One thing I’ve always found to be quite a headache when planning my trips is figuring out where to stay. With the internet and so many booking sites out there, there are just wayyyyy too many options for someone like me who can’t deal with too many choices! I procrastinated for a few weeks and spent countless hours trying to figure out my accommodation for my upcoming Prague/Dublin stay, and am still only 2/3 booked at this point >_<.
So for you intrepid independent travellers out there who are planning your own trips without the help of travel agencies, here are some of my tips when it comes to picking out your accommodation on your next vacation.
STEP 1 – Figure out your Makes and Breaks
What are the key things about your accommodation that will make or break your holiday? Think about your past trips and what the highlights and biggest concerns were of, which should help you figure out what are the important things to you. For example when it comes to my solo trips:
- Location is key – I need my place to be conveniently located near the sights or public transportation because I don’t like taking taxis on my own. Not too noisy though, so I can be a bit off the main areas as long as they are still easily accessible by walking or a short ride. Security is essential too, no seedy areas for me.
- Price is also important – I don’t need luxuries, just basic necessities and cleanliness because I don’t spend much time in the room during the day. However I’m willing to pay a little more for the privacy of my own room to sleep in, though I’m not so picky about sharing toilets or whether the place offers a good breakfast.
- Everything else I’m pretty flexible about
When you’re faced with an overwhelming myriad of choices, keep these key objectives in mind and it’ll help immensely in paring down your list and so you don’t get distracted by other fancy features.
STEP 2 – Research, research, research
There are lots of ways to single out your ideal place to stay:
Unless you’re going somewhere really remote, chances are someone in your network has been there before – nothing beats asking your friends who’ve actually stayed there to give you an idea of what to expect. Your social media sites like Facebook et all are great for finding out where your friends have been and most people are generally quite happy to point you in the right direction. Of course all these recommendations are dependent on the people making them, so consider how well you know them and trust their recommendations – what’s basic to you might be luxurious to your friend!
This is my favourite (and laziest way) to figure out accommodation – My base in Seoul on my first solo trip was recced by P, while the hotel in Hanoi was a tip by C of the Unholies. While I’ve gotten recs for Prague and Dublin, none were quite what I was looking for so I had to spend a lot more time looking around.
If your friends don’t have similar tastes as you do, sometimes it pays to take advice from other travellers out there whose blogs you read – you’ll know whether their travel style and budget fits yours from their posts, and if you chat them up, most of them are quite willing to give you tips and answer your questions. My Munich hostel was a recommendation from a travel blog which turned out pretty swell all around.
Just remember that while most travel bloggers out there I know are pretty upfront about any sponsored posts or advertisements, there are still some who are doing it purely for the money, and from personal experience with this blog I can tell you some of the money being offered for endorsements without attribution is pretty good. And quite frankly, if the blogger experienced the accommodation for free, they’re probably going to post mostly good things about it, so you might need to check in with them personally about stuff they might have glossed over in their posts. (For the record, I only review things that I’m convinced about and I like to be as upfront as I can with all my reviews, but do drop me a note if you have any questions at all about my trips, I’m quite happy to help fellow travellers out there!)
Review and booking websites
The internet has spawned what feels like a zillion travel-related websites, so be ready to do a lot of trawling and comparing. Use a bookmarking service like Pocket or Evernote and tag stuff to make it easy to sort through your research. The big guns like TripAdvisor, Hostels.com, Booking.com just to name a few have the most reviews that often pop up quite high in the google search process, so I usually use these to gather a shortlist of contenders, and then do more thorough research on this shortlist.
There’s a bit of an art to reading reviews – don’t be swayed by one really vitriolic comment among a sea of generally good comments. You need to do a lot of reading both on the website you’re using and across various websites for consistency; scan through the comments and pick up patterns instead of specific instances to get a better idea of what the pros and cons really are. One hotel I was reading about for Prague sounded pretty ideal in terms of location and price, but many of the reviews (both good and bad) mentioned that the passing trams shook the building early in the morning, which is something I could get pretty bothered by so I struck it off my list. Another hostel had many complains about the dorm room in the cellar, but the other reviews of the rooms above ground were quite decent so that stayed on my list since I wasn’t going to be booking a dorm – however the repeated mentions of smelly toilets across all levels changed my mind.
When you do settle on a particular accommodation, do a check to see if any website is offering a better price or package; it sometimes pays to see if the hotel’s own website is offering a better deal or lower price. Also, if you have special requests to make for your accommodation, talking to the hotel directly makes things easier.
STEP 3 – Go forth and have an open mind!
Don’t get too hung up about it! I’m the sort of traveller who likes to settle all my accommodation plans before I embark on a trip, so picking the ‘right place’ in the lead up to the trip can be quite stressful, though I think being stuck without any accommodation on the go would be much worse for me! But ultimately, whether your room turns out to be paradise or a horror, it’ll add to your overall trip experience and since it’s a just a short trip, you have the luxury of going back to your own lovely home again after that with stories to tell.
If you want to give yourself a way out of a bad room, one way is to just book your first night’s stay for safety or book a place with flexible cancellation terms, and then spend a little time checking out the other hotels or apartments for yourself when you arrive, so you can see the conditions for yourself.
But while accommodation can impact your stay, don’t let it drag you down! Hope these tips help you the next time you’re picking out a place to stay on that upcoming trip!
What are your tips on booking holiday accommodation? Share them here so we can all learn from them!