Finding accommodation can be time consuming and stressful, even if you do it in advance.
Maximize your chances of finding good quality, cheap accommodation by following these tips:
1. Organise in advance when it counts
Be aware of periods when there will be high demand for accommodation. For example, Chinese new year in China or Easter in Europe.
During those periods you usually get a lot more for your money by booking places in advance. Leave it to the last minute and most of the good places will be fully booked.
You’ll also find out if places have minimum booking periods. For example, during carnival in Brazil, you often have to book at least 5 nights.
When you’re arriving in a new city, especially if it’s late at night, it’s easier if you have at least one night booked somewhere. If it’s a dive, you can always check out, leaving your bags behind, until you find somewhere else. If you like it, you can always extend your stay.
2. Be flexible
There will be times when you won’t be able to, or might not want to book a place in advance. For example, you might not know when you’ll arrive, or know where the best locations might be.
In those instances. When you turn up, ask to see the room before you rent it, and if you’re in desperate need of a hot shower, test that too. If you’re there in person you should also be able to negotiate a discount.
Have at least one back up option in mind, especially if you’re arriving late at night.
3. Check reviews
I’m amazed by the number of people I meet who moan about their accommodation, yet never check reviews before they book.
Having said that, heaps of good places have no reviews. Some great places which have just opened can have fabulous facilities but little web presence.
People’s expectations also make a massive difference. Americans are notorious for complaining about the size of hotel rooms in Europe, whereas the rest of us are used to it.
For me, as long as a place has a decent hot shower and a fairly comfortable bed where I could get some sleep, I’m pretty happy. Wi-fi, good location and friendly service is a plus.
4. Don’t rely on one website for bookings or reviews
For ease and convenience, it’s easy to rely on one website, such as HostelWorld.com or Booking.com. But by doing so, you could be missing out on saving money and staying in great places.
A lot of good places aren’t listed on booking websites and are only found on TripAdvisor in the “Speciality Lodging” or “B&B” lists.
Beware of searching with dates in TripAdvisor. The facility can be useful, but you will only see places that are bookable with a company that gives TripAdvisor a commission, such as Booking.com. Great places that you have to contact directly to check availability won’t show up. The cookies also mean that you might not be able to see some places even after you are looking for different dates.
The best source of recommendations are people you meet who have been to wherever you’re going. Talk to them about where they stayed, whether they would recommend it, and where the best places to stay are.
Having said that, I do end up using Booking.com 95% of the time. It’s easy to change and cancel bookings if you need to. Bizarrely, I also often manage to find the best rate on that website.
There have even been times when I’ve been at a hotel’s reception and the rate the hotel is offering is still more than what’s on offer on Booking.com. I also like how all the information about each hotel is collected in one place.
They also have fantastic customer service if you do run in to problems. A hotel in Bangalore that we are staying in tried to charge us an extra night for staying an extra couple of hours, as we were entiteld to under the terms and conditions that we booked under. We called the customer service desk who were really responsive. They couldn’t change the crazy hotelier’s mind but agreed to cover the cost of the extra night instead of us having to pay. Awesome service!
5. Consider apartments and couch surfing
Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to save money and meet like minded people. Air BnB is also a great place to find rooms to stay.
If you’re staying somewhere for a long period of time. Apartments often offer the best value.
In some places, we managed to book an apartment with private bathroom and kitchen for less than it would cost to hire a hostel room with shared bathroom and kitchen.
This was definitely the case in the bigger cities of Argentina and Chile.
Air BnB, TripAdvisor and Booking.com are all great places to find apartments for short periods of time.
6. Beware of fake reviews
Note the number of reviews a reviewer has posted. It’s amazing how many fake reviews there are on TripAdvisor. Be weary of reviewers who have only ever posted one or two glowing or damning reviews.
Also, rating algorithms don’t always take the number of reviews a place has into account. So, if a place has five amazing reviews (even if they are fake), that place may still rank above a place that has thousands of decent reviews.
Check reviews on Booking.com/HostelWorld.com as well as TripAdvisor. Scammers don’t always manage to hack the reviews of booking websites, so it pays to cross refer.
7. Be weary of even one dreadful review if it seems genuine.
After a couple of bad experiences, I’m now a lot more weary of booking places with even a small number of bad reviews. If you choose wisely, bad experiences are few and far between. Yet, a few seriously bad reviews can suggest underlying issues. This mean that if you’re unlucky, you could end up experiencing the same problems that are reported by the unlucky few. (This happened to us at a few places in India).
8. Figure out where you want to be
If you’re planning on going out, you might want to stay near the best bars, or if you want a quieter place, you might want to stay out of town. If you’re arriving late at night by train or bus, you might want to stay near the station.
Beware of booking the cheapest option option, even if it is highly rated. These places can be in dubious parts of town, or far from wherever you will be spending most of your time. This can mean that you’ll be spending a small fortune in time and money getting to and from the places you want to visit.
Ideally use a map, such as the ones on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to get a feel for where good restaurants, bars, sights, airport/bus/rail stations are.
9. Check that the price you expect to pay includes tax and any other potential charges like towels, wi-fi, breakfast etc
In some places, for example, in Argentina, a 20% tax gets added to your hotel bill – on top of what you might think you’re paying. In US, taxes can be even higher. Charges like these can get lost in the small print of your booking. So, it pays to check when you book.
Whether breakfast is included can save you a bit. If you are not planning on eating breakfast one morning, see if you can get a discount.
10. Check the reception opening hours
Busy hotels often have a 24 hour reception, but a lot of guest houses and hostels are only open during certain hours. This can be problematic if you’re arriving late or get delayed.
We found that it usually helped if we could contact wherever we were heading in advance to let them know when we expected to arrive.
If there was a problem with our booking we would find out about it sooner, rather than later.
It also meant that even if reception was closed the owners would make some arrangement to get the keys to us.
Have you got any accommodation finding tips? If so, let me know.