“Every room and hallway had been hand painted with graffiti murals,” Emily Cavender said of her first and favorite hostel. “The artwork was weird and strange and beautiful.”

As a college student already stretching herself to pay for a study abroad in England, Cavender appreciated the hostel’s low cost compared to that of a hotel room in Edinburgh, Scotland. But she appreciated more than just the price: she also cited the helpful staff and residents-only pub as big perks. When asked if she would ever repeat the experience, Cavender said, “I would do it again in a heartbeat!”

Cavender learned early on that a hotel is only one option in a wide spectrum of lodging choices. Restricting yourself to hotels can limit other aspects of a trip as well—the places you’ll see, money you’ll have for sightseeing, and opportunities for cultural interaction, to name a few. So before you decide where you’ll be staying on your next traveling adventure, consider the following alternative lodging options.

Explore Home Swaps and Apartment Rentals

In addition to hostels (like where Cavender stayed), you might consider a home swap or an apartment rental. Michelle Glauser has tried the latter, and she loves that renting allows her to feel at home while traveling. She likes to see what kinds of books the owners keep on their shelves, and sometimes her hosts have offered vital insider tips on touring the locale. Swapping houses carries similar benefits, but the trick to a home swap is living somewhere that others will want to visit, making it a fair exchange.

With both options, you’ll most likely avoid the crowd of hotels and hostels, overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops, and tourist traps. And you’ll get a better idea of what it really feels like to live in your travel destination. If you’re interested in seeing what’s available, look no further than airbnb.com, a website that connects travelers with people who are renting out rooms, entire homes, and other spaces.

Let the Lodging Be Your Guide

If you don’t have a firm location in mind when you begin planning your next trip, let lodging opportunities guide your choice. If you find an apartment for renting (or a house for swapping) somewhere off the beaten path, research activities and sights unique to the location. You’ll open yourself to an entire realm of enriching opportunities that you may never have otherwise found.

Kelsey Allen

Top photo by Kate Zeller.