Over the past several years there has been two very different yet equally fulfilling ways I have experienced foreign towns and cities. When deciding which of the two I would prefer I first ask myself “Where I would like to stay? Would I like to play an unreasonable amount of beerpong and party with the locals? Or do I make sure I get a solid 8 hours of sleep so I can get up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over that majestic castle?” Unfortunately for my liver, I find it hard not to check into at least one party hostel in every place I visit.

To be completely honest, I’ve never been the most amazing tourist. Europe for me was a place where I quickly realised that all the castles looked the same and that most of the museums (not all) didn’t interest me. I was young, fresh faced and looking for an easy way to experience some type of local culture whilst being able to enjoy myself drink a lot and for me this all starts with the decision of where I choose to stay.

For a long time budgeter like me hotels, for the most part, are completely out of the question. Most of the time they are twice as expensive and I always seem to meet a lot less people when comparing my hotel versus hostel experiences. Sure a hostel dorm room can be a little cramped, smelly, dirty or sex-filled, but for a solo traveler it’s the best way to save a heap of cash and make some awesome friends.

As I write this post I am sitting on my queen size bed in air conditioned, spacious, $20 a night private room in Peru. I have a nice kitchen to cook in, hot showers and approachable like-minded travelers having a drink in the hostel’s courtyard. Everything I need to travel comfortably for more than half the cost of an unnecessarily luxurious, antisocial hotel room.

For me, the accommodation I choose dictates the way in which I see a city or town. A lot of the time the best advice about ‘what to see’ and ‘what do to’ is from the person sleeping in the bed beside me in my dorm room or the cleaning lady who has lived locally for twenty five years. I’m still not 100% sure why, but there just seems to be something more authentic about sleeping in a cheap hostel’s bed and I’ve discovered that it’s not only young travelers, the older, more seasoned travelers are also taking the cheaper hostel route.

Things to look out for when choosing your hostel:

*Location: Is the hostel in a dodgy neighbourhood? Is it close the main attractions?

*Amenities: Does the hostel have a kitchen? Because eating out for every meal, depending on where you are, can ruin your budget.

* Tours or cheap/free language lessons: These are added extras that go a long way in enhancing your cultural experience.

*Complimentary Breakfast: Something that can cut your food costs by 1/3.

*The Reviews: Check the hostel reviews! The review section of the hostel will give you a great indication on whether or not it will be a suitable option.

There are two main websites I use when booking accommodation:
www.hostelbookers.com
www.hostelworld.com

They require a 10% down-payment with the remaining amount to be paid upon your arrival.

Another great option for affordable accommodation is to make yourself a profile on:
www.couchsurfing.com

This website allows you to connect with local hosts who are willing to share their homes with you and it’s 100% free. Now you might be thinking “Well what if my hosts turns out to be insane?” Well, yeah that could happen and I have heard some weird stories, but it doesn’t exactly happen very often, so for now it’s a fairly safe option. My experience with the website has been decidedly positive, most of the replies I get are from fairly forward homosexual men wanting sexual favours in exchange for a couch to sleep on, but again, that’s only a very small negative amongst a whole lot of positive.

www.Airbnb.com is another website worth taking a look at when planning your next trip. It’s much the same couchsurfing however it isn’t free. I would recommend this as an alternative If you don’t receive any replies through couchsurfing or on the rare occasion hostels are too expensive in the city you plan on visiting.

At the end of the day the type of accommodation you choose while traveling is completely up to you, but at roughly 30% of the average backpacker’s budget, it is something worth getting as cheap as possible or better yet FREE!

NEXT!

Part 3 – Where to work