MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Dorms & hostels

Itasca in winter

After snow flies, visitors zip around Minnesota's beloved state park on skis and snowshoes.

In winter, only the most dedicated pilgrims make the trip to Itasca, Minnesota's most revered state park.

Yet the park is beautiful without its forest canopy. It's easy to see its bones, the lumpy quilt of knobs and kettles laid down by retreating glaciers.

It's easy to see the 300-year-old pines that escaped loggers. And it's easier to listen — to the sassy chatter of a squirrel, the prehistoric croak of a crow, the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker.

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At home in a hostel

Feeling adventurous? The dorm-style lodgings are open to everyone, and you can't beat the price.

To get a bargain on lodgings, you can try Priceline or Hotwire. You can clip coupons or use AAA or AARP discounts.

You can try every angle, but a single traveler still won’t find a bed that’s cheaper than those at hostels.

Many Americans think hostels are used only by college-age backpackers in Europe. That’s how most of us discover them.

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Staying with Airbnb

Like meeting people? Like a deal? An online service makes travelers guests in private homes.

Apparently, hotels are so 20th century.

These days, people are staying anywhere but. They’re renting vacation homes through VRBO and HomeAway. They’re house-sitting at Caretaker.org. They’re staying for free at HomeExchange.com, Servas.org and Couchsurfing.org.

Now, we have Airbnb.com, whose slogan is “Travel like a human.’’

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Swapping houses

For budget travelers, keys to a borrowed home open a lot of doors.

It’s a leap of faith, letting strangers stay in your house.

But if you take that leap, you can land in some pretty nice places.

The home-exchange concept is simple: You vacation in my house, I vacation in yours. It was pioneered in 1953 by teachers in Europe, and it got a big boost by the 2007 movie “The Holiday.’’

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On budget in a dorm

In summer, college residence halls are a boon to budget travelers.

Until recently, my memories of college dorms mostly involved sloppy drunks, sloppier roommates and a bathroom shared by the whole floor.

Then my husband and I stayed at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It was as quiet as a cathedral, and we had a private bath and a panoramic view of the city from our 17th-floor picture windows.

We paid $28 apiece, which was nice because we like to save money. But mostly, we stayed at Marquette because it was so convenient, three blocks from the special bus that takes summer visitors to the lakefront Henry Maier Festival Park and right on the route that takes baseball fans to Miller Park on game days.

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Two dorms in Thunder Bay

In this Lake Superior port town, we found a pleasant place to stay and another we hope to forget.

Every so often, we stay in terrible places so you don't have to.

We know you love deals, so we're always on the lookout. That's how we ended up in a dormitory in Thunder Bay, the biggest city on Lake Superior.

Both Confederation College and Lakehead University are in the center of town and offer residence-hall rooms. Since the Confederation rooms have private baths, we decided to stay there and check out the Lakehead rooms afterward.

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Trading places

On the Internet, exchanging homes is easier than ever.

In the age of the Internet, house exchanging has grown up.

In 1991, still the era of snail mail and high-priced international phone calls, I wanted to exchange my home for one in Europe. But few people wanted to come to Minnesota.

I hadn't listed Sweden as a preferred destination, but a family in Stockholm's Old Town asked about an exchange. By the time I sent them information about my home, they'd found one elsewhere, and I exchanged instead with a family in southern Sweden.

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