Budget Travel

December 16, 2009

Getting Home for the Holidays the Budget Travel Way

Every year I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

Every year, I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

By Meg Hoppe

When I was in college, my friends talked about this great bus that took them home for $1. Yes, one bonafied US dollar to take a bus from Chicago, IL to Clevland, OH. Completely floored and excited that I could traverse the open Midwest for $1, I did some of my own research on this mythical Megabus.

What I found out was that this awesome service not only could cost as low as a dollar, but they provided free Wi-Fi, it was an express bus, and it was clean. I kept envisioning this tattered old beater sputtering around the Midwest. Imagine my surprise when I got quite the opposite.

For budget travel over the holidays, there is really no other way to go. Now, you’re not gauranteed a ticket for $1 or a spot on the bus. The tickets are bought out quickly, and you only get the steeply discounted ticket if you buy a month or so in advance. However, if today I were to book a one-way ticket on the Megabus, leaving December 21st from Chicago Union Station to Kansas City I would pay between $51.00 and $58.00. Whereas that same ticket with Amtrak would cost between $68.00 and 116.00.

The MegaBus serves states in the Midwest, Notheast, and some of Canada.

The holidays are supposed to be relaxing and full of laughter. You have enough stress at home; everyone has those awkward uncles and socially strange cousins. I really see no point in making traveling to get to them all a hassle. Personally, when my mom guilts me about not coming home to celebrate the small holidays like Columbus Day, I know that ditching Christmas will nix me from the birthday call list for a year or so.

So look for alternate ways home. Flights can be expensive and sometimes you can find a great deal with a great story somewhere else. Car pool with friends, grab seats on the Megabus, or Amtrak your way back. Any way you can, get home for the holidays and enjoy the laughter and jokes that will be told every year after.

Happy Holidays everyone!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

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December 4, 2009

Twitter’s Saving You on Travel

By Meg Hoppe

Changing the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to "If don't have anything to say under 140 characters, don't say anything at all."

Welcome to December everyone!

I noticed that I’ve been really letting myself go lately. I’ve stopped budgeting, stopped writing about budgeting and started shopping. I could tell you all it’s been the holidays, the sweet fall leaves, or the over abundance of turkey in my life as of late. Whatever the reason, holidays can be killer on everyone’s wallets. So, in my attempt to re-join the land of the fiscally responsible, Black Friday deals have their sway on even the strongest, I stumbled across this article discussing the benefits of Twitter on travel.

Most friends rolled their eyes when I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. At first I used it to challenge my writing. If I can write a concise and witty 140 update, I’ve chosen the right profession. However, now this social networking giant has become a tool that everyone should explore.

Aside from taking the place of a news wire for a journalist, Twitter is a great place to find deals, savings, and freebies. I’ve been on for almost a year and have gotten free CDs and invites to events. I did some digging and found tons, and I mean tons of tweets advertising cheaper prices for or giveaways for almost everything you can imagine.

And apparently traveling is no exception to this. According to an MSNBC article, last summer some lucky followers were able to get $9 JetBlue tickets from JFK to Nantucket and $444 round–trips on United from the West Coast to Australia. You might ask yourself how they were able to get them. Twitter folks, it’s all about Twitter. By following JetBlue and United a few lucky travelers were able to check out steep sales first.

I really think it’s time for you to get off your anti-Twitter rampage and step on over to the dark side. We have cookies and cheaper plane tickets, so why are you waiting? Get your own 140 character soap box and join the movement.

Some great people to follow for the best travel deals:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 18, 2009

Going Green to Save the Green

By Meg Hoppe

money-saving-green-tips-600x399

Save money the green way!

I know, I know, I just posted a list of money-saving tips. And I know, I know, I always complain that they’re not that helpful. But I found a great list that I wanted to re-post on principle alone; because it’s green! Anytime I can do something to help the environment I go out of my way. If I can help myself at the same time, then I am absolutely game. So here are “Eight Green Money Saving Tips” from EcoVillage Green [a great eco blog that I suggest everyone check out].

Buy Used Instead of New: Personally, I think that used items have more character. That said, there are some things that I won’t buy used, no matter how environmentally friendly they are. Use your imagination and get back to me. Truthfully though, buying used saves a ton of money. Especially if you have kids. I know, that when my brother was growing up my mom went through clothes and shoes weekly for him. The boy just wouldn’t stop growing. So why even bother buying new? There are lots of re-sale stores that have great clothing in fantastic condition. Look into them and save.

