These days, when I travel to Europe, I usually sleep in hotel rooms or bed-and-breakfasts. But in my early travel days, I routinely found places where I could sleep for free or very cheap.
In Austria, I had "dear parents" who were actually the parents of my sister’s ski instructor.
In London, my hosts were friends of my uncle. Neither relationship was terribly close — until I visited. Now we are friends for life.
I love the idea of creatively finding a free or cheap bed in Europe. One of the best ways to do that is to stay in someone's home, whether you're renting a spare room or apartment, or crashing on your neighbor's cousin’s couch.
Sleeping where the locals do can provide some of the richest and most memorable travel experiences — often for less than a hotel.
You don't actually need to know someone in Europe to stay at their home. Room-finding services like Airbnb.com can help travelers hook up with locals.
Beds range from air-mattress-in-living-room basic to plush-B&B-suite posh. Most listings offer you at least a spare room, and many are for entire apartments. Some places offer separate entrances for travelers who want more privacy and limited interaction with their hosts.
If you prefer having the comforts of home without the pressure of feeling like a houseguest, renting an apartment, house, or villa can be both convenient and cost-effective. Options run the gamut, from French gîtes to Tuscan villas to big-city apartments in the heart of town.
A short-term rental is often cheaper than or comparable to a hotel, especially if you plan to settle in one location for several nights. Most are equipped with kitchens, laundry, and living rooms, making them especially good for groups and families.
Travelers who are willing to invest time in research can go to sites like HomeAway.com and its sister site VRBO.com, search through a database of listings, then correspond directly with European property owners or managers to negotiate a deal.
Those who want to do less legwork can seek help from a rental agency, which charges a fee but provides pre-screened listings and a staff who will work with you to find an appropriate accommodation. Rental agencies such as Interhome.us and the more upscale Rentavilla.com list places all over Europe, and there are many rental agencies that focus on a specific city or region.