One of the most important and stress-inducing aspects of any major excursion is travel accommodations, or where to hunker down when you're on the road.
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It can be argued that, next to setting up the route, this is the most important part of the planning process, because the sun will eventually set and when it does, you’ll need a bed upon which to lay your head.
The accommodation question leads us to two different options, both equally valid, but each having entirely different consequences both on your budget and planning process:
Should you book your travel accommodations while you’re still at home or once you’ve hit the road?
AirTreks can book some hotels night, mostly for overnight airport connections and other short term needs but we also have opinions about the matter in general due to its high importance toward the success of an extended trip.
Here are some observations on the pre- and post-departure booking methods:
Pre-booking has its advantages and disadvantages. Arriving with your reservation in hand gives you a huge convenience in getting to a new destination without having to worry about where you’re staying. A lot of people find a major comfort in this method since it takes away nearly all your arrival anxiety – you can part the swindlers at the airport or station and head directly to your cozy little chamber of solace.
The downside of pre-booking of course is the same thing as the upside, that you have reservations, and quite possibly a lot of money invested in them. Un-reserving them creates a whole new set of problems if your itinerary changes mid-trip. It’s often difficult and expensive to cancel pre-booked hotel reservations made all the more frustrating if the changes you’re subjected to are not of your making.
If you do wish to pre-book your accommodations, there’s a few good ways to go about this:
- Hotel booking sites are a shifty and confusing bunch, each telling you they’re the cheapest and best around. It’s hard to sniff out the good from the bad so be wary before you drop your credit card onto one of them. If you do decide to book on an unreferenced site, call the hotel (no matter where it is) to make sure the reservation sticks, and don’t forget to get the name of the person you spoke to so you can reference the conversation back to the person that checks you in. Confirmations sometimes mysteriously “disappear” and whole hotels can suddenly be booked solid whether or not they said they had a room for you.
- Read reviews on sites like Trip Advisor or Expedia to get a feel for other people’s experiences. But be sure to take their opinions with a grain of salt. They could be coming from an entirely different perspective on what the word “filthy” entails.
- Travel services are another way to book rooms abroad. You may be paying a little more to use them but they can be extremely helpful in navigating the minefield. Most of them have direct relationships with the properties they’re selling and will know a lot about them (where they’re located, etc). You also will have recourse to your money if something goes wrong with the reservation. Or if you need to change it, they can do the legwork.
- If you’re of the more budget-friendly hosteling persuasion, it’s nowadays possible to pre-book beds. Hostelworld.com is a great site to make hostel reservations in many countries around the world. Remember though, hostels are still a fluid kind of entity. Things can get weird with your reservations very quickly (ie, in the middle of the night). Call-ahead to to avoid any unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
Getting accommodations on the road
The obvious benefit of getting your accommodations while you’re traveling is the freedom it gives. You can choose your bed based on first-hand observations rather than online research, while absolving yourself of any binding confirmations in places you can’t get to or no longer want to go.
Of course, this comes with the downside of actually having to find a place to sleep when you arrive.
So how do you do it? Well, there’s a few methods:
Walk up and book
This method involves the biggest risk but can have a big payoff. The risk, being shut out or paying way too much, is extremely high. And no one wants to turned away back to the street with your gear in tow. Rack rates (the walk-in price) at hotels can also be discouragingly high. The payoff is that you get a spot at a place exactly where you want and without having wasted any time booking a room before got there.
A better method is to call the hotel, either when or before you arrive. This will remove the dreaded turn-away in the hotel or hostel lobby. You do run risks of limited availability so if you’re going with this method, it’s a good idea to call in and reserve as soon as you know you’re going to a certain place. Because if there’s an event going on a room can be close to impossible to get. Get a phone card at the airport or travel with an international cell-phone.
Lastly, there’s the option of booking online. This is a risky (see above) but convenient option. When booking online on the road make sure you’re doing it from a respectable internet connection: a hotel business center, corporate franchise (like FedEx) or a friend’s house. Random internet cafés while convenient are often highly susceptible to identity theft. Foxnomad has a great article on how to keep you accounts safe at foreign internet cafés. The key points, make sure to delete the history and any cookies (personal info the browser saves automatically) and sign out of every sensitive site you log into.
It’s our opinion that the best method of when and how to book your accommodations is to do a happy combination of both pre-and post-departure methods.
Book rooms for the first 2 or 3 nights in each destination so you can acclimate to the new city.
This will give you the opportunity to move to a spot that’s hopefully better-located at a cheaper price than you thought was possible before you arrived.
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