When you dreamed up your adventure, you probably had an idea what kind of trip you would be taking: budget, generous budget or luxury.
Your wallet will 100% dictate where you stay during your trip- which is totally fine, as long as it’s clean, comfortable and safe. No need to go 5 star if it doesn’t fit your budget; after all, you’re not going to sit in your hotel all day long- who cares if it has gold taps?
Accommodation options are generally: hostels, hotels and BnB/Airbnb apartments.
How do you choose?
Well, in Europe- there isn’t a whole heap of difference between a hostel and a low-starred hotel. The hotel will just cost more. Cut your losses and stay in a hostel. Most have private rooms if you’re concerned about that; however, I have never had a problem in a hostel. Hostels are also becoming increasingly swish. Places like Smart City Hostels in Edinburgh are modern, secure, high-tech and clean. They have lockers, security passes, and bathrooms in your dorm so you don’t have to wander the halls in your towel. I stayed in places like that from age 18-25; if that’s your budget, there are some real gems out there.
Now that I’m older, however, I don’t really want to stay in hostels. I did it for 7 years. I earn enough to pay for a hotel or an Airbnb, and I’ve out grown teenagers.
So, we move up to the hotel range.
Again, speaking strictly about Europe- there is a VAST difference between 4 star and 5 star hotels. The 5 star are some of the best you will ever stay in. They will also cost more than any other part of your holiday. It’s a pretty fabulous way to travel- so if you can, do. Personally, I prefer small luxury hotels, some of which you can find at Small Luxury Hotels (the hint is in the name). They are almost certain to be a unique experience, with exceptional service and fantastic interior design. If bespoke (read: quirky) isn’t your thing, and you’d rather know what you’re getting before you go there- my pick of the chain hotels is Shangri-La. All European Shangri-La hotels are very new, and their Asian hotels are purpose built- like a hotel fantasy land. As for the other chains… meh… I find most a little out dated and have stayed in many that feel like a flashback to the 90s. Why bother?
I don’t have a lot to say about 4 star hotels because they can range from middling to truly poor. If you’re fine with small, but clean and safe- certainly no frills- then an Ibis hotel will fit the bill. They’re also everywhere.
Do an Airbnb instead if 4 star is where you’re at budget wise. 4 star hotels are rarely impressive, or even comfortable. Everything is fine, you know what I mean? The service is fine, the food is fine, and the beds are fine. You’re never going to walk out of a 4 star hotel raving about it. Airbnbs are generally priced at the same range as a 4 star hotel and if you choose wisely, you can end up with a truly beautiful apartment in an excellent part of town that’s all yours for the stay. I just did two weeks in Europe- all in Airbnbs. The apartments were fantastic, and in better locations than you can hope to get your hands on for that price in a hotel.
The only thing you need to be aware of with Airbnbs is that most require you meet the host/owner of the apartment for the key exchange. This can prove difficult if you come in to town super early or super late- they might not be able to meet you. You might as well ask, though! In my recent trip, we came in to Rome at 10 pm and our lovely hosts met us despite the late hour.
So- now you know what type of accommodation you’re looking at, what’s next?
First of all, location, location, location.
It’s all very good and well to read somewhere is close to transport blah blah blah- but that’s how friends of mine ended up staying in Zone 3 of London. Hey- it was close to the tube! And nowhere near anything interesting.
When I’m looking at accommodation, I keep a Google Maps tab open in my browser. I plug in the hotel’s address to see where it actually is, then calculate the walking distance from there to an important land mark. It’s up to you what you consider walking distance.
E.g. I’m looking at a place on Via del Babuino near the Spanish Steps in Rome, I drop a pin and get the walking directions to the Colosseum. 30 minutes by foot straight down Via del Corso… too easy. Yes- I’ll stay there.
However, a hotel near Tiburtina that sells itself as close to transport is, sure next to a train station, but 55 minutes on foot to the Colosseum around all sorts of streets. No way.
In Paris your accommodation may say it’s near the Louvre, which is super central, right? *Chortle* near what end of the Louvre? Do not under estimate how big that building is. Being behind the back end of the Louvre will easily add 15-20 minutes of walking to your day. Drop a pin and figure it out.
Also- just because you’ve heard of a place doesn’t mean you should stay there.
I.e. Montmartre is divine but it’s over an hour’s walk to the Eiffel Tower. Nope!
However, if your hotel provides free, frequent, transport in to town- that’s different. Villa Dubrovnik (the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in) is not in town, but has both a taxi service and a vaporetto that will whisk you across the bay every half an hour.
Now you’ve found some options in an area you dig, there’s just one more step before booking- read the reviews.
In the interwebs world, it’s hard to find somewhere that hasn’t been reviewed. In fact, I’d be suspicious of any place that hasn’t. Generally speaking, people only leave reviews because they really freaking loved it, or really freaking hated it. If you’re seeing a lot of positive feedback, chances are- that place is quite exceptional.
When going through reviews, I watch for owner responses to negative feedback. I’ve seen some operators respond in really quite petty, snarky ways. I have no interest in dealing with personality; what if something went wrong? Could I rely on a primadonna to do the right thing? Unlikely.
Read the reviews and compare the highlights/complaints to your own priorities. For instance- I’m not really bothered if someone complains there was no supply of English Breakfast tea. I’d be pretty put off, though, if they said there was no Earl Grey.
Happy “house” hunting!