Picking out a place to stay can be a daunting task. While you might appreciate a boutique hotel for its unique design, someone else might be looking for somewhere cheaper with a more social environment.
You might think of the place where you stay as just another place to rest your head, but sometimes finding a place that fits what you’re looking for can make all the difference to your experience of a place.
Here are some factors to consider before you start trip planning:
Price. How much are you willing to spend?
Ease of Booking. Are you a planner or a spontaneous traveler? How much time can you spend on the booking process?
Comfort. What are your standards for comfort and privacy? Are you willing to share a room with others?
Social Opportunities. Do you hope to meet anyone by staying at a place? Other travelers? Locals?
Extras. Aside from a place to sleep, what else would you expect your accommodation to provide? Internet? A swimming pool? Maps and other information about the surrounding area?
Once you’ve given some thought to the questions above, you can decide which option best fits what you’re looking for.
Below are some of the more popular accommodation categories and how each measures up:
The default option for many travelers. Hotels include the boutique establishments, large international chains, luxury resorts, no-frills options and everything in between. They are most common in urban areas and travel hubs.
The Good: Easy to book online, either well in advance or last minute. Privacy, comfort, first-world amenities. Minibars and room service. Swimming pools and spas. Tiny bottles of shampoo!
The Not So Good: Usually the priciest option. Things like wifi may cost extra. It’s hard to meet fellow travelers and locals. First-world amenities aren’t always so comfortable—think extreme air conditioning and no mosquito nets. Travel resources are often limited to promotional brochures and organized tours.
How to Book: Tripbase lets you compare hotel prices and reviews from many online travel sites at one time.
A nice hotel room can be a welcome refuge in a hot, crowded foreign city. At Hotel Majapahit, Surabaya.
Geared toward young, independent travelers, offering both shared and private rooms at lower prices. Most common in urban areas and travel hubs.
The Good: Cheap! Easy to book online. Common areas and organized activities encourage travelers to interact. Local staff are often friendly. Potential extras include free wifi, free breakfast, welcome drinks, pub crawls, dinner parties and more. Excellent travel resources—free maps, staff tips and libraries of used guidebooks.
The Not So Good: Lack of privacy, i.e., shared rooms and bathrooms. Inconsiderate backpackers barging into your dorm at 2 a.m. Potential for curfews, lockouts and limited reception hours. Needing to climb to the top bunk when you’re over the age of 10.
How to Book: Use a website like Hostelworld to browse reviews and availability before booking your stay. Going with a highly rated hostel will ensure you don’t end up in Hollywood’s version of one.
Stay at a Rio hostel over New Year’s and you’re bound to make friends from all over the world. At Walk on the Beach Hostel, Rio.
Local accommodations, family-run, cheaper than hotels but offer private rooms. Called anything from inns to home-stays. Most common in developing countries and rural areas.
The Good: Generally low cost. Booking on arrival is the norm—good for spontaneous travelers. Often an opportunity to meet the local owners. More eco-friendly lodgings, like bamboo bungalows and cabins as well as hammocks!
The Not So Good: Difficult to book in advance; online reservation systems are rare. Basic amenities not the best, may lack hot water or the type of toilet you’re used to.
How to Book: Some guesthouses are listed as hotels or B&Bs on booking sites like Agoda, but most don’t offer online reservations and must be phoned or booked on arrival.
No advance booking for these bungalows! Varin Village, Koh Lipe, Thailand.
4) APARTMENT RENTAL
Private apartments or rooms rented out by the people who live there. Most commonly available in cities, but possible wherever people live.
The Good: For the price of a no-frills hotel or hostel, you may get more space, comfort and privacy. If you like to cook, you can buy food and make your meals in a real kitchen. An apartment is likely to be located in an area full of locals and their favorite haunts, rather than tourist traps.
The Not So Good: You don’t always know what you’re going to get. Online reviews may be scarce or unreliable. Arranging a rental will take some back and forth as you confirm availability and plan a time to meet and pick up the keys.
How to Book: Airbnb lets you easily browse all sorts of short-term rentals around the world. It goes beyond apartments too, offering rooms in everything from tree houses to ancient British castles.
If you find a great apartment, you might feel so at home you don’t want to leave. Photo by reiner.kraft.
Crashing on the couch or in the guest bedroom (lucky!) of a local that you find online or already know can be an option. Easiest to do in highly populated areas, but possible anywhere people choose to host.
The Good: FREE! Opportunity for cultural exchange. Lets you immerse yourself in local culture and leave the tourist bubble.
Your host will have travel tips to share and might show you around. It’s nice to stay in a home after a string of hostels or hotels.
The Not So Good: Planning a stay takes time and effort—potentially several emails and phone calls before you find a host and confirm the details. Being hosted by a stranger can be awkward; choose your host carefully and consider staying with a group.
How to Book: If you don’t have a friend to stay with, you can set up a profile on Couchsurfing to find hosts all over the world. To improve your chances, look for hosts with shared interests and personalize each request.
If your host is as awesome as mine, you’ll get to ride around Amsterdam on the back of his bike!
What do you value most when picking a place to stay? Which of these options will you pick for your next trip? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also like: The Ultimate Hotel Booking Guide: 62 Tips that Will Save You Money.
Unless stated, all images are author’s own. Main image: Bryant/Reynolds tree house, available for vacation stays on Air b n b.