My Secret for Cheap Hotels in Europe

Did you know there’s not a single Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood, IHG, or Club Carlson in Slovenia outside of Ljubljana?  For the most part, this country is home to non-chain hotels and other independently managed accommodations.

Learn my big secret for saving money on accomodations in Europe (and the world!) https://sightdoing.net/cheap-hotels-europe/

Despite having a healthy balance of hotel rewards points in my budget, I frequently find myself in locations without chain hotels.  Since I love small towns, this shouldn’t surprise you.  It usually doesn’t make sense for a Holiday Inn to set down roots in a town of 1,000 residents and try to fill 100 rooms.

What most travel agencies leave out — time and time again — are guesthouses.

house nina plitvice croatia europe
Look like a simple room? Who cares at 38 euro per night? (Pictured: House Nina near Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia)

Guesthouses are the best way to get a comfortable, private room at an affordable price when you don’t have the time to commit to a condo or apartment rental.  While my rooms are basic in decor and furniture, I’ve always gotten a good night’s sleep and adequate space.

Finding rooms with a private bathroom is easy and 99% of the time, I’ve had free wi-fi and breakfast.  More often than not, these rooms are in a residential quarter of town (one reason prices are lower), which means free parking but a short walk to any tourist attractions.  On this particular trip through Slovenia and Croatia, we stayed at accommodations that ranged from a 2-minute walk to attractions to a 10-minute drive.

There are two great approaches to finding guesthouses, and we used both of them on our trip to Slovenia & Croatia.  The first is to simply not pre-book anything and instead drive into town.  Based on my experience, small towns usually have rooms for rent that are advertised with signs.  Know the word for room in the local language and you’ll spot rooms everywhere (or simply ask around tow)n.  My “Type A” personality tends to want a reservation in advance, though!

The other approach is to use Booking.com, which has many listings for international guesthouses.  I’ve used it successfully in Slovenia and Croatia this summer and in Morocco in December.

Update as of November 2015: This strategy is still going strong, with great CHEAP stays in Guatemala and Mexico, too!

You’ll find plenty of pictures on Booking.com, a description of the location, a clear notation on when you have a private bathroom, whether they accept card or cash for payment, and user ratings and reviews.  Booking.com keeps your reservations in your account online for easy access and also makes it easy to cancel or modify reservations if necessary.  A guesthouse has never lost our booking information, so rest easy.

This room was 50% cheaper than standard hotels in town.
This room was 50% cheaper than standard hotels in town.

Additionally, starting your purchase at a shopping portal will allow you to earn cash back on each reservation.  I tend to start at Mr. Rebates because they credit my account consistently, which earns me 3% rebates on every Booking.com reservation.

All good things have catches and there are things that might be inconvenient during your guesthouse stay.  First, these properties don’t come with 24-hour desks (or even lobbies), so there’s usually a cut-off time for checking in so owners can go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  Additionally, you’ll often need to be prepared with your own toiletries or other amenities.  Lastly, don’t be surprised if a room is cash only (or if there is a surcharge for paying with credit card).

At roughly half the price of moderately-priced hotels, guesthouses can be a good way to save money on your overnight stays without giving up the privacy of your own room.  Some are full-service B&Bs and others are more closely-related to self-catering apartments.  Either way, we loved never having to pay over 60 euro a night on our European vacation.

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Read More About My Trip to Slovenia and Croatia:

13 thoughts on “My Secret for Cheap Hotels in Europe”

  1. We visited Ljubljana, Slovenia for a couple of days in May 2006 before continuing on to Croatia. Stayed in the Grand Union Hotel Executive and got a smokin’ deal. By emailing the hotel, I got a package that included a 1 day Smart car rental for less than what the rate was for just the room! Still can’t figure that out. Breakfast buffet included, too. And, when we went to pick up the car to drive out to Lake Bled, the front desk clerk just told us to go around to the Business section of the hotel where they just handed us the keys. No ID check, no presentation of drivers license, NOTHING! We still laugh about that. Only downside was it rained much of the time we were at Lake Bled, so while we did get out to the island, we didn’t walk up to the castle.

  2. @Marilyn, that sounds like a great deal! I love when packages can save you money.

    @Wandering Aramean, I love hotels.com and use it often for effectively 15% off. On many trips, however, I’ve found that the cheapest option on Hotels.com is still more than I want to pay. In these cases, I can usually save 50% by sticking with Booking.com simply because they offer those lower priced properties that no one else does.

  3. Nice post! Brought back some memories of renting an apartment in Krakow. Not sure if you have ever been to Zakopane in south of Poland , but its actually quite impressive and has beautiful mountain scenery as well. I am intrigued by Slovenia, hopefully we will make it there some day as we go to Europe regularly to visit my parents.

  4. Will you be posting a separate trip report for Croatia? Planning a trip for next summer and I haven’t seen much on Croatia from the typical travel bloggers.

  5. @MilesforFamily, My parents went to Zakopane last fall and it has been on my wishlist ever since. I hope to make it there sometime soon.

    @LB, Yes, I will definitely be writing about Croatia. I didn’t see much of the country (and skipped the typical visits to Dubrovnik & Split), but I’ll share what I can.

  6. You will have to amend your post. There is a new flag flying over one of the hotel’s in Slovenia’s capital and it is a Radisson Blu.

    1. @Horace, Thanks for the tip! This post was written summer 2013 and was accurate at the time of posting. Love seeing new options! However Ljubljana is still just one city in the country…lots more to explore regardless of hotels.

  7. Nice post, will have to try guesthouse someday.

    Just curious, is guesthouse through booking.com similar to the private rooms through airbnb?

    1. @Christer, There’s too much variety at Airbnb to make a clean comparison. However, Booking.com is comprised of properties renting their rooms out full-time (not someone renting an apartment when they go on vacation, for example) and my experience has been that there’s usually 3-15 rooms and not just 1-2.

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