We all are programmed to think that if you’re traveling and need somewhere to stay, you choose a hotel. But, sometimes thinking beyond traditional hotels can save you money as well as offer you and your family some unique opportunities to see places and get to know people you’d miss in a Holiday Inn. Consider the following when you’re planning your next family vacation:

College Campuses

Many colleges and universities around the country are looking to make a little extra money during the off season by opening their dormitories to vacationers while students are away in the summer. Elderhostel puts travelers age 55 and older in touch with college accommodations around the United States. These programs are centered around a theme or learning activity, such as their recent offering of a three-night educational study of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe with eight meals and accommodations at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg for $499 per person.

For travelers of any age, check out Reids Guides for dorm accommodations in the UK. Rates in London start at around $40/night. Now, that’s a bargain! If you’re looking for dorm accommodations in the United States, it’s best to contact a university in the area you’ll be visiting to see if they have such a program. For example, Marquette University in downtown Milwaukee rents out their dorm rooms in the summer for $28/night and Long Island University in New York rents their dorm rooms for $50/night.

Keep in mind that most college dorm accommodations share a bath and have twin beds. Most also ask that you bring your own linens.


For most people, the word hostel conjures up the image of a room full of bunk beds with college-aged travelers. However, today’s hostels cater to travelers of all ages, as well as families, and offer affordable housing all over the world. Hostels also offer an opportunity to swap stories with other travelers as well as to get to know people who live in the region. Many of today’s hostels offer private rooms in addition to the dorm-style accommodations. Some even have private baths.

Find a hostel that’s right for you and your family at Hostels.com, a site that lists more than 33,000 hostels worldwide, or HostelWorld, with more than 25,000 listings. Just a few of their offerings include the Broadway Hotel n Hostel in New  York City for $45 per person, the Amsterdam Hostel near Union Square in San Francisco for $18 per person including breakfast, and the South Beach Hostel in Miami Beach for $17.95 per person including free W-Fi, breakfast and transportation to the Miami airport.

Vacation home rentals

Staying in a private home, condo or cottage for your vacation may not be out of your price range. Such rentals offer many advantages over traditional hotel rooms. You’ll have more room to spread out and enjoy yourselves. You’ll be able to save money by cooking at least some of your meals in the home’s kitchen, and you’ll be able to interact and get restaurant and attraction suggestions from neighbors who live there year-round. Two good sources for private home rentals are Villas 4 Vacation and HomeAway. Examples of current offerings include a 2-bedroom, 2-bath golf condo in Tucson for $75; a 2-bedroom, 8-person condo near the slopes in Winter Park, Colorado for $90/night; and a 4-bedroom, 11-person house near Walt Disney World in Florida for $79/night.

Farm stays

A farm stay can be an exciting departure from big-city life, especially for those families whose only contact with a farm is buying produce at the local grocery store. Some farm-stay properties offer horseback riding or fishing, and some even let you help with the farm chores if you’re so inclined (and if you like to get up early). Italy’s Agriturismo offers more than 1200 farm properties all over Italy. Examples include a farmhouse Tuscany with a pool and breakfast daily for $43/night and a 4-person converted stables in Umbria for $38/night. Not all of Agriturismo’s offerings are true farmhouses; some are rural estates and country homes. All, however, are interesting.

For farm stays in the United States, try Farmstayus.com. Offerings vary widely from apple orchards to dairy farms to cattle farms. All properties are unique. Just a few examples include Parent Farmhouse on 150 acres in upstate Vermont for $65/night; Tierra Soul, a small urban farm in central Orgeon with free Wifi for $65; and a 1-bedroom cottage at Fiddler’s Green horse ranch adjacent to Ocala National Forest in central Florida for $90/night.

Save Money with Alternative Lodging