Most likely, you will find yourself wanting to combine different traveling styles, and that different styles fit different countries or regions. I once took a trip where I stayed in a youth hostel one night, a luxury cabin with a bathroom, kitchen and cable TV another night, a rented room in a woman's house another night, and a cabin with nothing but two beds and a hot plate another night.
But when all is said and done: do what is right for YOU. Don't let anyone bully you into traveling a way you don't want to, or make you feel self-conscious about your preferences. I have friends who balk at the way I travel, and I've balked at some of their preferences. But, in the end, we did what was right for each of us, and had the trip each of us wanted.
Chain hotels or chain motels
I use them only if I'm traveling across the USA, and trying to get across a few states or the entire country as quickly as possible. I like them in the sense that the room is usually always clean, there's cable TV, and there's a big bathroom. But they have little personality and they all look the same. If I'm in a different country, I want to actually feel like I'm in a different country! But maybe such will give you the security and predictability you need to feel comfortable in a new, strange environment -- if so, go for it. I will not stay anywhere that does not have adequate safety, no matter what the price. And I follow my own advice about safety when staying in such.
Unless someone else is paying, I don't stay in these, because I can't afford them, and because I don't see what all the extra funds I'm paying go for, in terms of my actual comfort. And in other countries, you will feel very, very far from the locals if you stay in these. But maybe snazzy carpeting and uniformed staff and valet parking and in-hotel restaurants, bars and other activities so that you rarely have to leave the building are what you expect when you travel -- if so, go for it. But remember -- a luxury hotel is often no more safe than anywhere else. Always take steps to stay safe.
Independent and Budget Hotels and Motels
In the USA, I'm frightened of what we call budget hotels and motels, but abroad, budget hotels (pensions) are usually family-run, and provide a friendliness and warmth, plus a closeness to the local culture, that I want while traveling. I've stayed in budget motels in Jordan, Egypt and Spain, and each has provided me with basic, clean accommodations and a lot of help in getting to where I want to go for the day. Also, budget hotels abroad usually include breakfast. But, as noted in the following description as well, breakfasts can vary widely: some will be generous and some will be just bread and coffee. Look for budget hotels abroad that have excellent access to local attractions, or to transportation for such.
In the USA, and independent hotel does not necessarily mean it's also cheap, but it does often mean you can get a great local experience. For instance, both the Austin Motel and the San Jose Hotel, both in Austin, Texas, are legendary for both their locations (just down the street from each other, in the heart of the South Austin music and food scene), their atmosphere and their attitudes. I think I got a job once because I recommended the San Jose Motel to the company's representative.
Bed & Breakfasts (B & Bs), Pensions, "Zimmer Frei"
In the USA, B & Bs are oh-so-refined, to the point of making me uncomfortable, and they are also very expensive. But abroad, bed and breakfasts, also known as pensions or by the German sign for a room for rent ("Zimmer Frei"), provide the friendliness, warmth, attention and closeness to the local culture that I want while traveling -- and often at a great price. You probably won't get a TV or phone at European B & Bs (although I always did in Eastern Europe!), but who needs them when you are just using your room to sleep after traveling all day? B & Bs also often provide much better parking security if you are traveling by bicycle or motorcycle, since they will often allow you to park in the family garage, or in a fenced, locked area of the property. Breakfasts can vary widely, however -- some will be generous and some will be just bread and coffee. Look for B & Bs abroad that have excellent access to local attractions, or to transportation for such.
Usually called "youth" hostels, these can provide a great way to travel on the cheap and to meet other travelers, but they aren't for everyone. I'm not a big fan of youth hostels -- I prefer bed and breakfasts or rented rooms when traveling abroad, and in the USA, hostels are barely existent. If a youth hostel is truly youth-focused, then it will be way too loud at night to be able to sleep (something I do enjoy doing after a long day of site-seeing), and in addition, I have little interest in talking with the others if they are traveling only to party and get laid. That said, some hostels are fantastic -- particularly in Scotland and Scandinavia, where hostels cater much more to walkers and adult travelers, rather than just youth, and staying in them gives you access to not only cheap, comfortable accommodations, but really cool fellow travelers. Many hostels offer private rooms for couples or even for single travelers. Some even have bathrooms in your room, rather than down the hall. If you are traveling in a group of three or more, it will be easy and cheap for you to reserve an entire group dormitory just for yourselves (provided such is available). Would I recommend them for a woman traveling alone? Only if you can get a dormitory with women only, or a private room. Some tips for staying in a hostel:
I love camping in the USA and Europe, next to some lovely scenery, be it a lake, a mountain, the ocean, a huge glen, whatever. Camping doesn't mean you also have to backpack, at least not in Europe -- you can rent a car, take a taxi, or take mass transportation to travel within a country or region, or just across town. And as one of the best parts of traveling is partaking in a region's own cuisine, you can forget your cooking equipment as well, if you like. But in the USA, camping will limit your site-seeing to rural areas, unless you have a car -- camping sites in and near very large US cities are rather dreadful. Look for campsites that have clean showers and bathrooms (and plenty of them), a special area specifically for tent campers (the more it's segregated from the caravans, the better), and a fence all around the camp site, with just one entrance/exit for cars. In England and Scotland, campsites are often near a small village (that means easy access to grocery stores and PUBS!).
For choosing your tent: get a two-person tent if you will usually be camping alone, and a three-person tent if you will be camping with another person; the extra space is for your gear, and room to easily move about - something you will want for dressing, or on a rainy day when you might be in your tent for an extended period. Get a tent with a vestibule (good for leaving shoes and, perhaps, your cooler, if you aren't in bear country, outside), and with ventilation in the back of the tent (some days and nights, you will need it!). I think a separate rain fly is essential, one that extends well over the door. Tents that have floors made from one piece of material are less likely to let water seep in than those with seams. Having a tarp on the ground under your tent will better ensure no water gets in (water in your tent is AWFUL, trust me).
You want a warm sleeping bag (bring a light sheet if it will be too warm to close up the sleeping bag, and use this to cover you when you sleep instead of the bag), and a air mattress (many camping mattresses will self-inflate at least 50% in about 45 minutes). I bring an air pillow as well. All this packs down surprisingly small.
You can hit up friends, and their friends, to let you sleep on their couch or floor or guest bed when you are in their area. There are also web sites where you can register to be hosted by other registrants when you visit. It's an ultra cheap way of traveling, but it also means that you probably don't get to sleep until everyone else does, that you will have little if any privacy, and if you don't like your accommodations, you have no options other than keeping quiet or leaving. I've slept on friends' couches, floors and guest beds, but my limit on such is two nights, both for their sake and mine. And I also make a point of taking the household out to dinner for putting me up. Ask well before you arrive if you need to bring a sleeping bag.
Remember that, with the Internet, it's now oh-so-easy to find out what kind of reputation any hotel, hostel, bed & breakfast or campground has among travelers! Always research before you book. I use:
If you have NEVER traveled outside the USA, then I would suggest your staying in a chain hotel, budget hotel or bed & breakfast on your first trip -- at least for the first two or three days. Then experiment for the rest of the trip. Don't give up on something because of a first-time bad experience.
And remember: if you don't feel safe, go somewhere where you will. If that means spending more money, then spend more money. Never compromise on your safety.
Also see: Traveling in the USA: Advice for Camping
Advice on things you should do before you leave on a trip, to ensure you can access information via any computer or your feature phone or smart phone that you might need while traveling
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