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The travel advice clinic: Accommodation edition

The travel advice clinic: Accommodation edition

Welcome to the first of a new series on On the Luce – the travel advice clinic. After years of planning trips all around the world I’ve picked up plenty of tricks that I use to make travel my travel life easier – everything from packing tips to favourite booking websites. So I thought I’d share my top tips so that they can help you out too, and the first edition is all about accommodation. Whether your taste is more hostel bunks or luxury resorts, choosing somewhere awful to stay can ruin your trip. Paying more or higher star ratings doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better quality either – one of my favourite stays cost under £50 for a double room. So how do you go about choosing the perfect place to stay? Let’s start the questions…

More advice: Flights, Photography, Train travel, Wine travel, Skiing

There are so many hotel websites, where do I start?

With hundreds of booking sites, it’s hard to know which to use, especially in big cities with an overwhelming amount of options. If you’ve got a particular hotel in mind – or are just looking to search by price – try a comparison site like Trivago or TravelSupermarket, which check different booking sites to find the lowest prices. If you need ideas on where to stay, my favourite site is i-escape, with a handpicked selection of hotels with really comprehensive reviews. Other sites with lots of detail to help you choose are Hotel Guru (good search filters), Mr & Mrs Smith (romantic hotels) and Sawdays (hotels and B&Bs in Britain/Europe).

You can book directly through these sites but I usually do an extra check on a comparison site to see if there’s a better deal around. Though you do sometimes get extras – like our Marrakech hotel where we got free entry to the Photography Museum for booking via i-escape. It’s also a good idea to check with the hotels themselves as sometimes they’ll match the lowest price so they don’t have to pay commission to the booking sites. And what about TripAdvisor? It gets a lot of criticism but is a good starting point if you’ve got no idea where to start – though it’s usually best to ignore the most positive and negative reviews.

Roof terrace at Riad Capaldi, Marrakech

Riad Capaldi in Marrakech, discovered on i-escape

I can’t find a decent budget hotel, what else can I try?

In some places – like big cities or in expensive regions like Scandinavia – it can be tough to find anywhere decent to stay if you’re on a budget. But hotels aren’t the only choice when it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of other options you can try. One is hostels, whether that’s through an organisation like the YHA or privately owned places. You can often become a member to get an extra discount, like through Hostelling International or BBH, which has a big network of hostels across New Zealand.

If you’re staying somewhere for a few nights or are travelling in a group then you could rent an apartment instead. Or as well as renting a whole place, you can also rent a spare room in someone’s house on sites like AirBnB. Or you could try Couchsurfing, though this is more of a social thing so not so good if you’re just looking for a place to sleep. There are also some cities with campsites right in the centre, where you can sometime hire a tent or caravan if you don’t want to carry camping gear around with you.

AirBnB apartment in Vienna, Austria

Our lovely AirBnB apartment in Vienna this summer

Aren’t hostels just for gap-yearers?

Hostels have historically been divided into two types – party places where you’ve got no chance of sleep before 3am in a dorm full of drunk 18-year-olds, and spartan draughty old buildings where you’re kicked out during the daytime. But there’s a new breed of hostel that’s attracting a different type of guest – luxury hostels. These combine hostel-style amenities (communal lounges and kitchens, social activities and free wifi) with hotel-style quality (en-suite bathrooms, spa toiletries, quality linens and towels).

You don’t even have to put up with other people’s snoring as there are usually private rooms available for much cheaper than hotel rooms – at one of my favourites, Gallery Hostel in Porto, an en-suite twin room costs €65 a night. Hostels have much more of a social feel than hotels, so are great for solo travellers. The Gallery Hostel runs free walking tours and nightly three-course dinners with wine for €10 so it’s easy to get chatting to people. The Budget Traveller has a guide to some of the best luxury hostels in Europe and Hostelworld run the annual ‘Hoscars‘ awards for the best hostels around the world.

The Gallery Hostel, Porto

Not your average hostel – Gallery Hostel, Porto

Isn’t it a bit dodgy renting an apartment privately?

If you want your own space, apartment rentals are a great option. AirBnB and other sites like Flipkey and Go with Oh have really taken off, and have lots of places to choose from, especially in larger cities. I’ve rented three places through AirBnB this year and been really happy with them, but some people worry about getting scammed or what if the place turns out to be nothing like it’s described. My tips would be to read the reviews carefully – and if you’re worried steer clear of new listings where there are no reviews. Check the owner has been verified (with their identity checked) and that they have a good response rate so you know they’re easy to get hold of, and make sure there’s a full description in the listing so you have a good idea what to expect. And most importantly always pay within AirBnB, never by money transfer.

