We knew that a large portion of our budget would be spent on accommodation. We weren’t really up for spending 12 months sleeping in dormitories with other travelers. We’re not knocking this style of travel but it simply wasn’t for us.
We follow a few simple rules which seem to serve us well on the road.
Firstly we always book a minimum of one night ahead of our arrival in a new city. This is usually a solid budget to mid range hotel. When booking any accommodation we do a little research on TripAdvisor (see cautionary note below) and with their affiliates Booking.com, Hotels.com etc to get a feel for the price.
Once we have decided where we are going to stay we email the hotel directly. Don’t go through a third party at this stage, they take commission from the hotel. If you deal with the hotel directly they are more likely to offer you a good deal.
Set a maximum price in your head for the room, this will give you a benchmark from where to negotiate.
Be explicit in your communication. Tell them that you have read good things about the hotel, you are interested in booking for x number of nights and ask what their best price is.
Sometimes they will come back with the rack rate, more often than not they will reply with a discounted rate or a special offer.
If this is still at or close to the rates advertised by Booking.com or Hotels.com then tell them. They will want to undercut the affiliates to avoid paying the commission.
Hotels aren’t in the business of having rooms sitting empty and with a little negotiation it is amazing how many good hotels will drop their room rates to have heads on pillows.
A suite for less than the regular room rate
If we like the look of a place we will often book a few nights, this again can help in the negotiations with the room rates.
When is a hostel not a hostel?
Say the word hostel and one immediately conjures up images of a dozen beds to a room. This is not always the case, in fact many hostels have private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. We found that using hostelbookers and hostelworld amongst others led us to a few great hostels which were as good as any 3* hotel we had stayed in.
View from our lovely hostel room in Pucon
Living with the locals
We have found the most rewarding accommodation has been when we have arranged home stays or have stayed with local families. There really isn’t a better way to get a real insight into a country. We have always had the privilege of staying with lovely helpful people. Don’t be scared by any language barrier, learn to say hello, goodbye please and thank you and you’ll be fine. This is often the cheapest accommodation you will find anywhere and although the standard varies it’s worth the odd night in an adobe hut.
Adobe hut interior, Peru
The brilliance and pitfalls of TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor is a site which splits opinion and is growing ever more powerful by the day. We have certainly noticed that hotels and restaurants are becoming acutely aware of how important this is to their business. Often handing out cards at the end of meals or asking when we check out to ‘please review on TripAdvisor’. We have found it to be a very useful tool indeed and are firmly in the supporters camp.
We would offer a few words of caution when using the site:
Firstly, don’t presume that any hotel or restaurant in the top 5 is going to be the best. Often really local places don’t get listed on TA. That food cart at the end of the street in Cambodia that has no name doesn’t fit with their listing criteria so don’t rely on it totally.
Sometimes being at the top of the pile can lead places to become complacent so don’t presume top 5 is always the best.
We have found that looking for strong star ratings a little further down the order can often mean that places are new and haven’t had sufficient reviews to break through the mediocre to good ratings yet. We have found a few brilliant hotels and restaurants like this.
Finally, there are some cynical people out there who use TripAdvisor to harm businesses and simply make stuff up. Sometimes owners take the time to respond to these negative reviews but often not.
So don’t believe everything you read on TripAdvisor. Think of it as a more often than not reliable guide to accommodation and eating when you’re not too sure about the offerings in your vicinity.