We understand that planning a trip can be daunting for some. Of the many questions we get, people often ask us how we go about selecting our hotels. It seems like over the years we have become quite adept in picking great hotels that meet our travel needs. We’ve been fortunate to stay at a range of wonderful establishments and have noted what works for us. On the flip side, we have also had a few horrible hotel experiences which taught us things we are never willing to compromise on again. We can’t advise you on hostels, couchsurfing or AirBnBs, but if you’re looking for a great hotel, read on!
By learning your personal preferences and following a few easy tips, you can easily pick hotels that will satisfy all of your travel needs! There is no need to rely on a travel agent to pick hotels for your or face the uncertainty of blindly guessing where it might be best to stay.
I am a firm believer that different types of trips require different types of hotels. Sometimes all you need is a safe, clean place to rest your head for the night. Other times, the hotel is an integral part of the overall travel experience. One of the first things you will need to figure out is the type of trip you are hoping to go on, and of course the destination.
These initial choices will factor into the type of hotel you choose to stay at. They are the first ingredients in planning the recipe for a super trip! You will also want to determine your overall budget for your trip, as that will allow you to know what your accommodation options are. Hotels are one of the most expensive elements in planning a trip, so be sure to figure out what works for you. We tend to stay in mid-range hotels.
By now, you should have three things figured out.
1. The type of trip you are hoping to go on.
2. The destination
3. Your budget
Armed with these key pieces you are now ready to start browsing hotels.
Again, I am a firm believer that there are different types of hotels that meet different needs during different types of trips. Generally, there isn’t a one size fits all accommodation option. What we suggest for a beach vacation is entirely different than what we would look into for historical visit to Europe. But, I also don’t see the point in staying in a high-end, 5 star hotel when you will merely be crashing there after a busy day of exploring.
How to pick your hotel
Visit whatever website you do your hotel searches on. We often use third-party booking sites and especially like those that have some reward options. There are pros and cons to booking sites vs. direct websites. Again, do what works for you here! Be sure to know your dates and room preferences.
By typing in my destinations I can see a variety of top properties. I type in exactly where we are planning to stay. For example, if I need a hotel near a certain airport, I will type that airport in my search, not just the city.
Oftentimes, the first properties you see are the ones which the booking site earns more of a commission on when you book. You might need to do a little filtering and digging.
Adjust your filters to reflect what you are looking for. This will help you narrow down your selection. I typically filter to include the following items:
- Distance from destination
- Price Range
- Free Cancellation
Depending on what type of travel experience we are going for, I may also choose to filter for hotels that offer things like free airport shuttles and breakfast. But, this is typically something I narrow down a bit later on.
By now, you will also start to notice that several of the property names are familiar. Some people prefer to stick to a certain hotel chain while others are fine with independently owned properties. This may vary if you are booking hotels in places like the US which are filled with chain properties vs. foreign cities which have more independent hotels. There are pros and cons to each of these booking choices, some of which will be discussed later in this post.
Once the results are filtered and you’ve narrowed where you think you might want to stay, look at properties a little more closely. Start paying attention to the overall ratings each place has. On a scale of 1-5, we personally won’t stay at any place rated less than a 3 on the booking site’s scale.
Competition amongst hotels can be fierce. They offer a variety of additional amenities to encourage booking. Here is where I start to look for things that will lure us in. These might include:
- Access to public transportation
- Evening receptions
- No resort fees
- Proximity to major sites
- Breakfast included
A Picture Says 1000 Words
When you have identified a handful of appealing properties that appear to meet your needs, start looking at the photos. Many times the pictures tell a great story. Here are the things that I look for and can make decisions about just from the pictures:
- If the hotel looks dirty, dingy, and dated I am immediately turned off.
- A full, floral bedspread in a photo will automatically make me take the hotel off my list.
- I also always make sure to look at the photos of the bathroom to see what types of toiletries they provide. While mini hotel toiletries are on their way out, and you may not even use them, you can still tell a lot about a place based on the type of product they provide. If it’s a nicer product, they likely take a little more pride in their brand and guest experience. And, if they are stationed next to a cream colored plastic ice bucket… nope!