Look Online for Free Items: Listening to the news, you would think that Craigslist.org is nothing more than a prostitution hub. But I will tell you that it’s one of my favorite websites [no, not for the prostitution]. When I’m not perusing Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, or Anthropologie for things I cannot afford, I love looking at the free section on Craigslist. That and the apartment section for places I cannot afford. People give things away for so many reasons; they’re moving, divorcing, getting married etc. Often times the things that they have a really nice. For example, my mother [she seems to be a trend in this blog and the last], bought a really nice bunk bed set for my old room from Craigslist. It was in great condition and she got it for a steal. Check out other sites like Freecycle.org to see what else you can find.

Eat at Home Instead of Eating Out: A few friends and I have a weekly

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Night Dinner ritual. Every Sunday around 6p.m. we all congregate at a friend’s apartment and each of us brings something that we made or bought. There is normally a theme for the night [last week it was Cashews; there was Cashew Chicken & I made delicious Caramel Cashew Cookie Squares & brought Chianti]. Sunday Night Dinners are something that we all look forward to and it is a far cheaper option for us to eat in. Honestly, you can cook a meal for a family of 4 on $30.00. You can also buy for several meals instead of just one, it’s win win.

Form a Hand Me Down System w/Friends & Family: Sharing is caring, that’s what I’ve always said. Granted, I normally don’t always care to share, but that is irrelevant. For people with children, you know how quickly the grow out of things. So instead of just throwing clothes and other things away, share them with friends and family who also have children. It saves a lot of hassle and money if you know that you have a network of people to go for something.

Look for Opportunities to Barter: Again, I will point out the amazingness of Craigslist. They have a barter section already on the page. Come on, you can’t hate the site now. If you tactfully barter, chances are you will be able to knock quite a bit off the price. Just make sure you know when to quit.

Be a Frequent Yard Sale Shopper: I love yard sales. Hands down, I love them. Flea Markets are in that vein as well. You can find the coolest one-of-a-kind things at yard sales and flea markets. These are really good places to haggle and get a good deal. But you just need to be prepared to find something that you might have to store for awhile. What you find will be unpredictable, but completely worth it.

Go Green

Go Green

Have a Yard Sale: My mom had a yard sale once when we were little. It’s a great way to make sure that items you loved will pass into the hands of someone else who will enjoy them as much as you did. Even if you just get a couple bucks, it’s a couple bucks that you didn’t have before.

These are some great tips that I enjoy because they stress being green. Take all of the money that you save with ALL of the money-saving tips I find and deliver to you to do something fun and green with your family or friends!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

The Mecca of Money-Saving Lists

By Meg Hoppe

money saving

While taking in my daily 5th cup of coffee and reading the new tweets from my Twitter crowd, I stumbled across this great post from TIME magazine. Someone at the lovely TIME magazine spent a few hours [or minutes, whatever] compiling a list of my favorite things: Money Saving Tips. The writer then went the extra mile and put them all on one easy to read page entitled, A List of Money-Saving Lists: 422 Ways to Save in Total for me to peruse at my leisure.

Now, if you read my previous post on this, you’ll remember that when it comes to money saving tips, I’ve heard just about all of them. There are those few that actually make a difference, but for the most part they are meant to placate us. Whatever, sometimes I need placating so I read the article and clicked the links and here’s what I found:

There is little to nothing new to say about saving money. Sorry Forbes, Oprah, and whoever else. Ideas like shopping around for prices, haggling [a tactic my mother takes very seriously which quickly escalates to mortifying], and coupon cutting [come on, it’s been around since the dawn of time]. Personally, I think that wasting space for those ideas in an article about saving money should be put into an article about wasting time. Common sense, I know it’s a dime a dozen, but these things are second nature now.

There were of course some interesting ones. There is a pretty good piece about saving green at Starbucks; and for a Banana Strawberry Vivanno lover, this is important. However, The Huffington Post’s article entitled, The 7 Most Inappropriate Products for Children made me belt out in a mortified laughter that topped all else. As I perused the Pole Dance Doll, Shave the Baby [the caption makes it], and one of my favorites the breast feeding doll I thought, clearly, this holiday season we’re all saving money not buying the kids on our lists a darned thing. Their toys are getting out of control.

