It’s a rite of passage for any young budget traveler to relish in the discovery of cheap hostel lodging. The excitement of renting a bed for under $20 a night leads to an overseas vacation filled with quirky roommates, shared bathrooms, and late night partying.
Once the novelty wears thin, most of us crave a travel lifestyle beyond rented linens and bunk beds and start looking for hotel bargains. But instead of leaping directly to pricy options look to divine intervention and creative solutions to sleep on the cheap.
Convents, monasteries, yurts, college dorms, and European mobile homes generally offer more privacy and amenities than your typical hostel. It just takes a little ingenuity and planning to find the right fit for your needs—without compromising your budget.
Nuns have been renting out rooms in convents for years, and warmly open their doors to non-religious guests. Rooms are usually modest with twin beds, a desk, and wardrobe dresser with a shared or private bathroom. Breakfast is normally included with a variety of local pastries, coffees, and juice.
While some convents only allow women and children, others are co-ed and welcome non-married couples. Keep in mind that many convents enforce a curfew, sometimes as early as midnight, but if you’re not a night owl and interested in enjoying a quiet evening after sightseeing all day, it’s well worth the savings.
My convent stay in Rome’s city center cost under $100 for two, and we embraced it as a cultural experience unmatched by a standard hotel stay.
Similar to convents, monasteries also offer unique lodging to guests of all ages and religions. Rooms are usually simple with twin beds, plain décor, and private baths. Others might offer perks like heated towel racks, updated showers, and shared common areas with television.
My stay at Don Orione in Venice boasted stunning courtyard views, ornate hallways, and updated showers and amenities. The building was a former orphanage and later a monastery where the friars ran a printing press. Their antique equipment was still on display, sending my graphic-designing husband into a tailspin of nostalgia and envy.
Our room ran well under $200, a bargain compared to area hotels running $300 to $400. Our 1:30am curfew left plenty of time for late night dinner and drinks and a stroll along the canal before turning in.
Non-traditional camping options, like yurts, can help save a bundle on your next overseas vacation while offering a touch of luxury. Large, weather-resistant tents feature real beds, table and chairs, and often provide an opening to view the stars while you sleep. Most yurts operate on a private campground style concept with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.
Yurts are also ideal for keeping nature at your fingertips without skimping on simple luxuries like beds. Do your research, or start with InclinedtoLuxury.com for yurt lodging in France for about $70 a night. It’s important to note that most yurts operate seasonally and often accommodate only two people per tent.
During summer months and holidays, many universities offer empty dorms to travelers looking for an inexpensive lodging. Try an online search, go to tripadvisor.com and look under ‘Specialty Lodging’, or contact local universities directly about available options.
Dorms are also an innovative way to see how international students live while considering a study-abroad program for yourself. My recent stay at Kenneth Mackenzie Suite in Edinburgh, Scotland offered a clean and simple room with private bathroom and free breakfast for about $70.
Although our room was so tiny my husband and I could hardly stand in the middle of it at the same time, we had a stunning view, quiet quarters, and were in walking distance from dozens of local restaurants, bars, and the train station.
Vacation Mobile Homes
If your overseas vacation is taking you to the countryside or on the outskirts of major cities, try mobile home lodging. You can start by doing an online search for organizations including Eurocamp.com offering mobile homes, tents, chalets, and private apartments in the French Alps, Germany, Sicily, Portugal, Tuscany, Paris, and dozens of other locations.
Vacation mobile homes are ideal for group travelers looking for multiple bedrooms, private kitchen, outdoor space, and room to spread out. Most mobile home rentals offer weekly discounts and ongoing specials. You can usually find a 7-night deal for under £400 with a little pre-planning and flexibility. Share that with the cost of 3 friends, and you’re looking at £100 or less for a week abroad.
Regardless of where you sleep on your next overseas vacation, remember that half the fun is experiencing a new culture and lifestyle you can’t find at home. Get creative and find lodging that balances culture, comfort, budget… and bragging rights about how much you saved when you get home.
Susan Finch is a freelance writer living in New York and specializes in the challenges of budget travel. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The LA Times, and Family Travel Forum, among many other outlets. Her upcoming book, Best Easy Day Hikes Columbus will be released under Falcon Guides this spring.