It’s human nature to just book the nicest, easiest hotel you can afford or one that's a convenient stay near the airport, train station, or cruise terminal. If you recognize the brand name of a hotel, you might even be more likely to book it. That’s what most of us do—keep it simple. Book, sleep, repeat.
But considering you’ll spend up to a third of your day in your hotel room, looking for unique stays can add an entirely new dimension to your adventures. Just changing hotels when you’re staying in the same city can add a little spice to your trip.
Next time you’re getting ready to hit the road, do yourself a favor and look for a place you’ll remember instead of just one that has a bed. Here's a few from my own travels that you might consider.
A Palace in France
The Chateau d’ Etoges, the 17th-century palace I stayed at in the Champagne region of France with its long history of royal owners and guests, was only €130 per night.
The dim halls and centuries-old parlors were the perfect setting for a ghostly photo shoot. The chateau’s common spaces were grand and our opulent room even grander—the bed wasn’t just king-size ... it was made for a king. I had a royal chamber with elegant paintings, palatial wall coverings and carpet that looked like it had been lifted from Versailles. Also included in the €130 price was a champagne breakfast with a made-to-order charcuterie plate, fruit, and freshly baked pastries.
It was the kind of room that can make you happy even when you’re lying in bed planning your next travel day. The kind of place that begs for a photo shoot or an after party. You’re not going to get that at the Hilton.
The palace was surrounded by a moat, offered free parking, and had beautiful gardens to stroll around and think royal, kingly thoughts. A palace for less than what I’d spend for a three star hotel in Paris? It wasn’t a difficult choice. Castle stays are often quite affordable and a great option when traveling through Europe. Using key words such as castle, palace, chateau, and fortress can yield lots of interesting choices on Google or search apps like booking.com.
A "Boatel" in Holland
The night before my castle stay, I'd been traveling in Amsterdam and decided to do an overnight in Hoorn, Holland. This small town, 40 minutes north of Amsterdam, is full of boats and ships in a beautiful, calm canal. A boat stay isn’t difficult to find here. Airbnb has a category for unique spaces and we booked a boat cabin for less than half the price of a regular hotel. The owners of the boat were able to accommodate up to six guests on their spacious craft. On previous trips, I’ve stayed on a barge in Reims, a 110-year-old yacht in Amsterdam, and several “botels.” Now I find myself always looking for a unique night on the water. There’s boats all over the world, so there’s possibilities in Asia, Africa, and Australia if you do a little research. I loved my boat stay in Hoorn.
Airbnb also has searchable unique categories including treehouses, caves, igloos, earth houses, campers, and windmills. Yes, windmills.
A Windmill in Holland
No stay in Holland would be truly authentic without a visit to a windmill. Spending the night in one takes your Dutch-cred to a new level. This was my second stay at a working mill, and I had found the perfect one about 30 minutes north of Amsterdam. It functioned as a tourist attraction that received a fair share of guests, most visiting just to see how a mill operates and learn about its history. It even had a little coffee shop that serves apple pie and cakes.
We stayed in the building next to the mill, which had slightly more living space, and served as a haven for the windmill operator during lightning storms. We were given a key so we could explore the mill and follow its trap doors and ladders to the top level. The rooms were fitted with furniture and decor to fit the time period so visitors could have an authentic experience. We had the place to ourselves. The only thing missing was our wooden shoes.
A Container Hotel in Kuala Lumpur
On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I spent a few days at a container hotel. The rooms were created from repurposed shipping containers stacked on top of each other. Alternative spaces had been built using giant recycled drainage pipes. Inside, the quarters were small but well thought-out with a chic modern design. The entire hotel complex was a great photo-op and such a nice change from staying at a cookie-cutter chain. Container hotels are becoming a popular option in cities around the world.
A Fortress in Portugal
In the Azores Islands I found a 400-year old fortress that had been converted into a modern hotel and that integrated so well with the ancient walls, it was nearly invisible—an amazing stay above the town of Angra do Heroísmo—with prices comparable to its less-exciting competitors in the city.
An Underground Hotel in Australia
Meanwhile, in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, Australia, the sun is so hot that there are underground hotel options. And the Cappadocia area in central Turkey has hotels carved into the bizarre rock formations that dot the area.
A Movie Set Brothel in Tombstone
I recently stayed in an RV park in Taos, New Mexico, that was created using vintage airstream campers from the '60s and '70s. In Tombstone, Arizona, I stayed in the “brothel” on a fake western town movie set. The Florida keys have an underwater hotel that you have to scuba dive to get into. Ahh… there's so many choices.
Other Famous Stays
You can stay in an apartment where Elvis once lived. The Van Zant’s (of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame) childhood home is on VRBO. You can also rent a hotel room at the place where Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Goliath lives.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, how about the crystal meth motel from Breaking Bad? Looking for a high-end option? You can get a room and hang out at the Tokyo hotel and bar where Lost in Translation was filmed.