Cheap Sleeps in Europe
Sleepin on the Train
Sleeping on a train is one way to beat Europe's steep hotel prices.
Travel is best with a few rough edges. I once suffered through an all-night stint on the blistered, black vinyl floor of a Yugoslavian train in order to wake up in
There are still plenty of people traveling in
Sleeping on trains, as I did in the Balkans, is one tactic. Some Eurailpass holders get a free -- if disjointed -- night by riding a train out for four hours and catching one back in for another four hours. If you're in Scandinavia, try booking a sleeping berth -- called a "couchette" -- on a night train for a reasonable
If you can't bunk with pilgrims, try bunking with students. In
In the cheap-sleeps circus, nothing beats
In the Alps, hundreds of alpine huts exist to provide food and shelter for hikers. I know a family who hiked from
It's getting easier to sleep cheaply, thanks to the Internet. One service I like to recommend is Servas, a worldwide organization that connects travelers with host families with the noble goal of building world peace through international understanding. You pay a membership fee and can stay for two nights (more only if invited) in homes of other members around the world. This is not a crash-pad exchange. It's cultural sightseeing through a real live-in experience. Many travelers swear by Servas as the only way to really travel and build a truly global list of friends (www.usservas.org).
CouchSurfing is a vagabond's alternative to Servas. More than 2 million members in 246 countries host fellow "surfers" in their homes for free. The average age is 26, but all ages are welcome. If you don't feel comfortable staying with or hosting strangers, you can still participate by meeting for a drink and sharing travel stories (www.couchsurfing.com).
AirBnB, generally a step up in class, similarly connects travelers with locals offering a place to stay, but for a fee. Beds range from air-mattress-in-living-room basic to plush-B&B-suite posh. All arrangements, including payment, are handled via their website, giving you a safety net if things go wrong (www.airbnb.com).
There's also hostelworld.com, a hostel website geared for "flashpackers," upscale backpackers. These younger, tech-savvy travelers are basically 21st-century vagabonds with credit cards and iPhones.
In my 30 years of guidebook research, I've seen it all when it comes to cheap sleeps -- ranging from charming to characteristic to funky to quirky. Places can have "a bomb-shelter charm" or "the ambience of a locker room." They can be "popular with backpackers and dust bunnies," or "warmly run by Juan and the man he thinks may be his father." Sure, there will probably be some rough spots in your bargain-bed experience, but your memories will be priceless.
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