Most travelers will agree, the hardest part of planning a trip is choosing where you’ll stay. Budget, location, amenities, cleanliness…so many factors come into play here. Couple this with the myriad of choices we now have with non-traditional accommodation sites such as Airbnb, and the whole booking process can become even less appealing.
After years of travel throughout Asia, (where accommodation ranges from the well-known, big branded hotel chains on down to one-off, local resorts or lodges), I’ve developed some strategies for making the choices somewhat easier. Here’s a few things you should consider next time you’re booking lodging:
Location, location, location.
You’ve likely noticed that the branded hotel chains often position themselves closest to the most popular tourist attractions. The closer you get to more heavy tourist traffic, the more you’re bound to pay.
Transit map of greater Los Angeles.
Instead of forking-out more of your precious travel budget to stay closer, consider finding a place that is situated along the local mass transit routes. Most airport arrival areas will offer transit maps, if not, look them up online. Familiarize yourself with the location of subway stations and bus lines, and you’ll soon be navigating the area like a pro. You’ll also have saved some cash to spend on a local tour or activity.
Seek out local treasures.
Choosing to stay at a distance from tourist areas also affords you the opportunity to have, overall, a more unique experience. High traffic areas come with higher rents, so you’re more likely to find internationally-known chain restaurants or shops that are the only ones that can afford to do business there. If you really want a shot of Starbucks, or a MacDonald’s burger, you’ll absolutely get that here. Off the beaten (tourist) path, however, you’ll find locally owned cafes, coffee shops, and boutiques. The perfect places to enjoy local cuisine, or find more unusual souvenirs.
The historic French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai.
Like a local.
Anyone who’s booked through Airbnb will tell you, you’re likely gonna’ be going deep…into the local scene. Privately-owned rooms and flats are on offer throughout a city, most times right in residential neighbourhoods. What better way to experience a place than at the true, local level?
Recently, on a trip to Shanghai, we booked a flat for our group of four adults that was located on the fourth floor of a historic shophouse in the French Concession. A convenient five minutes walk from the Shanghai Metro station, the loft apartment was situated above a small restaurant…we actually had to access our accommodation through the kitchen!
Shanghai shophouse loft.
War-era tiles in our Shanghai loft beg the question, “how many have trod here?”
The women preparing food there grinned and nodded at us every time we traipsed through, offering quick “Ni Hao’s” as they went about their work. Spilling out into the lane, we were greeted by the local elderly, out for a stroll and some gossip. Children rushing to school, delivery men unloading produce…local life was all around us. Truly a unique and memorable experience.
Know the customs.
Take some time to investigate what are considered to be local, or traditional, ways of lodging. When we’ve traveled in New Zealand, we always book through local booking site, BookaBach, (a “bach” is short for bachelor, the Kiwi term for cabin or cottage). You’ll find excellent deals on accommodation throughout the country, many with beach access and those amazing NZ views.
Our traditional Kiwi “bach” doesn’t look like much.…
….but, oh those fabulous New Zealand views!
European countries are filled with tiny boutique hotels, while rustic lodges or cabin stays would be an interesting option throughout North America. In fact, in some western parts of the United States, you can even stay in a lighthouse, or US Forest Service tower.
A lifetime of laughs.
Unless you’re splurging for the “Club Floor”, most branded chain hotel rooms offer the same experience: four walls, a window, a bed or two, maybe a desk or lounge chair, flat screen TV, and a nondescript bathroom. You’ll pay extra for a view, thanks very much. Certainly nothing to write home about, as they say. How many hotel rooms do you actually remember? Only a few, if any, are truly remarkable.
Our little glass shack on the beach.
Million dollar views for only US$15!
However, by choosing a place that is unique, you’re not only fulfilling the need for lodging, you’re also well on your way to making memories to last long after you head towards home. My own children are much more likely to say that the US$15 per night beach shack made of glass walls with plywood beds was more memorable, (and hilarious), to them than any motel or hotel we ever stayed in, 5-star places included. Or, the tiny hotel room with no windows, (but was located just steps away from an amazing street market). These places made the holiday. They are a part of our family travel lore.
Maybe a history lesson to boot?
Heres a little secret: Often times, staying in historical buildings or neighbourhoods can actually be less expensive than choosing Hilton, Sheraton, or the like. In Beijing, we booked into a Hutong, which are the historic lane-way housing areas surrounding the Forbidden City. Our centuries-old courtyard hotel, (which cost less than US$50 per night), was steeped in the sort of history that you can’t touch in a stay in the big branded places. Moreover, it was just as close to the sites we wanted to visit as those other places.
Entryway to traditional Hutong courtyard residence.
Tidy, comfortable, and convenient in the historical Hutong.
Beijing Hutong courtyard.
Stays on houseboats, in decrepit castles, converted warehouses, old barns…. A trip becomes so much more than just a visit to tourist sites, you’re actually living history.
So, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone! It’s really in our nature to choose something we know, the familiar is where we find comfort. Sure, the easiest thing would be to go with the branded hotel chains. However, by taking a few extra minutes to explore all of your lodging options, you’ll add so much more to your overall travel experience, and family memories to last a lifetime.