Whether you’re hitting the open road or jumping on a plane for your next trip, chances are you’re going to need a place to stay.
Maybe it’s a hotel in the heart of Bangkok, a small apartment in Lisbon, or a crowded hostel in Barcelona, how exactly does a person go about finding these places and how do you which place is the best fit for you?
Well, my friend, I am here to show you!
Below, I share a few considerations I always think about when booking a place to stay, both in the US and overseas as well as recommendations on how to find the best hostels (gasp, they’re not as scary as you think!), hotels, and Airbnb’s for your next trip!
Hint: skip to the last part of this post to see what apps/websites/programs we use to book our places to stay!
A FEW ESSENTIAL CONSIDERATIONS:
We usually decide on a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb AFTER we've taken a look at these considerations. Most apps, websites, and programs have filters you can select that will show you your remaining options based on your criteria.
Of course, the cost of a place is one of the most important things to think about when booking, but for me, it’s relative to the other considerations I mention below.
I’m always on the lookout for a budget-friendly space but if it fits my criteria, like location or amenities, I’m willing to spend a little more for something that might make my trip easier.
That being said, you better believe I’m a sucker for making the cheapest option possible work.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Booking your next place to stay is just like real estate people, location matters!
Personally, I like to use the map filter when booking a place. I generally have an idea of the area I want to stay in and using the map feature helps me see affordable options near that location.
I usually like to book places close to the city center because I’m expecting to spend most of my time there anyway but generally these places are more expensive. If it's worth paying a bit more to be able to walk everywhere and get home at night, I'll book it.
If you do decide to stay outside of the city center, make sure your place is near public or affordable transportation that will make your cheaper location worth it.
Something we've started to pay attention to lately is the neighborhood or area of a city that we fits our plans for the trip. When we traveled and stayed in Medellín, Colombia we did some major research beforehand to book a place in a certain area of the city because we knew that whatever neighborhood we chose to stay in, would end up having a big impact on our trip.
PAY ATTENTION TO RATINGS
If a place has a horrible rating, there’s probably a reason for it. Safety, cleanliness, staff friendliness, noise, etc. can make or break a trip.
This doesn’t mean you have to only consider places with 90% ratings or higher, just don’t write off the lower ones. Understand why a place has a lower rating than others and determine if it’s right for you. (Here’s where I usually reference reviews to get a feel for why it has a lower rating than others.)
Don’t let a lower rating scare you but make sure you investigate a little. As a general rule of thumb, we use 60% satisfactory rating as our minimum.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT AMENITIES
Don’t forget to consider the amenities you’ll need for your trip. Here are just a few to think about:
Do you need a place to park a vehicle? Is it free?
Is a free breakfast important to you? (A free breakfast makes traveling so much easier. You don't have to spend time deciding where to eat and you save money.)
Will you need wifi?
What about check in/out times?
Does it have hot water?
Does it have a fridge or microwave?
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM THE EXPERIENCE
Before you book a place, really understand what you want from the experience. Consider how much time you’re going to be spending at your place and what you want that time to be like.
Is the place you're looking to book just a safe place to hold your suitcase and lay your head down at night, or is the place you’re staying an important part of your trip?
If you’re doing an all-inclusive week-long getaway vacation, you’re probably going to want to stay in the most badass place possible. But, if you’re traveling solo for 3 months maybe cheaper hostels are more your jam.
When we spent a month in Thailand, we booked two completely different types of places depending on where we were staying. In the heart of Bangkok, we booked a $12 per night hostel with a private room (it legit had a mattress on the floor) and shared bathrooms because we knew we’d mostly be out and about exploring the city. But when we went to Ko Phi Phi Island we “splurged” and spent $80 per night on a 5-star hotel that had a breakfast unit anything I'd ever seen and was more like a dream than anything. We knew we wanted to treat ourselves with a few nights of luxury and were willing to spend a bit more for the experience.
REVIEWS ARE EVERYTHING
Reviews are 9.9 times out of 10 spot on. I once booked a place because a review said the front desk person was the friendliest they’d ever encountered and totally made them feel like a friend. Sold! And it was true, he was one of the most helpful front desk workers I've ever met.
What are people saying about the place? What do they love or dislike about it? Is there a clear, common theme or was a bad experience an isolated event. Reviews help me determine what I can expect from a place. If they’re saying things like “room was fine but next to the road and noisy” I know I should bring earplugs. Or if they say something like “you get what you pay for” and it's a cheaper hotel, I know I shouldn’t be expecting the Ritz-Carlton.
Also, make sure a place has reviews. I’m hesitant to book a place without a proper number of ratings or reviews. Proper in my book is a minimum of 20ish or so.
Oookkk. Now that you know all of the things I consider when booking a place, let’s take a look at the three types of places I look into and how I book them when preparing to travel.
SHOULD YOU BOOK A HOSTEL, HOTEL, OR AIRBNB?
Hostels are definitely more popular outside of the US and because of that, a lot of people we talk to are shocked to hear we often stay in them when we travel overseas. They are completely different than what you might think. (Fun story, when I first told my parents I was going to backpack through Europe and stay in hostels my Dad thought hostels were brothels and was NOT happy. Don't worry, he's cool with it now....the hostel part not the brothel.)
Hostels have a reputation, one that's been with them for awhile, that they're for the kind of smelly, 20 something-year-old, backpacker taking a gap year. Because of this, most people never consider them as a place to stay. But, my friend, don’t write them off just yet. Hostels have come a looonnnggg way and can be a lot of fun to stay in at any age, they're not just for young people anymore!
If you're into meeting people, hostels are 100% a great option for you. We ALWAYS meet people when we stay in a hostel. They're definitely more a communal vibe and often have people from all over the world staying in them.
Depending on the hostel, there is generally a shared dorm or private room option. Shared dorms can be guys or girls only, or mixed. Yep, mixed usually means there are a variety of bunk beds and both guys and girls in the room. Staying in a mixed dorm makes some people uncomfortable, hence the guys or girls only rooms but I was in a mixed dorm the majority of my time in Europe and never had a problem.
A private room is just that, a private room, sometimes with its own bathroom and sometimes with a shared one.
You meet lots of interesting people (there is usually a shared space or communal room)
Generally offer things to do (pub crawls, walking tours, game night, hostel meals, etc.)
Limited privacy in shared dorms
Can be noisy
Might have limited front desk hours
I use hostelworld.com or their app on my phone to book my stay in a hostel. They have different filter options and you can search on a map to find the right fit you're looking for.
Almost everyone is familiar with hotels and they don’t differ too much overseas. It's pretty strait forward. What you see is what you usually get, especially when you read the reviews.
Almost always someone at the front desk
There aren't as many opportunities to meet people
They can, but not always, be more expensive
We use booking.com to book the majority of our hotels. They seem to have the best deals and their interface is easy to use.
Consider Airbnb your home away from home on your next trip. Essentially, you rent out a room in someone’s house or, an entire home. In my experiences, booking an Airbnb gives you a feel for what it might be like to live in the place you're visiting.
Airbnbs can be really unique (aka the Chocolate House above)
You get to connect with a local and ask for suggestions or recommendations
Sometimes you have to meet your host in person to get a key and miscommunication is more likely
You can feel like a burden asking someone for help
You don’t really meet other people
I hope this helps give you an idea of how we find and book different places when we travel. Whether it's in the US or overseas, we're always looking for affordable and fun places to stay!
Happy traveling my friend!
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