I will admit that I am not just a traveler who enjoys traveling, I’m also the kind that can bury myself in every aspect of the planning process. I remember in my teens and throughout my college years, it didn’t matter if it was an overly crowded hostel, a couch or even a friends floor, as long as there was space to dump my cargo and a tiny space for my head, all was well.
Nowadays, while there are still some fun family gatherings and other crazy occasions that might call for an all out slumber fest/couchsurfing experience, it’s also nice to be able to find a space that’s just as exciting as your destination. Now, let’s not confuse things, I am not advocating overspending or spending when you shouldn’t. Quite the contrary, I am a big believer in not blowing your entire trip budget on just your lodging. So I start my searching and planning very early, spending tons of hours looking for the best options for the least amount of $$.
A few tips that have worked for me and I hope work for you:
1. The power of Reviews: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends tell me they ended up staying in a crappy hotel. There’s some tricks to avoid this. The first and most important thing to do is to look for reviews. TripAdvisor is by far the best for this but by no means the only one. Oyster.com is another great option as they provide professional reviews and up close pictures of every aspect and every angle of hotels and hotel rooms. Another favorite especially for anyone who uses vacation rentals is slowtrav. Prior to the now popular AirBnb, they were the best option for vacation rental information and reviews.
2. Be careful with flashsite deals: So, you check your email and there’s what appears to be an amazing flash site deal for 5 nights in a 4 star hotel (more on the 4 star later). If the hotels name is given, proceed to number 1: look for real reviews and real photographs. Real photos are extremely important because the ones posted by the hotel are usually taken from the best angles, or wide angles to make everything look bigger and better. In addition, most of the pictures released by hotels are taken right around the hotel opening. Little do you know as you are checking out the pictures, that it’s now 10 years later and that fancy shiny room isn’t so shiny anymore. Flash sites are great and I have found great deals on them, but it’s best to still do a little homework.
3. Beware Bundled deals/the all inclusive trip: You might also encounter these on those same flash sites or with tour operators that offer all inclusive trips. The reason they are able to offer such a great deal is because they partner with cheap hotels that have trouble filling their rooms. Again, if you see an all inclusive deal, try to find the name of the hotel and do some additional research before signing up.
4. Don’t judge a Hotel by its stars: 4 star/5 star hotel tells you very little. One of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in was a 2 star hotel. The official stars a hotel gets relates to what services they offer and has little to do with how cleans the rooms are, how recently renovated or what kind of service you’ll get. So while a 5 star means that you’ll get certain amenities and services like valet, doorman, mini fridge, pool, room service etc., you could still end up in a room with crappy 1980’s decor, floral sheets (sorry I hate all floral bedding), tube TV, rude service, hasn’t been updated in years and at least now you’ll know why that happened. Yup, the 2 star hotel may not have a pool, but they could offer you so much more at a great price. While there might be some not so nice 2 star hotels, I’m simply saying you shouldn’t assume that they are ALL bad.
5. Don’t forget the other options: Hotels are but one of your accommodation options. There’s everything from apartment rentals and swaps, bed and breakfasts, inns & hostels to name a few. I’ve been so impressed in the past few years with the improvements in amenities and design of hostels. They have definitely come a long way from when I was in college and my next stay might actually include a hostel stopover.
Images via Oyster.com, Uhostel.com and wakeupcopenhagen.com