For travelers, accommodation is one of the major expenses. And sleepless nights in dreadful places can ruin the trip you were so much looking forward to. So when booking accommodation, you have to choose wisely where you will be staying during your travels.
At most travel destinations, there is a wide variety of accommodation available, ranging from cheap hostels to luxurous resorts and everything in between. The range of accommodation may vary depending on your destination, but in general you will have options to choose from.
So (assuming you don’t have your own accommodation, like a camper or a tent) where to start? And which things to consider when looking for accommodation? Traveling Dutchie is here to help!
Value for money
Now, I am not going to tell you what kind of accommodation you should choose; that is totally up to you and depends on your personal preference and the budget you are willing to spend. What I will do, is give you some tips and things to consider, so you can choose wisely.
For me personally, accommodation does not have to be luxurious (and expensive). Neither does it have to be big. For me major considerations are cleanliness, room facilities (i.e. bathroom) and location. A comfortable bed would be nice too (but you cannot alway determine that beforehand) and these days reliable WiFi connection is indispensible. What may also add to the experience: atmosphere, friendly staff, breakfast and maybe a nice encounter with other travelers. But for me, these are no deal breakers.
If you are on a tight budget, you might feel inclined to save on your accommodation expenses by seeking out the cheapest option. Although I definitely take room prices into consideration myself, I would advise against always going for the cheapest option. The cheapest options are cheap for a reason; they usually come with the worst comfort and cleanliness, lousy WiFi, noisy locations, et cetera.
The better option might not be the cheapest one, but a much better place to relax and get a good night’s sleep after an intense day of sightseeing. What counts is to get good value for money.
Location is key
When looking for accommodation, consider whether it is at a convenient location. Is it close (like within walking distance) to the major sights, the city center, restaurants, et cetera? And if it is not, is it close to public transportation? Of course lodging facilities at convenient locations know they are at a convenient location, so you may have to pay more. But at the same time you may save a considerable amount of time and hassle. Use Google Maps or Maps.me to check location and transportation options.
If you have a car, location might be less of an issue (you might even prefer a quiet location out of town). But in that case, check if there is (free) parking available at the accommodation. If you have to pay for parking, this may add up considerably. And having to walk to and from your car a couple of blocks away all the time can be very annoying.
You may want to check if the accommodation is in a decent neighborhood. Sometimes customer reviews can be an indication of the safety of the area, although of course this is highly subjective. But if a lot of people have had negative experiences, this might be a sign to look further.
Hostels can be a great place to stay, especially if you are a solo traveler. Hostels are better places to meet other travelers than the average hotel. In general people who stay in hostels (not seldomly also solo travelers) are open to have a chat. That said, socializing is something you have to do yourself, and it comes easier to extraverted people than to the more introverted ones. Even at hostels.
Many people equate hostels with dorms and bunk beds. Sleeping with strangers in a large room, with doors slamming and lights being turned on and off all the time. Or people partying all night. For some hostels this is quite an accurate picture. But many hostels also offer private rooms (some even with en suite bathrooms) and not all hostels are of the partying type (many of them have quiet hours).
So don’t let the negative image of hostels scare you off. Just make sure you opt for the right one. There is a wide variety of hostels, ranging from old dilapidated and smelly places to brand new cool places that look more like midrange hotels. The latter may come with midrange prices as well though. But I have stayed in private rooms at hostels that were nicer than a lot of cheap hotel rooms.
So I would definitely advise you to consider staying in a hostel. And if you are really on a tight budget, staying in a dorm is one of your best money saving options. You can find most hostels at online booking platforms like Booking and Hostelworld.
Being away from home, it’s nice if you can stay at a nice room with a comfy bed. It’s important to rest well after all. If staying at a hostel is not your thing, and you value a little luxury, you might want to go for a hotel. Here too, you have a wide range of options, from questionable one star shacks to luxurious five star places.
In my experience, three star hotels are generally a safe bet. Sometimes two star hotels suffice (especially if you’re staying just one night). But the best indication you get from the pictures on the booking webite. Are there just a few pictures or many (and good ones)? Of the rooms ans well as the common areas (like the breakfast area)? Does the place look relatively new or recently renovated? What impression do you get from the pictures?
Other things to check before you book – besides the ones already mentioned – may be room size (sometimes basic single rooms are more like big closets), room amenities (water cooker, coffee machine, stuff like that), breakfast (included or at an extra charge?), reception times and check-out time.
You may also want to read some reviews, although I think the overall rating (a 6- or an 8+?) says more about the place than the individual feedback. Also be aware that ratings on websites can be manipulated. Reviews about accommodation can actually be bought, so do not blindly trust them.
In some countries (like the United States and Canada), and especially during road trips, I find motels a great option. Motels are basically private room-style accommodation located near road exits. Whereas in most hotels, rooms are approached via a corridor, motel rooms are generally located outside and you can park your car in front.
On the downside: most motel rooms are blant places, some are dilapidated, and some may not be very secure places to stay. If you opt for a motel, go for one of the well-known chains to avoid sleepless nights. Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Motel 6 and Ramada are good options if a clean bed and a shower is all you need.
Where to book?
Looking for accommodation I almost always use the online booking platform Booking. Not because I personally like them or because they pay me to say this (remember: Traveling Dutchie is affiliate-free!), but because it’s a super handy website/app. Searching is straightforward and there are many options to filter the results and help you find the accommodation that suits your preferences. Plus they provide you with nearly all lodging options: hotels, motels, hostels, apartments, holiday cottages and bed and breakfasts.
One of the biggest assets of Booking in my opinion is the fact that you can book most places without having to pay immediately (instead you pay upon arrival) and with the option to cancel if your plans change. The cancellation option (most times until one or two days before date of the reservation) gives you maximum flexibility. Plus you have all your bookings available in one handy app. And if you use them a lot, you get discounts.
Sometimes it’s worth checking the hotel or hostel website and the room prices listed there, but in my experience, this rarely leads to a better deal.
Other accommodation options include Airbnb, if you prefer to stay at a private apartment or room offered by private individuals, or couchsurfing, if you like to socialize with locals and stay at their place. Personally, I have no experience in couchsurfing, so I am in no position to advise you on that.