Often, when travelling, your accommodation choice can simply come down to convenience and cost.
After our Round-The-World trip we’ve experienced quite a range of accommodation from leaky pipes and bad WiFi, to luxurious pools and comfy beds.
The cost of accommodation over the course of the 6 months we were travelling came to a little over $4,000USD. We saved a lot of money staying with friends and using credit card points. (For more on our travel budget, read this.)
In no particular order, I’ve assembled the pros and cons of each accommodation choice we made while travelling as well as some tips on how to get the best stay for you. These tips are from our own experiences.
A few extremes:
- Japan was the most expensive place to stay, overall. (That onsen we stayed in cost about $160USD/night)
- We camped in Thailand and paid about $6USD for our tent and equipment rentals while in the National Park.
- Hotels are clean. (Or: they damn well should be!)
- Generally hotels are centrally located. Larger chains will have branches close to airports, city centers, beaches or places of interest. (When we got to Kagoshima, Japan our hotel was right by the ferry to Sakurajima volcano so we had a very short walk.)
- There are loyalty reward programs so you can get cash-back points or earn a free stay if you book at certain chains. (We got a really sweet deal in Tokyo because we booked our hotel room at “APA” through my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. What would have cost us an arm-and-a-leg to stay cost us nothing. YAY!)
- The customer service is good. Usually, there are people working at the front desk 24/7 so your drunk, tired touristy butt won’t have to worry about waking someone up to order room service.
- Sometimes there’s a breakfast included. (Can’t speak to the quality of this, but hey, at least it’s there, right?)
- They’re expensive. It’s hard to find a hotel that rivals the cost of a stay in a hostel. (Staying in a hotel for even a couple nights can really add up.)
- You don’t get to meet other people very easily. (Hotels can be very isolating and sterile. It’s hard to feel like you’re involving yourself in the local culture or getting to know other travelers if everyone has their own rooms and don’t congregate in a common room).
How to find the best hotels for you
Jackson and I used booking.com and the Chase Bank shopping site (there are links to go shopping through the credit cards: you get a chance to book a room using your points and can see what kind of deals the bank may have for card members).
We found the more you use booking.com, the more deals the website will give you, as a loyalty bonus. Jackson used it so much we automatically saved 10% every time we used the site!
Not all hotels are created equal. Checking value and reviews is paramount! What I liked about booking.com is their “Deal of the Day” which would pop-up occasionally. It saves a pretty penny and tells you what the reviews are like.
If it’s rated below an 8.5 DON’T STAY THERE, we made the mistake of staying in a few hotels in Vietnam and Sri Lanka that ranked in the high 7’s and they were really terrible: leaky pipes, stained sheets and creaky beds.
- You get to see someone’s house/apartment and therefore: life! (There are so many different ways people live around the world and walking into someone’s house to see it firsthand is really cool.)
- You’ll stay in a residential area that can be more convenient or centrally located and QUIET.
- They’re generally cheap.
- Owners rely on reviews to get noticed, so you’ll likely have them go above and beyond to try and make your stay more memorable (one owner in Brela, Croatia left us a whole charcuterie plate of cheese and meat, sliced bread, cookies and wine for our stay!)
- You can’t guarantee that the bed you’ll sleep in will be comfortable. (We stayed in a guest house in Nha Trang, Vietnam that had the most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept on.)
- Sometimes you’ll get locked out. (Hey- no concierge means when the owner is out picking up her granddaughter and locks the door/gate, you gotta’ wait till she gets back.)
- You’re sharing a house/property with a family so if they need to loudly talk to each other: tough luck.
- Cultural norms are different and you need to respect that. For example: taking off your shoes before you enter and dressing modestly are some of the things you’ll need to be aware of.
How to find the best guest house for you
Many guest houses post their rooms and vacancies on AirBnB or TripAdvisor or booking.com.
