Everyone has their ‘go to’ starting point when searching for travel accommodation. Some keep it simple and shoot an email to their trusted travel agent. Others go on the hunt, which today goes way beyond the conventional hotels, motels and hostels. A search on Google or Airbnb opens up glorious options such as lighthouses, treehouses, yurts, windmills and even wagons – oh my!

There is, however, also a stealth option that some in-the-know travellers would prefer be kept quiet. It’s available during peak summer holiday periods, centrally located in major cities, affordable, and well connected to public transport, restaurants, and shops. It’s not honeymoon-level luxury but it is ideal for travellers wanting somewhere simple, clean and safe to stay. This untapped resource is the residential colleges of universities across Australia and the world.

In Australia, residential colleges operate at full capacity during the university academic year, which is from mid-February to the end of November. This leaves 12 weeks of vacant rooms in some of the most enviable city areas. For example, the University of Sydney is located at the edge of the Sydney CBD. It neighbours two of the most vibrant suburbs in the city – Newtown and Glebe, which boast the best restaurants, cafes, and nightlife in town. The architecture in these neighbourhoods is charming and they’re full of hidden gems such as small galleries, markets, parks, quirky bookshops and contemporary performance spaces such as Carriageworks. Staying at one of the colleges here puts you in the heart of the heartbeat of Sydney. It’s also an easy walk to the CBD with multiple options for public transport to connect to the harbour or beaches. As prices in Sydney soar for NYE celebrations, the Sydney Festival and other big summer events, the colleges are an amazingly affordable option.

Residential colleges are not just available to students or academics. They attract a range of guests including holidaymakers, summer interns, groups, conference delegates, and backpackers. Travelling on a budget doesn’t have to mean being squeezed into a bunk room with a random foot dangling from the bunk above. Many colleges offer rooms with en-suites and academic apartments which are ideal for families, as well as the standard student rooms with shared bathrooms.

If the idea of this style of accommodation has piqued your interest, the next step is to Google “residential college” and the city name. Some colleges take direct bookings while others are managed by external agents.

It may not be as winsome as a windmill, but it will provide you with a comfortable, central, and cost-effective stay for your next holiday.

By Shana Kerlander. Shana is the CEO of Mandelbaum House, a boutique residential college located at the University of Sydney. She is also a passionate traveller and has worked as a tour guide in Europe and on cruise ships in the South Pacific.