Accommodations in Eastern Europe cover a spectrum as broad as the region is vast.
No matter where you travel in Eastern Europe or what kind of accommodations you plan to use, it is a good idea to make a reservation for your first night in the country well in advance of your arrival.
Pitching a tent is the least expensive accommodations in Eastern Europe and it is also one of the most popular. Campgrounds can range from a monastery backyard (Brac, Croatia) to an elaborate affair with bungalows, cabins, and amenities like a theater, tennis courts, and gourmet restaurants. Camping facilities are also usually away from any town center, but they often have waterfront property. Some camp facilities are set aside for naturists (read: nudists) and others are geared to people who stay for the entire summer. Reservations are accepted at most campgrounds and the better ones fill up quickly. Depending on the country and campground category, these facilities usually close in the winter months and some are open in July and August (high season) only. It's best to make arrangements ahead of your arrival. Note: In Eastern Europe it is illegal to camp out anyplace but a recognized campground.
Eastern Europe's underground economy runs on the private accommodations industry. When booking this option, you'll find everything from a room in an elderly woman's apartment where you share her bathroom with her to a detached multilevel villa on a family estate. It's safest to book a private stay from a local tourist agency, but you will pay a commission. If you use the agency, you also will have the option of inspecting the room and asking for another choice if you don't like it. You also can agree to rent from one of the many "entrepreneurs" who haunt ferry landings and train and bus stations to find guests for their spare rooms. This option is less expensive than an agency-booked place, but you could find that it is inconveniently located or substandard by the time you get there. Almost all private accommodations require cash payment and almost none includes breakfast or any other meals.
Note: If you are staying in a private home in Russia you'll have to pay a rental agency to register your visa with a hotel.
Most hostels in Eastern Europe are part of the national Youth Hostel Association (YHA), an arm of Hostelling International (HI; www.iyhf.org), but you don't have to be young to use them. Hostels provide beds in dorm-type rooms, the use of a communal bathroom, and sometimes the use of kitchen facilities. Hostels vary widely in quality and amenities and some even accept reservations.
Eastern Europe rates its hotels via the star method, though there is little consistency within the method or within any given country either. A three-star hotel in Slovenia is likely to be much more luxurious and comfortable than a three-star hotel in Bulgaria, for example. Ratings sometimes are ambiguous between cities in the same country, too. However, a few generalizations are possible. Hotels in Eastern Europe almost always include breakfast in the price; single rooms can cost as much as a double because guests are charged by the room, not the number of people (and some hotels do not book "singles"); many hotels require multiday bookings and refuse single-night reservations, especially during high season; and many hotels require that you book an all-inclusive room rate and that you take your meals there.
Farmhouse stays are a growing trend in Eastern Europe. In reality these are just a rural version of private accommodations. Usually you'll be staying on a working farm and staying in rooms that mirror the resident family's rooms. Often you can help feed the animals, take a walk in the fields, and enjoy a huge farmer's breakfast made from the earth's bounty. That sometimes means getting up with the chickens, too.
Note: If you stay on a farm in Eastern Europe, you have to identify yourself to Customs when you return to the U.S. to avoid transport of dangerous bacteria.
For apartment, farmhouse, or cottage stays of 2 weeks or more, Idyll Untours (tel. 888/868-6871; www.untours.com) provides exceptional vacation rentals for a reasonable price -- which includes air/ground transportation, cooking facilities, and on-call support from a local resident. Best of all: Untours -- named the "Most Generous Company in America" by Newman's Own -- donates most profits to provide low-interest loans to underprivileged entrepreneurs around the world (visit website for details).
House swapping is becoming a more popular and viable means of travel; you stay in their place, they stay in yours, and you both get an authentic and personal view of the area, the opposite of the escapist retreat that many hotels offer. Try HomeLink International (www.homelink.org), the largest and oldest home-swapping organization, founded in 1952, with over 11,000 listings worldwide ($75 for a yearly membership). HomeExchange.org ($49.95 for 6,000 listings) and InterVac.com ($68.88 for over 10,000 listings) are also reliable. Many travelers find great housing swaps on Craigslist (www.craigslist.org), too, though the offerings cannot be vetted or vouched for. Swap at your own risk.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.