Summer is officially here, and you know what that means: vacation! (Insert happy dance!) As lovely as vacation is, planning one can be stressful. Why can’t every part of planning the vacation be as relaxing as the actual vacation?
Everyone knows that booking a hotel is a miserable experience. (Personally, it’s my least favorite part.)
You spend tons of time online searching for the best deal possible. But, at the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice cleanliness or location.
I spent days relentlessly searching for an affordable hotel in Key West over a popular holiday weekend. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I needed one room for 5 people. Yeah, I know.
My boyfriend and I jumped online, searched Airbnb, Home Away from Home, VBRO, vacationrentals.com, Turnkey, Hotels.com, Trivago, Expedia, Priceline, and Booking.com.
I finally found something worth booking and then felt comfortable enough–meaning that I didn’t think I could find anything better–to book it around 1 am.
I don’t want you to have the same miserable experience as me. So, I have created a list of 10 helpful tips for when you search for your next hotel or vacation rental!
1. Turn on private browsing!
Some websites actually use your cookies and history to track your searches. So when they see that you have been searching for a hotel in, let’s say, New York, NY, they will actually increase the prices. Although, according to Ed Perkins at Smartertravel.com, not all websites do this, and the ones that do don’t raise the prices by that much, you should still turn on private browsing whenever you look for a hotel.
(Check out Ed Perkins’ full article on Smartertravel.com!) After all, even avoiding a $10 price increase per night could save you a decent amount of money!
2. Don’t pick the cheapest option just because it’s cheap!
Seriously, I know that this may seem counter intuitive. I mean, after all, you’re shopping around all of these booking websites because you want a good deal.
No matter what, you are spending a pretty penny on a hotel room, so let the money you spend be worth it.
The last thing you want is to end up sacrificing location and cleanliness for a price cut and find that it wasn’t worth it. You may even end up feeling a little bit cheated out of the money you did spend. Turns out, you would have been happier spending that extra $20 a night at another hotel.
3. Read reviews!
Most likely when you’re looking at a hotel online, you get an idea of how nice it may or may not be based on the pictures and descriptions of the room and amenities. If you like the way it looks and sounds, you are more likely to only look at the good reviews. Even if you do glance at the bad ones, you will likely find yourself justifying why those reviews are irrelevant.
Please, for your own sake, try to be unbiased when looking at the reviews.
Also, don’t only look at the most recent reviews.
Make sure you look at reviews from the time of year you’re planning on staying at the hotel. You never know what kind of issues the hotel has during that season.
For example, when staying in Florida, you might want to make sure that no one had any issues with a lot of bugs getting into their room for no reason. If you are traveling to Wisconsin in the winter, you might want to make sure that no one has had any issues with heaters and poor insulation.
Lastly, check management responses to negative reviews. The timeliness and the helpfulness of their responses says a lot about the management. You want to stay at a place that is going to take care of you even if you do run into an issue.
4. Have a glass of wine (if you’re of age, of course)!
Seriously. Not joking.
Pour yourself a glass of wine before sitting down to look for a hotel.
There are a lot of rooms and tons of information to sift through. So, if you’re like me and are a little high-strung as it is, you will likely find that a glass a wine puts you in the right frame of mind to begin your search.
5. Don’t take it too seriously!
Do the best that you can but don’t stress yourself out over it. Feel free to take a break from the search and come back when you’re feeling refreshed.
Despite what the websites say, you have time.
Sure, there is always a chance that the rooms you are looking at won’t be available if you wait to make a decision, but you often have more time to think about it than what the websites would have you believe: Only one left! Book now! Time is running out! 80% booked!
Have another sip of wine. Or take a step out of the house and go for a walk and don’t think about hotels for a while. When you come back, you will feel re-energized and ready to book your ideal hotel!
6. Be flexible!
Sometimes when you’re working within a strict budget, you have to be flexible.
For my upcoming trip, we originally planned to stay 4 nights in Key West. Now, we are staying two nights in Miami and 2 nights in Key West.
If you are the type of person that just goes with the flow, you probably are thinking, well duh, I am always flexible. But if you are more like me and are a bit controlling and aren’t fond of change, this might be difficult for you. It was definitely difficult for me. But, somehow, staying in Miami for the first two nights makes the trip a lot more affordable for everyone in the group.
