#DestinationUnknown – Independent Short-Haul Travel – Transfers & Accommodation Choices.
|A homestay in Padang, Sumatra, not exactly slumming it.|
OK, so we’ve booked our bargain flight with a budget airline (if not see here), what next?
The first question to ask yourself whilst hovering the mouse over that nice 4 Star hotel room is this: “How long will I actually spend in my room?” It’s a simple enough question with a simple answer – not very long. The reality is that most of us need somewhere clean to stash our pack, take a shower, and sleep. The remainder of our time will hopefully be spent discovering our chosen destination. You can travel an awfully long way, for an awfully long time, on a very modest budget, if you’re ready to forsake unnecessary luxury. I’m not saying that you should go for the cheapest out-of-the-way fleapit you can find but to be mindful of the available options and maybe select something that will offer you greater value for your money.
You will often find hotel rooms at knock-down prices when booking last-minute. The problem I have with hotels is that they tend to be quite insular; people seem to keep themselves to themselves a lot more than in a hostel environment
Hotels, hostels, home-stays, couch surfing, and Air BnB, are just a few.
|The Cube. A self contained lodge at The Olive Branch in El Chorro, Spain. I paid about 8 Euros a night to stay here, and they have a swimming pool.|
Hostels are usually my first choice, they are everywhere in abundance and can be everything from basic to boutique luxury. Primarily they are very sociable places, with a common lounge area, you will always meet interesting people with interesting stories to tell, and if you’re flying solo you’ll soon meet people to share a meal or a beer with. Many offer a shared kitchen for preparing your own food which is a useful way of keeping your budget in check. Security is usually a locker under your bed large enough to take even the biggest of rucksacks/suitcases, you will normally need to carry your own small padlock to lock it with; a good quality combination lock is better than one with keys – keys can get lost.
And don’t think they are just hangouts for dread-locked gap-year backpackers either, I have met people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Many city centre hostels also offer free guided pub-crawls in the evenings, these are a great way to get to know people.
It is also commonplace to find wifi, luggage storage, 24-hour reception, and many other useful facilities. Some hostels even include a simple breakfast in with the price.
You’ll find anything from Privates with en-suite to Multi-bed Dorms, some will specify adults only but many are family friendly. If I’m alone it’s always a dorm, if I’m with friends it is often cheaper to book a private room to share.
And if you don’t like where you have booked you can just find another and move on, nobody will be judging you for it.
You should always check the location of your hostel for its proximity to services, such as bus stops and railway stations, and to any sights you might want to take in during your stay.
Two of the better websites to begin your search are Hostelbookers and Hostelworld, and they offer everything from hostels, hotels, apartments, bed & breakfast, and campsites.
When booking you will normally pay a small deposit online and the remainder on arrival at your hostel. Both have good mobile apps that you can use on the fly, and some really great information on their websites – blogs, destination guides, insider tips, etc.
You will soon begin to appreciate the simplicity of hostels despite any reservations you may have beforehand, and when you’ve paid maybe £8-£15 for a night in Rome you will begin to wonder why you never did it before.
Transfers and getting around.
City maps are easily printable from the internet these days or you can purchase some excellent ones from good bookshops in advance – W.H. Smiths, Waterstones, Amazon etc. (Also worth noting is that maps are normally oriented northwards, a simple compass to help you decipher your approximate direction can be invaluable. You don’t need to be Bear Grylls to find your way around with a city map, it’s a remarkably easy and effective little skill to learn).
Almost all airports, bus and rail stations, hotels and hostels, will have a free city centre maps available to everyone.
Airport transfers to local towns and cities are ubiquitous. Local buses are usually the cheapest option and will often terminate at a central station, even if your flight lands late at night there will be a service available. Most airports have dedicated buses laid on too with advance ticket purchasing a simple matter, a quick internet search will highlight these.
The large international airports will also have direct rail links – Amsterdam is a good example of this, quick, easy, and straight in to the heart of the city.
As a solo traveller you will probably take the local bus, the stops are normally displayed internally on digital screens at the front of the bus to give you a helping hand in an unfamiliar environment. If you’re not sure just ask the driver or a local, you will usually find them accommodating (In tourist-centric destinations you will find that most people speak at least a degree of conversational English and other major languages).
If, however, you are travelling in a small group then it might actually be cheaper and more efficient to share a taxi; fixed prices and advance vouchers from kiosks are often available.
|Hiring a bicycle is my favourite way to see a city.|
Getting around can be great fun. The scary prospect of navigating The Metro or city centre bus network should be embraced with a smile. I’ve never failed to reach my destination yet, even if it has taken considerably longer than I expected! On most city breaks you can just use the old fashioned walking method, and you will see a great deal more of the city than you would from the window of a bus.
Hiring a bicycle is one of my favourites, cheap, efficient, and you can take innumerable shorts cuts down interesting alleyways. One of the best ways to discover a new destination is to go and get a little lost. Honestly what’s the worst that can happen?
In the next installment I’ll be looking at packing light and offering you some carry-on pack choices.
You can read Part 1 here
And Part 3 here