Whether you are old-schooling it and booking your holiday accommodation via a travel agent or doing it yourself online, booking a hotel or another form of stay - be it locally or abroad - needs more thought than you think.
As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. And with booking accommodation you need to consider what you want to get out. Trust me, the place and area you stay in can make all the difference.
Big city, bright lights vs Big spaces, fewer faces
Do a bit of research before you head to a city, town or island for holiday. Ask yourself whether you are keen on staying right in the bustling heart of it all, where you can pop out of your hotel, AirBnB or resort at a whim to grab a coffee, a drink or a snack and feel safe walking around; or if you just want to be left the hell alone.
What kind of experience do you want?
City life, best beaches/waves or a serene hillside self-catering space where you can really get away from it all. Are you interested in exploring the city's art region or perhaps its up-and-coming neighbourhoods offering hipster cold coffee brews on every corner?
Or do you simply just want to be right on the beach? Then a cheapie beach hut will do, no need to go 5-star extravagant.
Or maybe you are more inclined to live as the locals do, in an area where you can see, feel and experience everyday life lived by natives and prefer to shop where they shop, eat where they eat, etc.
Don't just look at the photo gallery when booking
Look at the location, amenities, proximity to public transport - even supermarkets and sights - when booking your accommodation.
For example, if you book accommodation online and base your decision solely on, say, the beautiful hotel room, you might end up enjoying your big room for a good price, but the area you live in might be dodgy to walk around in at night or during the day, and it might be far from the center where, ideally, you'd be spending lots of your time. This way, travelling back and forth might cost you extra, and you'll miss out on the experience of just popping out of your place, walking around your area for a few blocks, breathing in the local culture.
When you're right in the the thick of things the size of your barely-there bedroom won't matter much as you (hopefully) won't be spending too much time in your room aside from sleeping there.
This also applies to booking a resort or hotel for an island stay. Don't just look at the big, beautiful blue pool or turquoise water. It won't be so pretty if you're on the side of the island known for its year-round gale-force winds.
Again, as in life, we can't always have it all. When you choose an inner city spot, your room might be tiny, but you'll have prime access to sights and transport. Same goes with choosing a place sitting on a more remote hillside overlooking an Italian coastal town or Greek island; it will be quiet away from the hustle and bustle of a big city and you'll probably have fantastic views of the hub, but getting to that hub take you a bit more effort - like catching a bus, walking 20 minutes or even driving there yourself. Restaurants might not be close by and the convenience of supermarkets might not be a reality.
And if you have money to travel from the airport with a taxi, you don't necessarily need to book a hotel close to a metro, overland or bus station. But lugging your luggage from the airport terminal, onto a bus, then a metro and then five or more hilly streets to your hostel or single roomed AirBnB is not exactly ideal after a 15 hour flight (with layovers).
This was my recent thought-process when booking accommodation in Athens, as an example:
My friend and I booked ourselves a whole flat in the area of Koukaki, which was close enough to walk to the main sights, but 'local' enough that it cost us only €1.20 (R19.90) to indulge in their local iced coffees (Freddo Espresso or frappé), whereas the same would've cost us over €3 (R49.80) in the rest of the city's more touristy areas, like Plaka or closer to the Acropolis.
We booked an AirBnB with AirCon as June-September is boiling in Athens. And we read some reviews of the area which said it was very safe to walk in, even at night.
When it came to transport, there was a metro station close to us with connections to the airport, which ended up being very convenient. And the local supermarket was two blocks away.
Before booking we also ensured our place had a balcony. We were on a budget and wanted to buy food from supermarkets and local bakeries, so we needed a spot to kick off our sandals after a long day of walking to enjoy Greek delicacies like spanakopitas, some fresh bread, tzatziki, local cheeses and refreshing beers.
Also consider a balcony, however small, particularly in expensive cities like Paris where you can enjoy a glass of the Côtes du Rhône you bought in the local corner shop, instead of paying exorbitant Parisian café prices all the time. It's also great in the mornings with a cup of coffee to sit and watch and hear locals on their way to work.
Other things to consider
- Don't always just look at the rating provided by and online booking site. Read reviews on different platforms like TripAdvisor and make sure you get the whole picture, and are aware of people's concerns.
- What time of year will you be travelling? Say you are in Mozambique in the middle of summer, you'll need to make sure your room has AirCon.
- Read up on your accommodation's cancellation policy - some hotels might charge you the entire deposit for cancelling.
- If a hotel deal seems 'too good to be true' and seems much lower than other hotels in the same vicinity, do some digging to make sure you are not being taken for a ride.
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