The internet is littered with package deals and all inclusive holidays, but if you're anything like me, you'll probably decide that the best and most cost effective way to book a trip away is by doing the leg work yourself. By booking flights and accommodation separately, not only do you give yourself more choice, but quite often you can find much better deals than letting a travel agent do it for you.
By booking your own flights, you can choose whether you travel the fastest way or the cheapest way. You can choose your route and your airline and you give yourself the chance to find the best possible deal for you. The same goes with accommodation. You can decide what your budget is, you can decide what type or class of accommodation you stay in and you can choose the amenities that are important to you. For example, you may wish to stay in an apartment that has a pool, or a hotel that has a restaurant, or you may be travelling super budget, in which case you will not be catered for by travel agents.
Here are my top ten tips for finding the perfect accommodation for you and how to avoid extra charges!
1) Consider Budget Accommodation
This is a given for anybody who wants to travel on a tight budget and I am probably preaching to the converted here as I am about to tell you what every traveller will tell you. Check your options for cheap accommodation. Travelling does not have to be expensive, in fact, sometimes your accommodation doesn't have to cost you a penny.
House sitting is a good choice if you don't want to spend any money. It takes a bit of leg work getting yourself set up, and probably an upfront cost to join a website agency, but once you start getting accepted to look after people's homes and your positive reviews start coming in, the world really is your oyster!
Couchsurfing is yet another way of travelling for next to nothing. You won't be charged to sleep on someone's couch, but a gesture of good will can go a long way. Arrive with a small gift or cook dinner one evening and you will be rewarded. One of the best things about surfing people's couches (other than the fact it's free) is that you get to experience local life and spend time with people who know the area you are visiting like the back of their hand!
Camping might cost you a few pounds per night but it is also a cheap way of travelling. You can carry your tent and your ground sheet around with you, in some cases you can pitch up anywhere, or for a small charge you can stay at a bona fide camp site where you can get a decent shower and some electricity.
Homestay programmes are also very popular, particularly in SE Asia. For a nominal fee, you will get to experience living with a local family, sleeping how the sleep, washing how they wash, you will eat local food with them and play with their kids. In the most case, homestays will be in very traditional areas, in very traditional homes and can give you a true experience of how people live. Homestays will take you out of your comfort zone in the best possible way.
You must have been living in a small hole somewhere if you haven't heard of Airbnb yet! An alternative to hotels and agency apartments, Airbnb lets you rent people's various types of accommodations for a fee that is usually cheaper than a hotel. Airbnb accommodations often place you in some of the best parts of a city or area, with great transport connections and you get a flavour of local life. The choices are endless, you can rent a bed, a room in a house, or you can opt for a private space. The most fun thing about Airbnb is that you can choose to stay in some pretty darn cool places. It might be an RV, it could be a treehouse, a cabin on the side of a mountain, a bamboo hut, a boat or even a castle!
2) Opt for Mid-Range Accommodation
Well, considering how cheap (or free) my budget recommendations are, I have decided to put hostels in the mid-range bracket. Yes, in some places, you can get a bed in a large dorm room at a hostel for just a few pounds a night, and I agree, that would be budget. However, over the years, hostels in many parts of the world have become just as expensive as budget hotels. Europe, the USA and Australia are prime examples of this, especially if you're looking for a bed that is a little more private than in a room with 13 other people.
The reason that hostels have become less cost effective has something to do with the rise of budget hotels, but it is also due to the rise in quality of some of these places. I mean really, so many hostels these days are spotlessly clean, with modern bathrooms, huge kitchens, spacious communal areas which house the latest flat screen TV, hundreds of movies, the latest playstation, computer terminals, free wifi... the list goes on. It is no wonder they have to charge a little more. Having said that, hostels are still a great cheap option.