Brad Tuttle of TIME did a really good job getting together a great list of lists. Maybe my cynicsm just stems from the fact that I’m a budget writer and I’ve read about 200 of these lists.  The article is definitely worth a solid read through, if not just for that Huffington Post piece. Maybe you will find something helpful that I overlooked. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!

And share with me, either here or on my twitter,@CallMeHoppe your best budget tips!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

July 9, 2009

Audrey Isn’t the Only One Taking a Roman Holiday This Year

By Meg Hoppe

With the American dollar being worth about as much as Monopoly money, planning_tripyou might be asking yourself how you can possibly afford to travel this year. You’ve become so consumed with paying off your mounting debt and saving, saving, saving. In the midst of all of this, you have forgotten to take some time to enjoy all of your hard work. What better way to treat yourself than by taking that relaxing European vacation you’ve been dreaming of.

It’s no secret that Europe is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world. It’s also no secret that even before our currency took a nosedive, Europe is also one of the most expensive vacation spots in the world. So how precisely are you supposed to travel Europe without undoing all of your tedious budgeting? While it might take some time, a European vacation just might be in the cards for this year if you do it right.

Plan Ahead: For keeping in budget when traveling this is always my first suggestion. Often times I will get a rather unhappy sigh or an argument that over-planning sucks the fun out of a vacation. For all of those naysayers, I remain steadfast that a well planned vacation is a well spent vacation. Would you rather spend time while on vacation wondering what the best way to get to your next destination is? Or possibly trying to find the lowest exchange rate or a place to change currency for the best price while on a walking tour of Rome? Worrying about whether or not you’re over budget, if you’ve booked a room, etc. while on vacation is exhausting. And quite frankly, if there is a fun sucker during a vacation, stressing out about your vacation is most definitely it.

Since the birth of the Internet and Google search, there is no reason why you should pay full price for anything. There are enough deals, bundles, coupons, discounts and economical solutions to traveling you just have to take the time to find, research, and compare them. When you’re haggling for higher pay in your job, do you just walk away with the first offer put on the table? If you do, we need to have an entirely different conversation. No, you don’t; you counter with at least 2 offers until your employer arrives at their third and final offer. Until you hear those words, you’re far from done. So why would paying for a vacation be any different? Check out some of the links at the bottom of the blog entry for some places to start planning your European vacation.

Travel during Off-Peak Times: When you hear someone talking about traveling during peak season, it’s a sure bet that they’re paying through the nose for their trip. The key to budget traveling is researching the right time to buy tickets and travel. For instance, when you buy plane tickets, fly on a weekday. If you avoid flying Thursday night through Sunday morning you will steer clear of higher plane costs. The same rings true when you’re planning a vacation. If you avoid the peak seasons of your location you will find cheaper transportation and hotel rates. For some more information about peak travel times check out this website or for a list of some peak travel days in 2009 look here.

Rooms Deluxe Hostel Valencia Spain

Rooms Deluxe Hostel Valencia Spain

Don’t Waste Your Time with Luxury Hotels: When you’re traveling through Europe but don’t want to give up a moment’s luxury, consider staying at a hostel. I realize that hostels have a long standing reputation as being the dirty vagrant’s equivalent of a good time. Dorms packed like sardines that used to smell something similar have gone through a major face lift in the past 10 years. Hostels are now boasting top of the line economically friendly luxury and designer decorating. Hostels are a great place to stay if you’re looking to spend a few nights in a location, however, if you’re spending a few weeks to a month in a city it might be more beneficial to look into renting a flat.

Traveling with your family or friends for an extended period of time is the ideal situation for renting a flat. It is almost always more economically sound to stay in an apartment and it gives you immensely more freedom. For example, instead of going out to eat every night or staying in to expensive hotel food, you now have the option to peruse the gorgeous local open air markets and make a five star meal at home. You can also make a great night in with locals that you meet instead of going out and spending money at a bar. For more information on luxury hostels, check out my other blog entry and for more information on renting apartments in Europe, check out this site.

Take Advantage of Locals’ Suggestions: Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how many expensive travel guides you have, you will never have the insight into your vacation spot that a local has. If you’re looking for a great place to get a decently priced meal, chances are asking someone who lives around the area will yield great results. For the most part, they won’t be eating at all of the tourist traps, so they will know what’s good and what’s not. If you want to know if there’s anything that’s a must see in the town you’re in, start a conversation with someone and just ask. You could be wondering what to do in cases of theft from tourists. Well, be careful who you ask. Never tell someone that you’re alone in a foreign country. If you’re not traveling in a group, lie and say you are. However, for the most part, not everyone is out to get you. Keep a reasonable level of caution, but never rule out talking to locals.

