How to have a delightful stay at a hotel without breaking your back
Once you choose the destination, the search for the perfect hotel can begin. But where should you start and how can you choose? There are so many choices available, and it can feel like a big-time investment to browse through most of them.
1. Pay close attention to the location
The location of your hotel matters for a handful of reasons. First, it will have an impact on how long you have to travel between the hotel and the sightseeing locations. The further away you are, the earlier you will probably need to make your way back.
Secondly, you want to know what area you are staying in. There’s no fun in staying in a hotel next to two completely abandoned buildings and an open field which also requires you to either walk through China town or take a long train journey to get to the city centre .
And lastly, being in close proximity of what you value will make your journey more pleasant. Prefer to stay as close to the city because you can walk everywhere? Or, do you prefer to avoid the buzz and enjoy the green areas? Let’s find out.
2. Know how you like to travel
This one is quite an important step. Do you travel to relax and let others take care of you? Or do you want to be challenged, learn new facts and dive into a completely different culture?
Knowing how you like to travel can tell you a lot about what kind of hotel you’d enjoy most. If you don’t care that much for breakfast, don’t upgrade your room. If you will be mostly outdoors, you don’t need a fancy room. And finally, if your aim is to travel on a tight budget, only spend money on experiences you know you will enjoy (for example, your bucket list items).
3. Create a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves
Must-haves for hotels
- Good location with no more than a 30-minute walk between the hotel and the main sightseeing activities. If you are planning a short stay (<4 days), every hour counts, so wasting it on sitting in traffic doesn’t sound like a good idea, especially after having spent that much money on aeroplane tickets, transfers and the lot.
- Clean, well-sized room with a slightly modern interior. After Milan and a few experiences after, we realised that we don’t enjoy overly modern interiors with weird shapes and colours. When we get to our hotel room, we want to rest up and get ready for the next day of exploration, so we tend to choose very light interior when possible.
- Good breakfast options: included or great options nearby. Hotel breakfasts may seem a bit boring, especially compared to the next up-and-coming cafe on the corner, but it can take a lot of time to find great places to eat spontaneously. We used to skip the breakfast options at hotels and choose to look for something in the morning which almost always left me hungry for most of the first part of the day. It’s fine when you are lounging in the car, but it’s not as great when you want to spend an active day outdoors.
Nice-to-haves for hotels
- Bath. Staying at a hotel is a chance to relax, so a bath is definitely on the nice-to-have list. It’s almost on the must-have, to be honest, but we have had great breaks in hotel rooms with a shower only, and the former can be quite expensive.
- Nice view. It’s tough to get a great room on a budget with beautiful views, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you are flying on your birthday, anniversary or any other joyous occasion, don’t forget to mention when making your booking. You may just be in for a little treat.
- Gym or Swimming Pool. This is something I’ve been trying to get into but have only succeeded once so far, and it’s exercising while travelling. All that glorious food and cocktails can accumulate quite fast so, in the version of my dream life, I travel and exercise in the mornings.
4. Use a reputable website to choose a hotel and compare prices
You can use individual hotel websites to make your booking, but before you do, you may want to compare the prices in the area to get the best value for your money. You may be surprised at how the prices in specific hotels can differ by date due to availability and events in the area.
One of the best places to look is booking.com* — you can compare prices based on date, location and plenty of hotel features like the WiFi, parking, amenities, and of course, guest rating and stars. I used to compare multiple sites like this, but booking.com has won me over with their simple user interface and the extra mile they go to make sure your trip is more enjoyable. For example, you automatically receive a trip guide to the city you are travelling to, with discounts for popular attractions as well as guidance on experiences and food destinations.
There are other websites for browsing hotels though, like Trivago, and I know that Momondo is getting into this as well. What’s important is that you look at the prices, decide on the price range you are comfortable with and start building your list.
With your location and must-haves in mind, you can start narrowing down your list. It will take you some time at the start, but don’t worry as it’s a simple task and it will get faster each time you take this approach.
Once you have set your eyes on a particular hotel for your city break, I’d recommend making a quick check on the hotel’s website, just in case they have a deal for the same room, or you can get some extras for free.
5. Narrow your choice down based on your preferences and reviews
Compare by what’s important to you (location, hotel features, and of course, price).
Sort the tabs of your semi-finalists/quarterfinalists and compare them even more based on the money you are paying and what you are getting in return. We mostly look at the breakfast photos, if the hotel has any of our nice-to-haves (since we would have sorted the must-haves already).
Double check the hotel against the fresh/new reviews
Some hotels had excellent service in the past and have seen a steep decline. There’s nothing quite like entering your hotel room and realising that the photos you saw were probably taken more than 10 years ago.
Also, pay close attention to the photos, when do you think these were taken? — customer reviews are usually the best as they are timestamped, and you can actually see how rooms and the public areas of the hotel look without professional lighting and HDR toning.
Triple check the reviews on other websites
Check not only on the website you are booking your room on but also Google Reviews and TripAdvisor. Street viewing the property helped us to narrow down our lists too on some occasions!
6. Enjoy it when you get there
Be friendly and kind to hotel staff
This may sound like a given, but sometimes it can really make all the difference in the world to be nice to the staff.
Skip the minibar – go shopping at the supermarket
Going shopping where the locals do must have been the best travel hack of 2017 for us. Why overspend on eating out when you are not feeling like it? Instead, pop by a local supermarket, stock up on ready-made local food like cooked meats or salad greens, some fresh fruit and the drinks of your choice.
Going shopping like this has saved us quite a bit of money, and it’s actually quite romantic if you come to think of it. It’s just the two of you enjoying each other’s company and tasting different flavours together. The money you save on that odd meal at the room can be better spent on an activity, a tour or even a more luxurious dinner at a restaurant.
Same applies to cocktails by the way — if you like your G&T, why not enjoy that in the comfort of your hotel with a movie. By the way, here’s a little hack. If you travel with your laptop and your hotel room has a big TV, bring an HDMI cable with you so you can connect the former to the TV and enjoy a great movie with that cocktail.
Over to you
And that wraps it up! You should now be fully suited to choose the best hotel for you online without having to worry too much about making the wrong choice.