We made a sacrifice, but most of us haven’t been to South Beach Miami, so it’s still an adventure that we’re excited about!
If you’re having difficulty finding a hotel for the right price that is also clean and centrally located, be creative! You might find an excited solution that enhances your trip.
So, remember be flexible and think outside the box!
7. Don’t just look at the cost per night!
I know that this might be obvious to some of you, but for me, this past weekend was a huge eye opener to the world of hidden costs.
Hotel booking websites tend to be relatively upfront about their fees, but they do not include tax or resort fees in their nightly price.
Sites like Airbnb, VBRO, and Vacationrentals.com were the worst about hidden fees.
To be fair, these sites host rentals by owner. So the owner is the one coming up with most of the fees, but sometimes the sites do add on a fee if the owner uses their safe payment option.
All fees are laid out for you before you rent anything, which is nice.
VBRO and Vacationrentals.com both have a “see details” button right below the nightly rate. This is where any deposits, cleaning fees, extra guest fees, and anything else is listed. Then it gives you a break down of the costs for the extent of your stay and the total cost, which is incredibly helpful.
As for Airbnb, there is a section called “Additional Prices” that you will want to click on. It doesn’t give an awesome breakdown like the previous sites mentioned, so you’ll have to do the math yourself.
The main message here is don’t just assume that because the nightly rate is affordable that you can actually afford it.
I learned that the hard way. I got way too excited over hotels that I couldn’t afford when it came down to it.
8. Check the minimum age to check in/rent!
This doesn’t affect everybody, but some hotels require you to be 25 years old to check in. This is because they are hoping that a 25-year-old is more responsible and mature than an 18-year-old. While this might be true in many cases, it does pose a problem to those of us not quite 25 yet. I have come across a lot of hotels that only require you to be 21, and some only require that you be 18, although the former is easier to find than the latter.
When it comes to vacation rentals, can be a bit more difficult to find minimum rental ages under 25. Since most home owners want to make sure that responsible people are renting their space, a lot of them require you to be 25 or older. Some even require all of the occupants to be 25 or older too! And the rentals that don’t have minimum age requirement have pretty substantial cleaning fees and deposits, so it can add up quickly.
Just make sure you read the fine print, and if you don’t see any mention of it, you’re probably okay, but it is best to call and ask. The last thing you want to do is book a non-refundable hotel or house and find out that you missed where they stated the minimum age.
9. Don’t forget about hostels!
Hostels are popular with those traveling alone or with one other person because of how inexpensive they are. But they can also be practical when you have a group of 6-8 friends traveling together.
Some hostels will let you rent rooms, so you can have a private room with a certain number of beds in it. It will likely be pretty inexpensive, and you won’t have to share a room with people you don’t know.
Definitely make sure that the hostel is in a good area and look at reviews!
You will also want to ask if the room has a private bathroom and shower or if there is one shared on the floor.
Always ask plenty of questions. You want to make sure that you are in a safe, secure environment.
Hostels can be a great alternative to a hotel for people traveling together in decently sized groups. In fact, we booked a private room in a Miami hostel.
I had my reservations about staying in a hostel, but it was practically going to be like a hotel for us, and it was remarkably inexpensive.
I was definitely excited to stay in my first hostel during my trip, even though it wasn’t a traditional hostel experience.
So, seriously, keep an open mind, and you might be surprised by what you find!
10. Just book it!
Okay, so you have been looking for a place to stay for a while. You have looked on every website you could find.
You have ruled out all but a few options.
As you look at the remaining few, judge them based on location, cleanliness, reviews, and amenities.
After that, you should be able to discern a top pick. If you’re a worrier (like me), feel free to double-check that it is, in fact, the best out of the few remaining contenders.
Then, book it.
Don’t think about the hotels you haven’t seen yet. There will always be rooms at prices that you didn’t get to see. Forget about it.
You have labored over finding the perfect hotel at a delightfully low price. So stop. And book it.
A lot of websites offer free cancellation and price matching. So if you really want to keep looking after you book a room, you can. (Make sure that you know the website’s policies on price matching and cancellation before booking it.)
Personally, once I have found a hotel or rental that makes me happy, I am uninterested in continuing to look. I find that the $20 I might save isn’t worth the stress and hassle.
I hope you enjoyed reading my top 10 tips, and I hope that they help make your hotel booking experience stress free! If you have any more great suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!
Until next time,