If you've read my previous post on the costs of travel within Europe, you may know that it's not quite as expensive as it seems. Accommodation, however, varies a lot more. If you've travelled a bit, you may be familiar with the different types of accommodation, such as hostels, hotels, and short-term rentals like Airbnb. I can't really recommend one over the other, it all depends on your style of travel. Prices will vary A LOT based on the season you're travelling in, as well as the destination. While I was able to find cheap but high-quality stays in smaller towns in the south of Spain, I paid over $100 a night to get a smaller place while I was staying in Amsterdam. It's all about your priorities! In this post, I'll give you some tips and tricks to save money on accommodation, then I'll talk about your different options.
Easy, Money-Saving Tips:
Don't go on a weekend. Or at least if you are, try to stay over on a Sunday night, instead of a Friday. While you may not be able to control this (I wasn't), if you have some flexibility in your schedule, try to stick to trips on weeknights, or book your nicer accommodation for weeknights and book a cheaper place for the weekend.
Stay outside of the city center. While European city centers are exciting, they are full of overpriced tourist traps. If you prefer to have a more local experience while travelling and save some money, there are great deals to be found in the more residential areas of a city, or even the suburbs. Most suburbs are extremely well-connected to the city centers on public transport, so it's no problem going into the city. Plus, you'll probably get a better night's sleep!
Book early. Booking your accommodation at least 2 months in advance (preferably more) allows you to see all your options and have a variety to choose from. You can look and see what normal prices look like in the area you're staying in, and make an informed decision about where to stay because you know you got a good deal.
Incognito mode. You've probably heard this tip for flight searching, but it applies to hotel searches too. If you're going on booking websites to check out prices, switch your browser into incognito mode.
Hit up your friends. You may have a friend who lives in the city you're visiting, but you feel weird asking to stay with them. If that's the case, just send them a message letting them know you'll be in their city, you'd love to see them, and ask if they have any recommendations for good places to stay in the area. While they may not have an extra space in their apartment, they could have a really kind aunt with a spare bed, or maybe their cousin who runs a local bed & breakfast can hook you up with a discount.
Different travellers have different needs and budgets, as well as different levels in terms of what they're comfortable with. Here's a list I've compiled, from least to most expensive, of what your best options are when travelling around Europe.
While I'm sure you're familiar with the infamous app, Couchsurfing is a backpacker's dream. I know there were some issues a few years ago where they almost went out of business, but it looks like their app is still up and running like normal. If you're looking to meet a new friend and explore the city with a local, Couchsurfing might be perfect for you. As a solo female traveller I'm a little bit skeptical, but they do require hosts to have references now, which is a bit of peace of mind. Of course, it's completely free, but there can be some caveats to that. I've heard both good and bad stories from it, but it's always an interesting experience!
If you're travelling alone and want to make friends, hostels are the perfect place to do that. Something I really love about hostels is the events they'll put on for guests, like bar crawls and walking tours. There are also different tiers of hostels, from the budget, backpacker hostels where you can easily find a bed at 10€ a night or less, to the more upscale ones that can range from 30-50€ depending on the city. Of course cost of living varies, so here are some averages I found in a few European cities for the same night (July 15, 2021):
Madrid: ~ $20/night
I prefer to use the site Hostelworld when searching for hostels to book. You can see pictures and reviews of each of them, and get a feel for what the vibe is like. I've heard that it's a bit cheaper if you find your hostel through their site and then book directly with the hostel though.
This one is definitely my own favourite, and probably my most used. Short-term rentals (aka basically Airbnb since they dominate the market) feel like a home away from home, and often provide much better amenities at a better price point than traditional hotels do. Prices vary a ton, and can range from renting a room in someone's home to your own private villa. Personally, I really like renting a small studio with a friend or two while travelling to save a bit of money, but also have some privacy and a safer spot to keep my valuables. Here's the same price comparison for the same cities on the same night (July 15, 2021), for a small studio in the city center:
I typically just book through Airbnb, but there are other sites out there. One thing to be mindful of when renting is the "Airbnb Effect", and what it is doing to rent prices in the city you're staying in. Typically when a lot of Airbnbs move into a neighbourhood, the rent goes up, and locals are unable to afford the rent in their long-time homes. This is unfortunately one of the effects of this, so please be mindful when you travel, and please be respectful both of the person's home you're staying in and the community around you.
There are so many different types and tiers of hotels, so I won't spend too much time on this one. I don't personally enjoy staying in hotels as much as I do Airbnbs, but occasionally they'll give you a better deal. The nice thing about a hotel is you pretty much know what to expect anywhere you go, and everything is taken care of. They can often be a safer option, and a lot of people really enjoy staying in them. Here are some of your options:
Budget hotels. Budget hotel chains like Ibis in Europe are pretty popular, and they usually offer a pretty great value. They are, however, often on par with what you'd pay for an Airbnb.
Mid-tier hotels. This is like your Marriott or AC Hotel in Europe. They're great, you know what to expect, and they're comfortable.
Boutique hotels. These ones are often local to the city and have interesting design features. They're not quite luxury, but some come pretty close. They are usually at a much lower price point than a luxury hotel, but a bit higher than just your typical Marriott.
Luxury hotels. I have no experience with this, but I've heard they're nice? I doubt anyone reading this blog is staying at the Ritz, lol (no offense, love u).
Local bed & breakfasts. These can be harder to come by these days, but if you find one, you're really in for a treat. I've stayed at a couple in rural Ireland and Scotland and was well-fed and cared for, all at a pretty low price as well.
I typically use Booking.com to book all of my hotels. They seem to have the best deals compared to other search engines!
I hope this post was helpful. As you've seen, accommodation prices can really vary across Europe, and there are so many different types to choose from. Luckily, there's something for everyone, and it's all relatively safe too. There is no type of accommodation you should 'avoid' when travelling around Europe, it's all very safe (though I can't speak for Couchsurfing) and the people who work in hospitality are all professional and multilingual. You'll be fine! Now, let's manifest COVID disappearing and Europe opening back up so we can travel there again.