If things do go wrong, AirBnB have a guest refund policy and an emergency contact. Or to be extra safe you can rent from a company that manages or vets all its properties (look out for ABTA/ATOL registration for extra protection) – my UK favourites are Unique Home Stays and the Landmark Trust.

Old Pear Tree Barn holiday rental Cornwall

Old Pear Tree Barn in Cornwall, rented through Unique Home Stays

What are the three top places you’ve stayed?

This is a tough one! I’ve stayed in some great places, though my favourites tend to be smaller, individual places rather than chains, and my budget doesn’t usually stretch to five-star luxury. One favourite was Riad Dar Maya in Essaouira, Morocco (€120 a night). It was beautifully designed and incredibly relaxing, with a gorgeous roof terrace with a pool and views across the medina. Another relaxing spot was Balam Bali Villas ($75 a night), out in the rice fields near Ubud in Bali. Here the food and the service were the real stars, where they were happy to organise things for you but not at all intrusive if you just wanted to chill out. And my final choice is O Bar O Cabins in Colorado ($159 a night). This was a self-catering cabin in the forest, incredibly well equipped with luxuries like a hot tub under the stars, with super-friendly owners (and cat!).

Bedroom at O Bar O Cabins near Durango, Colorado

Our cosy Birdsnest cabin at O Bar O Cabins, Colorado

Do you have any other accommodation questions or tips and tricks to share? The next travel clinic will be about flights, so if you have any questions get in touch.

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How do you go about choosing the perfect place to stay? Tips and tricks on finding the best accommodation, from booking websites to hotel alternatives.

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    Packing my Suitcase
    September 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Very rich post with amazing tips Lucy!! I didnt know half of these websites you suggested… surely I will take a look at them! I loved this hostel in Porto, it looks so cute! You have stayed in very nice places… Im saving your tips! Have an amazing weekend 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:39 am

      Thanks so much! That hostel in Porto was fantastic, and such good value. Makes all the research worth it when you find somewhere really great!

      • Reply
        Packing my Suitcase
        September 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        You’re welcome 🙂
        Yes you are right…nothing like finding a great place to stay after researching – sometimes like crazy! You found a gem 😀

  • Reply
    Suze
    September 12, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for the tips. Airbnb is new to me and looks amazing.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

      It’s a great site – though you can easily waste a lot of time on there, I have so many wish lists set up!

  • Reply
    Globalresidence
    September 12, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Love this! 🙂 Crisp and packed with info!

  • Reply
    shazzarob
    September 12, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Great post.we used airbnb in Paris and got a lovely bijou appartment for £ 50 a night. So we probably saved on the accomodation on our trip. I first heard of airbnb through blogs ~ or I may not have found the site otherwise.x

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Thanks, AirBnB seems to have really taken off recently! It’s such a great idea – I’m even temped to rent out my spare room back home through them when I’m not travelling!

  • Reply
    f-stop mama
    September 13, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Love this new series. As someone with the travel bug and a new lifestyle that allows more time for travel this series will be especially helpful. Thanks for sharing your insights and tips.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:26 am

      That’s great to hear! I get asked for advice from a lot of my friends and family as I’m always planning the next trip, so hoped it would come in useful for other people too.

  • Reply
    Moritz
    September 13, 2014 at 6:07 am

    Very nice summary. I’ll moreover recommed to regularay check so called “deal blogs” to keep updated for special promotions (mostly hotels but sometimes there is something for airbnb as well).

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:26 am

      That’s a good suggestion too – I use Secret Escapes sometimes and have got a couple of good deals through them.

      • Reply
        Moritz
        September 14, 2014 at 2:25 pm

        Yeah, Secret Escapes is very good as well. I just booked three nights through them. Some offers really are 40 percent off, so worth to check every week!

  • Reply
    lexklein
    September 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Another great idea if you have some flexibility is to use last-minute or same-day apps to book rooms or flights. This doesn’t work in high season and/or in popular destinations, but we scored, for example, an upscale, boutique hotel room in a second-tier city for almost 40% off through HotelTonight. We got an evening reception thrown in, plus milk and cookies at bedtime, and a huge breakfast. We could not have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express off the side of the road for the price we paid for Frette linens and top-shelf amenities here! Many cities in the U.S. are covered, and additional European cities are being added daily. (I have no affiliation with these folks; I’m just an enthusiastic new user!) I like your new idea for the blog!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:22 am

      Thanks for the tip – I downloaded the Hotel Tonight app a while back and did try to use it once in London but the night I tried the prices were still too high and I found a better deal direct with a hotel (though this was London so prices are always high!). I’d like to give it a proper try in the US as there seem to be a lot more cities and some great deals on there.

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    September 13, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I’m a bit set in my ways, and only ever look at Trivago and airbnb, so will have a look at some more of the links you suggest – cheers!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

      You can’t go too far wrong with a combination of those two! In a big city I do try to look for some sort of recommendations though as it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to even start looking.