Consider Traveling Outside of the Eurozone: With the American dollar exchanging for about .72 in European Union, it might be time to consider looking at alternative travel routes. The Eurozone is comprised of 16 European states that make up the EU. It is these states that have adopted the euro as their legal form of tender and it’s these states that tend to be more expensive. When traveling to Europe on a budget, you might want to consider traveling outside of these 16 countries. Eastern Europe has so much culture and tourism to offer that is forgotten amidst the fanfare of its western counterpart.

Know How to Spend Money: This section has to do solely with where to exchange money and how to spend it while on your vacation. If you’ve never traveled overseas before, you might not be aware that there are several different ways to pay for items. For the most part, the three major ways of paying overseas are cash, credit, and travelers checks. When you’re working with cash, I would suggest exchanging a small portion, about $100.00 before you travel so you have some money for a cab ride, initial restaurant, etc. However, for the rest, exchange it when you’re overseas. You’re likely to get a better deal if you don’t exchange it in the airport exchange counter as opposed to taking out cash from an ATM affiliated with your bank. You will likely pay a fee for it being overseas, but it won’t be as large a fee. For more examples, I’ve included an older [but still valuable] NYT article. Take a look.

Check out some of these great websites for European and other vacation deals and savings.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

April 22, 2009

Camping: Mother Nature’s Way of Giving Back

By: Meg Hoppe

Getting wrapped up in the fast paced lifestyles that we’ve become so accustomed to we forget that we don’t need a five star hotel to have a perfect vacation. Sometimes all we need is a tent, a backpack, and a sleeping bag. As a whole, our planet provides us with thousands of natural travel locations. State parks, wildlife preserves, sanctuaries, and forest preserves are among some of the most beautiful and oldest monuments to Mother Earth. Personally, I am of the opinion that camping gets a bad rap in this day in age.

Badlands National ParkPeople have this stigma that camping is a cold, hard torture that only the thrill fanatics seek out. When in reality, camping is the perfect way to get out and see some of the most beautiful places on the planet while doing it in a way that is healthy for the environment. As a subway patron, I have no fear of germs and grime. However, I know that some people do. When it comes to camping there are so many alternatives to the primal and dirty vision that people commonly get.

I can hear it now, the complaints of bears, mosquitoes, sleeping on the ground, going to the bathroom outside, etc. There are solutions to all of those problems that are easily found in books and online. If you pack correctly and plan for the weather and natural terrain you will be pleasantly surprised. A positive camping outcome is almost always in the tent, clothing, and sleeping bags that are packed. I know that there has been a few times where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to find myself in the middle of a small lake from rain water.

If you research before you go, especially as a first time camper, you can come across great resources like Love the Outdoors and How to Camp. Both websites have information for the campers from beginner level to exCongaree National Parkpert.

Don’t be afraid to trek out into the expansive wilderness. Often times as city people, we forget that there are more stars in the sky than the one we can see on a monthly basis. So when you get the chance, pack for a weekend and pack friends into a small car and make your way to a campground.

In the end, you need to realize that for every drawback, there is a positive. Just imagine sitting around a fire with family or friends looking up at the sky and seeing what it’s meant to be; an endless expanse of stars and planets. When you listen, you can hear the soft calls of animals that you didn’t realize shared the ground around you. And as you share a vacation with people you care about, you’re able to really take in all that this planet has to offer. Living in silent solidarity with nature is an experience that no one ever forgets.

Here are 10 national parks that every traveler should visit sometime:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

The Luxury Hostel: Budget Travel’s Newest Trend

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 1:56 am
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By: Megan Hoppe

Forget everything you thought that you knew about hostels. The long blank corridors smelling very reminiscent of a gym locker room with rows of dreary bunk beds mark the hostels of years past. Newer, trendier hostels are popping up all over Europe making budget travel once again a pleasurable experience.

If you have ever traveled on a shoestring budget, you have probably experienced a night in a hostel. While the average hostel has a reputation for being less than habitable, the truth is, for $10.00 a night you get what you pay for. Much like cafeteria meatloaf, hostels have been the mystery meat of vacation lodging. However, with the emergence of younger and architecturally stunning hostels, we see a change in the way you can travel both on a budget and in style.

