When it comes to travel accommodations, I’m of the opinion that one size does not fit all. These days, many socially conscious travelers expound the merits of slow tourism, eco-tourism and other variations of a supposedly low impact travel philosophy. At the same time, you still have more traditional tourists who want and expect things such as all-inclusive resorts and attractions that fit a more mainstream, American consumer model. Between these end posts are a plethora of tourism styles and, often, people hold to their favorite version of traveling as a matter of principle.
Personally, I’m not committed to any single way of traveling and, by extension, to any specific type of accommodation. In general, I am interested in absorbing as much local culture as possible and I don’t usually gravitate toward the most touristy of tourist traps. So, my typical travel plans may not be quite as mainstream as the average American. In short, I consider myself more of a traveler than a tourist, more of a student of the world than a consumer of it. On the other hand, sometimes I just want to have fun for the sake of having fun. If that means going on a cruise, or staying at an all-inclusive resort, then so be it. Different moods and different goals call for different approaches.
Staying at someone’s house in a new and distant location is arguably the best way to get to the heart of local life and culture, not to mention save some cash. I’ve done it and it has made for some of my most memorable adventures. The down side is that you have to actually know someone who lives somewhere you want to go, which is usually easier said than done. In the age of the internet and, more particularly, social networking, there are now innovative ways to reinvent the idea of staying with a friend. Couchsurfing has become popular in some circles, especially with young, independent travelers. You need to be safety conscious, of course, but basically this is a digital age equivalent of crashing on someone’s couch. These days, though, that someone may be a person you’ve never met before, but connected with via the internet.
A step up from Couchsurfing is a Homestay. It may sound like semantics, I suppose, but to me, the Homestay difference is that seems a little more formal and may not skew quite as much toward the younger crowd. With a Homestay, you are more likely to go through an agency and you are more likely to be staying with a family. Of course, there is some overlap between these two distinctions, including the fact that you are staying in someone’s home and as a result will, hopefully, enjoy some insight into your destination that would not be possible by staying at a hotel.
Renting a house, or apartment, is another option that also inserts you a bit more into the local culture, while remaining on your own. I personally like this option when I know I’m going to be in one spot for a week, or so. It allows you to having a little more of a homey feeling than a hotel, often in a residential area that gives you a better peek into the lives of the locals. Simple things like shopping for groceries and visiting the corner store may not seem earth shattering, but it’s just these sorts of small, mundane tasks that provide a glimpse of everyday life in a new locale. The two powerhouses of the home rental world are VRBO and Airbnb. I’ve used VRBO more often, partly because they were around first, but the basic premise is the same with either platform. My advice is to search both websites before you book your travel. For some locations, I’ve found the house that suited my needs on VRBO, while for other locations, Airbnb had the property that I liked the most. Comparative shopping is usually wise, just as with other aspects of travel planning.
Whatever the merits of staying with a local, or at least staying on your own, sometimes you just want, or need, a hotel. One consideration when renting a house, or condo, is how well you can negotiate the area you’re in. If you’re in a country where you don’t know the language, or don’t feel overly comfortable on your own, due to significant cultural differences, a standard hotel may be the right answer for you. Hotels provide a fairly consistent, predictable product. For short trips, or longer trips where I’ll be moving from place to place, I’m usually looking for a hotel. What type of hotel I’m interested in is usually determined by a combination of budget and the purpose of my travel.
If I’m just stopping overnight on a road trip, I can get pretty cheap and basic with my hotel choices. If I’m traveling with my family and know that we’ll be spending our evenings in, rather than out on the town, I’ll want something a little nicer with more amenities. For a romantic couples getaway, it’s hard to beat a cozy Bed and Breakfast. Although it’s not often, sometimes I may even want the hotel to be a destination in and of itself. At the far end of the hotel as destination equation would be the all-inclusive resort, which has been epitomized throughout the Caribbean and is represented by properties such as the industry powerhouse Sandals Resorts.
One size may not fit all, but there is a size for everyone and for every occasion. Don’t be afraid to shop around within a variety of property types. You may unexpectedly save money by doing so. For instance, renting a house is very often cheaper than a hotel. Better yet, you may experience a side of life in your target destination that you would have otherwise missed. Time, place and purpose all play a factor in what options are best and that may very well be different from one trip to the next, even to the same destination.