This part of my traveling on a budget series addresses how to get the most bang for your buck when looking for and reserving accommodations. As I mentioned in my first series article, I am a mid-budget traveler, which means my budget falls between a backpacker and a vacationer. I enjoy staying in small botique hotels which are nice for local standards, but not as nice as the 4-star hotels you will find in and out of the US. Traveling through Asia and Central America I have found private rooms with AC, fridge, large comfortable bed and nice bathroom for $20-$30 per night. It’s not the ritz, but it’s great. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way:
- Stay away from fancy hotels and Western chain hotels. All-inclusive is a great deal if you are content paying US prices and spending your vacation confined to the walls of a luxurious hotel. However, this is not the way to experience a country or get the best bang for your buck. You will pay more for your room, your food, your bottled water, internet access and, generally speaking, the area you are in will be isolated from the true culture of a community. While you can still leave your posh hotel to do some exploring, I’ve found it a very different experience. Unless you walk, the taxi’s set their price higher, accounting for their certainty that you are ubber wealthy. Any tours booked from a fancy hotel will cost more and the cultural window to and from your hotel is guarded from the real feeling of the culture you are in.
- Find your place on location. The best way to get a great place for a great price is to find a room when you arrive. You can see the room, the location and you can negotiate the best deals in person and last minute. Travel books often suggest accommodations, but I find them to be somewhat out dated. However, I always use travel books to get me to the right part of town; the part of town with the hotels/hostels/restaurants. Generally I will pick a hotel or an area in the travel book and have a bus or taxi take me to that location. From there, I walk around to a few different hotels and get an idea of price and the type of acoommodation you get for each price. I rarely find it necessary to go to more than 2-3 places before I have a good feel for what my best option will be. I would not suggest doing this if you are arriving at night, it is often dangerous and always difficult to gauge an area at night. If you arrive at night, book one or two nights in advance, you can always move once you get a feel for the area.
- Take advantage of the internet. For those who are traveling in big groups or with children or otherwise are not comfortable waiting until you arrive to look for accommodations, use the world wide web. A short list of sites to use as a guide is: Lonely Planet, Trip advisor and Hostel World. I would not recommend using sites like hotels.com (I love this site, but not for international budget traveling) as you will find the list of hotels to be closer to what is described above. If possible, contact the hotel/hostel directly and see if they are offering an discounts based on the time of year you are going and/or the length of your stay. Most hotels have an email address and I find they generally respond within a couple of days.
- Look one tier outside the ‘main area’. Every city, village or beach town has a core and the best deals are generally just outside that core. My preferred method of transportation is walking, so I choose to stay close enough to the core that I can easily and safely walk to and from it at all times of day and night.
- Always ask for a discount. if you are really hard core, you can play the negotiation game including walk out tactics if your low ball offer is not accepted. I generally will ask what the room costs and either nicely ask for a slightly lower price or just ask if there are any discounts available. This has worked very well for me.
In future articles in this series I will be sharing more tips about dining, exchanging money and more. Happy traveling!