So, grab your map, a cup of coffee, and add these 15 great boutique hostels to your list.

Lisbon’s LoungeLisbon Lounge
97% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934

$25.00-$41.00

If you want gorgeous, artistic, chic, and service oriented while staying within a budget that wouldn’t force you to sell a kidney, then Lisbon Lounge is the hostel for you. Owned and designed by four Portuguese artists, you know walking into Lisbon Lounge that there is something beautifully elegant about this hostel. The Living Lounge features bedrooms that have been individually designed to reflect different aspects of Lisbon’s culture.

Don’t let the design alone speak for the hostel. With a 97% rating based on hotelbookers.com rating system, Lisbon Lounge is a chic and quality choice for any traveler. Supplying backpackers with complimentary breakfast, a bar, WiFi, a DVD room and of course public telephones, it will be hard to leave this resort hostel.

Check out other hostels on Lisbon’s website. Lisbon has some really fantastic options for chic, budget accommodations.

Greg & Tom 3Greg & Tom
96% Rating

Pawia 12
31-154 Krakόw, Poland
+48 602 378 180

Greg & Tom 1: $16.00-$77.00
Greg & Tom 2: $40.00-$77.00
św. Jana lux Apartments: $62.00-$100.00

Winner of the Most Secure & Best Small Hostel in 2007 and Best Hostel in Poland 2008, Greg & Tom hostels give backpackers options in budget accommodations with high tech features. If you’re traveling in a small group Greg & Tom 1 gives you a more communal space that is decorated with a contemporary sense. However, if you’re a couple looking for a more intimate setting, Tom & Greg 2 along with the św Jana lux Apartments offer just that at affordable prices and comfortable residences.

Greg & Tom provides breakfast and dinner complimentary to their guests, with hot Polish meals on Tuesdays and Saturdays along with renovated bathrooms, WiFi, and large cable television with a DVD collection that makes your Netflix queue look like a weekend grocery list.

Mandragora HostelMandragora
92% Rating

Budapest H-1088
VIII District
Krúdy utca 12
+36 1 7899515

$11.00-$43.00

You won’t find dorm style bunk beds in this Budapest hostel; instead you can find Zen lofts, double, and single lofts. From the outside, Mandragora Hostel looks more like a school, or an apartment complex, drapes and laundry included. However, when you walk in you find that Mandragora is a hipster traveler’s dream.

The MUSH-room proudly says it offers no bunk beds, instead it has lofts for ample privacy. While the Zen room asks that you not eat or wear your shoes in the tranquil environment that calls for peace and harmony. If you’re there as a couple, check out the gorgeous double rooms and call it a night. Whatever you’re looking for, don’t overlook this diamond in the rough. Located right behind the National Museum, make sure you find Mandragora for a beautiful and affordable place to stay.

Hostel Celica

Hostel Celica
91% Rating

8 Metelkova Ulica
Ljubjana, 1000, Solvenia
+386 1 230 97 00

$22.00-$37.00

Hostel Celica, literally meaning Hostel Cell, is a rehabbed prison turned hostel. The 20 different cells have maintained the original bars on the windows and doors, but that is about all that will remind you of what they used to be. Each prison cell has been designed by an individual artist or group of artists to reflect a personal style that is classic and classy. While it might make you nervous to check into an old prison, Celica offers the utmost luxury for being an institution of reform in earlier years. If you’re in the mood for a different type of stay, you can find your favorite cell here!

If you’re interested in seeing all of the individual cells and choosing what room you would like, go to the website and if you have Java installed you will be able to see a panoramic 360° view of each room.

St. Christopher’s InnSt. Christopher's Inn
91% Rating

Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 39-41
10178 Berlin, Germany
030 81453960

$17.00-$67.00

St. Christopher’s has hostels in various locations around Europe, and quite frankly, they are all worth a look if you’re in the area. The Berlin location is an exceptionally hip and versatile one. The clean, urban chic décor in the hostel is welcoming and youthful. While you’re there St. Christopher’s urges you to check out Belushi’s, the bar that is located in the lower level of the building, as it often has food and drink specials.

