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Accommodation Planning: Hotels, Hostels, Guesthouses?

Planning the specifics of travel is often one of the most time consuming parts of the entire experience. Let’s look at how I get a good night’s sleep on the road. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it goes flawlessly, other times there are mishaps. Either way, there the landscape of options is huge. These accommodation tips will work for a long-term round the world trip, as well as quicker vacations to anywhere in the world.

From booking engines to guidebooks to Google, there are a lot of starting points. This rundown will give the pros and cons of each option. If you’re keen on specifically how I do it, this is my process:

  1. Start with a Google search to see if any travel bloggers or friends have recommended a place. Victoria and Steve from Bridges and Balloons do a great job of listing and reviewing their special stays in each new place. This starts the list; I note the few that seem in my budget and location.
  2. Then I head to Agoda or Hostelworld to read recent online reviews for the recommended places. I will sometimes check my guidebook if I am on the road and moving towns — I’ll re-verify those guidebook recommendations online to ensure the reviews are still good. Things I look for in a review include: free wifi, good location, quiet night’s sleep, and free breakfast is a bonus.
  3. I check AirBnB listings. If I am in a city for more than a week, I much prefer an AirBnB. These apartments tend to be in great locations either in downtown, or in a cute neighborhood adjacent to a popular area. They can get pricey for a solo traveler (in parts of the world like Europe), but you can find amazing places on there.
  4. Pick the one that best fits my plans.

How Do You Choose the Best Accommodation?

Let’s look at each of the accommodation options available, along with the whats, whys, and hows for each choice. There are some cities in the world (like Cuba and Myanmar) that have their own booking process as a result of little internet access in the country. But for most of the world, these guidelines will work.

Guidebooks
New travelers may have one of these at their sides and nearly all offer up relevant suggestions alongside information on price and location. These are very handy once you head off the beaten path in any country. I nearly always have an ecopy or hard copy of the Lonely Planet for the country I am visiting. When you’re in a pinch, having a hotel name to tell the taxi driver is a good start. Drawback? Guidebook information is outdated the moment that it’s printed. Most major guidebooks update every other year, and a lot can happen in that time. Also, once a hostel or guesthouse is listed in the more popular books (like the Lonely Planet) the prices may soar and service (often) suffers from popularity. SIDEBAR: Wondering which guidebook to choose? Generally, the Lonely Planet series is my go-to and is more budget focused. Frommers is boomer and higher end travel, while Moon guides are an Indie label I do not particularly love because of the way the books are organized. And Rick Steves has some great history sections and personalized written tours in popular spots — I used one of his books in Ireland and it was handy.

Hostel Booking Sites
I use these for pre-research (particularly in Europe/Australia) so that I never had to land in a new place without lodging for at least the first night. I check HostelWorld; they cannibalized most of the other hostel booking sites. They have extensive, comprehensive user reviews and ratings for properties all over the world. Many parts of the developing world have similarly priced guesthouses, so I often use hostels when I can’t find affordable accommodation elsewhere. One real pro of a hostel is the ammenities. The world over, hostels generally have a kitchen and fridge for open use, as well as free wifi, a communal area for lounging, and assistance finding your way around town. I stayed at hostels for a lot of my RTW trip, and in the years since I will often now choose a private hostel room so that I can have space and a good night’s sleep while still have the friendly atmosphere and amenities.

Apartment Rentals
This a a pretty solid trend the world over now. AirBnB has even moved into Cuba now, which was really one of the last frontiers. It’s popular for good reason: you can rent an entire apartment, or even just a room, from locals in each new place.  These places are often in cute neighborhoods adjacent to the tourist sites, and you get a lot more comfort for similar prices to a hotel stay (particularly for those traveling with 2+ people). Airbnb is a leader in this arena and I have used them in at least half a dozen countries. In addition to Airbnb, regional vacation rental sites will have listings too.

Hotel Booking Engines
Over the years I tend to gravitate toward a couple of key booking engines — there are a ton out there, so it’s more about user experience, reviews, and breadth of selection. I used Agoda for most of my Asia travels — they have listings for the entire world, however, and also list a lot of budget options too. The major travel booking engines like Expedia and Orbitz can work if you’re in a hurry and need hotels, though I really don’t enjoy using them for hotels. I use Orbitz for flights almost exclusively if not booking directly through the airline.

Discount Booking Sites
Consider these for cheap hotels and the mid-range. I have never used any of the sites, but several travel friends have a lot of success finding solid deals. In addition to those you might already know, like Hotwire and Priceline, friends have vetted and loved both Holiday Pirates and Last Minute.

Word of Mouth
For long-term travelers asking other backpackers yields amazing and timely results. This works well for guesthouse, hotels, and hostel recommendations because often times a traveler has recently left the next city you’re visiting and may have found a sweet, family run joint that has yet to make it into the guidebooks.

Review Sites
In this category are sites like TripAdvisor and Google. Both sites have extensive reviews on hotels, restaurants, and popular travel spots around the world. Reviewers are candid and timely and you can find a wealth of advice before booking. When I use these, I often often then book directly through the hotel, or I then go find them on Agoda.

Blogs
As I noted in the beginning, I often tab into the network of bloggers all over the world to see where they stayed. These reviews can be timely and the bloggers will often include personal stories. A Google blog search is a fun way to find some of the more unique spots that may have a little bit extra charm if they actually made it into a blogger’s story.

Alternative Options
CouchsurfingWWOOFing, and Housesitting are alternative accommodation options. The Couchsurfing culture is more than just a free couch for a couple of nights and more so about trading stories and experiences with your hosts. WWOOFing is a way to gain free accommodation and food by working on Organic Farms all over the world — friends have sprinkled this into their trip with great success.

Homestays
Consider finding local homestays in rural areas of the world because these are often fascinating ways to glimpse the local way of life. You can live with a family for a few nights and eat traditional food, sleep in more humble accommodation, and view their country through their eyes. Homestays are also a wonderful way to use your funds to support the local businesses and infuse cash into the local economy.

There are countless other sites out there. Truly. The options are limitless. If you have any other recommendations for budget and general accommodation