- Look at the carpet. I can identify a dated carpet pattern in a matter of minutes.
- Check out the decor. If it has not been updated we are less likely to stay there.
Some of these things might sound silly or superficial. But they are very telling. There is a certain standard and aesthetic that appeals to us and it is automatically identifiable within a few photos. And, as you might have guessed, I am a very visual person. Looking at pictures really works for me.
I also make sure to read a handful of reviews on the booking site. I believe these are very subjective, but I still look for a common theme. If the reviews are generally good, it puts me at ease. When they are general bad, I move on. If I hear about bedbugs, mold, or safety concerns, it is immediately off my list.
Once I’ve finished skimming reviews on the booking site, I pop over to TripAdvisor. Here, I take a quick glance through reviews again, looking for the same info. And, I also take a quick peek at the traveler’s photos too because these are more honest.
I also check out the hotel on Google Maps. This gives me the lay of the land and is another visual queue. If there is nothing around it, we won’t book. If there are plenty of restaurants, shops, businesses, etc. it is more convenient and appealing.
And, if you happen to be booking a place near the airport, look at how close the hotel is to the runways. Being in close proximity can make a huge difference in noise levels every time planes take off or land.
By now, you should have no more than three hotels to choose from in your funnel. At this point, the decision ultimately lies on which of these final choices offers the most bang for our buck? It may not always be the cheapest hotel. It is all about what offers the most elements for us. That is the one we go with!
We realize this may sound like a lot of steps to pick a hotel. But, the more familiar you get with your preferences, the faster this will go for you. At this point in our travels, we can usually pick a great hotel in less than 30 minutes these days. Visit our hotel recommendations page for listings in top tourist destinations!
Corporate Chains vs. Independent Hotels
There is much debate regarding deciding to stay at a corporate chain hotel vs. an independent hotel. We do a mix of both throughout our travels. If you’re not familiar with the pros and the cons, read on!
These are the big names that are synonymous with hotels. Think along the lines of Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and more! Easily recognizable, many travelers find a brand or two they are comfortable with and stick to it. The offer familiarity in oftentimes unfamiliar places and give people an underlying sense of security and comfort. Travelers know what to expect here and often appreciate what these places have to offer. Oftentimes, these places offer great brand loyalty rewards programs too, which is of course a bonus!
But, not all that glitters is gold. While many of these hotels chains are great, there are often unseen issues with sustainability. These range from considerations regarding the resources they consume, low wages paid and limited growth opportunities for workers, and leakage. I find this to be especially true in destinations that are not as developed as the United States. Don’t get me wrong, corporate hotels provide some positive impacts for their host communities, but not as much as you might think on the surface.
These little gems are often overlooked in the shadow of their corporate hotel neighbors. But, there are so many benefits to staying at one. Oftentimes, you get better prices, better perks, and even better service. They aren’t held down by the same corporate standards of the big guys. And, for those that are operated on a local level, this is a great way to really support the local community. Even better are those hotels which have initiatives to work with other local providers, making this a more sustainable choice.
Independent hotels certainly can’t compete with the corporate giants. You might have to sacrifice some things…like only having access to one pool instead of 3. If you’re looking for a full-package stay, these places might not be an option for you. They simply can’t offer things like free airport shuttle or 24 hour reception.
Whichever route you decide to go, there are always things you can do to make your hotel stay a bit more sustainable. Here are a few super easy ideas for you to incorporate into your next trip:
- Bring your own toiletries in refillable containers
- Turn the lights and air conditioning/heat off when you’re not in your room
- Reuse towels and linens
- Look for hotels that are LEED certified
- Book at hotels that partner with other local businesses for things like food service or activities
- Think about conservation and seek this out. Covered pools are an easy bonus, as is xeriscaping!
I am a firm believer that if everybody did a little something, it would add up to bigger positive impacts. Armed with information, you are now ready to pick your next hotel!
Picking the right hotel is an important part of traveling. There is a lot to consider. Over time, you will be able to learn your preferences, use these tips and ace picking a top place to stay.