When traveling, the options for where you will sleep are pretty varied. Where you stay opens, or closes, you to different options. There is nothing wrong with any; this is your vacation. Do what you want, and what works for you.
The main question you’ll have to answer is: what are you looking for this ‘place’ to do for you? Will you only be sleeping here? Will you use it as a base camp, where people will rotate in and out during the day? Will you eat there? Will you prepare meals there? What, really, are you looking for?
A friend’s couch, or spare room
If you are making your decision completely by budget, you’re probably going to wind up staying with people you know. While you may not have to pay as much actual money, this type of lodging may come with a more personal ‘cost,’ potentially adding stress to relationships and requiring a loss of privacy. I believe this situation only works when you are traveling to a city to visit that person, not traveling to see the city and stay for free with someone you know. Sure, you don’t have to spend 100% of your time with your hosts, but they should be the best thing you see while in town. No one likes a free-loader. No. One.
A stranger’s spare room (or more!)
There are a lot of great resources which allow you to rent a room in someone’s home while you are on vacation. The most popular is Airbnb.com. For a fraction of what a traditional hotel room might cost, you can search tons of options. But it’s not just the random spare bedroom in the basement. Oh no! Airbnb also includes full apartment sublet and results from local bed and breakfasts. Recently scams involving postings for properties which are not actually for rent have been in the news. (People ruin everything. Jerks.)
A condo, timeshare, apartment or house
For me, when you’re staying more than a couple of days or when you’re traveling with a group of people, renting a condo or timeshare is the best way to stay. When Trisha and I went to the Cayman Islands in 2002, we rented a condo and it was perfect. Separate bathrooms were a savior in the morning. We had a kitchen and a grill, and ate most of our meals in. We spent $90 on food for the week, including charcoal. THE WEEK! This saved us over $1,000. The luxury of having snacks on hand, and being able to grab a piece of fruit in the afternoon was great. Each time we ate out, it was over $30. Including the time we ate at the beach bar across the street and only had a hot dog and a bag of chips! Eating cereal for breakfast on the patio did not lessen the magic of our vacation. Again, do some research. There are some great options that offer both U.S. and foreign options, including vrbo.com.
When we went to Europe in 1999, there were conversations about staying at hostels and we knew those options were there for us if we needed them. Planning a vacation around a hostel stay does require a lot of flexibility, but if it works out you will be rewarded in the wallet. Contrary to the thinking of many U.S. travelers, hostels are not just for college kids. Do some research; there are hostels for many types of travelers. Keep in mind that you may be required to bring linens or towels, but as you are planning ahead that won’t be a problem.
A traditional hotel
There are a lot of great reasons to stay in a hotel. Maid and room service not being the least of them. There is a fair amount of security in hotels and, for the most part, you can trust that your belongings will be safe while you are out for the day/evening. The concierge at your hotel may be able to help secure excursions or event access which would otherwise be impossible for you to get. And let’s not forget the endless supply of towels. With the variety of hotel amenity levels, you will certainly find one within your budget. Whether it’s also within your comfort zone, I cannot guarantee.
Planes, trains and boats
While not traditional, there is no reason you can’t make the most of your travel situation and sleep too. Clearly, you can’t be driving. But if your vacation will occur in more than one location, why should you pay for a hotel and spend an entire sunny day watching the world zip by your window? This is the premise behind the cruise industry: see many places, unpack once. When Trisha and I were in Europe, we basically stayed at a hotel every-other day. On the alternate days, we were on the train, moving our adventure to a new location. Best sleep I ever had? Definitely not. For most people traveling from the U.S. to Europe, a PM departure has you arriving bright and early the next morning. Your days on vacation are limited; make the most of them.