You can find Belushi’s restaurants scattered throughout Europe. The name is Queen’s English for “great times” according to their website. I however, immediately thought of the Blues Brothers and home, sweet home, Chicago. There is something about those black Ray Bans and cheap suits that just conjure up great memories

Red Nest HostelRed Nest Hostel
91% Rating

C/Paz 36
46003, Valencia, Spain
+34 963 427 168

$18.00-$62.00

There are a few Nest Hostels in Valencia to choose from, but I’ve noticed that Red Nest seems to be the best. Vivaciously colored rooms have pop art spanning the walls in this elegant 19th-century building. Since Valencia is a phenomenal city to visit when traveling, Red Nest gives you the benefit of being in the thick of it.

Red Nest Hostel boasts a large kitchen and dining room ready for 40 people, a terrace bar, and a game room fully loaded with pool tables and TV/DVD areas.

La Controra Flashpackers HostelLa Controra Flashpacker's Hostel
90% Rating

Piazzetta Trinita alla Cesaera, 231
80136 Napoli, Italy
+39 0815494014

$22.00-$63.00

La Controra is the only flashpackers hostel in Italy. Located in Naples, this revitalized monastery was originally built as a part of a convent early in the 18th century. Today, you’re able to see the history throughout the hostel with complementing chic and contemporary elements. The rooms are decorated with art sculptures, the floor tiles feature images of shells, Neapolitan coffee pots, garlic, chili peppers, “ex-voto” and red coral horns. The bar inside of the hostel is often used for contemporary art exhibits and multimedia events on top of being a casual lounge for travelers.

Plus FlorencePlus Florence
89% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934

$25.00-$45.00

Plus Florence is a wonderful hostel located in the heart of Florence, Italy. True to Italian architecture and style, Plus Florence combines comfort and fashion in its accommodations. When you walk into the hostel, it is bound to remind you more of an upscale hotel rather than a budget hostel. With chic and vibrant colors on the walls and a clean modern look, Plus Florence makes you feel like you’re heading into a spa weekend with the girls. To continue this feeling, Plus offers female only dormitories so women can kick off their shoes and spend some time together.

The location offers a swimming pool, a terrace bar, large contemporary styled café, WiFi, air conditioning, laundry facilities, storage space, and key card security access.

YHA London CentralYHA London Central
88% Rating

104 Bolsover Street
London, UK
W1W 5NU
+44 20 7580 1173

Adults: $36.04
Under 18: $27.23

The Youth Hostel Association or YHA, has re-vamped its image with a new $2.2 million hostel located in London. The hostel, aptly named London Central, boasts seven contemporary styled floors of budget accommodation within five minutes of Oxford Street.
The 24-hour café/bar is decorated with boldly colored furniture, large plasma screens playing music videos, and smatterings of pop art. It is loaded with free WiFi, organic cider, and Nintendo Wii.

YHA hasn’t abandoned all of its principles however. They still offer contemporary bedrooms that are en-suite, a communal dining area, and a free travel desk with destination suggestions along with free daily walking tours.

Miss Sophie'sMiss Sophie’s Hostel
88% Rating

Melounová 3
120 00 Praha 2, Czech Republic
+420 296 303 530

$21.00-$193.00
*Note Miss Sophie’s only accepts Czech Crowns CZK or Euros EUR. If you pay by credit there is a 4% charge.

If you’re in Prague, then you should be staying in Miss Sophie’s Hostel. Located in the heart of the city, Miss Sophie’s is a great place to lay your head. With a wide array of accommodation choices, a larger group can pay more for the luxury of an apartment or simply opt for the dorm style rooms. Styled more like a New York SoHo apartment or nightclub, Miss Sophie’s offers travelers a posh and affordable place to stay.

Being centrally located, Miss Sophie’s also offers the best sights and nightlife in the city within walking distance. Exposed brick in the cellar lounge sets the mood, while the terrace allows for parties with friends and fellow travelers. With hostels like Miss Sophie’s it is a wonder why people pay thousands for a hotel.

Rooms Deluxe HostelRooms Deluxe
87% Rating

Av. Instiuto Obrero n° 20
46013 Valencia, Spain
+34 963 356 793

$30.00-$37.00

Rooms Deluxe Hostel offers travelers a buffet of room choices. With 28 rooms decorated by 28 artists you won’t be let down. Each room is hand crafted to perfection. Some of the rooms remind me of bedrooms that you could see on Extreme Home Makeover. The rooms are intense and a work of art just as much as they are functional. Instead of counting sheep, feel free to find the lemurs in the 100 Lemur room, or spend the night in Morocco in Le Riad.

