Booking Accommodations: What You Need to Know
With travel planning I like to start by figuring out the big pieces and then sort out the finer details. For me, those big pieces are transportation and accommodations. Once I know how I’m arriving in a new city or two, I need to know where I’m going to lay my head.
Depending on your trip, there’s a good chance your accommodations are the biggest chunk of your vacation budget. So you want to make sure you get it right. You want the right place in the right location at the right price. Where to start?
Know Your Options
It used to be that if you were travelling, you were staying in a hotel. No question. Those days are gone, my friend. Now, you have more options when it comes to booking vacation accommodations. First step in booking, know what you want.
The travel standard. You generally know what you get here. A private room with one or two beds, your own bathroom, someone to clean your room every day. They’re often located near attractions and restaurants.
If you’re looking to save money on a trip, you can book a single bed in a hostel dorm. You may or may have towels provided. You may or may not get a locker to store your luggage. You’ll have to share the bathroom with others. But it’s cheap and you can meet new people.
Did you know that many hostels also have private rooms that you can rent? So if you want the hostel experience but want the privacy of your own room, this can be a great compromise.
Bed & Breakfast
Bed & breakfasts tend to be typical houses. They may be in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas. You get a private room, often with a private bath, and breakfast served in the morning. There’s typically a common living room where you can relax as well. They’re cozier than hotels, more expensive than hostels. Quite often the owners of the B&B also lives in the house so you’ll get a more personal travel experience.
If you’re travelling with a group or need access to a kitchen, vacation rentals remain the popular option since hotels have yet to provide many practical, affordable alternatives. While the concept has existed long before AirBnB, they’re now the one most people think of in this category. You can either rent an entire place or someone’s spare room.
Note: be sure to research the short term rental rules in your destination as some cities are more restrictive than others. In New York, for instance, short-term rentals of entire units is now forbidden, although they continue to be listed.
If you’re flexible on location and timeframe, but short on cash, housesitting might be for you. When homeowner, particularly pet owners, travel they need someone to keep an eye on their place and their pets. That’s where you come in. You get to stay for free in exchange for a little housekeeping and pet minding. This can be a good way to explore different parts of a country away from the tourist hubs.
Lastly, if you just need a place to stay for a couple of nights and want to meet some locals at the same time, couch surfing might be for you. True to its name, you may end up sleeping on the couch, but it won’t cost you a penny. Couch surfing is about community so if you’re an introvert who just wants to sleep, shower, and leave while avoiding people, this might not be your thing.
Know High Season From Low Season
Now that you’ve decided what kind of accommodations you’re looking for on your trip, you need to nail down what you want to pay. Most destinations have a high season and a low season and prices fluctuate accordingly. For instance, the high season here in Newfoundland is June-September while in Costa Rica it’s November-February.
If you want to save money on your accommodations, consider travelling in the shoulder or low season.
Get Familiar With the Neighbourhood
Often, when I’m looking for accommodations in a city I’m not familiar with, I’ll pull up Google Maps and plot out all the attractions, restaurants, and sights I want to see on my trip. Then I look to see if they tend to clump together in any particular neighbourhood. Generally, accommodations right in the centre of the city tend to be more expensive but if you can find a place a short transit ride away you could end up saving a lot of money. My own personal limit is about a 30min commute. As a bonus, you’ll probably have a quieter night’s sleep as well.
Another way you can save money on your accommodations is to collect and redeem travel points. This would require you to stay at hotel chains rather than independent boutique hotels, B&Bs, or other alternative accommodations, but can get a great cost savings. It’s best to pick just one hotel program (SPG is a good option) and concentrate your earning there. Keep an eye out for bonus offers by following sites like The Points Guy or Rewards Canada to really maximize your point collection.
Book Directly for a Better Rate
It’s a good idea to use aggregate sites like Booking.com or Agoda to review and compare all the available accommodations for your trip and to get an idea of prices. But once you settle on an option, try contacting them directly (especially if they’re independent) and asking if you can get a better rate by booking directly. Accommodations providers would often rather give you a deal than give a commission to an aggregate. Worst case scenario, they say no and you book for the rate you already found.