For the 50+ Traveler

Hotels in in tourist destinations offer a broad spectrum of options, from budget to luxury, from well-known chains to one-of-a-kind boutique establishments, but there are times when you are best served by something other than an hotel. You may want to consider one of the following.

1. Airbnb

Airbnb is an online marketplace where people offer their properties for rent to travelers. The types of properties available vary and include rooms in someone's house, self-contained suites attached to a house, apartments and several-bedroom houses. The rentals are often more economical than a hotel, but that is not always the case.

There can be other advantages too. Kitchens in suites, apartments, and houses provide the opportunity to prepare meals, whether that be the occasional exception to eating out or an everyday choice. Even if you rely more heavily on supermarket prepared foods than you might at home, this can save money. In an intensive schedule of daily sightseeing, a quiet evening is a welcome reprieve and can be rejuvenating. Cooking meals may be an option even if you are renting just one room in a house. Sometimes owners include kitchen access as part of that stay.

The space available in a full apartment or a house makes a longer stay in a location more comfortable. Rentals with several bedrooms are good options for large families or extended families traveling together. Airbnb rentals, often located in residential neighborhoods, offer a more local experience. Often the host provides useful information about what to see and do as well as local insight.

Although Airbnb may be the most well-known of vacation rental booking sites, there are others you may want to check into as well. If you are prepared to give up room service and daily maid service, Airbnb or a similar service might be an option for you.

Want to learn more about Airbnb? Check out 6 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Airbnb.

2. University Housing

Many universities and colleges rent out their dormitories when school is not in full session. Accommodation might be a hostel-type room with a communal bathroom, a studio suite with a private bathroom and kitchen facilities, or a luxury apartment. That variety of options is often available at the same school.

In North America and Europe, it is usually the summer vacation period when these rooms are available. This is also the prime tourist season in many of these places, when hotel rooms are at their highest rates. University housing can be an affordable alternative.

University of Glasgow old buildings.
Your college days may be behind you, but a campus can be a great place to stay when school's not in session.

The rooms may be plain without pictures on the walls, but they will be comfortable with a good basic list of amenities, including high speed WiFi. Colleges rarely shut down completely. Summer session programs mean there is still activity on campus and a youthful energy around you. Coffee shops, convenience stores, sandwich shops, and other restaurants are likely to be within easy walking distance.

Some schools are centrally located near a hub of tourist attractions. Those that are a little farther out can still be good options because most campuses are well served by public transportation. And don't forget to look into attractions on the campus itself. Some colleges have gardens and museums worth visiting, whether you are staying on campus or not.

3. Home Exchange

If you are willing to have someone stay in your home while you stay in theirs, a home exchange is a way to obtain free travel accommodations. You pay a small yearly fee to an online platform facilitating the exchange, but no other monies change hands.

Although the accommodation is free, it does not come without effort. Finding a place to exchange involves setting up an online profile for your home and searching through other profiles to find likely exchange options. Several email, Skype, or phone conversations may be necessary before confirming that the exchange will work for both of you. The process has been likened to that of online dating.

Before you leave on vacation, you need to prepare your home for the exchange family by making room for them to store their clothing and luggage, providing instructions on how to use appliances, utilities, and other items in the home and arranging for emergency contacts. Providing information about sights to see and recommendations on restaurants is not required, but a nice additional touch. When staying at the other person's home, be respectful of their belongings and culture. Clean up after yourself.

In exchange, you get more than free accommodations. You also get a deeper glimpse into the area as you live in a local's house, use their appliances, shop at the local market, and possibly meet the family you exchange with and their friends. The experience is about more than accommodations. It is about sharing life.

A few popular home exchange platforms are Intervac, HomeLink and Home Exchange.

4. House Sitting

If the idea of staying in a local residence appeals to you, but you are uncomfortable sharing your own home or you live in an area without great tourist appeal, house sitting may be an option. Be aware, however, that house sitting typically involves the care of pets.

House sitting works in a similar manner as the house exchange. You pay a small yearly fee to a platform facilitating the process. After that, no monies change hands. You create a profile describing yourself and your skills as they relate to house and pet sitting. People needing someone to look after the house and/or pets for a specific time period post requests. If one of those posts interests you, you apply with a message to the owner. If the owner thinks you are suitable, a conversation begins. I liken the process to that of job hunting.

House sitting comes with responsibility, particularly if pets are involved. The specific requirements vary with each situation, but generally you need to feed the animals at specific times, take dogs for walks and possibly administer medications. You will have limitations on the number of hours you can spend sightseeing each day because you need to be around for the animals. As in a house exchange, you should be respectful of the owners' property and clean up after yourself. House duties, such as watering plants, may also be expected.

If you are willing to accept the responsibilities that come with house sitting, it can be a rewarding experience. You get a taste for local life and are likely to meet and interact with other residents. Your explorations take place at a more relaxed pace. And frequently it is the pets and your connection with them that becomes the most memorable part of your vacation.

A few popular house sitting platforms are Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, Housecarers and Mind My House.

5. RV Campsites

People traveling with recreational vehicles (RVs) bring their accommodations with them and park them in campgrounds or RV parks for the night. Even if you do not own an RV, there are times you may want to consider an RV vacation. RV rentals make sense for certain types of vacations, particularly those that involve driving between a number of locations.

RV parked in the woods at twilight as stars start to appear overhead.

Before you rent, it is important to be aware that driving a motorhome is not like driving a car. The rental company may allow you to test drive one and give guidance to help you feel comfortable. It should also provide instruction on how to hook up to water, electricity and sewer at campsites.

When you factor in rental fees, campsite fees and gas (gas mileage with motorhomes is poor), renting an RV is a somewhat more expensive option than renting a car and staying in budget hotels, but there are benefits to offset this. You have your room with you and need not take suitcases in and out of different hotels each day. You can save money by preparing some or all of your own meals. At the edge of a city, under a canopy of tall trees in a forest, on a beach at water's edge or in the shadow of mountain views, the place you park for the night offers a unique experience.

Whether you want a more affordable stay, a local experience, a home away from home or a place to stay in an area where hotels are scarce, alternatives to hotels are worth considering.