It seems even silly to say this, but look at the photos carefully. Read a few of the reviews. You are taking a little bit of a risk staying somewhere with only one or two reviews, but you’ll likely meet hosts who are very eager to please. If it’s got a ton of good reviews: it’s probably pretty good.
Not all countries are equal! We found that some of the best guest houses were in Croatia and Sri Lanka.
- They’re cheap.
- You can meet some really nice people who are also travelling and may have good advice and stories to swap.
- They’re set up to accommodate people who are on the road: not business suits, not large families with little kids, but real travelers. They get it. (You need help orienting yourself to the city you’re in? They gotcha’, bro)
- It’s a younger, more energetic group of people so you’ll likely find a party to go to or people your age to hang with.
- Dorms can come with snorers. I hate them. There is very little I can do about it but either suffer or get ear plugs.
- The beds can be uncomfortable. (Although this isn’t universally true, sometimes you can get a crappy bed).
- Your neighbors can be loud. (Either from the bass of the music playing in the common room or the party gals who get back from their bar crawl at 3am: you might never know what kind of crappy noise makers you’ll run into).
- Little privacy. Unless you get a private room, that dorm room comes with very little privacy.
- They can be dirty. Lots of people: not a lot of space.
How to find the best hostel for you
I used Hostels.com and hostelworld.com to search out a spot. The problem I found with hostels is that everyone’s level of comfort and privacy is different. Seasoned travelers, who can sleep through anything, don’t mind sharing a dorm and their reviews reflect that.
Jackson and I tried to avoid sleeping in dorms, opting instead for the more expensive private rooms. Private rooms are no luxury, but it’s nice having a door to close. Overall, hostels can be a real hit-or-miss. They’re a great money-saver so we could look past the dirty bathrooms, noisy neighbors and uncomfortable beds… most of the time.
To find a hostel suited for you, choose one that’s close to or in the center of town. The last thing you need is a commute to get to see some of the sites. It’s even better if they provide free breakfast. If you’re really on a budget, these guys are the next best thing to free, sometimes being as cheap as a few dollars a night.
If you go too budget, you’ll get burnt out. We found that after staying in hostels for days on end we would splurge and find a hotel to get a little bit of R&R before diving back into budget-land. But, of course that’s up to the traveler’s discretion (and wallet).
- They can be cheap.
- A chance to see an apartment in a residential area (get to know that culture a bit better!)
- Great for when hotels and hostels are all booked. (There are a lot of AirBnBs to choose from and they can really save you in a pickle).
- Many have fully stocked kitchens so you can cook and save some money!
- You can get a whole apartment to yourself: privacy, quiet and space!
- It might not be that clean. (You’re staying in someone’s house, after all. There are no regulations like you’ll find in a hotel…)
- The utensils in the kitchen can be C-R-A-P-P-Y (good luck cutting that carrot).
- Sometimes the neighbors aren’t too keen on having strangers in their hallways (there are places, like New York City, where AirBnB isn’t universally popular).
- There are a LOT to choose from and that can get overwhelming.
How to find the best AirBnB for you
Go to AirBnB.com and look for something that is the right size and budget for you. If you’re a couple, you’ll likely only need a one-bedroom or studio. Jackson and I found that the studios were really nice and felt very private.
We stayed in one in Osaka that felt really cozy. We tried to find places that had good reviews and a fully-stocked kitchen so we could cook.
While searching and comparing rooms and apartments in different places you can get quite a range of options:
Our biggest piece of advice is: read the reviews and be sure to check the location out on a map. AirBnB apartments can be unpredictable, so putting a little work into choosing a good option will really pay off. Also, the host of the apartment or room will often give you a good idea of how well the place is run. Are they prompt? Are they communicative? If not: you’ll probably want to find somewhere else to stay.
- Daaaang they’re nice!
- Usually located in some stunning area like a beach or the mountains.
- You want peace and quiet? Look no further.
- Want some pampering? These guys have tons of amenities and special offers. Splurge-tastic, folks.
- There are a bunch of options for meeting new people in common areas: on the beach, at dinner, by the bar, in the pool… lots of ways to make new friends.
