Top ten alternative lodging options

When it comes to lodging, most people automatically look for a hotel. And if you want room service, a business center, gym, and all the other perks that come with a hotel, that may be your best bet. But if you’re looking for a more unique place to stay, if you want to save money, or if you want to experience a destination in an entirely new way, you have a whole range of options outside the sphere of Marriotts, Hiltons, and Four Seasons. Here are the top ten alternative lodging options.
Bed and Breakfasts/Guesthouses
A bed and breakfast (which in some countries, goes by the name guesthouse) is always my first choice for accommodation. Do I have a deep-seeded fetish for doilies, furniture that looks like it belongs in my grandma’s house, and forced interaction over tea and scones? Definitely not. Luckily, not all B&Bs fit that stereotype. Many offer chic, modern décor and accommodations that are just as luxurious and stylish as their hotel counterparts.

The reason I choose these types of bed and breakfasts is this: generally, as it’s a small business, the owners are very hands on and present. You don’t feel so much like another anonymous customer as a welcomed guest. At bed and breakfasts I’ve stayed at, the hosts have been more than happy to sit down and give me personalized recommendations for the city I was visiting, to offer champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve, and even to provide me with a ride to the airport when my cab didn’t show up on time.

Bed and breakfasts tend to be located in more residential areas of a city, which means that you can better imagine what life is like for those who live here, you see a different side of the city, and best of all, rates are often much lower than the average hotel. Plus, the included breakfast means you save even more.

Boutique Hotel/Inn

Boutique hotels and inns are often very similar to a bed and breakfast. They may not go by the name because they don’t want to be associated with the stuffy Victorian image of other B&Bs or perhaps they aren’t truly a B&B if they don’t serve breakfast. Many are more of a hybrid between B&B and hotel. Thanks to their small size, they may offer the personalized service of a bed and breakfast, but with some of the amenities that you’d find in a hotel. Every boutique hotel I have ever stayed in has offered free wi-fi and many have had small lounges for afternoon drinks or snacks.

Hostel
Maybe your days of sleeping in bunk accommodations with young, unwashed travelers are long gone. You’d never even think about staying in a hostel again. But if you are a budget traveler, you may want to reconsider that position. Many hostels offer private double rooms (with shared or private baths) in addition to dorm style accommodations. Actually, several that I have stayed at in the last year have only had private rooms and the shared bathrooms, while located next door to the room, were only shared between 2-3 rooms and were single-stall locking bathrooms. Sure, you still have to go down the hall to use the loo, but for a traveler on a budget, saving $10-$20 per night in exchange for doing so may be worth it.

At every hostel I have stayed at, I never had to wait for the bathroom, the other travelers were older budget travelers like myself, internet was free, and every few rooms shared a small kitchenette, which meant I could save even more money by cooking lunch or dinner in the hostel a few times. And again, the hostel prices were significantly cheaper than comparable hotels.

Apartments/Cabins
If you’re planning an extended stay in one location, or are traveling with kids or a few friends, an apartment or cabin rental can really make financial sense. It may cost a bit more than a hotel, but the money you’ll save being able to cook your own meals, enjoy a few drinks in your living room, or wash your clothes in your own laundry machine, may offset any extra expensive. And if you have a few friends to split the cost with, you can save big.

Camping
When I think of camping, I think of packing a tent and a cooler and heading “up north” with friends. Or at least, that’s what I used to think of. Now I’ve learned that you can camp just about anywhere – in the US, Asia, Africa, and even just outside of Europe’s biggest cities.
Camping doesn’t have to mean roughing it either. Many European campsites, for example, are located 15-20 minutes by bus outside of the city center and offer dining halls, internet access, swimming pools, and modern bathrooms. In Africa, if you can’t quite afford a $500 per night luxury lodge, just buy a tent when you arrive, drive to the game park, and pick one of the many available camps where you can score a spot for about $20 per night, eating in the camp’s dining hall and relaxing in the communal swimming pool.

Agritourismos/Farm Stays
When visiting a city, I generally like to stay in the city. I want to be able to step outside of my lodging directly into the fray. I want to wander all day down cobble stones streets, and then be able to totter home after a few drinks to fall asleep to the sounds of the city. But in some areas, the way of life is more rural. In these places, I want to get the full experience. Here, I want to look out my window and see rolling fields. I want to see how the people live off the land, and I want to retire each night to watch the sunset from my deck while eating food produced just a few steps from where I’m standing. In these places, I want to stay at an agritourismo.

