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Your Ultimate Guide To Vacation Rentals On A Budget

Between hostels and house swaps, there are plenty of vacation rental options out there. Which is best for you?

Since the birth of AirBnb, the market for vacation rentals has been particularly saturated with all different types of accommodations for the budget-conscious traveler to stay in. There are definite pros and cons to each option, but ultimately, it's about your preferences. Find out what kind of vacation rental is right for you below:

Hotels:
Generally, hotels are going to be your most expensive and most secure option, but that can depend on the city and country you're traveling in. If privacy and security are important to you, hotels are worth exploring. You can expect to have your own space with a lock on the door only you and hotel employees can open. Hotels are slowly starting to eliminate free amenities, so depending on where you're staying, add-ons like breakfast, wifi, movie channels, etc., will be coming out of your pocket. Surprisingly, there are cities across the globe where hotels are more competitively priced than AirBnbs, including Barcelona and San Diego. However, those instances are few and far between. Hotels can be competitively priced, but usually that's only among other hotels. If you're most comfortable in hotels, but still looking to travel on a budget, check out chains major chains and Groupon for special deals.

Airbnb:
More and more, Airbnb is the go-to option for travelers looking for a place to stay. With more than a million properties worldwide, it is an incredibly customizable experience. You can choose a private studio apartment in New York City, or a quaint cabin in the French Alps where the host is hands-on and ready to help. Prices vary, with plenty of options listed under $100 for thrifty travelers. Depending on the city, this can be something to be wary of—cheap apartment stays sometimes mean you aren't in the best part of town or that you're pretty far removed from the area's main attractions. Sometimes paying a little extra money for an Airbnb stay can pay off—if you stay somewhere that offers access to a kitchen, you can save a lot of money on food by the end of your trip. It also gives you the chance to live like the locals while having access to a bathroom that is probably more private and much cleaner than any you'll find in a hostel. There are a few things AirBnb users should always be aware of, like hidden fees and the potential for cancellation. The hidden fees can cover cleaning expenses, security deposits, or an extra person upcharge, but some of them don't show up until you have your credit card in hand and are ready to book. Also, your hosts reserves the right to cancel on you at any time—so if something comes up two nights before you're set to arrive, you're SOL.

Hostels:
Hostel experiences can be hit or miss, so make sure you do your research ahead of time and read the reviews that past patrons have left on the hostel websites. If you're social and looking for a cheap spot within walking distance of a popular city destination, hostels are going to be your best bet. However, the industry is much more developed in Europe than North America. Hostels are still fairly few and far between in the U.S., and the sociable culture European hostels are known for hasn't made the jump across the pond just yet. And while meeting people from all over the world and forming connections is a definite plus for hostels (for some people—no judgment if you aren't about that), there is always the possibility that you will be paired with loud, raucous roommates—sometimes five of them. If co-ed housing is a problem for you, make sure you look into that, too. Most hostels have lockers, so break-ins aren't as big of an issue as people make it out to be, but if the hostel you're looking at doesn't guarantee somewhere to lock up your stuff, look elsewhere.

House Swapping:
This one is admittedly more complicated than the other options, but if you have the patience, trust, and resources, this could be a great option. Memberships on home swapping websites range from free to a couple hundred dollars (reputable companies tend to have some kind of service fee). There are different kinds of swaps, including the classic house swap, the vacation house swap, and a hospitality swap, where you stay in your swapping partner's house while they are still there. For international travel, experts recommend you start communicating with your potential partner 3-6 months in advance—sometimes even nine. You can partake in a house swap even if you're in an apartment or condo, just be sure to clear it with your landlord. Your first instinct might be to worry about your valuables being stolen, but that generally isn't a problem in home swaps—your partner has to trust you as much as you have to trust them, so it's in their best interest to be a good guest, too. For casual or last minute travelers, this probably isn't the most ideal option, but if you travel frequently and are open-minded about opening your home to strangers, it's worth considering.

The verdict:
You know your travel style best, and you know what you're comfortable with. Price, convenience, and privacy are all important to consider, but ultimately, the place you stay isn't going to make or break your trip. The world is waiting for you to see it, so pick a place to sleep and get exploring.

Jessica Banks

Jessica is a Chicago-born foodie and adventure enthusiast. When she is not writing, she enjoys hiking, reading, and traveling to new places.

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