How We Choose Where to Stay

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series How We...:

  1. How We Budget
  2. How We Pack
  3. How We Choose Where to Stay

We visit a lot of different cities in our travels; very rarely are we at a place for longer than 3 or 4 days. Because of this, we spend a lot of our time in the current city making plans for the next city. In some circumstances, we can plan several cities at once (usually if we have a hard date to leave somewhere, like a flight booked), but often we only book our next stay a day or two in advance. To make this process as streamlined as possible, we have a “workflow” that we like to follow and criteria we use to figure out where we’ll stay.

Hostel or Hotel/Guesthouse?

From the outset, hostels have the connotation of “a bunch of people sleeping in bunk beds in the same room”. While most hostels have this arrangement, many also have private rooms to sleep in. For us, a hostel means a place where it will be easy to interact with other travelers, and where the staff will be much more involved telling us what to see, do, and eat in a city. A hotel or guesthouse is more hands-off; it is typically a nicer place to sleep and where the staff is not as involved in your day-to-day. If we are going to a big city where we don’t know much about getting around or what there is to see and do (this happens frequently!), we choose a hostel. If we are going to relax, or already know about the place (a beach, for example), a hotel is usually a better option.

If we book with a hotel, we usually use booking.com (for South America or Europe) or Agoda (for Asia). For hostels, we use either hostelworld.com (for South America) or hostelbookers.com (for Asia and Europe).

Choosing the Right Place to Stay

After we go to the right site, enter our date and search terms, we do two filters immediately: price, and review score. For price, we never stay at a place more than $50/night (unless we have to, as was the case in Europe). For rating, we always choose something with 7.5/10 (75%) or higher. This immediately eliminates expensive and gross places. After this, the process becomes more difficult. We consider the following things when choosing a room:

  1. Cleanliness (any mention of bed bugs automatically eliminates a place)
  2. Wifi quality (often involves a ctrl+f, as this isn’t something explicitly reviewed, although Booking.com has started to add it)
  3. Hot water
  4. Helpfulness of staff (especially important in big cities or where we know we’ll need their help to book tours or onward travel)
  5. Location
  6. Private room ensuite/private room shared bath/dorm bed

We usually try and double check these items against TripAdvisor as well, although we found Trip typically caters to a more upscale crowd, so their complains (no kettle in the room) might not be something we care about.

Getting There

Once we’ve booked a place, there are several things we do to make sure we can get there easily. The first is to save a copy of the confirmation. Since we typically didn’t have cell data on the road, and you never know when you have wifi, we always tried to make a PDF copy of the confirmation. The easiest way (for us) was to forward the confirmation email to PDFConvert. We then save the PDF to our phone’s SD card using OfficeSuite Professional. We also make sure the phone number is either on the confirmation or written down somewhere.

The next thing we do is save the exact location on an offline map on our phone. We use OSM+, which works well for us because it also works with your GPS to show where you are. When we are walking/cabbing/bussing to get there, we can look at our actual location vs. the place on the map, and usually not have to walk much further when we have to.

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

Once we’ve arrived, it’s often time to start planning the next leg already (this is one of the biggest frustrations of travel). So we try and ask other travelers for recommendations, as they have often come from where you are going. Some hostels also are part of a local network (there was a great one in the Balkans) and they can arrange your next stop quicker and cheaper. But if those two fail, it’s time to get the wifi code and start the process again!

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