Like a bed and breakfast, and agritourismo is family run and generally offers breakfast included in the accommodation. But an agritourismo or farm stay also offers much more. Guest will get an education in farming while immersing themselves in nature – horseback riding, wandering through fields, and learning about (or even helping with) the operations of the property.
Servas
Servas is an “international, nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for personal contact between people of diverse backgrounds. Members need to apply and pay a membership fee so there is a bit more investment required that with CouchSurfing, and the emphasis on cultural connection is even higher. Both hosts and travelers need to be interviews by a local coordinator in order to be accepted, and have a certain degree of responsibility once they become members.
Hosts welcome guests for one or two nights, and offer some kind of cultural exchange during the process. They are expected to spend time with guests and invite them to share an evening meal. Guests are expected to view the host site as more than just a place to stay. Then interview process and application fees for joining may help set some hesitant members’ minds at ease and people who aren’t quite comfortable with CouchSurfing may be more inclined to try Servas.
AirBNB
A cross between CouchSurfing and a guesthouse, AirBNB is a service that connects hosts – those with a space room or sometimes just a spare couch – with a guest in need of a place to stay. The catch is that unlike CouchSurfing, guests have to pay for rooms booked through AirBNB. Where CouchSurfing is more about community and cultural exchange, AirBNB is more about commerce.

But, many of the AirBNB listings are more than just offers for a couch. Dozens are listings for entire apartments, often at rates much lower than what you would pay for a hotel. The site has more comprehensive offering for big cities than small towns, especially in the US, so while you might score a pretty great deal for someone’s pied a terre in NYC or Chicago, you may have a harder time finding an apartment rental in Tuscany or Bavaria.
Homeswaps
Homeswapping requires a degree of flexibility, but the rewards can be great. Here’s how it works. You sign up on a homeswapping website like Home Exchange, pay your annual fee (usually under $50) and then list your house or apartment. You can wait for the requests to come in and respond according to your schedule, or you can approach others for a swap based on your travel plans.

Say you’re looking to plan a trip to Paris this summer. You check out the available houses in the city and begin sending inquiries to the owners asking about your preferred week. One couple may have a house available, and have an interest in coming to visit the city where you live, but they might not be able to travel on that exact week, so you work together and come up with dates that are convenient for both of you.

Most successful homeswappers live in a city that is more popular. For example, it might be harder to find someone from Paris who is interested in traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio, than New York City.
CouchSurfing
The most famous of all free accommodation, CouchSurfing is a million-member strong community of travelers. Some are offering places to stay, others are looking for a host to take them in on their travels. You post a profile and it’s up to you to decide who to host (or if you want to host at all) and who you feel comfortable staying with. Members span all walks of life, but they all seem to have one thing in common – a desire to see the world and travel cheaply, and to connect with other like-minded people while they do so.

Many hosts and surfers make a point to get together during the hosting period. When I stayed with a couple in Austin, Texas, last year, we all went out for dinner one night. We had a great time and they ended dup showing me a side of the city I never would have discovered on my own. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of staying in a stranger’s house. And if you’re looking just to relax and escape this might not be the ideal situation. But if you want to connect with another culture and see a place from an insider’s point of view, give CouchSurfing a try.

Neighbors bothered by naturist B&B

Neighbors of Domain Farm, a recently opened naturist Bed and Breakfast in Staffordshire, England, are complaining about seeing more than they want to of the guests.

The B&B is a converted farm and features a sun deck, hot tub, and barbeque area, and while it’s set in a rural landscape, it is within sight of other homes. This brings it into the ongoing controversy, not limited to naturism, of where to draw the line between individual liberty and consideration of others. The owners are busy planting trees and shrubs around the property, but their efforts aren’t quick enough for the locals.

Despite the weather, naturism or nudism is quite popular in the UK. British Naturism, the official naturist organization, reports a membership of more than 16,000. There are numerous clothing-optional beaches in places like Brighton, and naturists are encouraged by the fact that there is no law explicitly banning public nudity, only indecent exposure. What this breaks down to in reality is that if you bare all in front of Buckingham Palace, you’ll be hauled away. If you hike in the nude, you’ll probably be fine. In fact, British naturists say nude hiking is quite popular, although I’ve never seen any on my hikes.

I have, however, seen nude hikers at Seven Falls in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, where nudity is clearly not legal. The falls are several miles up a rugged canyon far away from public view, so the cops don’t bother doing anything about it. What with all the car thefts and meth labs in the city, they have better things to do.

So if you like to get your kit off, as the English say, don’t dismiss the UK as a travel destination. The Naturist UK Fact File has tons of information. It may get cold and rainy, but at least you won’t have to deal with the desert sun and cacti like those Arizona naturists!
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Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera from the Gadling flickr pool. These are statues in the Louvre, not pasty-skinned British nudists after a long winter.

Give the gift of travel for Veteran’s Day

Innkeepers across the country are doing something important to me: they’re offering discounts, specials and free nights to the people whose sacrifices let us enjoy our freedom to move. Inns that are members of BedandBreakfast.com are taking care of military personnel and first responders who are taking breaks from their tough lives. The deals vary by inn, but it’s worth a look for anybody who puts his or her life on the line at home or abroad.

And, I’m happy to report, there’s more.

Veteran’s Day is coming up, and BedandBreakfast.com is celebrating the service of so many by supporting Fisher House Foundation, a private-public partnership that supports members of the military when they’re in need. To participate, pick up a Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, and use the promotional code FisherBB. This is a great gift for a holiday that most people seem to overlook. They come in values ranging from $25 to $2,000 and can be printed online or mailed to the recipient in foil-lined envelopes. Do the latter – it’s not often these sorts of thank you gestures arrive on November 11.

