Hotels And Beyond: 9 Ways To Sleep Around The World

A traveller’s field guide to the wild new world of lodging. | By Margaret Loftus & Others

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Free Spirit Spheres see all seasons among the tall trees of Vancouver Island along Canada’s west coast. Photo: Ferrari/Ace Pictures

Peer-To-Peer Lodging

Live With (Charming) Strangers

Struggling to make rent on their San Francisco loft in 2007, two friends invited some out-of-towners to crash in their living room to earn extra cash. Fast forward eight years, and their scheme, Airbnb—estimated to be worth several billion dollars—has upended the hospitality trade, spawning numerous competitors.

Experts say there’s more fuelling the phenomenon than the saving a few bucks. “[Guests] feel connected to the community in a way that’s more genuine,” says Arun Sundararajan, a New York University business professor who studies the sharing economy. “You can ask a hotel concierge for local activities, but that always has a commercial sheen.”

Where To Find Covering more than 34,000 cities, Airbnb’s spectrum is astonishing—from pullout couches to historic castles and solar-panelled spaces. The digs on nightswapping.com, a cash-free exchange based on credits, range from an apartment guest room in Bangkok to a villa in Cuba. Onefinestay.com lists only townhouses in the most affluent zip codes of New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris and stocks them with the sort of high-count linens, plush towels, and soaps you’d expect at the Four Seasons, as well as an iPhone loaded with host tips. The formula was a hit with Felicia Newberry, who spent a weekend at a SoHo apartment rented through the service. She likens the experience to taking the train instead of flying: “It’s more of a story.”

Best For Extroverts who crave a local link (choose rentals where the hosts are present) as well as introverts who steer clear of bed-and-breakfasts (search “entire place” when booking).

Caveat Booking typically requires more steps, such as verifying your identity. And renters beware: Some cities, such as Charleston, U.S.A., ban rentals for less than 30 days; crackdowns on violations could lead to cancellations.

Tip Before booking that “charming,” “strategically located” house, take a virtual tour of the neighbourhood with Google Maps Street View.

Budget Stays

Reconsider The Hostel

A modest budget no longer means shabby accommodation in sketchy neighbourhoods. There’s a new wave of hostels in India and abroad with squeaky clean rooms, laundry services, airy kitchens, and hosts eager to show you their neighbourhood. Instant connections, camaraderie, and Wi-Fi are free.

Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel Budget

City hostels like the Casa Gracia in Barcelona and Old Quarter in Panjim offer lively, informal, and comfortable lodging where fellow travellers can interact. Photo courtesy Casa Gracia

Where To Find The Old Quarter hostel in Panjim’s lovely neighbourhood of Fontainhas, occupies two buildings: a refurbished 17-century structure with bright, azulejo-style motifs painted on its facade, and a Portuguese home that dates back to the 18th century. Choose between clean dormitories, air-conditioned deluxe rooms, and double rooms with sprawling bathrooms (thehostelcrowd.com; from ₹450, including breakfast). In Varanasi, the hostel chain Zostel offers clean accommodation and access to a fully stocked kitchen. Their common room has funky murals, board games, and video game consoles for travellers who never want to call it a night (www.zostel.com; from ₹499).Vedanta Wake up! in Kerala’s surf town Varkala has dorms and pretty bamboo huts, and organises music and movie nights, and walking tours of the beach town (vedantawakeup.com; from ₹400). Across the seas in Casa Gracia, Barcelona, travellers spend their time lounging around the terrace, crooning at the hostel’s karaoke nights, or discussing the artworks of Spanish artists displayed in the dining area (casagraciabcn.com, from ₹1,500).

Goa Hostel Old Quarter Panjim

The Old Quarter hostel in Panjim. Photo courtesy Old Quarter Hostel

Best For Comfortable, low-budget travel.

Caveat Most hostels never sleep. Carry those earplugs.

Tip Keep the itinerary flexible to accommodate last-minute plans with fellow travellers. You might be surprised.

Hotel Gadgets

Tech Yourself Out

Mid-century Americans checked into hotels to give air-conditioning and colour TV a whirl, before such appliances became household staples. Travellers still look to hotels to test-drive technology, and hotels hoping to appeal to digital natives are tripping over their discarded Ethernet cords to one-up each other with tech flash—from the cool to the curious.

Yotel New York City Technology Hotel

Self-service kiosks at Yotel New York provide automated, no-queue check-in services round the clock. Photo: Randy Duchaine/Alamy/Indiapicture

Where To Find At San Francisco’s Stanford Court, the Google Glass Explorer Package includes overnight accommodations and the use of the glasses, along with tips, such as how not to be a “glasshole” (ask a person’s permission before snapping a photo of them, for one). The hotel is also working on a lobby tech bar with devices like Fitbits and GoPro cameras available for checkout, plus nostalgic throwbacks, including Atari and the Sony Walkman (stanfordcourt.reztrip.com; doubles from $263/₹16,800). At the new 230-room citizenM in New York City, guests check in on touchscreen kiosks and control the room temperature, television, window blinds, and lighting with the swipe of a “Moodpad” tablet (citizenm.com; doubles from $407/₹26,000). Times Square’s futuristic Yotel New York features a Jetsons-like robotic luggage handler and a motorised bed that expands with the touch of a button (yotel.com; doubles from $189/₹12,100). Guests at Hiltons worldwide solicit local advice by directing questions on Twitter to @HiltonSuggests. And no more rousting knocks from housekeeping at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina: A motion-detecting system tells management if a room is occupied (theumstead.com; doubles from $529/₹33,900).

Best For Early adopters, the digitally unchallenged and gadget freaks.

Caveat Luddites, leave your pride at home: Dial the front desk for help, or miss out on the fun.

Tip Follow hotel brands on social media for perks that range from loyalty points to free nights.

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