One of the biggest expenses of travel is accommodations. Unless you want to Couchsurf or sleep in a public place (the first is doable but the second is generally not recommended), you will likely be paying for a bed each night. The tourism industry knows this, and as a result there are often hundreds if not thousands of options, spanning a wide variety of budget levels.
There are plenty of booking websites if you want to make sure to have accommodation booked before arrival. I would highly recommend this, at least having one day booked, so that you don’t have to wander around trying to find a place to stay with all your belongings, or have to risk bad advice from someone you just met.
The resources that I use most are usually AirBnb*, Booking.com* and Agoda.com*. Each of these websites has pros and cons, but they will give you a wonderful overview of the available accommodations for each city. They give you a price range, and let you search by features (breakfast provided, private or shared rooms, etc.) and location.
[Recommended Read: How to Book Accommodation on Arrival]
How do you choose the best for you?
Figure Out What You Want to Spend
Narrow your initial search by deciding whether you want to splurge on your housing or if you would rather save that money to use on something else. There is no right answer, and this can change from country to country, city to city, or even day to day. You may even decide based on where you’re going; for example, if you want to spend about $100 a night, that will get you a very different room if you are in London than Kuala Lumpur. Figure out how much money you have to spend and start from there.
Figure out How Much Contact You Want with Locals and Other Travelers
Hotels can be a really wonderful place to block out the happenings of the rest of the world and refresh yourself. Great ones have it all, and are designed so you could easily spend the entire day (or week!) in the hotel, never leave, and feel amazing. If this is your style, go for it!
On the other hand, some people like to take their time and meet people; these are often the best experiences you can have! Locals and other travelers can open a world of possibility, recommend new experiences or activities to you, and give you an outlet to teach what you know. Humans are social, and even the most introverted traveler finds pleasure in connecting with someone on a trip. Hotels may not be the best place to meet people simply due to their setup. If you really want to get a cultural exchange going, opt for a guesthouse or hostel.
[Recommended Read: Why You Should Start Your Travels with a Host]
Look at Value, Not Price
I might have to choose between a place with free wi-fi, breakfast, reliably hot water located in the center of town and a cheaper place with no internet, no breakfast, and unreliable hot water that is 10 blocks from the center. In this case, I might choose the first if it’s 1.5x the price of the second, but not if it’s more expensive than that. To me, the amenities that the first place offers that the second does worth about that much.
This decision doesn’t have to be difficult, but if you really want to ensure you get the most for your money, you could also go with splitting your time between the accommodations. If you book a cheaper accommodation on your first day in town when you want to get over your jetlag or see something out of the way, you can get the value but also the lower price. This makes your life a little more difficult but can work especially well if your first hotel offers something like free laundry service that you only need once or is next to an attraction that is farther away, for example.
Briefly Research The Places You Want to See
Sometimes the hotel in the heart of the city isn’t the best for you if that city has a higher crime rate, if you’re renting a car, or if you want to see the attraction on the edge of town. In general, the attractions will be closer to the center of town but not all. The train from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu, for example, leaves from outside the city. If you try to catch the 5 am train, you will have to wake up before the night is even half over to make it to the train station, and that’s not to mention the extra taxi fees it will take you to get there.
[Recommended Read: Expedition Execution: Spend Consciously Every Day]
Read Reviews! But Don’t Get Swept Away
Honest reviews are a great way to get a genuine perspective on a place, just like anything else online. Just be wary of believing everything, because some people have very different expectations from you. A great deal for one person doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for you! Someone may forget a key detail when writing reviews (I’m guilty of this!) and get too lazy to add it in later.
When reading reviews, look for pictures and key details instead. Instead of claiming that the breakfast was fantastic, did the reviewer describe what was served? Instead of complaining about the wait time, did they say how long they had to wait? This sort of objective information is much more useful in evaluating a review, and any review that has these numbers is almost always from a real, paying customer.
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