When I surveyed my lovely readers recently and asked them what questions they have about travelling in Europe, one of the answers I received numerous times was ‘how do I find the most affordable accommodation in European cities?’
Of course ‘affordable’ can mean different things to different travellers but here are my tips for searching and finding accommodation to suit your needs.
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When I travel to Europe, my trips tend to be about eight weeks long so I need to look long and hard to find accommodation that fits our budget.
Often our European holidays will include short visits to my husband’s relatives or our friends who live in Europe, but it can still mean we are up for six or seven weeks worth of accommodation expenses so I do spend quite some time researching places to stay and comparing prices.
Depending on where we are visiting and how long we are staying in each place (I am a firm believer in staying a minimum of three nights at each destination, if possible), our style of accommodation, and therefore, budget, can vary.
For shorter stays I usually opt for a hotel and before booking, I tend to compare rates on websites like HotelsCombined with the rates that the hotel offers on their own website.
Once I have a particular hotel in mind, it also pays to check with a travel agent as the wholesale companies they deal with often have negotiated special rates (I speak from my past experience as a travel consultant) and that generally means I can pay in Australian dollars before I leave home, eliminating any currency fluctuations between the time of booking and the time of arriving at the hotel.
When comparing hotel rates, make sure you are comparing apples with apples – do all the rates you are looking at include breakfast, do they all offer the same cancellation options, is one rate ‘instant purchase’ whilst the other allows you to pay on arrival, etc?
These differences can have an effect on the price offered by the various online booking sites so whilst one site might be $50 per night cheaper, it may also be a non-refundable rate meaning that, should you have to cancel the booking, you lose your money. Know what you are paying for before you click the ‘Pay Now’ button.
B&B’s are also a good option for short stays. Whilst they are abundant in the UK and Ireland and throughout Europe, they do tend to be few and far between in most cities, mainly operating in rural areas. French B&B’s are called Chambre d’Hotes, whilst German-speaking countries refer to them as Pensions.
The website of the National Tourism Office of the destination you are headed to is often a good place to start your search, as are motoring guides like The AA and Michelin Guides. Sawday’s, an English company which produces B&B guides for many European countries, offers a great choice of B&B’s that their staff have personally visited. I’ve found a couple of beauties via Sawday’s guides.
Another option well worth considering is a stay in a monastery or convent. Australian-owned company Monastery Stays provide a booking service for over 500 monasteries and convents throughout Italy including the major cities. All rooms include private bathrooms, and breakfast is included in your nightly rate, making this an affordable choice for your Italian holiday.
You could also refer to the classified section of magazines like Royal Auto (published by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria – RACV), NRMA’s ‘Open Road’ magazine, etc. as these are a great place to find Australian-owned holiday accommodation throughout Europe.
There are also a huge number of international accommodation booking sites that specialise in self-catering accommodation such as Airbnb, Holiday Lettings and VRBO.
City apartments tend to be more expensive than rural ones but it really depends on the size of the apartment or cottage, the facilities provided and the time of year you are travelling.
My advice – first and foremost – make sure you are dealing with a reputable company as there are many bogus websites out there that will happily scam you. Always speak with the property owner or their agent to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate person or company and Google the website’s name to make sure no negative reviews or scam warnings come up.
By comparing accommodation prices via various sources, you should be able to find accommodation that meets your budget, however big or small that may be.
Note: I haven’t included any reference here to hostels as this style of accommodation is not for me. I stayed in a few hostels and dodgy two-star motels when I was travelling in my 20’s, but they aren’t on my itinerary these days! If they suit you and your budget, that’s great – please let me know where you find the best hostel rates and I’ll share with my readers.