One of the biggest expenses for any gap year is usually accommodation, although there are ways to reduce the amount of hard-earned cash you spend on finding a bed for the night. From hotels to hostels, and from camping to couchsurfing, we’ve outlined the main ways you can get a good night of sleep throughout the world, as well as the different pros and cons each of them offers.
Hostels are the traditional type of gap year accommodation. They’re cheap and cheerful, and provide a great way to meet other like-minded travellers when you arrive in a new country. Prices for a bed are usually really low – much lower than a hotel room – and you should be able to find a bed for between £1 and £20, depending on where you are (Europe and North America are going to be more expensive for everything, including hostels).
Don’t expect to be sleeping alone though when booking into a hostel (unless you choose an individual room, which are more expensive). Hostels are usually organised into dorms, with around 4-8 people sharing each room. This means that staying in a hostel doesn’t always provide the best quality of sleep, especially if the guy with incredibly loud snores sleeps next to you! Kitchen facilities are also shared, and you’ll save loads of money by cooking your own meals. There are also shared bathrooms, as well as washing facilities. Free Wi-Fi also comes as standard in most hostels.
Let’s get this out in the open straight away: for backpackers, we see little to no reason for staying in a hotel. They are expensive, impersonal and don’t encourage you to get out into the real world and see what the country has to offer. They are for romantic breaks or businessmen, not adventurous explorers such as yourselves! So, our advice to you is this: stay away from hotels, as you will run out of money way before you’ve seen everything you want to.
Unfortunately, there are a few places where you’ll almost certainly have to stay in a hotel, especially if you are straying off the beaten path. So, make sure you budget for this before you leave – and pre-book, just in case that isolated hotel happens to have run out of rooms when you arrive! When you’re there, try not to eat in the hotel (unless it’s included) in order to save some money, and remember that many of the services they offer are not free.
Bring back those childhood memories by putting up a tent and spending a night out in the wild – or at least in the confines of a camp site. Camping is just as cheap as a hostel – or completely free at times – however comes without the obvious advantages of comfort and convenience! Our big bit of advice would be this though: don’t simply set up camp wherever you feel. Use a camp site or make sure you permission to camp on a piece of land. Landowners throughout the world don’t take kindly to random strangers pitching a tent without their consent.
The other major disadvantage to camping is that it means you have to haul around a pretty large amount of kit, meaning it is only suitable if you have some kind of vehicle with you. While we would never slate camping – it’s a great way to see a country from a unique viewpoint – we would say that a hostel is a better option, especially in countries where hostels are incredibly cheap. And if you do decide to camp, make sure you know about any rules and regulations that might be in place in the country you are visiting.
Couchsurfing has jumped onto the scene in a big way over the last ten years, and it is one of the best concepts we’ve seen in the world of travel. It’s simple: you jump onto a site (the most popular being www.couchsurfing.org) and type in where you are going. You then get to connect with loads of people offering free sleeping arrangements to travellers, and hope that they will allow you to come and borrow their couch for a bit! There’s no cost, aside from a little gift for the host if you want to (which you should). Remember to offer your couch to travellers when you get home though, in order to keep couchsurfing alive and well throughout the world!
While hostels allow you to meet travellers and see the world with new friends, couchsurfing lets you meet real people from the place you’re visiting, and therefore really get under the skin of a country or city. The only issue is this: they aren’t as reliable as hostels, and don’t offer as much security. If you’re a confident traveller, couchsurfing is a definite option though, and a very good one at that.