4 Budget Hotel and Hostel Alternatives That Promote Local Culture Immersion

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Sara Nakash, Brooklyn bred, world tread. She has braved prison ghost cats in New Zealand, was involved in a bush taxi car chase in Togo, and accidentally biked from Luxembourg to Germany. Her love of travel was matched by her frustration in finding a service to cater to her particular travel goals. From this frustration Off the Map Travel was born. Here anyone can escape those cookie cutter travel packages and truly embrace the nature of your destination.

Staying somewhere other than a hotel or a hostel can be an adventure of its own. It can certainly give you a cultural experience that a hotel or hostel may not provide. It may also give you a kind of personal touch that other hotel-staying travelers won’t get. Let’s look at a few alternatives to typical hotel/hostel travel lodging.


A homestay is a good option for an extended visit somewhere. A great example of a homestay situation is when a family hosts an exchange student. The student stays with the family and experiences the culture and the language through an immersion type situation. But one need not be an exchange student to do a homestay. Other times, it may be a situation where the traveler does chores or tasks for the family such as cleaning, milking cows, or working as a nanny or au pair.

For two months, I did a homestay on top of a mountain in Akaroa, New Zealand. I shared a room with another homestayer, and three days a week, I chopped wood and fed a wood oven, which heated the water for the home. After growing up in New York City, it was quite a different world! Suddenly, I found myself living among hundreds of sheep, 15 minutes from town and ninety minutes from the nearest city of Christchurch, New Zealand. (I did really love the hiking opportunities I found in my remote location!)

Private Home Rental

One of the more recent and popular alternatives to hotels and hostels is the short-term rental of private homes through sites such as airbnb.com and homeaway.com. Want to spend a weekend in a castle with your sisters? Want to take your extended family to a cabin for two weeks? This is the way to do it. You won’t get maid service, but having the run of a nice place for the time you rent it is a pretty nice deal.

While visiting Savannah, Georgia, my friends and I decided to rent a carriage house through homeaway.com. Contrary to what you might expect, this was actually cheaper than most of the hotels in the area. It was really enjoyable to escape the hotels for a few days, while still being close enough to see any sites or visit any restaurants that piqued our interest. Plus, we had a full kitchen, a private pool, and a private backyard, complete with a table and chairs.

Shared Apartment Rental

Another housing opportunity available on airbnb.com and homeaway.com is a shared rental. In the Balkans, as well as other parts of Europe, this is commonly called  zimmer or sobe . With this time of accommodation, you would rent a room within an apartment or a home, but would share the home with the host and/or other travelers. You would have full use of the kitchen and other household items, but you wouldn’t have it all to yourself, though you wouldn’t be expected or required to eat or socialize with the host or other travelers.

During a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I had the opportunity to stay in a sobe when I had a complication with my hostel reservation in the city of Mostar. Through this mix-up, however, I got a rare glimpse of local living by staying in the home of a Bosnian woman. There was a strong language barrier, but we managed to get along, and to my delight, she treated me to a homemade Bosnian dessert and tea.


A guesthouse or an inn could refer to a number of different types of accommodations. Some might be more hotel-like, some might be more like a B&B. But they are typically budget accommodations with basic private rooms and ensuite bathrooms. They often have common rooms to promote social interaction among travelers and sometimes, staff members, as well. These places are often family-run, though not necessarily. I have one friend who has traveled the world with humanitarian aid organizations and has stayed in many church-sponsored guesthouses throughout Africa and Asia.

In Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, I stayed at a great family-run guesthouse/inn called The Little Inn. In places like these, it’s often easier to get personal service that you wouldn’t normally get at a typical hotel. At The Little Inn, the owner and her son went out of their way to make us comfortable. They stopped by our rooms to make sure we had everything we needed. They gave us excellent tips about getting around the city and what to do while we were there. They even gave us umbrellas when it started to rain! It definitely had something special that you just don’t often find in hotels.

Next time you begin to plan a trip, think outside the box! A nice place to stay that isn’t a hotel or hostel is only as far away as your fingertips! Just make sure to use a reputable site like the ones mentioned here and you might find yourself on the budget-friendly trip of a lifetime,

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