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Think lodging, and the first word that comes to mind will probably be “hotel.” If you are traveling in Europe, however, your choices go way beyond that. Lodging can mean anything from a camping area resembling a parking lot, to a luxuriously appointed, completely renovated ancient castle. Your choice of accomodation will be dictated by both your budget and interests. Lodging can be either a “by the way” proposition, its only purpose giving you a safe and comfortable night’s sleep in close proximity to that which you came to see, or a central element of the trip.

If you’re after a unique stay, book accomodation with history. Kaiserslautern’s Hotel Alcatraz formerly served as a prison. Hotel Village in Hamburg was once one of the city’s most opulent bordellos. Outside of Linz, Austria, one of your options includes sleeping in a drainpipe fitted out with a double bed and electricity. Sleep in the cockpit of a jet or by booking space in Jumbo Stay, conveniently located at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. To re-live your childhood, head to Germany’s Kulturinsel Einsiedel, near the Polish border, where accomodation in a treehouse awaits. If you’re into architectural wonders, try on for size Madrid’s 5-star Hotel Silken Puerta América, the luxurious product of collaboration between nineteen of the world’s top architecture and design studios.

While these options surely stand out for their uniqueness, it’s likely that the more standard options might better suit your needs. Here’s the low-down on just some of your many choices.

Military lodgingDepartment of Defense: http://dodlodging.net/

Navy: www.navy-lodge.comMarine Corps: www.usmc-mccs.org/lodging/Army: http://www.armymwr.com/travel/lodging/CampingWhile camping in the states might call to mind a wooded site in a pristine setting, complete with stone fireplace and picnic table, your European option might be little more than a grassy field where you can pitch a tent for the night. Why would you ever agree to that? Camping sites in Europe can be marvelously accessible to big cities. Consider, for example, Gaasper Camping, just outside Amsterdam, where you can reach the city on public transportation cheaply and in under half an hour by commuter train. If you consider the rustic element essential to camping, the Armed Forces Recreation Centers’ Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany offers a campground that will fit your bill — pitches in a woodsy setting are available from May 15 through September 30.

Cabins and chaletsIf a cabin can provide you the level of comfort you’re after, Edelweiss might once again fit the bill nicely. It offers both deluxe and rustic heated cabins, and bedding and towels are included. While “chalet” is a type of lodging widely associated with skiing, in Europe it can refer to any type of private house in a rural setting. Often it is up to the guest to provide bed linens and towels. For some ideas, see a website such as self-catering-breaks.com. In Germany, a similar type of accomodation is known as "Ferienwohnungen," often shortened to FEWO; in Denmark, it’s a “sommerhus” that you are after. There are other similar options throughout Scandinavia.

Apartment rentalsMany people, the British in particular, tend to buy properties throughout the continent that they are unable to enjoy throughout the year. They offset the costs of these houses or apartments by renting them out, usually on a weekly basis, leaving the upkeep between guests to a trusted local or agency. Such options abound in traditional vacation destinations such as Malta or Spain’s Costa del Sol..

HostelsDon’t cringe! Some of these can be downright cozy and friendly establishments. And in Europe, being youthful is not always a prerequisite to staying in one. A hostel differs from a hotel in that it may offer shared sleeping space, but there are plenty of hostels that offer single rooms as well. Hostels make good options for solo travelers in that they often offer common spaces for socializing, and are less formal than your regular hotel. Visit www.hostelworld.com, www.hostelbookers.com or www.eurohostels.com to be pleasantly surprised. If you plan an extended stay in hostels, you may wish to become a member of Hostelling International. Access to this specific “brand” of over 4000 youth hostels in 80 countries is for members only, but the good news is that yearly membership fees are nominal, and you can join up upon arrival at the first establishment belonging to HI. Some of their properties are quite spectacular. Who knew you could stay in a castle for under $50 a night?.

Budget hotelsIf you’re not looking to drain your bank account, even Europe’s priciest cities offer copious low-end options. These establishments are often conveniently located to train stations. Remember that ratings in Europe can differ greatly from those back home. Good sites for booking reasonably priced accommodation include www.venere.com and www.eurocheapo.com. Nothing booked beforehand? As a walk-in, you have the right to examine the room before agreeing to stay in it. If it’s not up to snuff, thank the receptionist and try your luck elsewhere.

Chain hotelsEurope has not only some of the best known chains in the USA, but those all its own. While these options might be lower on the charm factor, the brand name insures that quality will be up to a certain standard. In addition to the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Marriott, InterContinental, Hilton and Best Western names, look for establishments belonging to the Accor hotels group (Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure, Ibis, Formule 1 and Etap). NH Hoteles is a Spanish chain widely represented throughout Europe. If you are a frequent traveler, sign up for the chains’ newsletters, containing no end of special offers. For a good overview of budget chain hotels in europe, see www.eurapart.com.

Upscale hotelsMaybe it’s your honeymoon, or you get to the continent only once every decade. In that case, you are on the lookout for something truly special. The Leading Hotels of the World is a luxury hospitality organization that represents some of the finest hotels and resorts in the world. Book a hotel bearing this label and be confident your stay will be memorable for all the right reasons. Another website that can point you to upscale properties is www.tablethotels.com.

Surprises for those willing to gambleSay you want to stay in a property of a certain standard, yet you’re not too choosy when it comes to the hotel name. Go to www.hotwire.com, select “hotels” and plug in your dates and destination. You will get price quotes for unnamed properties. All will be revealed- after you pay for the room. Note this booking option only works for Europe’s bigger cities.

Traditional propertiesCertain types of accomodation are associated with particular countries. Say agriturismo and you think rural Italy; “gite” suggests a French locale; “parador” means you’re somewhere in Spain. These make wonderful choices for those who wish to get a feel for the rythym of the local lifestyle.

Different cities, different kinds of staysJust because you stayed in a hostel the night before doesn’t mean you can’t splurge a little the following night. For example, a $150 nightly budget might not stretch very far in Copenhagen, whereas in Gdansk, Poland, that same amount could afford you a five-star luxury stay. And while it’s wonderful to read up on all the lodging reviews on tripadvisor.com and book those places most highly rated, to some extent, you are raising your expectations and depriving yourself of the serendipity of a discovery that’s yours alone, until you decide to share it with the world. Or not.

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