Travel Companion Penguin Teddy in a Hammock Suggesting Types of Accommodation

In my previous article, The Golden Gap Year, I looked at various options available for a person planning some long-distance travel in their retirement.

In this article I will look in more detail at the different types of accommodation that you could use on your journey.

The simplest (but probably most expensive) option for anyone wanting to do a round-the-world trip would be to book a cruise and watch the world pass by from the comfort of your own cabin.

But if you want more say in where you go and for how long there is a wide variety of accommodation to choose from, depending on your budget and sense of adventure.

1. Hotels

The most obvious choice might seem to be staying in hotels. However, when I was doing my own trip flying around the world, I tried to use these as little as possible. To my mind, hotels are designed to cocoon the visitor from their surroundings. Indeed, many have a standard layout – a bathroom just inside the door, opening onto a room with a bed on one side and a desk/table on the other with a TV on it. If the hotel is part of a chain, even the colour of the bedspread is the same, so you wouldn't know if you were in London or Lisbon, Moscow or Montreal. On my travels, I wanted to experience the flavour of the country I was visiting, so tended to look for other options wherever possible; only using a hotel if I needed an early start to catch a plane/train or it was the closest to some attraction I wanted to visit.

2. Bed & Breakfast

B&Bs tend to be smaller and privately owned, so are more inclined to reflect the idiosyncrasies of their nationality. One that sticks in my mind was in a small town half a day's train ride from Tokyo. Following the Japanese custom, guests had to remove their shoes when they arrived and put on a pair of house slippers from the rack by the door. The bedroom floors were covered with tatami matting, so we had to leave our slippers outside the door and enter in socks, then retrieve a rolled up mattress, duvet and pillow from a cupboard and lay them out on the floor to sleep. With all this, there was no doubting which country I was in!

If you want to check whether the accommodation is to you taste you can use sites such as Tripadvisor which allow you not just to locate ones in the area you wish to visit, but read other visitors reviews, finding out in advance if the one you are considering is handy for the train station – or next to a noisy night club which keeps visitors awake all night.

3. Hostels

If you think hostels are just for students, think again; during my stays in such establishments I met people in their 70s and couples with children. You are no longer compelled to share a dormitory with a group of strangers or be expected to perform daily chores. Dormitories are still the cheapest option, but they will usually be single-sex, and many hostels offer single or double rooms as an alternative.

Apart from the cost aspect, I found hostels to be much friendlier places to stay than hotels; in the communal living areas, visitors would swap stories and tips on places we had been that were worth seeing – or ones that weren't worth the time. Hostels can also occupy some interesting buildings – I have stayed in one that was a former chapel, and one in Christchurch, New Zealand that had previously been the local prison.

If you are planning to use hostels then it is worthwhile joining the Youth Hostel Association. A small fee (currently £20p.a.) soon pays for itself as you get discount on your bookings in 90 countries world wide; in Australia and New Zealand my membership sometimes got me discounted entry into visitor attractions.

Hostels not part of the YHA network can be accessed through the Hostelworld site. Like Tripadvsior, this allows visitors to leave reviews, so you can get an idea of the place before you book.

4. Private homes

Staying with locals is the best way to see the country 'from the inside' rather than isolated from it by a hotel. When I was visiting Ukraine, staying with local residents gave me a real feel for the politics of the country, and their ambivalent relationship with Russia. (The residents of Kiev had removed their statue of Lenin from the city square and were glad to see him gone, while Nikolaev, on the Black Sea coast, were still quite happy to have theirs). In Japan, watching my hostess spread butter on her bread with the back of a spoon and cut toast with chopsticks was an education in itself.

There are various options available for staying in people's homes. The first is Airbnb where you stay in a private home as a paying guest. But there are several organisations you can join which offer you the chance to stay with fellow members for free in their homes. During my travels I used both Women Welcome Women and Couchsurfing, but others are available (see below). The accommodation on offer varies from one host to another, but is usually made clear in advance; sometimes you may get the spare bedroom, others you may be literally bedding down on the couch, and one host offered me the use of their caravan in the back garden – it all adds to the adventure! So when I was looking for somewhere to stay in a particular area, I could check the websites, contact any members I found who I thought might be compatible, and ask them to look at my profile and see if they would like to host me.

These groups usually suggest that you stay no longer than three nights with one host, so as not to outstay your welcome. It is also customary to reward your host in some way; maybe bringing them a small gift to thank them for their hospitality, offering to take them out for a meal during your stay, or simply making yourself useful around the home e.g. doing the washing up after a meal.

Not all people who list themselves are able to take visitors; some instead offer to be your guide around the area and might take you to places you would not have found on your own. Even if the people I contacted could not host me because of other commitments, it was always reassuring to know I had a contact in a strange city, someone to turn to in emergencies if things suddenly went pear-shaped.

5. Camping

Some of you might prefer an even freer lifestyle. I once met someone who had taken early retirement from teaching, bought a camper van, and spent the next three years driving around Europe, visiting all the places she had always wanted to see.

Others might be drawn to the idea of camping, wandering off into the wilderness with their accommodation on their backs. If either of these ideas sounds tempting, bear in mind that regulations on where you can park overnight or pitch a tent vary from one country to another – so check before you travel.

Whether you decide to sleep under the stars, in five-star luxury, or any of the variations in between, have fun and happy travelling!

Useful websites

Author: Pen Turner - If you want to learn more about my own adventures, check out my 'Travels with a penguin' books available from Amazon.

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