The first decision to make is whether to stay at an Airbnb, hotel, or bed & breakfast. My general rules are:
- Airbnbs for long stays and/or big cities in which I want to feel like a local (e.g., Istanbul, Berlin).
- Hotels for short stays and/or touristy areas (e.g., Amsterdam, Marrakech).
- Bed & breakfasts for small towns (e.g., Galway, Bayeux).
For Airbnbs, I filter my search to “Entire Place” (because I am too old for roommates) and those listed by “Superhosts” (hosts who consistently go above and beyond for their guests). Then I go through every single listing that’s received over 20 reviews and an average of at least 4.5-star ratings. I only trust listings that include professional photos (because why trust a host who didn’t even put in the effort to hire a photographer?). I usually want some sort of view when I stay at Airbnbs, so I sift through the photos to see if there’s a balcony or rooftop, and read through reviews to figure out if guests were impressed by the view.
For hotels and B&Bs, I use a mix of TripAdvisor and Instagram to find the perfect one. TripAdvisor is great for reviews, room tips, and realistic photos (always look at travelers‘ photos, not management photos). I only stay at places that have an average of at least 4.5-star reviews — but of course, read between the lines when you go through the reviews. Someone may have given a riad in Marrakech a bad review because the Muslim prayer call is loud at night, or a hotel in the middle of Tokyo a bad review because the rooms are small. Reviews tell you as much about the reviewer as the reviewed.
Once I’ve narrowed down my options to just a handful, I then use Instagram to see a more curated selection of photos — what type of people stay at this hotel, and how do they make it look attractive to their followers? (Yes, I use Instagram for hard-core research purposes.)
Here are some factors you should consider when choosing a place to stay:
How close do you want to be to certain sites? Within walking distance? A subway-ride away? A car ride? This will mostly depend on how long your stay is. For three or more days, I’m usually fine with catching the subway to things, but for shorter trips, it’s better to be within walking distance. One way to tell judge convenience is to peruse TripAdvisor and read what previous guests say; do they complain about being too far from things, or do they gush over how easy it was to get to that obligatory museum?
If I’m staying for a decent amount of time, I prefer staying where the good restaurants are (e.g., Trastevere in Rome). That way, I can have a late dinner and just stumble back home. But for a short trip or a small town, I want to be centrally located.
How much are you willing to spend? Choose a rate that you’re comfortable with, then do a quick Google search to see what the average rates are and adjust your rate accordingly. If highly-rated hotels are well over your budget, staying at a good Airbnb or B&B is still better than staying at a poorly-rated hotel. My typical budget per night is roughly $150. Of course, I make exceptions depending on the location. For example, $150 in Iceland will get you nowhere, while $150 in Palermo is pretty generous.
What sort of amenities do you want? Gym, pool, rooftop, restaurant, room service, laundry service, spa, valet parking, bar, concierge, breakfast, elevator?
There are very few amenities that I require when I’m abroad because I’m there to explore, not sit in my room. I don’t watch TV (unless the World Cup is happening), and I usually don’t spend time at pools even in the summer because I’d rather swim in the ocean. However, when the weather is nice, I do require a balcony. Meanwhile, in the winter, I tend to return to my room earlier so it’s nice when my hotel has a fitness center or spa.
Keep in mind where you are because some amenities are more important in certain places. In Marrakech, you probably want your riad to offer breakfast so you’re not roaming the medina early in the morning on an empty stomach. On a safari, you’re going to have a lot of down-time at your hotel, so you probably want some good lounge areas. In Santorini, you probably want a view of the caldera.
What type of experience do you want from your stay? Make sure you know a little about the culture before choosing your hotel or Airbnb so you know what type of experience you want to have. If you want to fulfill your dreams of feeling like a Parisian, rent an apartment with a balcony in a hip arrondisement so you’re surrounded by locals and adorable boulangeries. Meanwhile, if you’re in Kyoto for the first time, a traditional ryokan is a must experience. These ryokans will provide eight-course kaiseki dinners served in your private room, and nightly onsen before sleeping on the tatami floor.
Read the room tips on TripAdvisor to figure out which rooms are better than others. In Positano, I knew to request the “Blue Room” at our hotel because guests had warned that other rooms don’t have as nice of a view. If you’re a light sleeper, room tips will usually tell you which part of the hotel to book for the quieter rooms. You can also use TripAdvisor’s search bar to filter for the exact room you plan to book and see what guest experiences were like in it. Someone who stayed in the King Suite will have a different experience from someone who stayed in the Economy Single.
If you’re in good shape, keep an eye out for places without elevators because they often have to lower their price. We’ve stayed at surprisingly affordable spots on prime real estate because we were fine with climbing four staircases.
If you still have too many options, that’s when you can get picky. Search the reviews for “WiFi” and see if anyone complains about the strength of the WiFi. Search the reviews for “shower” and see if anyone talks about water pressure or hot water problems. See if anyone complains about the beds, or the
I prefer booking directly through a hotel’s website because 1) they’ll never lose your reservation; 2) sometimes they have secret offers only found on their website; and 3) you can request specific things — you can’t imagine how many times I’ve received free champagne in my room because I told them I was celebrating a special occasion, or got upgraded to a better suite because I requested a specific view. Hotels benefit when they can provide their guests with memorable experiences (especially if they think you’ll write a loving review after), so I don’t feel guilty doing this. And even if you’re not celebrating a special occasion, remind yourself that you are! Traveling is certainly something to celebrate.