How to Plan an Independent Trip Abroad: Part 3 – Accommodations
We consider ourselves somewhat expert when it comes to accommodations, having stayed in over 85 different ones in the past 6 years.
In our opinion, the selection of accommodation type is strictly personal preference. The questions to ask yourself are: what do you desire from your accommodations and its location and how much does your budget allow?
Our bungalow in Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
We don’t usually stay in hotels as they tend to be impersonal and we don’t need all the bells & whistles. We want a CLEAN, COMFORTABLE & QUIET room in a safe and convenient location. Remember cost doesn’t always equal quality.
1. The types of accommodations we typically stay at when traveling:
- bed & breakfast (B&B)
- boutique hotel
Our cabin in Uvita, Costa Rica
2. Some of the best and least expensive accommodations we’ve stayed at were small and privately owned. We really like homestays and B&B’s for a number of reasons:
- great way to experience the culture through personal interactions with the owners – they won’t steer you wrong
- smaller, more intimate atmosphere and personalized service than large hotels
- normally the stay includes a great breakfast and some places also provide snacks and drinks
- owners recommend off the beaten path sights, where the locals go – basically, a private concierge
- a great opportunity to interact with the owners and fellow guests – we have met many amazing people this way
Our hostel in Barcelona, Spain.
Don’t discard “hostels/hostals” thinking they are wild backpacker party places – some can be, but not all. We’ve stayed in places that were identified as hostels and if the name didn’t include the word “hostel” we wouldn’t have known we were in one. There are some very nice ones out there and younger people nowadays want better accommodations with private rooms and en-suite bathrooms. The photo above of the “Amrabarcelona Hostal” where we stayed was nothing like a stereotyped hostel. We had a great, clean room with private bathroom. Fresh local pastries and coffee served on the back deck every morning. Those big bay windows in front were our room. Enough said.
Our Airbnb bungalow in Samara, Costa Rica.
3. Our criteria in selecting accommodations are based on our experiences and what is important to us:
- positive rating & high review score (normally 8+ out of 10, 4+ out of 5)
- referral from someone we know or fellow traveler
- located close to the center of town – walking distance to major sights or close to public transportation
- cost – we are budget travelers so cost is a big factor. We still need to meet the criteria discussed here, yet keep it at the lowest possible price. Prices can really vary depending on the region and country. Asia, Central & South America are inexpensive, whereas northern Europe is costly.
- private room and en-suite bathroom
- breakfast included
- free cancellation policy
- a/c if in the summer and heat in the winter (don’t laugh…we stayed in a Moroccan family-run mountain home (gite) in the Atlas Mountains with no heat in the winter). Fortunately, we knew that ahead of time and brought sleeping bags. Check the amenities list carefully, review comments and don’t assume anything.
- hot water if in a third world country (seriously… we ran into this in the Airbnb bungalow pictured above in Costa Rica – the owner’s response when we asked if the water heater was broken was” I didn’t list hot water in my ad”. Really!)
4. Booking.com is our go to for booking accommodations. There are some perks in being a “Genius Member”: special rates, free early check-in and late check-out. We had a situation upon check-in where we needed to call Booking.com. They handled the issue quickly, with no hassle and authorized an immediate refund on a non-refundable room.
5. So how do we make our selection and what are our search criteria and filtering? Usually Don does the initial search and saves 4 to 5 possibilities for Renee to review and make the final choice. Tip for the husband or partner: this keeps Don off the hook if the place turns out to be not as advertised.
Here are our search criteria & filtering:
- start the initial search of city center & dates
- filter by review scores
- then filter by price
- read the reviews. You have to overlook the comments by people who will never be happy. See the review comment below – “no slippers”. Seriously?! Do you need your room cleaned every day or the towels changed? Do you do that at home? Single guest needs a king sized bed? Just glancing at the negative comments you might overlook this property which, on the plus side has a big window, big comfortable room, is close to attractions and great restaurants.
- save 4-5 potential places and then make your final selection.
We normally only book one city in advance unless it’s high season. This gives us the flexibility to stay longer in a particular location if we really like it or change our plans and go elsewhere. That’s the freedom and beauty of traveling independently and being adventurous.
Stay with us, in Part 4 of this series we will explain how to research a location and what to experience.
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