AirBnB and hostels are your best friend. With AirBnB you get the best of a hotel at half the price. With Hostels, they provide food, shelter, and great company. Why are you traveling? To spend time at a Hilton? You're there to capture the most that you can out of a city and culture. That's why an inexpensive AirBnB or hostel will replace an over price hotel any day. Free breakfast, cheap drinks, and a lot of fellow travelers.
Paying less for more
Now that I'm getting older, I'm finding AirBnB to be a great alternative to the hostel life style. It's extremely easy to book and you get a lot of great pictures and reviews from their site to know which spot fits you best. I'm all for booking a private room or the entire appartment so that if I want to cook a meal it's usually no problem. After booking the host will usually contact you and give you the information on getting to their place. Some meet you outside the day of arrival and others you might never see. Luckily I've had nothing but great expoierence traveling via AirBnB in Europe. I highly recommend it!
Hostels come in all shapes and sizes. From 2 bed private rooms for $50 a night to 18 bed room for $15 a night. The misconception is that hostels are for kids or college students. This simply is not true. Parents and even grandparents will be staying in your hostel and you'll be eating with them at breakfast each morning. They understand that the hostel is used just a place to keep your bag and rest your head. You're really traveling for the city and culture.
While staying in hostels, you normally don't get your own private bathroom or privacy for that matter. But what you miss out on in privacy you make up in socializing, all the while saving some coin. Hostels aren't like the horror stories you hear about from years ago. They're all modern, clean, and run on a set of guidelines. Most all hostels are unionized which means they have to follow a set of strict rules and are hold to a specific standard.
You're also more likely to meet other travelers while staying in a hostel. Strike up a conversation, you already have one thing in common!
Check websites like Hostel World for available hostels in the city you're visiting. Don't just settle for the cheapest room but pay attention to reviews and ratings. One hostel might not offer free wifi while another might not provide locked storage.
Also think about where the hostel is located. I'm choosing a less popular hostel in Amsterdam because it happens to be closer to the train station.
While checking in, take the time to get to know the hostel staff. Ask them where they like to eat or drink in the area, this will help you find the real local culture and cuisine. In Germany, a hostel worker took me to their favorite pub to meet up with their friends. A kind gesture like that is what traveling is all about.
Modern day hostel
The modern day hostel is equipped with all the essentials and perks of your typical hotel. Showers, free wifi, washer & dryer, lockers, free breakfast, and almost always a bar. Make sure to book an Ensuite when possible so you'll have your own private bathroom in your room. And always remember, you can get a private room but they usually book the quickest and you'll be paying slightly more.
The slide show to the right gives you a good representation of what a hostel will look like when you arrive. These are some of the places I've stayed and can vouch for. Check the reviews, book an Ensuite, throw your bags down, and go explore the city knowing a nice comfortable place full of travelers like you is waiting for you at the end of the day.