Hostels, Guesthouses, or Locals’ Homes.
Try not to stay in hotels unless you’re just out on vacation. They usually have no local flavor, or the flavor is synthetic.
Hostels and Guesthouses
- These are great ways to meet other travelers, sometimes lifelong friends, sometimes even spouses. It’s usually the case that the most interesting and friendly people are also budget travelers, and they tend to congregate in these relaxed laid back places.
- These places are also great for reconnaissance. Other travelers and the reception desk are good sources of information, and sometimes the best things in a country are learned through word of mouth. Also hostel libraries usually have guidebooks littering their shelves with highlights and dog eared pages (unfortunately sometimes the important pages are ripped out).
- Common Rooms – This is where magic happens. Friends are made. Long conversations about philosophy, politics, art, film, and toilet paper are held over beverages. It is the critical apex of socializing, and can sometimes make or break an entire experience of a location. This is your new home.
- Dorm rooms – Very similar but much more personal than common rooms. This is both your retreat, and the best way of making friends if your too shy to meet people in a large common room. This can also either be your paradise, or your hell. And if it’s the latter, I suggest you change rooms or take it as an opportunity to toughen your skin.
- If you are a lady traveling alone, many hostels have female only dorm rooms. And if they don’t you always have the option of getting a private room if you feel uncomfortable. I can’t say much more on that since I haven’t lived that world.
Staying with Locals
- The most authentic and incredible way to travel is by staying with local people. You will learn so much more about their way of life, their customs, their food, their history, and all that. Plus it allows you the chance to share your own culture and experiences with them.
- Important: If you are going to stay with local people, you HAVE TO be respectful, considerate, and accommodating to their lifestyle. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat meat if you’re vegetarian, but don’t demand a comforter for your bed, and at least try to help clean up after meals. Also, accepting hospitality is a tricky game. If someone offers you food in Mongolia, and you accept, it is considered more rude to only eat some of it and leave leftovers than to just refuse. Although in China it’s considered rude to eat everything on your plate, implying they did not give you enough (although I never noticed this reaction). Try to learn the customs.
- Use couchsurfing.org . It’s a fantastic service that will provide you with some of the best memories and experiences of your whole trip. But it’s always smart to be a little critical of the references a person has.
- Know that in some countries (i.e. Vietnam, Myanmar) you need to be registered in some way when staying at someone’s house. This created a very odd and confusing situation when we stayed at someone’s place in Vietnam…
- It is possible to sleep in parks or on benches in some places. It’s actually not really that much of a problem in Japan – where businessmen sometimes miss the last train home.
- Camping is an option, but carrying that gear is difficult. This is really a completely different style of backpacking. Although in some places you can rent camping gear, which is convenient.