These Hotel Alternatives Are the Fun Way to Save Money in the UK

New Ideas That Are Better UK Money Savers Than Cheap Hotels

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.

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.

01 of 06

Become a 21st Century Lodger with Airbnb

Private Apartment, London, United Kingdom, 2012.
Kilian O'Sullivan / Getty Images

If you don't already know about Airbnb and how it works, where have you been for the last few years? Don't fret - here' a refresher about this smart, post millennia, global short-term flat sharing/short rental website.

It's possibly the best way to find cheap accommodations in the UK. 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. We 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:

  • £69 per night for a stylish double in a Kings Cross house share.
  • 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 person, per night.
  • Rooms within a few Tube stops of Central London attractions 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 we 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.

02 of 06

Camp in Someone's Back Garden

Father and son in tent shining torch in distance.
Mike Harrington / Getty Images

Camp in My Garden is a website dedicated to bringing local residents together with visitors who like to camp. Using the site, you can find a place to pitch your tent, park your RV or rent a caravan on someone's private property. Campsites range from grassy corners of lovely private estates to tiny backyards along terraces of inner city homes. Some hosts provide breakfast, showers and toilets, some just offer you a bit of space. It's a relatively new idea, pioneered in the UK and now spreading to other countries. And, yes, there are London back gardens close to the city centers and popular attractions.

03 of 06

House Swap

Elegant Brighton Houses Face the English Channel
©Ferne Arfin

If you missed the 2007 film, The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, rent or download it 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.

To find our more about house swapping, checkout Home Exchange, one of the world's leading house swapping organizations.

04 of 06

Stay in College Rooms

Balliol College, Oxford University
© Ferne Arfin

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 or brand new, architecturally important ones.

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.

Or not.

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.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

And Then There's Couch Surfing

Young girl is sitting on the sofa and texting
praetorianphoto / Getty Images

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, once again, 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.

06 of 06

Consider Self-Catering

Purton Green Medieval Hall House you can stay in.
©Ferne Arfin

Self-Catering is what Europeans call vacation rentals. If you are traveling with a big family or a large party of friends, it can be an economical way to stay. Self-catering properties are available from a number of recommended online agencies , as well as from the National Trust (they handle a rental flat in Agatha Christie's summer house) and English Heritage. The local tourist information bureau can usually rustle you up self-catering accommodation. And the Landmark Trust specializes in unique, historic properties.

Here are a few of the advantages:

  1. Cheaper per person, per night cost for families and groups on longer stays.
  2. Privacy
  3. Cooking facilities so you can save on eating out and just splurge on someplace special now and then. Also good if you have to cater for special diets.
  4. Pick a location close to the things you want to do or popular spots with less worry about cost.
  5. A local base where you can safely leave your stuff without packing and repacking every time you move on.