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Staying with Strangers


Your first and second major expenses when traveling usually aren’t food and drink or anything like that, but airfare and hotels. They are No. 1, usually, and no. 2.

So what do you do about it?

We’ll leave aside airfare. For now.

Rates are going up, and there are things you can do about it.

But for now, what about where you sleep at night?

The subject came up for us when a public relations friend sent an email about “NightSwapping.”

Known also as night bartering, “NightSwapping” is a new home exchange website that helps individuals with spare room to host travelers. The exchange is for a free stay. It’s called a mix of CouchSurfing and house swapping.

A very simple concept. And it’s free except for a “service” charge of 10 euros or $11.42 in dollars (the site was started by a European).

It’s yet one more attempt to compete with traditional hotels, rented homes, etc.

The recent news involved insurance.

“As of July 15th, NightSwapping launched its brand new service, ‘We've got you covered.’ Hosts and travelers are now automatically covered by our international insurance Allianz against any potential damages free of charge,” read the note.

Insurance is fine, but a much larger issue is the cost of hotel rooms.

Checking (out of) expensive hotels

This raises the question of the best way to avoid expensive hotels that often cost several hundred dollars…and you can probably guess what that solution is…but I am saving that for later.

First, let’s see what we can do outside of ”NightSwapping.” The reasons for that is obvious. Its newness.

So let’s first do a search for “cheap hotels” in Orlando.

At Hotwire, which is generally one of the best traditional sites, I found what they called “four-star hotels at two-star prices.” Many of these included free parking, free internet and were even described as “pet friendly.” Prices were sometimes as low as the low $30s up to somewhere around $60. If you wanted a little upgrade like a pool and fitness center, you might look at $75 and up.

That is certainly not as cheap as you would find a real $15-a-night or so flophouse. But it gives you some idea.

Those are not prices you probably want to pay.

I then went to very popular Airbnb. The site is near #1 for inexpensive (read cheap) travel.

Airbnb saves money

More on that later, but first let’s look at some other options for where to rest the night.

Couchsurfing will certainly beat everyone else on price: it’s free. The downside, of course, is that you only get a couch. And, of course, security. Who is that person sleeping near you? What is his criminal record?

Religious housing is sometimes suggested as an alternative to hotels. That’s fine if you live in Rome or other parts of Europe.

In Orlando, there are places for the homeless. But churches are seldom among options. Even the local “Holy Land Experience,” alas, has no room at the inn. No hotels next to it.

But what about hostels.

Yes.

But also keep in mind that a lot of hotels here are listed under that heading, and some rooms for $150 are hardly the style. So beware, there are many fakes.

Hostels in shadow of Disney

But you can find hostels here, though it’s about as common as seeing Mickey Mouse without his mask. But the very best of them is right near Disney, believe it or not. That is the 194-room Palm Lakefront Resort & Hotel in Kissimmee.

It’s only 4.5 miles from Disney, and 10 miles from Universal. The area’s bus system, LYNX, goes right to it. Rooms sleep two to four people. There’s amenities like cable TV and swimming pools and wi-fi. Also, a fully equipped kitchen, so you can cook there.

Checking prices for the fall, I found a room for $22.50 a night.

That’s one alternative to $300-a-night rooms.

(For more information, go to www.palmlakeresort&hostel).

Customer   reviews are generally good. The biggest complaints are about general   maintenance and housekeeping. Overflowing trash cans are a common gripe, but   for the price (often $10-$15, and the relative cleanliness as well as the   rural setting and amenities convince most overnighters to give it high marks.

The bottom line: well worth the price.

Camping not what it used to be

Camping can be a cheap option.   Or at least it used to be.

Take “Campsites at Disney's   Fort Wilderness Resort.” Lots of amenities. Reviews were also mixed.

Wrote a positive one: “We stayed in   the cabins for two nights with my sister celebrating the beginning of summer.   Our cabin was clean and comfortable for 6 people. The grounds were fun and   friendly. Golf carts are a must (they rent them there). The convenience store   is great.”

Negative: “We were disappointed in Disney, The amount of money you pay   you would expect everything to be first class. When you make your plans for   the parks you need to know the weather conditions. We can't get local   channels since we got here. Disney got our money so something as simple as   cable signal is our problem. Disney might need to raise their rates if you   want a better cable signal.”

But the price for one night   recently was $324. Wow.

But what if you like tents?

The Orlando/Kissimmee KOA is only a few minutes away.   It offers a variety of camping. It has many comforts such as tent sites near   the pool and hot tubs.

“You   like tenting but can't leave the electronics at home? We have cable and wi-fi   available at these sites,” the campground says.

But   a check of recent prices showed one night was $40.49. Not exactly cheap.

But   looking at the overall market, a good choice becomes Airbnb. But it also has   pluses and minuses, which are usually also true of similar sites.

Pluses   include economics. Minuses are topped by what you used to get in hotels: room   service. Maid service.

Pluses of Airbnb

The   biggest plus by far: the price. Various studies have found it saves anywhere   from 30 to 40 or even 50 percent compared to hotel rooms.

You   generally have a kitchen. Saves money. You will often find complimentary tea   and coffee and even food for simple breakfasts. But also be sure to read the   guidelines to be sure the kitchen is there, and available to you.

Local   experiences. You will certainly meet your hosts and often their friends and   aquaintenances.

Basic   down home comfort. Lifestyle. You live like it is your home. You can go to   the nearby grocery store, pick up a couple of bags, then go home to cook your   dinner.

Minuses

You   do give up some privacy. This is true of both guests and hosts. But just how   much you care is up to you.

A   money glitch for some is simple this: When people transfer money through the   Airbnb system, the money is always held until after the guest checks in, or   if the host denies or cancels the reservation. In the event of a   cancellation, Airbnb can take 2-3 days to refund the money to a guest’s bank   account. Some people hate this idea while others are   indifferent. Up to you but you should know about it.

Hotels   make booking mistakes, but so do amateur hosts. Perhaps they forgot your   booking. Or they got the wrong date. Whether this happens more often than if   you were checking into, say, a Holiday Inn, it is impossible to tell. But   based on reviews, it does happen often enough to be an issue.

That   ad and pictures you saw? Can be misleading. The solution or at least a part   of it is simply to check out reviews.

And   yes, those reviews can be misleading as well. So try to read into them with   your most skeptical side.

So   all of this, hopefully, helps you make up your mind.

And   if you still recall, this article was referred to staying with strangers.

Whether   you stay at a hotel-motel or with a site such as Airbnb, you really are   staying with people you don’t know. Strangers. At least most of the time.

So   the best plan is to skip this entire process. And stay with a friend.

Preferably   a good one who also stocks a full refrigerator. ###

(For more   information, go to www.airbnb.com).