Most of my beloved readers and followers might be interested to know this, or maybe not. But, during the course of my 2-weeks in Europe, we experienced the best and worst (sort of) of both worlds. Maybe I’m still not the expert on such matters, anyhow, I would like to share my 2 cents worth, just for discussion sake.
1) Location, location, location
Throughout my stay, the number one question before I book a hotel or staying via couch-surfing is — location. This is a must especially if you are planning to leave early for a flight or that you’re planning to get around easily without lugging your suitcases along the cobblestone pathways.
My preference is to stay near the departure point, especially if the departure time is awkward, e.g. 7am Eurostar to Amsterdam from Paris. If that can’t be done, usually if you’re traveling by plane, no one wants to stay near the airport, you can choose to stay near the train station. But those places might be a little seedy for your safety, although I need to stress here that I never felt so when I was around Europe. Another choice would be at the interchange point for the Metro (underground) or tram stops. An example would be the République Metro stop in Paris, it interchanges with no less than FIVE different underground routes.
For those that prefer to call themselves travelers (instead of tourists), couch-surfing locations might be suitable. These are usually in the suburbs, and you get to mingle with the locals, waking up to the sounds of the neighbourhood. Although, like us, you might even find such locations right in the middle of the city. Nearer than the hotels!
The in thing nowadays is planning for a round-the-world (RTW) trip. You can find at least a few blogs pertaining to such activities around the internet. For the unfortunate ones (or fortunate, depending on how you view things), we are stuck with a short vacation to satisfy our itchy feet.
Couch-surfing is an up and coming trend, taking the world by storm, you have your AirBnbs, your homestays, your couch-surfers and various others, that allow you to, in some ways, rent a room or even the whole house for the duration of your vacation! This is an interesting concept if you’re looking forward to making friends with the locals, or having a ‘free’ local guide to bring you around.
Other than the human touch, couch-surfers usually have other perks which require extra payment if you’re staying in a hotel. Among them, internet usage. Both of the AirBnb’s apartments that we rented in Paris and Rome, gave us full access to free internet during our stay.
The apartment in Paris, even came with a washing machine, satellite TV channels (albeit mostly in French) and the opportunity to cook our own meals! I think the experience was made pleasurable by the foresight of the host to include free travel maps and even pointing out some of the local shops around the area to us.
Although not all was good news, the one in Rome, despite having a good location was very small. It had leaky pipes in the bathroom and there was something wrong with the bathtub’s plumbing, water couldn’t flow out as fast as we wanted. There was no TV and the bed was actually a sofa bed. But don’t be startled by these, they were actually mentioned on the host’s page before we book the apartment, so it was all expected. But since it came cheap, we weren’t complaining too much. The apartment was just a place for us to sleep.
3) Room service, please.
Most of us are brought up in the era of hotels and their impeccable services. Some of you probably couldn’t even imagine yourself sleeping on other people’s beds or sharing a house with another stranger. Then this is the only option for you.
During the Eurotrip, the reason I chose a hotel over couch-surfing was usually the fact that there weren’t any in the nearby vicinity. Most couch-surfers in Amsterdam are located away from the town center. Staying in a hotel means that you get to come back to a made-up room with fresh sheets and bath gels all replaced, you could even order some room service or get yourself a personal wake-up call if needed.
Another reason I chose the hotels was for the airport transfer. Most of them would probably have the service for free or at least a small fee. And you don’t even have to load your suitcases into the taxis or buses!
Hotels usually give us a sense of peace and security, they come with door locks and private safes. They are located in some of the more populated districts. They even provide free breakfasts, if that’s what you were looking for. But most of the time, it is the easy and hassle-free choice. Staying with a host, you might need to be there at a certain time, or that you need to wait for the host to show up to let you in.
The dreaded 6-letter word that all vacation planners hate. It should have been the first question but I usually don’t use it as a yardstick for my planning. The reason is because it might mess up the location factor. For my Europe trip, you would be amazed to find, that except in Venice where I splurged on the accommodation, due to the parents, both couch-surfing and hotels actually cost almost the same on average. All less than €100 per night.
Although if you’re traveling to a much affordable area, where the local currency is much smaller than yours, then you might be able to splurge on some of the better quality accommodation that’s available.
5) What do you like?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal experience or preference while traveling. You might hear horror stories about couch-surfing, or some not-so-good reviews on TripAdvisor about the hotel that you booked. But none can trump that gut feeling that all of us have.
You need to take some time to do some in-depth research, especially so if you’re planning for a RTW trip. Weed out the bad ones. You could even follow what I did, enjoy and experience both hotels and couch-surfing. They have their own pros and cons. You should know by now, which of the above interests you the most and then pick a spot, go vacation!
Don’t let the accommodation be the center of your decision, the destination is where it matters the most. Share your opinions and tips here.