Grace Lower | Aug 26, 2017
There’s nothing quite like the excitement that comes with planning your journey abroad, especially if you’re a student. But regardless of your destination, housing is a crucial — and often undervalued — detail that can make or break your visit.
As you plan for your trip, you’ll want to weigh your housing options based on your length of stay, budget, and personal preferences. There’s an ideal living arrangement for every student traveler; you just need to know where to look!
If you’re only traveling for a week or so, you’ll have plenty of accommodations to choose from. Here are three tried-and-true housing options to consider when planning your stay.
Hostels are a favorite among student travelers (myself included!). Unlike a hotel, where you’d normally book a room of your own, a hostel reservation gets you a bed within a shared room. While the thought of staying in a hostel might evoke images of dingy bunk beds and cramped quarters, there are a wealth of affordable-yet-stylish hostels in most major cities.
Of course, you’ll still want to look up reviews before booking. You should also check to see what your hostel provides for its guests — basics like fresh linens, towels, and breakfast aren’t always guaranteed. Finally, make sure your hostel offers lockers. Nothing puts a damper on a trip like having your belongings stolen!
While hostels can be a bit of a gamble, there are plenty of options that feel upscale without breaking the bank. For as little as $25 per night, hostels offer countless opportunities to connect with fellow travelers and the perfect place to crash after
a long day of exploration.
While Airbnb is still fairly new, its convenience and novelty make it an attractive option for student travelers. With an Airbnb reservation, you can stay as a guest in a local’s home — this housing style tends to offer more privacy, personal space, and opportunities to immerse yourself in your host country’s culture.
Of course, safety should always be a priority when using Airbnb. Take time to read up on the profile, ratings, and reviews of any potential Airbnb host before booking. Airbnb’s website also offers this helpful
list of tips to ensure a comfortable and safe stay.
Hotels tend to be a pricier option for student travelers, but the guarantee of privacy and security can be worth the extra expense. That said, it’s crucial to research both the hotel itself and the surrounding neighborhood. A hotel might seem lovely online, but if it’s in a high-crime area, getting back to your room can turn into an unpleasant adventure!
When selecting accommodations, many young travelers stick with well-known hotel chains for their reliability. However, I tend to favor smaller-scale, independent hotels, since they often make for a more memorable experience. My favorite websites for finding unique, cost-effective hotel accommodations are Kayak and Student Universe .
If you’re planning a long-term trip, your housing decisions tend to be higher-stakes. While it might be tempting to base your housing preferences on novelty and adventure, I’d recommend sticking with practical accommodations that suit your budget, personality, and travel goals.
When I spent a semester in Spain, I had the bizarre and wonderful experience of living with a host family of hippies (but I’ll save the details on that experience for another post). My host parents were gracious and inviting, and there was never a dull moment in their tiny, art-filled apartment!
That said, homestays can be ... complicated. Depending on your host family, you can expect less privacy, restricted menu options, and new rules to follow. And while many host families genuinely enjoy housing students, there are some less-than-savory families who are only in it for the stipend. When selecting a host home, don’t be afraid to check for reviews online or with your study abroad provider.
In my experience, homestays are an excellent way to learn about local foods, novel customs, and cultural quirks. My host parents were always happy to answer any questions that I had about Spain, while offering advice and guidance along the way. If you’re looking to find your home-away-from-home while abroad, a host family is a great place to start.
If you crave independence when you travel, an apartment could be the perfect housing option for you. You’ll have a greater degree of privacy, more responsibilities, and the freedom to come and go as you please. But before you rush to sign a lease, make sure you understand the responsibilities that come with being a tenant abroad.
Although some study abroad providers offer housing assistance, you may find yourself on your own with an eager realtor. Take your time — especially if you’re communicating in your second language. Make sure you understand exactly what comes with your apartment (I’ve heard horror stories of properties without refrigerators or stoves). Take thorough notes on when you should pay bills and to whom. And most importantly, understand your rights. You should know how much responsibility your landlord holds and what sorts of tenant protections your host country offers.
For socially inclined travelers, dorms are a great way to connect with fellow college students. This housing option offers countless opportunities to befriend locals and become an active member of your campus community.
That said, cultural differences and language barriers are difficult to navigate, even for the most extroverted students. Although it might be tempting to stick with a group of American students, push yourself to get involved on campus. Whether you join
a student organization or take a weekend trip with students on your floor, a solid group of local friends can make your time abroad unforgettable.
While choosing housing abroad might seem daunting, your decision can be simplified if you keep your personal and financial boundaries in mind. With a bit of self-reflection (and some strategic Google searches), you’ll find your home-away-from-home in no time!
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.