The Road Less Traveled: Accommodation
BEST 3 BUDGET ACCOMMODATIONS for an Authentic Travel Experience
Savannah Grace, Featured Writer
Happy Valentines Day to All! Today is a very special day for me because I am on my way to pick up my new husband from the Vancouver, Canada airport. I’m toting roses and chocolates in hand. The plan was to write/discuss the topic of PASSION, but opening up my computer this week, I am bombarded by hearts and love and Cupids. I didn’t want to go down that same commercial road. Instead, we’ll discuss ACCOMMODATION, giving you some guidance on my top 3 favorite ways to find a place to stay.
When it comes to travel accommodations I consider authenticity, safety and of course, budget. After more than a dozen years traveling from park benches to 6-star luxury resorts, these 3 forms of accommodation have provided me with the most authentic experiences anywhere on the planet. And for those of you on a tight budget, these will work for you too.
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I’m betting many of you have no idea what this is, but you need to. Couchsurfing can be done all over the world. Local hosts open up their homes, extending their hospitality at no cost to you. Over and over I was beyond impressed through Bulgaria, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Liberia (just to name a few), as the local people opened their big hearts and gave us genuine experiences in their homeland. In West Africa, I was impressed that our hosts always brought out the best in us while showing us the finest in them. We were guided to taste, feel, see, hear and smell their country first hand. "Couchsurfing" is a generally safe way to travel and through the Couchsurfing website you can see each host profile and read comments from previous hosts and travellers they stayed with or had hosted. One of our most memorable stays through Couchsurfing, was with a local Mauritanian family in the capital city of Nouakchott. The host family actually moved out of their home in order to accommodate my entire family of seven. For a week, they sacrificed their own comforts so we would be well taken care of. In this home their minimum was very sparse, without electricity, without running water, they generously brought us food, water, candles and blankets so we’d be more comfortable on the floor. They invited us down the street where they were temporarily staying with relatives, to share their hot meal everyday. The women served us, seated on the floor, from large communal bowls containing potato and meat and we all dug in. Even though eating with cutlery is not the norm, they managed to find us spoons and forks. Every night we were included in streets parties, gathering on the curb drinking tea made over an open fire with their friends and family late into the night.
Many would consider this form of accommodation very “out of the box” and even “dangerous”, but given the right amount of caution and common sense, this method can offer some of the most rewarding travel experiences. Especially when on a long-term trip, like I was on, you need to stay open to meeting the local people, keeping a flexible schedule at all times, to avoid missing out on some of the richest bonding time with the local citizens. This type involves the most trust, but what is travelling to see the world about if not learning to trust and embrace the people in it? Of course, this form doesn’t offer you any background check on the person or family you’re about to stay with, like Couchsurfing or Airbnb, but using your common sense and instincts can take you pretty far. Obviously, don’t follow some creeper home or go down a back alley, especially if you’re a solo female. This, I would never do.
As a family we travelled around the world on an extremely low, pennies-a-day budget and our agenda was flexible, so we wouldn’t miss out on invitations we received along the way. Afghanistan was our most incredible example of such random act of hospitality. A young man on a local bus from Kabul to Kunduz began a chat with us. After a gruelling bus ride, he invited us to stay with his sister’s family in Kunduz. His 18-year-old sister clad in the full head to toe garments, revealing nothing but her warm brown eyes was the third wife of a man in his 50’s and pregnant with his 18th child! It was only when my mother, sister and I were shuffled off into the women’s section of the baked mud home, hidden from the eyes of men, that she removed her headscarf and revealed her extraordinary beauty. Being welcomed into a real-life, in-action home in Afghanistan gave me the most mind altering view of this country, which is vastly different from my own. Despite just showing up on their doorstep, we were treated like royalty, like long lost relatives. They brought in live a band with singers, dancers and local musical instruments for us. We were stuffed full from a buffet of kebabs, naan bread, oranges and apricots. The next day we were toured around the countryside while being introduced to family and friends who again spoiled us with tea and bread dipped in fresh honey, as we sat together cross-legged on woven carpets under the trees.
To read more on this particular Afghan adventure click here.
If the first two options are a little bit out of your comfort zone and you first want to wet your toes with the locals, Airbnb is a great option. This choice is not free, but it still offers a raw but authentic view on local life and the country you are visiting. Rather than staying in a “dodgy” hostel filled with foreigners just like yourself or in a Hilton Hotel that is identical anywhere in the world, why not stay in a local home? With Airbnb you have the option to choose different levels of comfort and privacy, depending on your budget, you can crash on a local couch for a few dollars, rent a room in a house for a few more dollars or splurge and rent an entire house just for yourself. The favorite experience to date was when my mother, aunt, cousin and I rented a top floor, full wrap around balcony apartment on the same street where the 2015 Paris bombings had taken place, just 4 days earlier. It was understandably quiet and I loved the tiny elevator and deep spiralling stairs with red carpet leading up to our top floor, 4-bedroom apartment. Despite being a hundred years old and worn beautifully, it was a lovely, comfortable home that made our family reunion that much more memorable.
Since that trip, I am now a 5-star Superhost on Airbnb with several homes listed. Being a host on Airbnb is a great way to meet fellow travel enthusiasts and bring the world and its citizens into my own home, when I’m not on the road venturing beyond my own borders. If you ever want to Stay Nearby Amsterdam in The Netherlands, don’t hesitate to sign up for Airbnb and reach out to me!
What is your favorite form of accommodation for achieving an authentic feel for the country you’re travelling in?
Join us TODAY at 1pmNYC/6pmUK on “The Road Less Travelled” Twitter LIVE chat for a chat on ACCOMMODATION. Search the hashtag #TRLT to find us and don’t forget to include the hashtag in your tweets to participate with your fellow travellers.
Inspire and be inspired. I am here each and every week hosting the chat with fellow travellers Shane Dallas (public speaker, visited 100+ countries), Jessica Lipowski (accomplished author and “foodie”) and Anton Magnin (specialist in family travel).
Can’t wait to hear from you.
You’ve made your airline reservations, you’ve selected your hotel, you’ve put your dog in the kennel, and you’ve forwarded your mail. Your international trip is just around the corner. Now it’s time to consider the risks you will face during your journey and select an insurance plan that meets your needs. It’s Triptime®.