Where to stay

You are now in a new city so your first concern is finding a place to sleep and store your pack. With a wide range of choices, what works best for a backpacker on a budget? If I had a choice between a couple of places, what should I look for? Here is a list of the possibilities starting with the least expensive.

On the night train/bus: Save the cost of a night’s accommodation and go to sleep on the night train or bus while you are going to your next destination. There were many times when I opted for the cheaper night bus or train so I could wake up at my new destination. Sleeping on trains is usually easier than sleeping on the bus. There is more leg room, you are not in the middle of traffic, and sometimes you have your own compartment. Just make sure that your gear is secured someplace safe.

Friend’s place: This is definitely the best accommodation that you can receive. Not only is it free and comes equipped with all the living needs, you have a local person who can show you were to go and what to do. Since this is their home, they want to show you the best of it.

Free accommodations: There are such things in this world. There are online services that allow backpackers to freeload with other people around the world. There is no monetary, sexual or any other obligation. However, everything is not guaranteed and just use your common sense before you decide to stay at someone’s place.

Internet Search Directories:
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Camping: Nearly every destination has camping facilities that are located on the outskirts of town. You get your plot of land to set up your tent and a place to cook (usually a fire pit). Showers and stores are usually located on the grounds and are available for a fee. You are away from most of the hustle and bustle of the city. These are great places to unwind and relax. Some of the bigger campgrounds have common rooms for lounging and socializing. You are going to need your own camping supplies such as a tent, ground rest, sleeping bag, cooking stove, pots and pans, etc.

Hostels: Contrary to popular belief, hostels are not dirty places to stay and are not full of hobos and derelicts. Hostels provide inexpensive basic accommodations to budget travellers. They offer varying sizes of dormitory rooms (same or mixed sexes) to private rooms. The majority provides common rooms to hang out and relax, and kitchens for cooking. This is probably the best mix of convenience and cost, and is the preferred place for backpackers to stay. Hostels can be found nearly anywhere in the world. I have stayed in castles that had hostels inside of them to hostels that were actually permanently docked boats along the water front, or even small hostels hidden in the mountain range. Each had their own charm about them and offered a variety of amenities such as Internet, kitchens, common rooms, etc.

There are two distinct types of hostels: member or private. A member hostel is affiliated with an international hostelling group such as: Hostelling International (HI). HI is a huge network of over 4800 hostels in 60 countries offering clean and affordable places to stay for budget travellers. You will need to buy a membership at your local outdoor shop to get into these hostels (members only). Many of them can reserve (book-a-bed-ahead service) for free to other HI hostels on your route. They tend to uphold a higher standard and be slightly cleaner, but they are more sterile and institutional than private hostels. They enforce a lot of rules that must be followed. Some HIs have strict hours of operation like being closed between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. It is advisable to inquire ahead of time.

Private hostels have all the amenities as member hostels, but tend to be more social and definitely have more character. Some have bars and discos in them, special event days, BBQs, outings, etc. They are usually more social and “hip” than member hostels and the price is nearly identical. My preference is staying in private hostels.

The seasons also play a big factor on the type of hostels I use. During the low season there are fewer tourists, prices tend to be lower, and hostels are not as booked. You can move about with a lot less stress about getting a room for the night. On the flip side, as the seasons start to warm up, more people are moving and travelling. This fills up the cheap hostels and sometimes you are forced to find other accommodations off the beaten path and usually pay more. I tend to go to HI hostels since you can easily have the staff phone and book a bed ahead. They deal with figuring out the phone system and foreign languages.

Guest houses: These are private houses whose owners rent out rooms to travellers. Depending where you are, they greatly vary in price and amenities. Most of the guest houses that I stayed in were located in South East Asia. Usually you get a single or double room and either a shared or private bathroom. It is a wise idea to ask if the room comes with hot water and insist on checking out the room ahead of time before committing to staying there.

Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs): These are more expensive than hostels and cheaper than hotels. They offer you more of the homey type of atmosphere and a breakfast in the morning.

B&Bs are usually located outside of the business district and more into the residential areas or city limits.

Hotels: When everything else is booked up and you don’t wish to sleep in the train station, you can always check into a hotel. I have stayed in many one-star hotels that offer you the basic bed, sink, and closet with a shared bathroom down the hall. The price is comparable to, if not a little bit more expensive, than a hostel. Even though you have the room totally to yourself and the key, keep all of your valuables locked up in your pack. The hotel cleaning staff still has access to your room. Of course, the higher the star of hotel, the better quality and higher the cost for the room.

Train and bus stations: In my travels I have been lucky enough to have a roof over my head every night. I have heard of other backpackers ending up sleeping in the open for the night and if you’re lucky, you could get a couple hours of needed sleep. I do not recommend this, but when you are out of options this is one that you could choose. Use your common sense when sleeping in an open area and be careful.