Ah, the thrill of being in a new country. The stress of almost missing your flight (again). Oh how I love travelling… To me, it’s the ultimate form of freedom.
Throughout the past three years, I’ve stayed in five-star suites bigger than my entire apartment and I’ve squeezed into tiny little shoebox rooms with no windows. When it comes to accommodation I feel at this point I’ve pretty much experienced it all – whether as a solo traveller, friend or better half of a loved up twosome.
If you’re new to booking travel accommodation I know it can be overwhelming trying to determine where to stay and how to land the best deal. You’ll be pleased to know among my friends I’m the one who can always be relied on for the discount codes, ways to get free food or just luxe vibes for less. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance I’d consider you my friend too. So here it is – the ultimate guide to booking the best travel accommodation.
Assess your budget
Although many parts of your trip are out of your control one thing that you can pre-determine is your travel digs. Before you do anything work out your budget and be honest with yourself. How much can you afford for X amount of days? Do you have any wiggle room? What are your non-negotiables (other than a bed, hopefully)?
Have realistic expectations
Get ready for some truth bombs you might not wanna hear (sorry). If your budget is minimal adjust your expectations. The lower the budget often the bigger the compromise. Personally, I think there’s a time and place for being tight with money and cutting corners in a foreign country isn’t always the smartest choice. A few years ago I was travelling in Thailand and chose to stay at one of the hostels on the higher end of the scale.
My friend proudly rocked up and told me how he’d managed to find somewhere for half the price. Though I was initially envious that was quickly replaced with smug I told you so’s when he learned that though the hostel WAS ridiculously cheap there was no aircon to provide respite from the unrelenting thirty-degree Bangkok heat. Sucks to be you, Ben. Sucks to be you.
It’s not always in the budget to get the nicest accommodation every time, but what I’m trying to say is don’t screw yourself over for the sake of a few pounds. It just isn’t worth it in the long run.
What’s in a location?
Sure you could get a nice hotel room with a window, but if you have to drive 30 minutes just to get to the nearest restaurant is it really worth it? On the flipside, if you’re going to be working while you’re travelling it cannot be done in a shithole. It just can’t. My recent trip to LA saw me alternating between my friend’s couch, Airbnbs and hostel rooms.
The days I stayed in the hostel I got next to no work done and on top of already being sleep deprived was incredibly frustrated. If you’re going to be alternating between work and pleasure bare in mind that your environment really makes all the difference.
It’s the travel dream, right? A beachside hut sipping a cocktail, a book discarded in the corner in favour of scrolling through today’s latest batch of Instagram stories. But is beach life really all it’s cracked up to be? Honestly this has a lot to do with the location of your trip but from my experience staying near the beach usually comes with at least a little trade off on hygiene. Chances are that unless you’re in a fancy resort you’re going to find sand places it should never go. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for paradise.
Finally, consider the vibe of your holiday. If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing it’s generally better to stay closer to the centre and commute to the beach as opposed to the other way round.
I’m very much a city girl and while I feel in my element surrounded by the hustle and bustle, I also don’t want to hear it at 2 am. Is that too much to ask? If you do opt for a city hotel consider whether you want to spring for a view and request to have a quiet room if you’re worried about noise. Or alternately bring some good earplugs!
If you’re an adventure lover you might want to consider jungle digs for some, or all, of your trip. There’s something incredibly surreal about waking up to so much nature on your doorstep. On the flipside, you might not always be alone. There are likely to be a number of insects claiming free board. It simply comes with the territory.
Types of travel accommodation
Hostels are accommodation rooms that are shared usually in bunk bed format among multiple travellers. Although it sounds kinda icky in reality it actually isn’t that bad and makes what would otherwise be really expensive locations (I’m looking at you San Francisco, Japan and Hawaii) suddenly waaay more affordable.
In fact, some hostels I’ve stayed at have been pretty boujee too. From unlimited free breakfast to a free smartphone for the duration of the day. There’s this misconception from first-time hostel dwellers that you’re stuck in a room with could-be murderers but most of the time that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I always book my hostels through Hostelworld and it’s got a pretty handy filtering system, which makes for a seamless booking process. If you want to get the most out of your money when picking a hostel here are some top tips for what to look for and what to absolutely avoid.
- Never pick a hostel ranked below a 6.5 unless there is literally no other choice. Most of the time I pick 8 and above.
- Look at the photos of the people staying there. Do you see pictures of people socialising? What do the rooms look like? Is there aircon?
- Are there free activities or breakfast that can justify you spending a little more on your stay?
- Grim that I have to mention but also my worst hostel fear, check past reviews for recent or recurring outbreaks of bed bugs.
- Avoid anywhere that calls itself a ‘party hostel’ unless you’re fully committed to pouring tequila in your eyeballs and having about two hours sleep for the duration of your stay.
One last thing, hostels typically come with the option of either mixed or female dorms. Though you have to pay a bit more for an all-female dorm it’s worth it for peace of mind if the thought of sharing a room with a guy makes you feel uneasy. Also, guys are the WORST snorers and sleep farters (just saying).
As a kid, I used to ADORE staying in hotels and ordering room service. Although now we have home delivery services that mimic the room service feel, nothing ever quite totally compares. Though my roots say backpacker the older I get the less tolerance I have and, well, sometimes it’s just worth the splurge.
Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy staying at hostels, but I equally enjoy celebrating my birthday with a glass of champagne in one hand and salmon sashimi in the other all whilst binge-watching Netflix from the bath. Yup this did actually happen and there may have been an accidental soy sauce bath bomb. Did I stay in the bath because I was already drunk by this point? Also, yes.
- READ: Point A Hotels Edinburgh And How to Spend 2 Days In The City
My first go-to for booking hotels in Booking.com. They have a great discounts scheme for frequent bookers called ‘Genius’. Rooms in the ‘Genius’ section are typically no-frills rooms at a fraction of the normal cost. Again with the website you can sort hotels based on a number of factors. To get the most out of site narrow your search by budget before you get in too deep and fall in love with somewhere that’s out of your price range
If you’re interested in staying in high-end accommodation I’ve recently started booking through Hotel Tonight and as the ultimate last-minute traveller, I have to say I’m in my element. The user interface is verrrrry easy to navigate, complete with hotel reviews (i.e – my favourite bedtime reading). Don’t be fooled by the name although typically the better deals are on short notice you can book hotels months in advance too. Sign up as a member using this link and use the code ‘ESULTER’ to get £20 off your first stay and a daily deal on the app too!
If you want to snag an awesome hotel for your stay try and stick to these tips:
- Read reviews – what is the hotel being marked down on? Is it minor things like the bathmat was placed off centre or is it when I stayed there I found a body in the bath? These things matter.
- Check out the pictures. If possible not just the promo pictures but pictures other users have shared (I looooove this about Hotel Tonight).
- My own weird preference but… what colour are the walls? Can you deal with bright green for a week straight or are you going to be walking around with sunglasses indoors? Your call.
Bonus tip, I get additional discounts on websites like Booking.com by using Honey. Honey is an incredible browser add on that trawls the internet for the best discount codes and automatically applies them to your cart. On top of this every time you spend you get ‘Honey Gold’, which is their loyalty point system that you can cash out for Amazon vouchers! It’s totally free and I don’t want to say it’s changed my life but…
In the past six months, I’ve started riding the AirBnB wave and I wish I’d done it sooner!
With Airbnb you have the option of your own room within someone else’s apartment or getting an entire apartment to yourself. I’ve done both and have always felt safe and minimal contact with the hosts, which is how I like it. As a bonus most hosts are extremely knowledgable on their cities so will either provide a handy booklet of tips or talk to you in person about the best places to see. I live for these insider tips – they always have the BEST food suggestions.
Though I’ve only If you’re staying somewhere for a longer period of time it definitely gives that homely vibe. When travelling that’s one of the first things I begin to miss (sorry friends and family you’re on the list…somewhere).
Same applies as above, check out reviews and pictures. Also, be wary of any first-time listers with no reviews and stupidly cheap prices that seem too good to be true. They usually are. Never, ever transfer money outside of the app because you won’t be protected in the unlikely eventuality that something does go wrong.
If you’re new to Airbnb sign up with this link to get £34 off of your first stay and £12 off your first experience.
Homestays are a form of lodging where you stay with locals. Whether in their actual home or a purpose-built BnB situation they’re a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and see how your hosts live. If you plan on visiting rural areas often these are the only option for spending the night so you’re given an opportunity to see some gems you might otherwise have missed.
From my experience in Vietnam where I stayed was pretty basic (think mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets and curtains between beds for privacy). Though I think the experiences can vary pretty widely depending on a number of factors. If you choose to stay in a homestay always be respectful of your host rules even if it’s not something you’d typically do – like taking off your shoes upon entrance.
I’ve personally never done the whole camper van thing, but it’s definitely on my bucket list! You can either rent/buy a fully kitted van or buy a basic van and convert it yourself to keep or sell at a later point.
The idea is that you go on one big road trip while converting your van into a bedroom at night. It’s an extremely cost effective way of travelling and to me the epitome of freedom and adventure. The only problem being – I don’t know how to drive If you’d like to learn more about van life check out my friend Lucy’s van adventures around Europe.
I have to be honest unless there’s also live music and food (i.e – a music festival) you’d be hard pressed to get me in a tent for enjoyment.
Saying that when I visited Fraser Island as part of my Australia trip there was no choice BUT to stay in a tent and I thought I coped pretty well. That is until I found out a rat chewed through our tent and bit a hole in my friend’s jacket. The next day at even the slightest sound I was up with my phone torch inspecting our bases.
If you’re on a budget camping is a good way to save money just make sure you are safe and let someone know where you’re going to be. Especially if there’s a risk of shoddy or no phone signal. On the topic of safety always ask for permission to camp or stay in a campsite. You don’t want to be slapped with a hefty fine or, you know, abducted…
Ultimately the travel accommodation you choose to stay at depends on a number of things – from budget to the type of experience you want to have. Take some time to weigh up your options and remember wherever you do end up whether it’s a 5 star princess pad or a tent in someone’s back garden that it’s all part of the experience.
Last year I had my worst hostel experience to date. After a string of weird instances, like our roommate being brought back into our room the night before by the police(?!), we packed up our suitcases in the cover of night and fled the room. As the hostel was fully booked we spent the rest of the night sleeping in THE HOSTEL KITCHEN on a pull out bed and we didn’t even get a refund. In situations like that you just have to laugh and cry yourself to sleep knowing at least you’ll have great stories to tell.
What about you? What do you look for when booking travel accommodation? Let me know in the comments!
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