7 alternative European accommodation options

If you love to travel but are having difficulty finding a way to pay for that trip to Europe, consider some alternative lodging options. Not only will these unconventional options save you a few bucks, but you’re bound to end up with some amazing stories in the process, since everyone else stays at hotels … but YOU were far more resourceful.

Convents and Monasteries

In Italy there are over 400 convents and monasteries located in both metropolitan cities and in the countryside, all of which offer incredible savings. Many cost as little as $40 dollars a night, while some ask only for a voluntary donation or assistance on the grounds in lieu of a room charge. This is a great way to save money while enjoying the beauty of historic — really historic — buildings.

Convents and Monastery resources

Farm Stays
Staying on a working farm is very popular in Britain, France, Spain and Italy and can offer savings along with a unique cultural experience. In addition, this vacation will work your muscles, too, so you’ll actually come home fitter than when you left!

Farm stay resources

  • Budget Travel has a nice primer on the subject.
  • GoNomad has a thorough roundup (with contact information) for numerous farm stay opportunities.
  • Reid’s Guides also has an excellent roundup of farm stay options.
  • Agritourism.net leads you directly to the home pages of those farms offering rooms for rent.

Home Exchange
Don’t rent a room; stay in a house! If you’re willing to offer your home to someone else to stay in, you can have access to thousands of listings, which can include homes, motorhomes — even boats — in dozens of European countries.

Home exchange resources

Hospitality Exchange
Couchsurfing is a network that connects travelers who host each other in their homes. This allows for a more social experience, since you’re hanging out in someone’s home with them. There is no cost, and the database can match you up by interest as well as by location.

Hospitality exchange resources

  • Couchsurfing is hands-down the leader in this lodging option.
  • However, the Times Online has a nice explanation of the process and lists several alternatives to this already alternative lodging style.


If you’re looking for an opportunity to immerse yourself deeply in a foreign culture, there are many programs that allow you to volunteer your time in exchange for free accommodations.

Volunteer resources

  • Europe Up Close has a nice overview of the process and some suggested organizations.
  • Transitions Abroad hosts numerous “volunteer reports” so you can learn what the experience is truly like.
  • United Planet lists volunteer options by destination and by duration of stay.
  • Workaway.info is a database that lists a variety of volunteer opportunities in over 24 European countries, in a range of fields.

Organic Farming

If you have a strong interest in organic farming, then there are several options for you. In exchange for lodging, guests are expected to help work on the farm. On the face of it, “work on the farm” doesn’t sound like a vacation, but spending some time outside with animals in a rural setting seems pretty idyllic to us.

Organic farming resources

  • WWOOF offers opportunities in over 24 European countries.
  • Help Exchange offers farm stay options in Europe and elsewhere.


OK, so hostels may not be all that unconventional any more, but a lot of people are still nervous about or unfamiliar with them. Understand this: Hostels are no longer geared just to the student traveler or the drunk English stag party. You can find hostels that cater to families and even some that offer private rooms with private bath.

Hostel resources


Remember: a trip to Europe isn’t about staying in certain hotels. A trip to Europe is about exploring the destination.

What better way to really explore a destination than to get outside a conventional hotel and experience something new, unusual … and just a little foreign?

“Look kids, Big Ben!” — Those Crazy Roundabouts

One of the best travel-related scenes in a movie is from European Vacation when Clark and family enter the huge roundabout in London and can’t get out. “Look kids, Big Ben,” he says over and over again each time they round the circle. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here’s the scene on YouTube.)

My family and I found ourself in a similar situation once. We were in Paris; Dad was driving a rental car and we accidentally ended up in the hectic mess of cars that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe. I was pretty young at the time, but old enough to remember plenty of expletives coming from the front seat as I tucked my head between my legs and prayed. What’s worse is the only reason we found ourselves in that mess is because I wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. Here I was in one of the largest cultural centers in Europe — home to places like the Louvre, the Pantheon, and Chateau de Versailles — and I wanted to see the Hard Rock Cafe. Let’s never speak of this again.

The photo above is of what’s known as the Magic Roundabout — “the world’s ultimate traffic-control system” — in Swindon, Wilshire, England. It was built in 1972, and features five mini roundabouts inside of one larger, parent roundabout. Check out more pictures and video after the jump. Yikes!

You can buy a t-shirt with this design on it.

Here’s video from the driver’s prospective. Note: wicked techno soundtrack included.

Easy, right?

This scares me.

And yes, we finally made it to the Hard Rock Cafe. I’ve got a shirt to prove it. [via]

Five Tips for Students Booking Trips Abroad

Summer is right around the corner, which, for students (or anyone else who has their summers off) means the chance to travel. For those of you planning a vacation abroad, here’s five tips to keep in mind while you’re booking your trip.

Note: Some of these came ideas from a press release by Lessno.com — a travel website that, not surprisingly, specializes in backpacking trips for college students. So, keep in mind, they’re trying to sell you something. However, the advice seems useful, and I’ve amended their suggestions with personal experience.

1. Keep Travel Dates Flexible: This one may seem fairly obvious, but it’s worth noting, as — in my experience, at least — ticket prices can occasionally change dramatically, even from one day to the next.

2. Book Many Legs of a Trip at Once: By doing this you avoid purchasing one-way tickets, which — oddly — are sometimes more expensive than round-tip tickets. That being said, while you’re technically not supposed to, there’s nothing stopping you from buying a round-trip ticket, and forgoing the return journey if it doesn’t suit your overall travel plan.

3. Use Frequent Flier Points: Again, kind of obvious. But you may not know that you can use other people’s miles if you haven’t amassed many yourself. My dad often travels internationally for business, which came in very handy when I was in college, broke, and regularly trying to book expensive flights oversees.

4. Look For Local Airlines: Especially budget airlines. A lot of US-based travel sites don’t include the often absurdly cheap European options, like Easy Jet, or Ryan Air. (Though, it should be noted, the flight attendants on Ryan Air are a surly bunch.)

5. Book Travel with Friends: Again, worth doing, particularly if you’re in for a long haul. For those of you heading to multiple destinations, a large part of your experience will be the actual transit from place to place. If you don’t book together with friends, the chances that you’ll end up next to one another on flights — or on the same flights at all — is slim.

Finally, a suggestion that isn’t mentioned by Lesso.com — probably because they don’t offer this service — is, especially if you’re traveling through Europe, take the train. You’ll meet more people, the view is fantastic, train stations are way cooler than airports, and the whole thing will feel more “authentic.” Trust me.