Despite the fact that people say, “What difference does it make, all you’re doing is sleeping there,” I still believe that finding a good hotel (or hostel) is key to having a good vacation. You may only spend your time sleeping there, but traveling can get tiring and a good nights sleep is sometimes the only thing that keeps you going!
Most people in their 20’s think hostels are the only way to go when traveling through Europe. This is NOT true! If you spend some time doing your research, you can almost always find a decent hotel at an affordable price.
Personally, I’m not the hostel type of girl. I never went backpacking through Europe with friends so I’ve never experienced it. While some friends have told me they enjoyed their experiences, I believe I’ve past the point in my life where sleeping in a hostel would be considered fun and exciting. Most importantly though, I can find 3 stars hotels in good locations that are reasonably priced (often times only £5-10 more per night than a hostel).
So how do I do it? Well, here are some tips to help plan your next vacation…
1) Give yourself plenty of time – It has never taken me less than 2 hours to find a hotel, and if you’re traveling to a major city, the same should apply to you. Do you know how many hotels there are in a city like Rome?? Have some patients, pour yourself a glass of wine, and expect to spent at least a couple hours doing research.
2) Become familiar with the city – Until you know where you’re going, it’s difficult to find, let alone pick, the right hotel. Do a little research on the city you’re visiting so you know what area to book your hotel in. Knowing about things like public transportation can help you decide between one hotel over another. On a recent trip to Dublin, our hotel was within walking distance to several bus stops, Trinity College (that houses the Book of Kells), many local pubs, and the airport shuttle bus.
3) Search here or there? – There are so many search engines out there to help you book travel, it’s sometimes impossible to know where to start. My biggest suggestion: don’t just use one site! There’s a reason why there are so many options, so why not take advantage of a few. Typically, I start with Kayak. I like the features it gives you to help narrow down your search, and it also allows you to search other sites like Priceline and Expedia all at the same time. It’s like shooting 4 birds with one stone.
4) Read reviews! – I can’t remember the last time I booked a hotel without checking out reviews on Trip Advisor. Every hotel is going to make their establishment look pretty in the pictures you see online, but for the real story, you need to read what your fellow consumers have to say. Trip Advisor is my go to site for many reasons: they allow reviewers to post their own photos of the hotel, you can sort reviews by rating or by trip type (business, family, friends getaway, etc), and every hotel has a popularity index number (do you really want to stay in the hotel that’s rated #99 out of 100?). There have been a couple instances where the hotel I was looking at had terrible reviews, but by using the popularity index I was able to see the top hotels in that city and found a higher rated room at a cheaper price.
5) Don’t Procrastinate – Sure, sometimes you can find last minute deals, but do you really want to wait until the last minute to book your hotel? Booking early can not only help save you money, but you’ll have so many more choices! So don’t put it off!
6) If you’re feeling adventurous… – I almost hesitate to bring this up but as long as you know what you’re getting into, Priceline’s Name Your Own Price option can be a great deal finder! Why is it a risk? Because you give them your offer and commit to a room without knowing which hotel you will be staying at until after the deal is accepted. Keep in mind, you do pick the quality (number of stars) and the location (another reason why it is important to know about the city) so you have some idea what you’re getting into. I used this feature when my girlfriends and I went to Chicago for a weekend in 2009 and it was perfect. Our room was small but the 3 of us stayed at The Palmer House Hilton (a 4 star hotel) for 3 nights and it only cost us $90 each.
7) Traveling Hotel – If you’re trying to visit different cities/countries in Europe during your vacation, be sure to look into overnight trains. When you need to travel distances over 6 hours, this is the way to go! Why waist that time during the day when you can sleep and travel at the same time? Each cabin sleeps 4 to 6 people, an private cabins can hold up to 3 people. There is also a restaurant on board incase you get hungry. They run between most major cities and when booked in advance, cost about the same as a hotel. I’ve used the overnight train 3 times and I was very happy with it.
8 ) Mix ‘n Match – If you don’t mind staying in hostels but still want a guaranteed hot shower every few days, you can always mix and match throughout your trip. A couple friends of mine did this several years ago and it worked out great for them. They stayed in hostels for 2-3 nights and then stayed at a hotel for one night. This helped cut down on their cost, but still gave them the comfort of sleeping on a nice bed and a warm shower every few nights.
I hope these tips help some of you in future hotel searches. I know at times it can be frustrating trying to find the right place, but once you get there, it will all be worth it.
Also, just remember that the most important thing is that your hotel or hostel is in a safe place. Sometimes it can be wiser to spend a little extra to ensure your safety.