  • Reply
    Life On My Plate
    September 14, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Great post Lucy.. I’m also a fan of Airbnb. I’ve stayed in 2 Airbnb apartments this year, in Vienna as well as New York and both were great, comfortable and convenient! And if course, well priced!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

      AirBnB is great. We’ve stayed in places in Vienna, Strasbourg and Bergen so far this year and have the Amalfi Coast coming up next month – if you’re staying somewhere for a few days I don’t think you can beat it!

  • Reply
    traciislanddweller
    September 14, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Great tips Thankyou

  • Reply
    Cup&Saucer
    September 14, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Very useful information. I’m currently trying to find an inexpensive (but not too cheap) hotel in Edinburgh but that’s proving tricky to do. I’ll try the sites you’ve recommended. Thank you! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      Good luck with your search! I’ve stayed in the Tune Hotel in Edinburgh before which had a good location right by the station and good value rooms.

  • Reply
    Marie
    September 15, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Great article. I will have to check out the sites in the future. Do you know of any sites that focus on long term rentals rather than short term? You might take a look at VBRO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner). I know several people who have been very happy with the accommodation found through the site.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 15, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks, I’ve used VRBO in the States once and had a really good experience – the HomeAway website does list some longer-term rental options too.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    September 15, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Great tips, Lucy! 😀 I would like to add my favorite site for booking apartments, Only Apartments, I used it quite a few times and it’s great for finding cheaper alternatives to the hotels. Also, there are always reliable local sites for finding accommodation, for example in Barcelona we booked a perfect apartment from GoBCN and it was cheaper than other places we’ve found.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks for the tips Vlad – I’ve not heard of Only Apartments but their site looks good so will definitely check that one out in future. Local sites can be good too – I used a great one in Harlem in New York called Chic and Budget.

  • Reply
    Julia
    September 15, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I know I spend ages researching for new and lovely places to stay, so always happy for inspiration.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      I’m just the same – the trip research is part of the fun!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    September 15, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Excellent idea, Lucy. you certainly have the expertise to pull this off. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks Jo, thought I’d put all those years of trip-planning to use!

  • Reply
    bridget
    September 15, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Read your blog while living for free in the USA. We house swap through Intervac and have just had three weeks in California in a house with a pool, lovely gardens and fabulous views. In July we had ten days in Stockholm in a large house with a hot tub and large private garden.
    We are only swapping these for a small old terrace house in the Lake District but Americans love it because of its age and because it is walkable to the town centre with pubs, shops and restaurants (rare in the States) and we have had quite a few Americans who want to research their family history.
    Intervac has hundreds of swaps but the Usa, the Netherlands, France and the Scandinavian countries are particularly popular. It takes time to find a place and arrange mutual dates but it has been very successful for us and gives you a place for free. You just have to leave the place as you found it.Precious things or whole rooms can be locked away
    There are other swap sites but we have not used them. You do have to pay to join but the fee is far less than an hotel for a night and gives you some initial security that the people are real and you can read reviews of houses and swappers.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      You’ve had some fantastic house swaps! It’s a really great idea and something we’ve thought about doing (though we have pets which makes it a bit more difficult, but there are some house-sitting sites that might be useful in that case – or I’ll have to send the cats to stay with mum and dad!). Definitely a good option though to spend some time really getting to have a local experience in a place without having an expensive accommodation bill.

  • Reply
    sarahloughlintravel
    September 15, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Great post!

  • Reply
    Madhu
    September 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Great idea Lucy. The Ubud hotel sounds really lovely. Look forward to reading your packing tips. Have been struggling with our 15kg – all inclusive – allowance for our safari flight!! My cabin bag with camera and accessories, along with a Mac book Air alone weighs nearly 7kg! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      The Ubud hotel was so nice and relaxing! Yes packing is tough if you’re taking a laptop and DSLR along with you – I’ll get thinking up tips for you!

  • Reply
    torquayhotel
    September 23, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Lucy, a great post as usual.
    One other source of great accommodation is the friendly old B&B, though most of theme aren’t so old fashioned any more. We have to keep up with guests expectations and are constantly refurbishing and upgrading our rooms. For those who want a bit of character and hosts who will help them, the B&B, pension etc are so much more interesting than the ‘Budget Hotel’ chains such as Premier Inn.
    When guests have found the accommodation that suits them, be it luxury hotel or hostel, one act of kindness is to Google the owner and book directly with them, not with the OTAs such as Booking.com. Most guests do not realize that the On Line Travel Agents charge a large commission to the accommodation owners. This commission goes straight out of the country to wherever the OTA has set up business to pay the lowest taxes. Support local businesses.

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