It really is possible to travel on the cheap to the UK - even, gasp, London - but what fun is a holiday or vacation if you have to stay in some crummy, cheap hotel. Let's face it, bed bugs can be a real downer.
Here's the good news - a few of the newer trends in alternative accommodations and some old favorites as well offer cheap UK stays that are really fun and run the gamut from family-friendly to super glam.
Plenty of these budget-friendly alternatives can still be booked in time for Britain's super summer of the Diamond Jubilee, the London 2012 Olympics and more.
If you are looking for a cool place to stay during Britain's high season, without having to mortgage your kidneys, try one of these.
1. Become a 21st Century Lodger with Airbnb
Possibly the newest way to find cheap accommodations in the UK is through the global short-term flat sharing website Airbnb. The website is based on a simple, elegant idea that needed the Internet to become reality, People with rooms to rent for a few nights or up to a month list them on the Airbnb site, with accompanying pictures, descriptions, facilities and rules.
You simply search the site for your destination and dates, check out what's available and apply for the accommodations you like. Rooms and apartments are rated by previous guests, who can add comments so you have a good idea of what to expect. Owners can also rate you - did you leave things as you found them, were you a considerate guest, and so forth. So be nice and everyone will want to host your visit.
Some of the rentals give you the run of the property while the owner is away, and others involve renting a spare room, often with breakfast thrown in, while the hosts are around. There are plenty of both kinds of accommodations to choose from.
The money you pay is held in escrow by Airbnb until after your stay so both you and the property owner are protected.
Not Just London - All Over the UK
And don't assume that only London flat shares are available (though it's a great idea for visitors to the Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee). I just did a search, using the site's nifty interactive map facility, and came up with rooms, houses, whole flats all over the country in popular places as well as villages you probably never heard of:
- £30 per night per person for the two spare rooms in a really beautiful, 350-year old cottage in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales
- An entire flat near Edinburgh's Royal Mile for £60 per night
- A city center flat in Liverpool for £25 per night
- An entire castle/wedding venue near Glasgow for £5,per night.
- Rooms within a few Tube stops of the Olympic Park for £35 per night
- £40 a night for a Portobello Road/Notting Hill stay.
The site includes plenty of pictures as well as picture, profile and contact details for the owner - so, if you are going to share, you can decide if you'll be compatible.
It's a sort of grown-up version of couch surfing and I think it's a great idea. And a lot of other people, including celebs who've used the service, like Conan O'Brien and Ashton Kutcher, must think so to because they're now in 192 countries and more than 19,000 cities. Some lodgings are even dog-friendly.
To find out more, visit their website Airbnb.co.uk.
3. House Swap
If you missed the 2007 film, The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, rent the DVD to see Hollywood's romantic view of house swapping. Most house swaps may not be as scenic or end in glowing transatlatic happy endings, but they are still a great way to use what you own to go globe hopping.
In essence, you swap your home with someone else for a short holiday stay. You may or may not have use of a car; you may be expected to look after pets or make sure the cleaning lady gets her envelope of money, but in essence you stay for free and make yourself at home in someone else's digs - while they do the same at your place.
Of course, it helps if you live in a particularly popular location - but it's not always necessary to live in a key tourist spot. The best, and safest way to do it is to join a membership organization that can advise you on rules and insurance while providing thorough information on the properties and their owners. Hey, it's a bit of a leap of faith but thousands of people have swapped homes for vacations quite happily all over the world.
Join HomeExchange.com, one of the world's leading house swapping organizations.
In a country that has some of the oldest universities in the world, staying in college dorms rooms can be a more interesting experience than you might imagine. College rooms stays range from student dormitory rooms available on a b&b or self-catering basis during school vacations, all the way to exclusive guest accommodations in historic buildings.
Staying in dorm rooms may give you access to hallowed and historic precincts not open to the public. You may be able to have big English breakfasts in historic halls.
Dorm room stays are as varied as the universities and colleges that offer them. But it's certainly worth looking into for interesting, characterful and cheap alternative ways to stay in the UK.
If you are really gregarious and keen to make new friends wherever you go, Couch Surfing is the way to do it. If you don't know what it is (and if so where have you been hiding for the past few years?), it's a hospitality network where you open your home to travelers from all over the world and expect the same hospitality when you travel.
No money is exchanged and nobody guarantees that you will stay in pristine digs. You arrive and stay as any houseguest or member of the family would. Often you actually get to know people's families and participate in their family activities.
Couch Surfing is not for everyone and if you are a particularly private person or very risk averse it probably isn't for you. But people of all ages and from all walks of life are doing it and you can't get much cheaper than free.