Budget Travel

These Unique Hotels Transform Travel

Zimmerbus, in Israel's beautiful Negev Desert. Talk about an affordable adventure! Wake up in a stylishly refurbished bus to an Israeli breakfast including pita, tahini, desert-flower honey, and fresh goat cheese, then step out into the Negev Desert, home to ancient wells (said to have been used by Moses) and other archaeological wonders.

You can go on a camel safari, take a jeep tour, or stroll among the artist community in Ezuz. The entire village is eco-minded, having turned architectural salvage materials such as buses and train cars into homes. And at relatively high altitude and close to the Mediterranean, the climate is perfect. From $115 per night.

La Balade des Gnomes, a fairy-tale setting in Belgium. The word "escape” can mean a lot of things. Here at La Balade des Gnomes (“Walk of the Gnomes”), near the cobblestoned 17th-century Belgian town of Durbuy, it most definitely means exploring your imagination.

Inspired by myths, legends, and fairy tales, the rooms boast details such as starry glow-in-the-dark ceilings, toadstool-shaped furniture, a boat-inspired bed, and even a Trojan Horse suite (which, visitors insist, looks more like a cow). We love Belgium’s fashion-forward cities like Brussels and Antwerp, but welcome the chance to escape into a countryside where myths come to life. From $120 per night.

Montana Magica Lodge, in Chile's gateway to Patagonia. In the heart of Southern Chile's Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve (devoted to conserving native forest and wildlife and promoting tourism, and known for its waterfalls, year-round skiing, and zip- lining), this hotel is actually as magical as its name suggests.

The lodge was built to look like a mountain and is even covered in forest plants, offering a laid-back rustic vibe that belies the elegant and stylish wooden interiors. When (or maybe we should say “if”) you have your fill of the trails and sights in the forest, you can enjoy an on-site restaurant, spa, and indoor pool. From $206 per night.

The Legoland Florida Hotel, new to Legoland Florida as of Spring 2015. Ever wonder what a hotel designed by Lego engineers might look like? This sibling of the popular hotel at Legoland in Southern California (pictured here), answers that question and more.

The five-story, 152-room hotel essentially brings the colorful world of Lego bricks to life in walking distance of the entrance to the Legoland Florida theme park (guests of the hotel get early admittance to the park). Ready for a musical elevator, pirate-themed beds, a model shop, workshops, and a lake-shaped pool? Start packing. From $279 per night for 2 adults and up to 3 children.

Jewel Runaway Bay Beach and Golf Resort, an all-inclusive playground in Jamaica. The little ones aren't the only ones who get to play on vacation, and this resort offers a mind-blowing array of grown-up playgrounds.

How about three outdoor pools with swim-up bars and concierge service? Six restaurants serving not only traditional Jamaican fare but also gourmet and casual options. And while some resorts interpret “all-inclusive” to mean “some drinks cost more,” the cocktails at all four of Runaway Bay’s bars are unlimited. Pry yourself away from the nibbles and sips to explore the area in a glass-bottom boat, try water skiing, take a cooking class, or hit the hotel spa. From $279 per night, all-inclusive.

Bangkok Treehouse, an oasis in a major metro area. If you're thinking that your stay in a tree house will feel like camping in the backyard (or at best a visit to Disneyland’s old Swiss Family Robinson exhibit), think again.

The 12 elegant multilevel bungalows at the Bangkok Treehouse are literally a cut above, making use of sustainable wood and repurposed and recycled material, and offering movies on demand, complimentary bikes, and even free Thai ice cream (a revelation for those who believe gelato is the ultimate). Most amazing of all, perhaps, is that these tidy lodgings are in a major metro area, accessible via ferry and motorcycle taxi. From $125 per night.

Attrap'Rêves, see-through bubble tents in the south of France. For a whimsical getaway, this might be our favorite: a night under the stars in a bubble tent! Here in Allauch, about a 30-minute drive from Marseille in the south of France, there may be no better place on earth to view the night sky.

The bubbles are a far cry from backyard tents: Each is climate controlled and quietly filled with steady fresh air; each has its own private bathroom, shower, and parking spot. And because, yeah, it’s a see-through tent, the hotel’s proprietors make a point of promising privacy, so the only thing peeking into your bubble at night is the stars in the Milky Way. From $109 per night.

Wanderlust Hotel, a design lover's must see in Singapore. Those with an eye for interior design will appreciate the palette at the Wanderlust, a boutique hotel in Singapore’s Little India area, with some rooms decorated by Pantone colors and others inspired by pop art, origami, and space.

If Singapore is a new city to you, you’ll especially appreciate the complimentary breakfast, iPad use, and Wi-Fi, and the on-site bar and restaurant, Cocotte, serving casual French cuisine. Explore the city’s awesome food scene as well, including laksa, biryani, and other dishes representing the meeting of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian cultures here. From $117 per night.

Treebones Resort, glamping in Big Sur, California. We didn't believe anything could top the gorgeousness of driving down California’s Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, the central coast region where the mountains meet the sea. But glamping in a “human nest” or canvas-sided yurt overlooking the ocean? Well, that got our attention.

Human nests allow you to sleep in the treetops in a woven wood cradle (bring your own sleeping bag!) with incredible views of the ocean and stars (and possibly the far-off cries of sea lions). Yurts, though they are basically big tents, are a more upscale experience, with lovely furniture and shelter from the elements. Human nests from $150 per night, yurts from $215.

Hobbit House, in Trout Creek, Montana. Show of hands: Who wants to live like a Hobbit? Fans of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books will revel in the cognitive dissonance of resting their heads in the heart of Big Sky Country.

We’re pretty sure if Bilbo settled down in western Montana (Trout Creek is about a two-hour drive from Missoula), it would be here: A magical display of lighted mushrooms line Hobbit Lane, the owners of this vacation rental share a “Trollhouse” cookie with each guest upon arrival, and a nearby pond attracts bald eagles, blue herons, and diving osprey. From $295 per night for up to 3 adults. Click here to see more "Hobbit Houses" you can actually stay in.

Take your pick from a bubble tent under the stars to a refurbished bus to a yurt in the mountains of Cali, not to mention a room inspired by Lego bricks.

A night in a hotel can be as simple as checking in, getting a good night's sleep, and checking out again. Or... It can be a transformative experience you never forget. Our slideshow (above) shows you how the right lodging can put you in touch with nature or the night sky, eye-popping design, place you in a unique place you've never been before, or just plain entertain you and your kids. Next time you hit the road, consider one of these playful escapes.

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