One of the realities of full-time travel is that I have become, at the very least, a part-time travel agent – and it’s a job that requires doing a lot of research. Where to go, how to get there, how to buy bus/plane/train tickets, finding a hotel, what to do, how to get around, where to eat – all of these things take time to research. Rarely a day goes by where I am not spending a couple of hours looking into a few of these questions.
One of these questions in particular – finding a hotel – can be a serious time-suck. I don’t just mean what area of a particular city to stay in (although, that can take some time to figure out, too). I mean what hotel to book a room in. So I have decided to put together a list of the resources I use, in the hopes of helping you save some time and energy.
Before I get into it, a couple of notes:
I will preface this by saying that Kim and I don’t stay in dorm rooms. We place a high value on location, Wi-Fi, and cleanliness. If I see that a place is described as a “party” whatever, we avoid it like the plague. In other words: we travel like a couple in their 30s who need internet access, and enjoy quiet and clean places to sleep.
Also, when I mention hotels, I am referring to hotels, hostels, guesthouses, apartments, etc. i.e. – the place that has the bed where we will sleep.
And one last thing: I haven’t been paid or otherwise reimbursed for including any links in this post. I’m just sharing some of the information I have gained from traveling for the past 18 months.
Ok. That’s it. Here are the resources I use to find hotels:
Skyscanner has become an indispensable resource for me. It’s a search engine that searches other hotel booking sites and aggregates all of the information for you. It has all of the standard sorting tools (price, stars, reviews, etc.) and map showing you where all the hotels are located (not just the ones shown in the initial search results).
Pros: Since skyscanner searches all of the other booking sites, you are pretty much guaranteed to find the best deal. I love the map function that shows all of the hotels and if you hover your mouse over each location, it displays the lowest price that hotel is offering – it’s helpful to determine which general areas of a city are in your budget range.
Cons: My biggest complaint with skyscanner is that it doesn’t let you filter by room type. In any large city, the cheapest options are always hostels offering dorms rooms. If you sort by price, everything is listed by the cheapest bed available – usually a single bed in a 10 or 12 bed mixed dorm – so it can take a while to sort through the results to find a double room.
Overall: This site can be overwhelming (a search in Paris brings up over 2,000 listings). You have to have some patience to wade through all of the listings, but if you do, you’ll probably be rewarded by finding a really good deal on a room.
Airbnb is a great resource for all travelers – full time travelers, vacationers, and everyone in between. In general, you can expect to pay more for a place on airbnb than you would pay for a budget hotel, but you can find better deals – particularly if you don’t mind renting a room in someone’s apartment.
Pros: For long-term travelers, kitchens are like gold, and places with kitchens are plentiful on airbnb. Also, if you plan to stay for more than just a few days, you can have the space to actually unpack your stuff so you don’t have to dig through your bag every day.
Cons: You deal directly with the owners of a place, so you are relying on their responsiveness and attentiveness. You will encounter times when the calendar shows availability, only to have the booking rejected by the owner saying that it is booked full. In all honesty, this is a fairly small issue, but can be annoying to deal with when you have spent hours searching for places to stay.
Overall: I love airbnb. I use it a lot and have never really been disappointed in where I have stayed. If I end up paying more than I would in a budget hotel, it is offset by the use of a kitchen and the ability to spread out. There are some sites like airbnb you can use (namely wimdu.com and roomoroma.com), but airbnb is the biggest and best.
Tripadvisor has become one of my biggest travel resources. It provides independent reviews of hotels – meaning they aren’t attached to any booking site or hotel. Also, if you create an account on tripadvisor using your facebook account, you can see where your friends have stayed and see their reviews.
Pros: Tripadvisor is pretty much a site made up of independent reviews, which means you are typically getting unbiased and unfiltered opinions – which is valuable when searching for hotels. Tripadvisor has also started partnering with booking sites, which means it can be a one-stop-shop for booking a hotel.
Cons: To book a room through tripadvisor, you are redirected to their partners’ site and sometimes the rates change. Also, they have limited partners, so you aren’t guaranteed the best rates. That being said, tripadvisor is expanding like crazy right now, so this could easily change soon.
Overall: If you haven’t used tripadvisor, I recommend checking it out. If you are new to the site, give yourself some time to get used to it because there is a ton of information available. And a word to the wise: don’t get too caught up in reading every review. If a hotel has a 4.5 average rating from 683 reviews, you can bank on it being a good place to stay.
I recently discovered booking.com, and it quickly moved into my rotation of sites to search. They claim to have the best advertised rates for every hotel that’s listed. I haven’t found this to be 100% true, but you can still find great deals.
Pros: My favorite feature of booking.com is that you can sort by price by room type – meaning you can sort the list by how cheap a double room or triple room is. This means no more sorting through dozens of dorms to find a double bed.
Cons: Booking.com takes a fairly large commission from the hotels listed on its site, which results in not having all of the hotels listed on the site. From a travelers perspective, that doesn’t mean too much, because they have enough listings that you probably won’t even notice – but if I see the same price listed on two sites, I’ll book through the other site to send more money to the hotel owner.
Overall: Booking.com offers some great deals on rooms. But, since their rates can be found on both skyscanner and tripadvisor, it means that I don’t use the site directly as much as I use the others.
No matter how you go about finding and booking hotel rooms, it can be a time-consuming venture. My best advice is to have your criteria that you must have in a room and have a price point you want to pay and once you find that, book the room and forget about it. Trust me, I have wasted many afternoons going down the rabbit hole of thinking I can book a room for $3 less per night and end up booking the room I have been looking at for hours.
Is there anything I missed? What are your best hotel booking resources and advice? Let me know in the comments below.