With a name like Hotel Scoop, we’re obviously big fans of staying in a place with maid service, fresh towels, a comfy bed, and people to fetch us food when we’re hungry. A hotel is not always the best option though when you get beyond the two-person couple stage and have a family of four or three generations of relatives. Sometimes you need a lot more room so you’re not banging into each other and a kitchen so you don’t have to spend every meal in a restaurant.
Here are a few options for hotel alternatives to consider if you don’t want to be on top of each other but you don’t want to spring for the Presidential Suite.
Vacation Rentals and Villas
Vacation rentals have exploded in popularity the last few years, mainly because Airbnb made the process much simpler and more trustworthy. You don’t have to be staying a week or more anymore for this to make sense. On the plus side, you get more room, an often lower price per night than a hotel, and you can stay in a real neighborhood instead of in the tourist zone.
On the downside, there’s no consistency in what you’ll get—which can or cannot be part of the charm—and you have to watch out for hefty fees. After getting bought by Expedia, HomeAway promptly added a 4-9% charge to every booking to pay for their customer acquisition costs, on top of what the owners are already paying. In other words, you’re paying VRBO’s marketing costs to…attract more customers to pay marketing costs. Most of the other big ones like FlipKey/Tripadvisor rentals also charge a booking fee, so be sure to compare the final price.
Look beyond the big guys for local options too. A while back I reviewed this All Star Vacation Homes condo rental in Orlando where I stayed with my family while hitting Universal Studios.
If you keep going back to the same place year after year, especially if it’s a place you can drive to, then a traditional timeshare unit has always made sense. Over the years, the options have gotten better as you can choose to trade the weeks you own for ones in another resort by using an affiliated exchange company like RCI or Interval International. The big problem has always been that these were pitched as investments, when in reality they seldom appreciate. If you buy a timeshare slot “used,” there’s much less downside risk, you pay far less, and you are usually entitled to the same benefits.
A secondary timeshare site called SellMyTimeshareNow.com which offers a great deal of units within world-famous brands like Marriott and Shell Vacations Club, gave me an idea of how timeshares work. Most are found in locations by golf courses, ski resorts, beach resorts, and city centers. You can see options and pricing for renting or owning timeshares via the secondary market by visiting their website. When I put in $5K as a cap for purchasing, I got hundreds to choose from. When I lowered it to $1,000, there were still more than 100. A few had a one-time purchase price that was less than my monthly car payment. After that it’s just annual maintenance costs.
Additionally, if you’re looking to just rent you can find a huge amount of fantastic savings. Owners who do not want to sell their timeshare, but find they aren’t going to use their unit for a certain year will opt to rent the unit out to pay for their annual maintenance fees. For example, I found a timeshare on Fulton St. in San Francisco for $175 a night (half what most area hotels are charging).
If you have a place of your own, you can exchange it for someone else’s. This concept has been around forever, but the increasing comfort with Airbnb has made many formerly reluctant owners more open to the idea. You can arrange this on an ad hoc basis through social media, personal contacts, or Craigslist, but you get more peace of mind if pay a fee for membership in a matching agency. There are a number of them out there, but I’m a member of one of the largest: HomeExchange.com.
If you are exchanging your primary residence, then you probably have to do the swap simultaneously. If you’re exchanging a vacation home that you usually rent out, however, then you can work it out for non-simultaneous weeks.
Government Park Cabins
If you want to enjoy the great outdoors without sleeping in a tent, there are all kinds of cabin rentals in national and state parks in the U.S. and Canada. Sometimes they’re true cabins, very rustic and simple, but other times they’re like grand ski lodges with a big great room, deck, and full kitchen. You often have use of the lodges on site as well, with facilities like a restaurant or swimming pool. Start with the National Park Service site, then check individual state park sites as well.
Do you love pets? Can you stay somewhere for weeks on end? Then you might be able to line up accommodation for a very good price: free.
All around the world right now there are homeowners trying to find a temporary caretaker. Whoever gets that gig doesn’t get paid, but he/she gets to stay for free in the owner’s home in exchange for taking care of what needs to be done. Usually that’s taking care of pets and watering plants, but it could entail some other odd jobs. Sometimes though, the main objective is for the house not to sit empty for weeks or months at a time, to make it look “lived-in.” Sometimes the owners supply a car or bikes to use. There are loads of agencies out there to match people up. I’ve not done this personally, but a few digital nomads I know have had good experiences with Trusted House Sitters.
How about you? Where have you found good alternative accommodations that let you spread out in more space?