagepot.