We paid for hotel accommodations in Paris, Greece, the south of Spain and a few other places, but for the most part, our accommodations were quite cheap and unique throughout our journey. I can't say that we had much of a plan; we just went the way the wind blew or the way the train traveled and often got off the train with other folks that seemed to have a better idea.
My most memorable accommodation was in Zermatt, Switzerland at the Salzgeber Haus. A chalet that was built in 1607 provided huts that dotted rolling hills overlooking the Matterhorn. The huts were extremely rustic--resembling a sturdy wood paneled room on stilts and probably no bigger than 8' x 8'. The only thing in the hut was a cot like mattress and blankets. I believe we paid $2 each and yes, it was by far our cheapest accommodation and was very much like camping. Luckily, blankets were provided because we certainly were not prepared.
This place was a favorite with serious hikers and back packers and I expected to see Grizzly Adams coming out of the mountains with his kill at any moment.
As we settled into our hut, I remember with perfect clarity the look on my girlfriend's face when we asked the "hut keeper" of this fine establishment where the showers were located and he pointed about half mile from the hut towards a waterfall. It was glacier water -- it was white and was so cold our feet throbbed. I might add that we did bathe in our swimsuits and we were in and out in a flash. Fortunate for us, there were toilet facilities in the main out building along with a community kitchen where you prepared your own food bought at a local market in town.
The next evening, we were not so brave, so we hiked down to the village and found a very nice inn and politely asked, in our very southern drawl, if we could rent a room for an hour to bathe. From the look on the innkeepers face (who did not speak much English), we knew we were not on the same page on exactly why we needed the room.
Finally, after ten minutes of trying to explain our situation, he understood and laughed and sent us on our way to the laundry room and maids quarters. He was a very kind Swiss man who would not take our money and to this day, I remember that hot, steamy shower and how thankful we were that we did not have to go back to the waterfall.
Hut accommodations are still available today and there are some that are not as rustic as Salzgeber Haus and several offer breakfast and dinner. I am not even sure you will find Salzgeber Haus on the internet (at least not this one - I did not) but I bet it is still standing the test of time. I remember walking straight through the quaint town of Zermatt and up a very long path into the hills overlooking the Matterhorn and there it was in all its old glory.
Unbeknownst to us, August in Switzerland can be quite chilly. We ended up purchasing wool sweaters and socks. Even with our rustic accommodations and the fact that we did not have proper clothing, all was overshadowed and forgotten by our wonderful memories of going to the local village and buying wine, fruit, cheese and bread and picnicking in the grass with the most glorious view of the Matterhorn. You can sit for hours soaking up the beauty which is about all you want to do unless you are an avid skier -- then you must visit The Klein Matterhorn which is Europe's highest ski lift. This turned out to be quite an adventure which is another post entirely ...
If you are considering traveling abroad and are on a tight budget, another option to consider is staying in a hostel. We stayed at Balmer's Herberge one of the oldest private hostels in Switzerland. Balmer's is located in Interlaken. Today, dorm rooms run about 18-20 Euro ($25-$30) and double rooms 25-27 Euro ($36-$39). Even after all these years, Balmer's is still there and still getting the best reviews for hostel accommodations. Breakfast and dinner is provided at most hostels.
In Rome, Italy, we stayed at a pension called Werder near a train station. At the time, this particular pension did not have toilet facilities in room due to the fact that a lot of pensions are converted buildings and there is no plumbing available in the rooms. The rooms are nice but you may have to use community showers similar to dorm life. However, each pension is unique and different and today, some rooms may have a sink but the toilet/shower area down the hall and vice versa. If you are going this route, look for reviews on the internet.
Check out local universities around Europe for dorm room accommodations. Some universities will rent out rooms during their slower summer schedule. Even after our classes had ended at the University of Madrid, we kept our dorm room as a home base. It was also a good place to keep all of our treasures while we traveled around Europe.
It is important to know that In Europe, very little time is spent in your room and you can cut costs considerably by up to 50% if you can deal with these minor inconveniences. A typical day will have you up early and not returning to your room until bed time. A small dorm room might not be so bad if all you are doing is falling into bed each night.
We did treat ourselves to a hotel room in Greece but wasted one night camping on the Saronic Island of Aegina's (some spell Agenia) white sandy beach overlooking the Mediterranean because we missed the ferry back to Athens 17 miles away where our bed remained empty.
There was not a vacant room on the island but an elderly gentleman and owner of one of the local resorts took pity on these two southern girls and opened his kitchen and fed us a fabulous Greek meal on his terrace overlooking the sea. Later, he also provided us with warm blankets and then proceeded to show us the appropriate place for us to sleep on the beach. He woke us bright and early the next day so that we would not startle his guests as they went for their early morning stroll -- breakfast was provided and then he sent us on our way in search of the ferry
We learned a big lesson that day and from then on, we never missed checking any schedule -- whether it be train, plane, bus, or ferry. There were many more lessons learned that summer but it would take up all the memory I have available in blogger to tell those stories. The rest of the time in Athens was spent exploring the city, enjoying the comfy of our bed and eating the mouth watering Greek food.
We stayed at Hotel Platzl in Munich, Germany and wow has this place changed. It definitely wasn't as grand then as it is today. The location was great for us -- right across the street from the world famous Hofbrauhaus and a good central location to be based. There were only single rooms available, so we purchased two rooms. At the time, you could not get a toilet and a shower in the same room - it was one or the other.
Today, Hotel Platzl is considered by many travelers to be in the perfect location in Munich with friendly staff, great breakfasts often included in your stay, and the rooms today are rated a 4 Star superior rating so this may be a little pricey for those traveling on a strict budget. I do suggest leaving room in your budget to stay at one or two nice places so you can recharge and this would be a good place to splurge.
There are various ways to save on accommodations in Europe and now with the internet, it is even easier to access information. At the time, we were relying on our Let's Go Europe book and you can bet it was rather tattered by the end of our trip. If you are planning a trip to Europe for the first time, I still suggest this book for easy reference when you are in areas without the internet. A few other books to consider are The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budgetor Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2010: The Travel Skills Handbook.
I also suggest a visit to Trip Advisor when you start planning a trip. This is a world wide forum of folks telling it all on their latest trip or adventure -- good or bad. You can pick up important information on accommodations, restaurants, guides, phone numbers and addresses. Post a question and you will get an answer.
Although our accommodations were not so grand in our early days of travel, we were still able to enjoy all that the beautiful, old world cities had to offer. We splurged on food and wine and took advantage of all the free museums and cathedrals just the same as any traveler staying at a pricier hotel.
We have covered huts, hostels, pensions, and hotels, so take your pick. If you are young or young at heart and energetic, why pay more for your accommodations. If you need a break to refresh for one or two days, there are plenty of places along the south of Spain as well as France and Italy to relax for a day or two by the sea.
For even more savings on your airfare ticket check out some of the Cheapest flights to Europe. Save up to 60% on your Europe flight tickets at OneTravel.com.
Years have passed and I am traveling a little different these days. My husband's idea of camping is to visit the Holiday Inn. However, if I were younger, I would not hesitate to do it all again. I say go for it!
This article is being featured in The Views Paper - Carnival of Travel Edition.