Travelling off the beaten path

Friday, 3 May 2013 | Tags: , , ,

Going through some boxes this week I came across some old photos of a trip I took many years ago to Israel. It made me recall some great times traveling the globe, before the task of traveling itself became onerous. (Like when airlines served meals on china to people at the back. Can you remember those days?) It also reminds me of some of the absolute dives where I have stayed. Whether it be a seedy hostel or roadside motel while driving across the country, I have laid my head at some dodgy establishments. That's part of traveling in your twenties and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

But the world of travel accommodations has come a long way since then and the new era isn’t just for kids with backpacks.  

On a recent flight to Paris, the man sitting next to me was in his 60s and off to ride his bike around Europe for 6 months.  His lodging itinerary was made up entirely of arrangements he’d made in advance to stay in strangers’ homes.  I don’t mean the bed and breakfast set up, which is a bit more formal, but rather crashing on a stranger’s sofa, having a hot meal and hot shower, and being on your way.   All for the price of whatever you feel like leaving: say 10 or 15 bucks.  He did it more to meet interesting people and understand different cultures than as a way to save money (although that part isn’t bad either, of course).

Personally, I’ve never liked the idea of a B&B.  I just don’t find the experience of staying in someone else’s house and having to socialize over breakfast enjoyable. I like to read my paper in silence. I don’t want a three course meal with blueberry muffins and making small talk with a stranger first thing in the morning isn’t my idea of a vacation.

Fortunately the new era of hotelery offers something for everyone.  Whether you want something cheap, something to yourself, or something homey, if you don’t mind being surrounded by other people’s stuff, check out some of these property rental sites for your next vacay.  It’s an interesting and usually cost effective alternative to a traditional hotel. And if you’re really smart you’ll rent out your own home at the same time to help pay for your trip.


This site alone has changed the way people lodge when they travel. It’s a fast-growing Silicon Valley start-up company with listings in hundreds of cities around the world, at every price point.  You as the owner sign up your property and airbnb serves as the directory and facilitator (taking a cut from the rental price).  Whether you’re the renter or the rentee, be sure to do your research; read reviews and be aware of your risks, rights, and obligations.




See above!




The Warm Showers community is a free, worldwide service designed specifically for touring cyclists.  There’s an interactive map to let travellers find hosts along their route; a way to share stories with like-minded people and get a good night’s sleep before getting back on your bike.  Now that’s commitment to the sport.


Have you got any other tips for finding unique accommodations or travel ideas?


Top photo: Yodod/flickr

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  • mmoynan

    This is kind of an interesting topic, and as someone who traveled for 5 years with her parent as a teen, it’s one I enjoy talking about very much! So brace yourself for a read.

    For me, alternative accommodations and what is good vs. what is bad comes down to two things: why you’re traveling (work? pleasure? adventure?), and what you hope to gain from traveling (rejuvenation? relaxation? invigoration?). If you’re a business person who just wants to recharge in a nice room with some room service and a good movie after a long day of meetings, then hotels are probably a better option. A good night’s sleep is well within the realm of possibilities, and you don’t have to deal with any (or as many) of the other uncertainties that come with alternative forms of accommodation, like surprise… relations (?) in the bunk on top of you, or less-than-ideally-clean bathrooms a la many hostels.

    If you’re a solo young person who’s leaving the nest for the first time, and you’re planning on being away for more than a week or two, other forms of accommodation are probably better. Not just for money-saving, but sanity-saving as well. I had never really thought of it until I experienced it myself, but loneliness on the road – especially when traveling alone – can get pretty bad. And I’m not even especially extroverted or outgoing. But it turns out humans need to be around other humans. Who knew. In this case, finding more people-oriented forms of accommodation (like CouchSurfing or hosteling) is actually quite important, and helps fend off any loneliness or desire to live in the woods with a pack of wolves.

    In my case, I was the daughter half of a mother/daughter unit who wanted to make change in life, and ultimately decided that long-term travel was the best way to do it. We knew that a) we couldn’t afford the cost of living in hotels, and b) we couldn’t afford the risk of potentially killing each other after living alone in a small apartment in a foreign city for months on end. We CouchSurfed plenty (maybe 50 or 60 times?), but when at a destination for more than a couple weeks, we rented our own space. This was always a nice break, but when it came time to leave, I was equally glad to be back in the CouchSurfing groove.

    CouchSurfing (or other alternatives) for long periods of time can get exhausting. My Mom and I are both very clean people, and having to deal with other people’s [equally valid] ways of living got tiring. Having said that, we knew it was all part of the travel game and I think both grew thicker skins as a result. That’s not to say we didn’t stay in some wonderful places with wonderful people, and we have certainly made many good friends all around the world! I’m just saying that you need to be prepared to experience the same amount of diversity in CouchSurfing as you would, say, out in public.

    There are obviously exceptions to all of this, especially when it comes to each individual’s personality, but I guess that what I’m saying (and this is all probably common sense) is it depends on the person and the circumstance. If you’re a short-term traveler who is looking for a comfortable, relaxing, reliable form of accommodation, a hotel is probably your best bet. If you’re a long-term traveler (of any age, I wasn’t meaning to say only young, nest-fleeing folks are suitable to hostels or CouchSurfing) in search of adventure, and don’t mind the odd hiccup in either host-suitability or reliability of cleanliness, then non-traditional forms of accommodation are probably more suited to you.

    Anyway, since this is a world I spent so much time in, I thought I’d share my thoughts!

  • Tim Edwards

    Anywhere with you Anna. Lol but I agree on B&Bs, I thought I would like it but it is a bit strange with they huge breakfast. Ill take a nice hotel with a great bar any day.

  • Eugen

    Anna, you’re a woman after my own heart. You dislike camping, as do I, and your general attitude towards travel mirrors my own.

    I tend to call the way I like to travel “preferring the civilized methods”. It’s why I love taking trains. Utterly utterly civilized. Planes were that way back in the 70s when I first flew, but today it’s like getting on an intercity bus, but with the added joys of security. Bah.

    And I fully agree re: mornings. Just give me an egg or two, a piece of toast and the paper and leave me alone. This constant requirement some folks have to jabber at breakfast escapes me.

    The above also goes for all those organized vacations. God I just can’t stand them. I remember years ago when my wife and I honeymooned in Hawaii. Three weeks of blessed peace because neither she nor I have any use for organized tours. But a couple that happened to fly there with us were gushing over their pre-planned tours and activities. Well, until we landed in Honolulu and we went, got our bags and wished them well and they were standing, mouths agape, as the tour guide was explaining how they had to be on the bus by 7am or miss the first part of their tour. I remember the husband asking us what we were going to do and we both smiled and said sleep, maybe. 25 years on and I still have no use for organized tours and excursions.