One of the most important parts of travelling, if not the most important, is accommodation. It is usually 50% or more of your expense and it can make your stay unforgettable, in a good or a bad way.
Personally, I have stayed in more hotels and hostels than I can remember, from very luxurious places to others I would like to forget. That is the reason why I have written this article, which will help you to choose a good hotel.
The first thing to do when choosing a good hotel is to decide what you want.
The first thing you need to know is that there is nothing for free in life, and most of the things that are cheap imply a cost in some other way. For example, the most inexpensive hotels are usually on the outskirts, they may not be so clean or they may not have all the services you need.
That being said, you have to be aware of how much you are willing to sacrifice in order to find a cheap hotel. This does not mean that you really have to sacrifice anything, but you have to be aware that you might need to.
Therefore, if you compare 2 four-star hotels and you want to find a good and cheap hotel, you will have to look for or sacrifice one of the following things:
- Location. The cheapest hotels are usually farther from the touristic area. In small cities this might not make a difference, but in big cities, where moving around means a journey of 2 or 3 hours plus another 2 or 3 hours to come back, it might not be so convenient.
- Access to public transport. Before starting to look for hotels, you should have an idea of what the best way to get around the city where you will stay is. For example, the best way to get around in Japan is by public transport while in India it is by Taxi or Rickshaw. If the hotel where you are going to stay doesn’t have good access to public transport, then what you will save per night at the hotel will automatically transfer to the cost in transport you will have to pay to get around.
- Cleanliness. I grew up in a family where cleanliness is essential. When I was a child, my mother did not let me play on the ground or in the street so that I did not get dirty. She always followed me around with a wet towel. My room and the apartments where I have lived were always clean, if you don’t believe me, ask my former roommates. But when things are out of my control, like in a hotel room, the truth is that I am quite easy-going and it does not affect me. I have never been in a hotel where cockroaches wander around everywhere, although I once woke up with a dead cricket in my bed, even though it was a hotel of a well-known chain. The point is that in many countries, cleanliness is not their strong point, even in middle-class or executive hotels there will be things that are not up to the standard you are used to at home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t tolerate a couple of nights. You wanted to save money, didn’t you? There is always a sacrifice.
- Breakfast. Here there are several factors to consider, depending on whether or not you are looking for a room with breakfast included. The first thing is the country where you are travelling, different countries offer different meals, and breakfast is maybe the most contrasting of them. As a Mexican, I am used to a mix of Mexican food (chilaquiles, molletes, quesadillas, pozole, etc.) and American food (scrambled eggs, sausages, cereal, pancakes/hotcakes, etc.) for breakfast. However, when you arrive in China and realize that western breakfast is not something you will find in the street or in restaurants and that only some hotels have it, you might want to have it if you don’t want to have Chinese food for breakfast every day during your trip (that can be tiring if you are not used to it). Another factor is the cost. If you have already travelled around the country a bit, you will have an idea of how much a meal is and sometimes hotels take advantage of the ignorance of tourists overcharging them for rooms with breakfast included. If you already know how much a meal is and what other options are available for breakfast, you can easily do without it and save some money. Finally, breakfast is actually a Russian roulette. Sometimes it will be a buffet and other times only cereal, sometimes you will get an excellent breakfast à la carte and other times you will prefer to do without it because you have no idea what it is. This is really your choice, if you have already paid for it but you don’t like it, there’s no point in eating it.
- Restaurant. If your hotel is on the outskirts, because you wanted to save some money, at least make sure it has a good restaurant nearby to have lunch or dinner. You will travel to some places where the best restaurant in town is the one in the hotel. In big cities I don’t pay much attention to this matter, but you must always bear it in mind.
- Free Wi-Fi. My job requires constant access to the Internet, and if a hotel wants to charge me the cost of half a night for 24 hours of Wi-Fi, then that is immediately a NO. In Europe it is common that hotels/hostels charge for the Internet, but personally I have always preferred to pay a bit more or to look for another hotel if that means I will have constant access to the Internet on my computer and cell phone. If you only want to use the Internet to check your mail and say hello, you can do without this.
- Size of the room. There are very few occasions when a cheap hotel means a big room. It might be spotlessly clean, offer an incredible breakfast, be in an excellent area, but most likely if it is cheap, your room will be small, very small.
- Treatment of staff. There are hotels where you will never hear please or thank you and they will never explain to you where the elevator is. For many people, this plays an essential role to decide whether or not to stay there. Personally, I don’t care.
Broadly speaking, these are the factors to consider in order to find a cheap but good hotel. You might be thinking now: “I understood, but how do I know whether or not the hotel has these factors?”
