Plan Accommodation

Your Ultimate Guide to Accommodations

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Updated April 2020.

Finding accommodations is my least favorite part of planning travel. You, too? This Travel Tip Tuesday is for you! Accommodations are expensive and often are hit-or-miss. Finding just the right one is a little bit like house hunting—location, location, location! Well, stop muddling through accommodation websites and follow these guidelines to find your best sleeping solution when traveling.

Decide You Want to Do

You want to be close to the things you want to do! So first, figure out where those things are. Use the planning portion of Trip Advisor to see all your “to-dos” on a map and get an idea of their locations in relation to each other. Try to find an accommodation that’s close to the majority of those things, or close to something you’ll want to do early in the day so you can be in line for the top attraction before it gets too crowded!

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Royal Horseguards Hotel, London; Huge hotel, tiny room, limited view, but only a few blocks from Big Ben!
Want to do the “touristy” things? That’s okay!
Why It’s Okay to Be a Tourist

Location

The most important thing about your accommodation abroad is the location. You want to get a good price, but it’s more complex than that. To see the whole picture of what your accommodation needs are, you have to consider expenses that go into the market price of your hotel room:

  • Can you walk to the things you want to see and do, or will you have to take a cab or other transportation you’ll have to pay for round-trip?
  • What’s the proximity to the airport, ferry terminal, train station, or other transportation? If you’re arriving late at night, consider staying close to your transportation point the first night so you won’t be wandering around jet lagged and in the dark getting frustrated looking for your accommodation.
  • Are there restaurants nearby? You have to eat!
  • Is it a safe area? Do a little Internet searching if you’re not sure. This is especially important for solo travelers.
  • Is there a view? Do you care about a view? Are you willing to pay more for a view?
The Hotel Sacher in Salzburg is perfectly situated for both the old and newer portions of the city!
Best Hotel Experience Ever: Staying at Hotel Sacher, Salzburg
Hotel Horror Story: Why I Will Never Recommend La Mamounia

Know Your Options

You have more options for accommodations today than any time in human history. That’s great! But it’s also overwhelming. Here’s a run-down of the most popular accommodation options, as well as pros and cons of each.

Traditional Hotels

Traditional hotels are undeniably impersonal, but some people (like my husband) prefer that! They often occupy prime real estate and can have hundreds of rooms in just one property. These accommodations are best for those who want convenience and a variety of amenities.

Pros
  • Lots of available rooms means you’re likely to find a room for your preferred dates of travel
  • Amenities such as a pool, spa, fitness center, room service, TVs, wifi, concierge service
  • 24-hour front desk staff
  • Usually plenty of parking
  • Clear policies for no-shows, cancellations, etc.
  • Typically includes toiletries
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Available rewards programs
Cons
  • Generally impersonal service
  • Often very little local charm or character
  • Plain decor, less “homey” than other accommodations
  • Reputation for not being cleaned as thoroughly as you might want
This is the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki. It’s owned by Marriott, and does not look particularly Hawaiian. It could be any Marriott, anywhere.
Want a little luxury? Check out these Legendary Hotels of the World!

Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)

A bed and breakfast always includes breakfast in the nightly rate, and they are generally in charming or historic homes.

Pros
  • More personal service
  • Breakfast included; typically hearty
  • Often historic or charming
  • People to talk to
  • Often cleaned more thoroughly than traditional hotels
  • Owners usually live there and are available at all times, even if not on-site
  • Often includes a garden or outdoor space
  • Typically includes toiletries
  • Usually includes daily housekeeping
  • Can be found on third-party sites with rewards programs
Cons
  • Often everyone gets the same meal each day; so if you don’t like the breakfast being served that day, you’re out of luck
  • Sometimes bathrooms maybe be shared with other guests or are not ensuite
  • Limited number of rooms, so there may not be a room available for your dates
  • Few amenities, if any
  • People who want to talk to you
  • Typically no loyalty rewards program of their own
Amazing breakfast and personal service at the 27 State Street B&B in Charleston, SC.
One of the Best B&B Experiences Ever: Staying at 27 State Street B&B

Inns and Boutique Hotels

Inns and boutiques are kind of in between traditional hotels and B&Bs. They almost always includes a restaurant in addition to accommodations and are generally historic or unique to the area.

Pros
  • Restaurant on-site
  • Personal service
  • Often historic or charming
  • Often includes a garden or outdoor space
  • Typically includes toiletries
  • Often includes daily housekeeping
  • Can be found on third-party sites with rewards programs
Cons
  • Limited number of rooms, so there may not be a room available for your preferred dates
  • May or may not have someone available 24 hours
  • Few amenities, if any
  • Typically no loyalty rewards program of their own
Breakfast time in the Fairfield Inn Restaurant, Gettysburg.

Hostels

These are often considered a young party person’s accommodation, but truth be told there are lots of different kinds of hostels. You have to be sure to read the fine print to know exactly what you’re getting into before you book.