- Sometimes they’ll provide free breakfast or an all-inclusive deal.
- Great way to take a vacation from the vacation and zone out!
- These puppies ain’t cheap. (Expect to pay a pretty penny for your new-found luxury).
- Resorts can be full of some of the worst tourists ever. (I mean people who come to a country to get really drunk, feel really entitled and act like huge pricks to the staff.)
- Money traps abound! A lot of times the excursions and special activities offered are WAY overpriced.
- It’s hard to explore the local communities and people (these resorts are usually far away from the locals and are sometimes eyed with suspicion or outright frustration by the local populace).
- They can have a large environmental impact (that pool uses a lot of water, and what do you think they do with the leftover food from the buffet?)
How to find the best resort for you
Tripadvisor is a wonderful thing, friends. It’s got a huge database of users and word-of-mouth for these kinds of things.
Resorts can be very pricey. Our decision to stay in them hinged on a couple of considerations: 1) Did we need a place to really relax and chill out? 2) Does it offer a unique experience specific to the culture and country we were experiencing? 3) Were the reviews stellar?
By asking ourselves the previous questions, we were able to find some really excellent places for rest and relaxation at times we felt it was needed. (The Japanese Onsen we stayed at in the mountains of Akita was easily one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had).
Staying with Friends
- *It’s free!
- You get to visit with that friend(s)
- Having a local to show you around their ‘hood is worth its weight in gold.
- Great way to meet new people (maybe roommates, significant others, or neighbors of your friend would be curious to meet you! We met some wonderful people in Germany, Poland, and Australia).
- *Nothing is free. But sometimes money is the easiest way to pay for things…
- If they have pets you better hope you’re a dog or a cat or a rat or a bird person ’cause you’ll likely be getting to know Fido really well by the end of your stay.
- You’re at the whim of your friend’s schedule. (A good house guest is flexible and gets out of the house during the day to be a tourist. Get dinner with them later if you want, but it’s not cool to hang around all day and be in your friend’s space. It’s exhausting hosting people!)
- If they want to go out for dinner, you’ll probably need to treat them. It’s the right thing to do (but that adds up quickly!).
How to find a place to crash
There are several ways to do this. You can tap your friendship network either through Facebook or some other form of social media and ask around to see if anyone could take you in. We did this for Melbourne, Australia and found some EXCELLENT hosts who took us in.
You can make friends while on the road and then visit them later. We got lucky meeting Felix in Vietnam because when we went to Germany we stayed with him in Cologne!
There are online sites designed to help connect people. One of the most popular is couchsurfing.com.
Don’t forget the old-fashioned “family member” you know: those people who are related to you?
I’m an English as a Foreign Language Teacher and therefore have students peppered around the world. I was able to stay with a few of them over the years and it was WONDERFUL. Maybe you have a job/hobby that has people around the world you can stay with? It never hurts to ask!
- It’s dirt cheap (and sometimes free).
- Gives you a sense of freedom (go anywhere; connect with nature!)
- You’re exposed to the elements. (If it’s hot: you’re hot. If it’s cold… you get the idea)
- You need to carry the necessary bags and equipment with you (or rent them).
- It can be dirty and uncomfortable (peeing outside, cold showers, no noise privacy or protection).
How to find a place to camp that’s best for you
Jackson and I only camped in Thailand on this big trip. I didn’t used to be a big fan of camping, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve really come to love the adventure of it.
Jackson searched for parks that mostly had reviews written in the local language and we decided to go there (to get away from the tourists). Again, TripAdvisor is a really great place to check for information about National Parks.
If you’re into camping, starting with National Parks is a good place to begin. There are also hostels that offer space for hammocks and tents as well as some resorts! The resort we stayed in in Fiji had space for people to pitch their tents for a very small fee. Some cities are incredibly expensive, but you can still find a tent or a hammock in a hostel and stay in a sweet location for quite cheap.
What’s your favorite place to stay while travelling?