Independent travel is nearly always an exercise in compromise. Everything from where you go, to how you travel, and what you do when you arrive all involve choices between functionality, cost, and comfort. Finding a place to sleep on the road is one of the biggest areas to consider when planning an adventure, and your choice may depend on your budget, your itinerary, and even how 'authentic' of a journey you wish to make.
On past journeys I've slept just about everywhere - 5 star hotels, luxurious guesthouses, "couchsurfing" home stays, trains, planes, picnic tables and porches have all been my bed for at least a night; each option has its time and place, and at the end of the day knowing which option to take can be the difference between restful sleep, and a night of tossing and turning with worry about robbers, security guards, loud parties or hungry critters looking to snack on your last protein bar.
Here's a quick look at some of the more popular options:
Hotels: The easiest and nearly always the most expensive option, hotels offer a convenient place to stay, a (usually) secure place to store your things, and simple terms for booking a reservation. For many travelers hotels are the default choice for accommodations and some people aren't even aware that there are any other options for temporary housing other than the local park bench.
Camp Grounds: Camp grounds are a great place to save money and still have some measure of security while traveling. Prices for campgrounds range all across the board with full service sites for people with trailers costing as much or more as a night at some hotels, to walk-in primitive sites at state parks often available for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Private campgrounds often come with a camp store - sometimes even a restaurant attached - hot showers, and community areas with electrical outlets. Some places have added amenities like pools, and wireless internet access as well.
Short Term Rentals: If you are planning to "base camp" in a single location while exploring the local area for several weeks, you may want to consider a short-term rental property. For stays of a week or more, renting a room or even an entire apartment or home is often far more cost effective and enjoyable than staying in a hotel. Scheduling a short-term rental takes more planning than hotels and campgrounds - don't expect to find many last minute options - but if you plan ahead you can enjoy all of the normal traditional comforts of living at home - even halfway around the world.
House-Sitting: Similar to short-term rentals, house sitting offers extended stay travelers a great way to stay in a real home while on a journey - the biggest difference is that in return for caring for the hosts residence while you are there, your stay is free! The house-sitting market has become much more crowded than it once was due to idiots like me telling everyone and their brother about it, but you can still find great gigs in cool places taking care of someone's home while they are on holiday - there's even a variation of house-sitting in which travelers arrange to simply trade houses for a few weeks or months each getting to stay in the others home during their travels. House-sitting is definitely not for everyone, but for responsible 'grown-up' types, it's a great way to keep your housing bill down (which means more money for wine and museums).
Travelers Networks: People have been putting together groups of like-minded travelers for year, but with the explosion of social networking on the web travelers networks have become a truly global phenomenon, and one of my favorite ways to find a place to sleep at night. When you sign up for a travelers network, you volunteer a certain level of accommodations for people traveling through your area - maybe a couch to crash on, use of the laundry machine, a hot meal, a place to camp, etc. In return, fellow travelers extend the same invitation to you on your own journeys. For full time travelers - who may or may not have a home to offer - most of the organizations also offer the option of donating to help maintain the site. Couchsurfing.org is probably the best know of the travelers networks but there are dozens more available, some are even targeted to certain typed of travelers so that host families will be familiar with your unique needs. The biggest benefit of traveler networks (aside from the massive cost savings over a hotel room) is the chance to meet and talk to the local families you stay with. Anyone who has done any traveling at all knows the value of good local information; I've found that some of my best 'finds' have come about as the result of the people I have met through travel networks - some of my host families have even played tour guide for a day - you won't get that at a hotel or a campground!
Stealth: For some people "stealth camping" is the first place they consider when on a trip. The romance of finding a secluded patch of earth to call your own for the night, out of the way, and totally free is too much to resist. Experienced stealth campers wouldn't think of any other option when it comes time to bed down at night, they just wait for the sun to set, the stroll or ride off to some secluded spot they found earlier in the day, set up their tent of hammock, or even just toss their sleeping bag on the ground, and sack out for a night under the stars. Stealth camping offers many rewards - from being the ultimate free accommodation solution, to the peace and quiet of simply being out in the world where no one else is around. It's not for everyone, but for the truly adventurous, there's no place better than a free place.
For many would be travelers the cost of accommodations while traveling is the biggest obstacle standing in their way - the reality is that a lack of understanding about all of your options is all that really stands between you and the adventure of a lifetime - or the adventure of a weekend. When I first started traveling one of my biggest budget concerns was finding a place to sleep - and there still are times when a nice hotel with a quiet, private room and a steaming hot shower is my favorite option - but overall I have found that there are as many choices in finding a place to sleep as there are places to visit, and there is always an option available for every budget. Learn more about independent travel options, read the stories of my own adventures, and more by visiting my blog at http://www.bigrhinodog.com So now that you know you'll able to find someplace to lay your head at night, the only real question is where do you want to go?


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