You made it! You booked tickets, took time off, hired a dog watcher and stopped the mail and now it’s paying off. You’re on vacation! Take a minute and picture it… you jump in the taxi, you’re tired from the flight but amped to be in a new place. The taxi drives you through increasingly seedy neighborhoods until it arrives at your hotel. It’s the right hotel, but not what the site depicted. Noisy neighbors, rude staff and a weird smell coming from the closet. Not exactly the vacation you had planned, is it?
The best advice? Learn from those who have gone before you.
My top three suggestions for booking a great place to sleep (plus a bonus for the adventurous types):
Tripadvisor: Great resource, but not infallible. I first look for a good location that has a high average review rating. I then read the reviews from the four and three star category to see what the honest ratings say. If I’m okay with it, I book it. Be aware that hotels with new owners or hotels which have undergone renovations have been known to encounter difficulties getting TripAdvisor to remove bad reviews. If the hotel website looks drastically different from the TripAdvisor photos, this could be the reason.
Airbnb: Don’t want to stay in a hotel? Want to interact with locals? Local owners rent out villas, guest houses, apartments or rooms in your city of choice. Check out the reviews first – still uncertain? Email the owner for more info. I have used this service in Salt Lake City, Rabat and Paris with great results.
Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide: Travel books are great for info on where to stay and where to avoid. Good on safety advice, be aware of the publish date for these books. A guide published in 2010 was probably written in 2009, which would explain the fact that you showed up in 2014 and your hotel of choice had been turned into the HQ of a local guerrilla army. Solution? I double check hotels I find in guides with reviews from Tripadvisor.
Adventure Bonus – Couchsurfing: In Jordan I ran into a pair of Belgians who booked a cave for two nights in Wadi Rum with Couchsurfing. Would love to know how it went. I have not used Couchsurfing myself, but welcome comments from anyone who has. FYI: Couchsurfing has their own security section (login required)
*As you do your online searching keep in mind that in some overseas locations, stars are a good indicator of not just luxury, but security. The more stars a hotel has (official hotel ratings, not online reviews) typically the more secure they are. Five stars in Algiers means security guards and a checkpoint to the hotel plus metal detectors. While not a cave, it definitely did not earn five stars for luxury.