Easy, the best way to find a good hotel is to read the reviews by other travelers.
I make most of my reservations through Booking.com or Hostelworld.com. I always try to reserve private rooms unless the city where I am travelling is really expensive and the only option is to share. But if that is not the case, then I get a room for myself.
I start with a quick search on Hostelworld; even though they are hostels, sometimes you can book private rooms for a fraction of the cost of a normal hotel.
I check the options of available hostels and whether or not they have private rooms. The price you get is usually per person and if you want to have the room to yourself, you will have to pay for the empty beds as well, i.e. if the room is for 2, even if you are travelling alone, the price you will get is per person and you will end up paying for 2 people. This remark is just to let you know how Hostelworld works.
If I find something that seems reasonable, I immediately read the reviews.
If I intend to make my reservation online, then I NEVER EVER choose a hotel/hostel if it has no reviews from other travelers. If I intend to look for and reserve a hotel on the same day I arrive in a city, then I always ask them to show me the room before accepting.
When they show you the room, the first thing you have to check is the bathroom, hot water and air-conditioning. Ask how the hot water works and if it is available 24/7. In some places there is hot water only in the morning and in other places you will have to turn on the water heater in order to use it.
Moreover, it is important that you read all the reviews, since those are actual experiences of people who stayed there, and although sometimes they may seem exaggerated, I can sincerely tell you that they rarely are.
If I have already found a hostel with private rooms I find reasonable, I search Booking.com before making a reservation.
The search engine of this site will by default show you the results with which they earn more money, i.e. the hotels that are willing to pay higher commissions to appear on the top. But that does not mean that those are the best hotels.
Check the options that they offer, you can filter them by cost per night, by number of stars, by services or by whatever you want. Personally, I first filter them by cost per night and then I start checking.
The cost showed by Booking is the total cost of your accommodation, i.e. how much you will pay for all the nights you intend to stay. It is important that you read carefully, since sometimes this cost does not include taxes and an additional percentage will be added - this is very common in India.
Once I have found a hotel that attracts my attention, I immediately read the reviews, I don’t care about the hotel’s description, I care about what other people say about it.
You will find all kinds of reviews, things like “It was perfect, everything was fine” or “The worst hotel I have stayed in.” It is important to read between the lines and to give importance to what really is important.
As I said before there will be reviews saying “The staff is rude, they never smile” and others will say “It was very dirty, there was dust under the bed.” I don’t pay attention to these kinds of reviews; I want to find something that really prevents me from staying there.
The most difficult point, is when after checking about 10 hotels within the price range you are willing to pay, you discover they all have the same flaws – they are dirty or far, internet doesn’t work, breakfast is awful, etc. If you find that all the hotels within that price range are bad, then you have two options: think about paying a bit more for a better hotel or balance what you can live with and what you can’t.
As extra advice, if you want to have a better room without upgrading hotels, then you can pay for a better-quality room. Many hotels have mini suites or “luxurious” rooms at a reasonable price and you don’t need to find another hotel, in this way you will be certain that you will be in a better place for a bit more money.
If no hotel has reviews or the reviews are really bad, then you can try looking for reviews on TripAdvisor. Usually, this page is full of reviews of hotels, restaurants, places, etc. It has been very useful to me when it comes to making a final decision between two hotels.
Once I have read the reviews of several hotels, before clicking reserve, I do one last search on the map. Both at Hostelworld and at Booking you can see a map of the area and the hotels will appear there.
The advantage of this is that many hotels do not appear on the list so easily, because they are at the bottom of the search results but you can find them on the map. Moreover, if you don’t know which is the best area to stay, the map will show you where there is more hotel concentration, which is usually the touristic area.
Thanks to the option of the map, in many occasions I have been able to choose hotels that are close to public transport and that do not necessarily appear at the top of the list. It is really worthwhile to do so.
With all the options on the table, and the reviews read, I then proceed to reserve the room. Take your time and don’t feel compelled by the signs “there are only 2 rooms available”. I have always thought: if it has to be mine, it will be; if not, it can’t be helped. Relax and take all the steps I said before, it is the only way to choose a good hotel.
It is VERY important that you leave a review of your experience at the hotel after your stay. In the same way that other traveler’s reviews helped you choose a hotel, it is only fair that you also share your opinion so that you can help other people in the future.
Knowing how to choose a hotel is not easy. In fact, I think it is one of the things that will take most of your time. It is even more difficult than finding cheap plane tickets. In fact, I sometimes spend up to 2 or 3 hours just choosing the hotel of one destination. But this is because the hotel where you stay makes all the difference between having a good or a bad holiday.