The website offers virtual tours of each room so take a look around and make your choice!

Centric PointCentric Point
87% Rating

c/ Passeig de Garcia 33
08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 93 215 65 38

$23.00-$128.00

While Barcelona isn’t on most backpacker’s routes, it’s worth a detour to make a stop at this great hostel. Centric Point looks like the new kid on the block with a very gothic exterior among extremely modern buildings. The inside of Centric Point is just as modern as the rest of Barcelona with art scrawled on the walls, bright colors, and comfortable rooms for travelers.

Equity PointEquity Point
86% Rating

80, Derb el Hammam
Mouassine Marrakech Medina
(00212) 524440793

$21.00-$132.00

Equity Point offers various hostels throughout Spain; however, I have found the Marrakech location to be my favorite. The hostel, which was once a luxury riad, Moroccan palace, is located in the heart of Marrakech and is ornately decorated in an exquisitely elegant and traditional fashion. The hostel provides a Moroccan breakfast and offers locations for lunch and dinner.

If you’re ever in the Spain, make a stop in Marrakech and spend some time at Equity Point. You don’t be disappointed.

Mleczarnia HostelMleczarnia Hostel
85% Rating

Włodkowica Street 5
50-072 Wrocław
+48 71 787 75 70

$13.00-$106.00

The Mleczarnia Hostel is very reminiscent of a dollhouse that a girl would have had while growing up. With the meticulous antique details in every piece of furniture and vase placement, it’s hard not to gape in awe. This Polish hostel is a beautiful addition to the list, and boasts ornate and historical decorations. It offers dorm style rooms to apartments for couples or small groups looking for some privacy.

Långholmen HostelLångholmen Hostel
84% Rating

Alstaviksv. 15
10272 Stockholm, Sweden
+46 8 720 85 00

$14.00-$76.00

Hostelling International (HI) member, Långholmen Hostel, is a great place to stay if you’re heading to Stockholm. Sitting on a green island close to public transportation, the building is a perfect place for a get away. Built in the 1840’s the hostel and hotel served as the Crown Prison until 1975 when the last convict left. Guests are given accommodation in the rehabbed prison rooms, and are able to tour the rest of the historic location.

Långholmen offers free bikes, WiFi, laundry, restaurant, and a bar on site. Note that since Långholmen is a HI location, if you are not a card-carrying member of HI, you will be charged an extra $7.00 for check in.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

April 21, 2009

House Swap: Not an ABC Special

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

By: Meg Hoppe

A few years ago I watched the movie, The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. In the movie, Diaz and Winslet “swap” houses for a holiday. I watched this phenomenon with a strange allure. Did people really do that? After watching the movie, loving it, and returning it to Blockbuster, house swapping fell off of my radar. Now, with the recession and my desire to travel once again, I’ve re-kindled my fascination of this budget travel tactic that so many people overlook.Colorful House Swap

House swapping, or home exchanges as people call it, is precisely what you think it might be. You place an ad telling people where you are and where you would like to go. In most instances that I’ve noted, residents will place photos of their homes or apartments up with their ad and the time in which they would like to travel. Once someone responds to your ad, you build up a rapport with that person and inevitably decide whether or not to ship your keys out for a little R&R.

While perusing the Internet for house swapping ads, I was drawn in by the photographs of foreign apartments. I can easily be taken in by a great photo of a magnificently decorated apartment. However, I also started to imagine my apartment with someone else in it. I pictured someone sleeping in my bed, re-programming my TV, and drying off with my towels after a shower in my bathroom. How could I entrust my personal space to someone I had never met?

Upon looking into reviews for this new technique I stumbled upon this question and so many others that I had. Security of my items, how could I be assured that things wouldn’t be missing or broken upon my return? Will my decorating tendencies and yellow Ikea chairs with my dark wood dining table become an international butt of ridicule? It’s hard to say really.

The best advice that I have to counter house swapping fears is this; really look into who you are swapping homes with. Most people realize that you are in their home as well and have these same questions and fears. Create an open dialogue and get to know your homeowner well enough to feel comfortable picturing them as a friend who is staying in your apartment while you’re away.
In the end, house swapping is a great way to see the world on a budget. Not only are you able to travel, but you’re able to fully immerse yourself in a culture and way of life. Keep your eyes open and look at Craigslist for house swaps in your area and report back with your stories and photos!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

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