Even if you’re not planning to participate in this deal, e-mail, tweet or otherwise spread the word. Let’s all chip in and help a few people who put their lives on hold for years to keep us safe.

Bed and breakfast travelers spending more on travel, less on cigarettes and coffee

Bed and breakfast guests aren’t cutting back as much as other travelers, according to a new survey by BedandBreakfast.com. Fewer respondents are spending less on travel – with the rate doing so dropping from 55 percent to 45 percent from the second quarter survey. The money spent on B&B travel, however, will come at the expense of other luxuries, with many saying they’d give up their morning takeout coffee in order to save some cash for use on travel. Ice cream, massages and manicures and even cigarettes are falling victim to a dedication to B&B spending.

BedandBreakfast.com notes: “Interesting that travel is more important than coffee, calories, or cigarettes to over 50 percent of respondents!”

Sandy Soule, Marketing VP at BedandBreakfast.com, notes, “Clearly, travel patterns changed in the last year, as travelers tightened their belts and stayed closer to home.” She continues, “Yet these patterns worked out well for inngoers, as B&Bs tend to be an easy one-tank trip from most metropolitan areas, and add so much extra value to a getaway.”

So, what else is on the B&B travelers mind as of the third quarter of this year? Find out after the jump.

Fall travel is more likely than summer for the B&B crowd, and they see the impact of the recession on travel spending to be declining. In the first quarter, 65% answered that the economic conditions influenced their B&B travel spending, with a slight decline to 61% in the second quarter. For the third quarter, this measure fell to 55 percent. Also, 84 percent of respondents are more likely to take at least as many trips as they did last year – up from 79 percent for the second quarter survey.

One of the ways B&B vacationers sought to maintain the number of trips they usually take is to spend less per day. Fifty-six percent had this in mind in the first quarter, which fell to 52 percent at the end of the second quarter and 45 percent for the third quarter. Respondents said they would spend fewer days on the road fell from 42 percent in Q1 to 43 percent in Q2 and 37 percent in Q3 of this year.

Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast is eco-chic

At Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast, the mission statement is clear. Comfort, style and luxury can co-exist with sustainable, eco-friendly practices. And when it comes to green initiatives, Milan Doshi, the b&b’s owner, seems to have thought of everything. The bedding, the paint, the food, the labor – every aspect of the b&b was specifically chosen to be as green as possible.

According to the Denver Post, Doshi bought the hotel in summer of 2008 and immediately began a massive renovation. New floors, from Sustainable Floors in Boulder, were made of compressed leftover wood fibers and installed. Eco-friendly Keesta mattresses, made of recycled metal coils and memory foam infused with green tea extracts, were put in the bedrooms. The walls were covered in eco-friendly low VOC paints. And a heavy wooden table, made of a material called Italian ebony (also made of leftover wood fibers) was selected as the dining room centerpiece. It’s the place where Colorado Allegro coffee is served with a locally-sourced organic breakfast each day (many of the herbs and veggies are pulled from the b&b garden), and where Colorado wines and cheeses are served each evening at happy hour.

Doshi used local products whenever possible and even went so far as to make sure the labor he used was local too. All of the contractors and some of the suppliers he worked with were found within a 10-mile radius. Local craftsmen carved the oak platform beds, and small plastic bottles of toiletries have been replaced with bulk dispensers (which eliminate waste and reduce trash) from Colorado-based Jason Organics.

The green bonanza doesn’t stop there. The linens on the beds are organic cotton; all cleaning products used are 100% natural, biodegradable, and dye-free; paper products are recycled, biodegradable, unbleached and dye-free; only glass drinking cups are used; and the shower heads and toilets have had low-flow adapters installed. The b&b even requires the dry cleaners they work with to recycle their hangers and plastic, and provides free bikes for guest transportation.

Doshi hopes that in the near future, the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast will be the nation’s first LEED certified bed and breakfast. He’d also like to see the b&b certified as “cradle-to-cradle”, meaning that it creates no pollution and nothing is wasted in its operation. To that end, he has big plans for additional green features, such as a system that could convert used sink water into toilet water.

So, all these green features are great, but if the property doesn’t stack up to it’s less-green counterparts, who would want to stay there? Well luckily, the Queen Anne does measure up. Of the 15 TripAdvisor reviews written since Doshi took over (there are an additional 45 written about the previous incarnation of the b&b), 14 rate it 5-stars. The other one knocked it down to 4-stars. Guests all agree that the staff are helpful and friendly, the rooms are beautiful and comfortable, and the food is fresh and delicious. The location, about a 10-minute walk from downtown, is ideal as well. It seems to me that you really can’t ask for more in a bed and breakfast.

Of course, for a frugal traveler, price is an important consideration too. Some of the more ornate or larger of the 14 rooms, which feature king beds, whirlpool tubs, log fireplaces or cathedral ceilings, go for $175 to $215 per night. But four rooms also cost $145 or $165, and the Oak Room, with it’s deep pedestal tub and original pull-chain commode, is just $135 a night. It’s good to know that you can go green, and still save a little green at the same time.