Pros
  • Good for young people looking to meet people (popular with solo travelers)
  • Breakfast often, but not always, included
  • Usually has someone at the front desk 24 hours (but not always)
  • Cheap
  • Can sometimes get a private room if available
  • Can be found on third-party sites with rewards programs
Cons
  • Very little standardization; must be diligent in knowing what you want and what to look for
  • Not always cleaned thoroughly
  • Sometimes travelers must bring their own sheets or a sleeping bag
  • Towels not always included
  • Community bathrooms
  • Toiletries often not included
  • Dorm room style
  • No daily housekeeping
  • Typically no loyalty rewards program of their own
I would normally show a photo here, but I realized I don’t have photos of any of the hostels I’ve stayed in. They were either unremarkable or something I did not want a memory of. Sorry!
HomeAway and VRBO

Vacation rentals like this require you to rent the whole house, which works well for groups! They are often charming or unique.

Pros
  • Renters have the whole house to themselves
  • Good for families or groups traveling together
  • Previous travelers may leave things behind for future guests, such as sunscreen, toiletries, nonperishables for cooking
  • Kitchen available
  • Neighborhood feel
  • Loyalty program available
Cons
  • Often as expensive as a traditional hotel, B&B, or Inn
  • Have to clean the house yourself at the end of your stay
  • Often require guests to wash the sheets and towels themselves
  • No daily housekeeping
  • Often requires additional fees not included in the initial price
  • Typically no third-party reward availability
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Our HomeAway from home in Waco, TX!
My mom, her college friend, and I enjoyed our HomeAway stay at a Fixer Upper house in Waco, TX!

Air BnB

I’ll be honest, I’ve never had a positive experience with Air BnB. I know plenty of people who have, though! In my experiences, the accommodations were a little farther away than the listing let on, the owners were rigid to the point of being hostile, and in one instance the owner’s boyfriend happened to be in town for the weekend and he stayed over—kind of uncomfortable for two girls traveling on their own who don’t know this person. Read your listings carefully!

Pros
  • Loyalty program available
  • Can rent just a room without renting an entire home
  • Can be cheap
Cons
  • Very inconsistent
  • Unsafe reputation
  • Typically, but not always, far from attractions
  • Very little regulation
  • Breakfast not included unless otherwise indicated
  • Often as expensive as a hotel or real bed and breakfast
We had a good time in St. Augustine even if our Air BnB was not great!
More details here: The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rentals

 Transportation

Something important to consider when choosing where to stay: how are you going to get there? Before you book, make sure you find out how people usually get to the accommodation from your mode of transportation. I like to use my Maps app or Rome2Rio. Here are some things to consider:

  • If you’re driving, how much does your hotel charge to park? Is there parking available at all?
  • Is there public transportation, and is it easy enough to figure out? Do a little Googling if you’re not sure!
  • How much is a cab vs. Uber or Lyft? Call your potential accommodation and ask how much a cab ride is from the airport, train station, ferry terminal, etc. Then check your Uber or Lyft app to get an estimate on how much they generally charge for that same trip.
    • Beware! Uber and Lyft can start “surge pricing” at any time. You can always take a cab as a backup, or just wait a few minutes and check rideshare services again.
  • Does your accommodation provide a shuttle service? Is there a cost or is it complimentary?
  • Can you walk? The airports on both Kauai, Hawaii, and Easter Island, Chile, were both walking distance to our accommodations, so we walked!
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Our hotel in Lihue, Kauai, from the air! It’s located less than two miles from the airport.
Like Rom2Rio? Here are more Apps for Travelers!

Getting a Good Price

Your accommodation can be the most expensive part of your trip–even more than airline tickets! You want to choose wisely, and you want to get a good value. Here are some tips:

Check Multiple Resources

Trip Advisor, Trivago, Booking Buddy, SkyScanner, Kayak, Hipmunk, and others check multiple hotel websites at once, so you only have to go to one of them to see prices on Orbitz, Priceline, Hotels.com, etc. Read the reviews, look at the amenities (shuttle service, location, gym or not, a/c, pool, toiletries, etc.), and make notes if you need to.

Pro tip: Call the accommodation directly and ask if they have a better price for booking directly with the accommodation itself.

Compare Types of Accommodations

Check hotels, B&Bs, HomeAway, and any other options listed above that sound good to you. Be sure to keep in mind how you’ll be splitting the cost if you’re going with friends or another couple!

Helpful info: What to Know About Your Travel Buddy Before You Go

Check Out the “Shoulder Season”

The shoulder season is right before the high season (expensive) and right after the off season (cheapest, but attractions may not be open and weather may be terrible). You’ll get a better price, you’ll avoid large crowds, and you’ll have better options than in the off season!

Salzburg was a perect desination in October: after the busy summer season and before Christmas Market season!
More here: Ultimate Guide to Travel Lingo

What are your best tips for choosing an accommodation when you travel? Tell me in the comments section!

And check out all my travel planning resources on my dedicated Travel Planning Page!

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7 thoughts on “Your Ultimate Guide to Accommodations

  1. I’ve had one AirBNB experience, and I was very uncomfortable until I pulled up to a house on a golf course. This guy asked himself, “What do I want in a hotel room” and he provided it. Awesome host, reviews were totally true. It was amazing; we left an incredible review.

    My comfort level with AirBNB isn’t there yet, but I’ve had one very good experience.

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