When you travel a lot, all the beds you’ve slept in start to blend together; even some of the best and worst accommodation experiences become a blur of (mostly-)white sheets. But every once in a while, a place stands out– for its unbelievable location, gorgeous decor, interesting ambiance, or fun extras. Traveling on a limited budget like mine might once have meant shivering in shoebox-like accommodations on the outskirts of a city, but these days there are many affordable options (including Airbnb, but I have reservations about its reservations, as mentioned in a previous post). Here are five unique, reasonably-priced experiences I’ll never forget:
Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon, Portugal
See for yourself how beautiful this hostel is. It starts at around 10-15 euros per night for an 8-bed dorm (but also offers more private options). It’s right smack in the middle of picturesque Lisbon, a five-minute walk from the beach and practically next-door to the metro. There’s a big, beautiful kitchen and group cultural dinners that cost less than local restaurants. Whenever someone scoffs at the idea of staying in a hostel, I direct them to the Living Lounge Hostel website to check their snobbery.
Ostello Bello in Milan, Italy
When I heard, “the free dinner is served between 7 and 9”, I honestly pictured stale bread and deli meat– low expectations are key when lodging on the cheap. The reality: a table heaped with pastas and salads and tasty bread. I was floored, and then full. This hostel also offers a roof deck garden with a hammock, and friendly conversational atmosphere everywhere.
Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland
Cozy, quirky, and located in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, I’ve returned several times to Castle Rock. The building is maze-like, and every nook features a cute decoration (for example, mismatched paintings and murals and posters, some silly and some pretty; suits of armor, maps, tapestries, big iron chandeliers) or comfy sofa. It’s got plenty of books and quieter side rooms, for those who want to retreat from human interaction for a little while, but the moment you step outside you’re on the Royal Mile. This place is fun to explore and really hopping around any holiday (read: drunk college kids in costumes, so plan accordingly, depending on whether that’s something that appeals to you or not).
Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald, Switzerland
I’ll let this one introduce itself:
The Mountain Hostel is basically a no-frills wooden lodge in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Before I stayed here, I’d never seen mountains like this up close, so immense I could hardly process what I was looking at: they felt like part of the sky. To get here, you have to take a cable car up into the tiny town of Gimmelwald, which sits at the intersection of a number of excellent hiking paths. At night there was nothing to do but read one of the most entertaining guestbooks I’ve ever seen (one entry was a multi-page, politically-incorrect rant about the French) and socialize in the small dining area (I fondly remember a strapping glassblower from Montana, and his chiseled jaw).
Okko Jardin Hoche Hotel in Grenoble, France
Okko is a reasonably-priced four-star hotel chain, but the mood and the style here is totally different from other, similarly-priced hotels. Okko Jardin Hoche is located in downtown Grenoble, with mountain views and a terrace overlooking the Jardin Hoche park. It feels luxurious, welcoming, and comfortable, a mood reinforced by the free drink and delicious apéro served nightly in their sleek common area. The beds are huge and cloud-like, the showers stream like waterfalls, and the wifi is reliable. I’ve stayed here a couple of times now on weekend work get-aways, and nothing makes buckling down easier to bear than tasty food, wine, coffee, mountain views, and a giant bed to work from.