For not having reservations in the middle of summer in Europe, I did remarkably well in finding hotels. Before I arrived in Europe I made a list of hotels & hostels with their contact information. I would then call different hotels from the train station or from public telephones.
Often times I would just show up in a city and find budget accommodation. Finding hotels depends most importantly on when you arrive (time of day and season), and which city or town you were in. For example, in Venice I started walking away from the train station and kept walking through side streets until I found some hotels. I ended up staying 2 minutes walking distance away from St. Marks Square at the end of July.
Most hotels require your passport for copying down information. Sometimes they will insist on keeping your passport until you pay.
As with prices for other services, the hotel prices were cheapest in Greece, southern Italy, and eastern Europe. A nice marble floored, clean multi roomed hotel on the islands in Greece cost about $35 US dollars. This price becomes even more affordable if you have someone to share the cost of lodging.
The most expensive room that I paid for was $80 in Venice and in in Paris. However, in both cities I was in prime locations. In Venice I was two minutes walking from St. Marks Square and in Paris, I would walk two minutes down the street and I would be in front of the Lourve and have views of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triomphe.
One hotel that I stayed at had the toilet situated right in the middle of the shower. Every time you took a shower you had to remove all the toilet paper. Most of the bathrooms in Europe have what they call a second toilet called a Bidet. This is used for cleaning your back side after using the toilet. After seeing the many dirty dusty bidets, it seems like al lot of these are now left for old time sake and are relicts of another time.
I did stay in a few hostels. There is nothing quite as satisfying as getting a private room in a hostel. After being on the road all day and being tired, I found it a real pain if I had to share a room with 4 to 8 other travelers. It was hard to get to sleep early because people would stay up chatting. Fortunately I only had to share a room several times.
All of the hostels I stayed in were quite clean. Some were much more fancy then others. The hostels located in the country were the ones that were generally the cleanest and nicest. The ones in the middle of the large cites were usually quite crowded and more expensive. For the most part, the hostels were located on the outskirts of town, and trips into the main part of town often took a while. The exception to this is in the large cities, where there are hostels scattered throughout the city.
Some of the hostels are closed to check ins from 10am until 5pm. This makes it a real pain when traveling. A common myth is that hostels require a sleep sack. From talking to people and from my hostel experience, I did not find this to be the case. Never once did I need a sleep sack. The hostels would rent you sheets if you wanted. In the summer, the nights were always so warm that I never even used sheets. This saved me some money. Some hostels include the price of sheets with their lodging cost.
Some hostels are listed in the hostelling international book. Others are privately owned. I had no complaints about the privately owned hostels. In fact they were usually nicer and they usually had private rooms.
One note about the electricity in Europe; it is a different voltage then that of North America. Laptops and general portable electronics usually have a built in transformer so you do not need to buy anything special – other than an adaptor to plug into the European wall plugs (rounded two prongs).
Camping is one way to save money on lodging in Europe. There are many nice campgrounds located on the continent. I visited one near Venice and was pleasantly surprised to see a nice area. They had a large swimming pool, an extensive gift shop, and nice facilities for camping as well as WiFi. As with campgrounds in the US, some will be more primitive then others. You can get international camping permits and camping information by visiting: www.fcrv.org