Every adult traveller has a moment when she finally acknowledges that she is too old for youth hostels. Mine occurred at 2:47 a.m. on August 8th in Edinburgh, Scotland. (I won't tell you the year, because I`m also too old to admit how old I am.) It was this moment which lead me to discover how to stay cheaply in university accommodation in Britain.

Where Not to Stay in Britain

I was sleeping as peacefully as one can in a room shared with five strangers, some of whom snore, when I was woken up by the sound of five or six students singing, off-key, in the corridor outside my room. Next, came the sound of one vomiting. It was not, alas, followed by the sound of cleaning. Instead, the debris (and scent) remained in the hallway through the rest of the night.

I normally spend two to three months each summer in Britain on a very limited budget doing research in rare book libraries. After giving up on student hostels, I explored the world of cheap (under £50 per night) bed and breakfasts. In general, my experience was that anything I could afford required a few hours of work with industrial strength disinfectants before it was habitable by anyone with a functioning sense of smell.

University Accommodations

After a few years of becoming far better-acquainted than desirable with the worst of cheap British hotels and B&Bs (along with an astonishing array of British insects, moulds, mildews, and other unappealing life forms – some of which walked on two legs), I discovered university accommodations while attending an academic conference in Leeds. Conference attendees were housed in simple but (relatively) clean student rooms, with single beds, usable desks, and tea trays. Bathrooms were down the hall and functional, if not luxurious. When I enquired about staying on a few days after the conference, I discovered that the University of Leeds, like many British universities, rents out accommodations to travellers.

For the part several years, I have been spending a few months each summer staying in university accommodations in Britain. The experiences have varied in price and quality, but overall they have been cheaper and cleaner than other budget lodging, as well as more likely to have accessible power outlets and a functional desk for using a laptop.

Locations in London, Oxford, or Cambridge are popular and often noisy just at pub closing times,  but if you book well in advance and find a room a bit off the street, they compare well with budget hotels. In Leeds, York, and Edinburgh, you can stay a moderate walk or short bus ride away from the town centre and enjoy a peaceful night's sleep.

Making the Most of British University Accommodations: A Few Tips

Dates: Although universities may have some rooms available during the school year, more rooms are available during the British university summer vacation in late July, August and September.

Availability: Popular locations fill up quickly, so it is a good idea to reserve well in advance and be somewhat flexible in your choice of dates and locations.

Room Types: Suite rooms (with private baths and toilets) are comparatively rare and more expensive than regular rooms with shared facilities.

What to Bring: Towels can be small and non-absorbent and wash cloths are rarely provided. Toiletries can be limited. Bring a travel towel, loofah or bath sponge, shampoo, conditioner,  and your own liquid soap just in case.

Locations: Britain consists of two relatively small islands with good public transit. With many towns only short train or bus rides apart, you can find a comfortable place to stay and plan day trips to visit various attractions. If York is full, you can stay in Leeds, or if Oxford is crowded, spend the night in Reading or London.

Useful Resources

General Resources:

Specific Locations:

This has been a guest post by Carol from Toronto, Canada
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