When you’re planning a vacation, a big part of the equation is finding the best place to stay, which means finding the right kind of accommodation for your needs, in a convenient location, with the amenities you want, and with a price tag you can afford.
If you’re not familiar with the area you’re visiting, it’s often easier to work backwards, figuring out first what you want to see and do and what the transportation system is like. Then you can find something that is conveniently located.
You can also glean information about location as you search for your accommodations. Hotels will often tout area attractions that they’re close to. Consider their efforts critically though, and beware of the “only”: Only 5 miles away! Only 20 minutes from downtown! Think about what that 5 miles actually means to your plans, or what being 20 minutes away from downtown will be like when you’re there. And remember, just because there’s an exclamation point, doesn’t mean the statement is awesome.
If you will have a car, the location of your accommodations is less important but you’ll want to check out parking availability and how much it costs. If you plan to use public transport you should stay somewhere that is near a train, tram or bus stop or whatever the dominant mode of transportation is. If it’s a walkable city and you intend to walk from place to place, your accommodations should be within walking distance of the places you want to go.
It’s helpful to find a map of all of the locations you want to visit and peruse it to get a visual feel for where they are. Assuming that you’re not going too far off the beaten track, an online search should yield several maps of the area with points of interest marked. If you can’t find a map with the attractions you’re interested in, you can always make your own by plotting points on google maps. Be sure to take note of any geographical boundaries that might limit you. A site may be only 50 yards from you as the crow flies, but in reality could be across a river whose nearest bridge is a mile down the road.
Pinpointing your ideal location is a good start. But before you book anything, be sure to do this one, simple thing:
Read. the. Reviews.
I don’t mean look at the number of reviews and rating, but actually take the time to read a good sampling of them. It’s the best way to find out about your accommodations aside from staying there yourself.
Your Guide to Reading Reviews:
- Bear in mind the type of accommodation that is being reviewed, and who might be reviewing it. If you want a boutique hotel where you can get a massage and order room service and you find a two star budget motel that everyone raves about, it still won’t change the fact that the hotel won’t meet your needs.
- Narrow your search by type of traveler, if you can. A hotel might get stellar ratings for being family friendly but you’d want to avoid it if you are looking for a quiet, romantic getaway.
- Be careful of fake reviews. If the site you’re looking at allows you to see a reviewer’s profile, click on it and see what other reviews they’ve posted. I’ve found vacation rentals that have ten 5-star ratings but when you delve a little deeper, you can see that each profile has submitted multiple reviews for apartments in the same city, during the same timeframe – which is hardly believable. I like to use Airbnb for finding vacation rentals as they’re pretty vigilant about filtering these kinds of spammers.
- Read the negative reviews, with an eye for detail. Sometimes a 1-star rating is due to something out of the hotel’s control, or for something that doesn’t matter at all to you, like a lack of parking when you aren’t planning to have a car.
- Use a key word search to help you find info on exactly what you’re looking for. TripAdvisor and Expedia both have this functionality. One of my top search terms: bed bugs.
- Keep your eyes peeled for tips about specific rooms or room locations; lots of reviewers will let you know which ones to ask for and which to avoid.
- If you’re using an aggregator to search, don’t automatically write off hotels that are ranked lower down on the list. I’ve found several brand new places offering amazing “grand opening” deals that were ranked below other hotels simply because they hadn’t racked up as many reviews.
- Pay special attention to reviews for vacation rentals. Having written my fair share, I know that it’s more difficult to express negative sentiment about a place that is run by an individual, rather than a corporation. It can be uncomfortable to tell a “real” person that their place was less than perfect, and sometimes these reviews can be updated after posting. One host asked me to change my review, as even a single 4-star rating can significantly impact their rental. I politely declined the request since I knew that others might rely on it when making a decision. In my review, I said that we were lacking bath towels, and weren’t provided shampoo or hand soap – things I think any traveler would want to be prepared for.
I hope you found these tips helpful. You can read more in my post about the types of places you can stay when you travel where I give a breakdown of different types of accommodations. Some of them may surprise you!