Budget hotels then... well the UK is a prime example of how you can get a fair amount for your pound. Not everybody in the UK is a fan of a Travelodge, but when it can be just as cheap to stay in one of their rooms as it is to stay in a hostel, who's complaining if the rooms are simple? I use them quite a lot when I have to travel within the UK for work. They're clean, the beds are comfortable, the rooms have a TV, coffee and tea making facilities and a decent shower. Most countries have their own version of a Travelodge, take Ibis and Novotel as examples. Even the Hilton group have their own budget range of hotels; look out for the Tru brand.
Apartments can also be the way forward if you're shopping around for mid-priced accommodation. You won't get room service every day, but you will have your privacy, sometimes at half the cost. You also have your own kitchen too, should you decide on a night in or you are trying to save money by not eating out every night. Another great advantage of choosing to stay in an apartment is that even a one bedroom apartment can sometimes house 4 or 5 people. Spread the cost and you've got yourself a very affordable holiday!
3) 4 or 5 Star Hotels for Less
Ok, sometimes you just need a little bit of luxury, I get that! I can personally tell you that if you are travelling anywhere in Asia, the cost of 5 star there is about the same as 3 star in Europe, sometimes less. I backpacked round the Philippines a few years ago and I spend my last few days there in what I would consider to be a luxury hotel. It was right on the beach, I had a massage in a silk covered tent by the sea as I watched the sunset, my room was big and very comfortable, the pool was to die for, it was exactly what I needed after staying in some questionable places and it cost me less than £15 a night and there was free wifi!
It is also worth paying a little more for the luxury in some places! China for example; if you want a room with a western style toilet, opt for 4 star or above!
If you are determined to stay in 4 or 5 star hotels wherever you are travelling to, you need to be aware of how to find the best deals. Make sure you cross check discount websites. If you dare, leave your booking to the very last minute; a hotel would rather have their rooms filled than empty and booking last minute can get you some great deals.
Always check sites that have 'secret hotel' deals like lastminute.com Expedia and Hotwire. Google search the description the site gives you and in most cases you can find out exactly which hotel you are booking (some sites have caught on to this so you may just have to risk it). Try priceline.com where you can bid for your hotel room, that way you'll only ever stay within your budget.
4) Compare Prices
Whatever your budget, whether you choose to stay at a cheap campsite or a 5 star hotel, always always compare your prices. Check at least 4 other websites and make sure that you really are getting the best possible deal. I usually find that booking.com has the best deals for hotels and hostel world for hostels, though booking.com does generally list hostels too. However, I always check Trivago afterwards as this site finds most if not all of the bookable options for your choice and their prices. The cheapest site is not always consistent, sometimes a hotel will be cheaper on hotels.com than it is on booking.com, so always cross check your sites!
5) Check with your accommodation directly
This tip goes for whatever type of accommodation you are looking for. Your hotel, hostel or apartment will probably be paying various websites a commission to sell their rooms and properties. If you cut out the middle man, you will be saving them money. Once you have found your perfect accommodation and the cheapest price, check their own website. If that's not cheaper, call them, tell them the best price you have found and where you found it and ask if they can do you a better deal. Nine times out of ten, they can!
6) Check your Options and Get What you Want
When you use search engine sites like Expedia and Trivago, you will be given a search tool with various options, like do you want a pool? Do you want a double room or a twin room, etc. Use this tool! There is nothing worse than hoping for a sea view room with a double bed and a private bathroom, then arriving to find you have been given a twin room on the ground floor on a courtyard. Be specific about what the amenities you want your room to have and make sure that you get exactly what you want. If you are in any doubt at all, email the hotel or accommodation directly and ask the question!
7) Loyalty Schemes
Sign up to loyalty schemes when you book a room, you never know when you might need it. Not only can you bank points which will get you discounts or free stuff in the future, but you will be emailed all of their best offers and you can use your loyalty card if you are hoping for an upgrade too. Like I said before, no hotel wants a room empty, if you arrive and they look quiet, flash your loyalty card and ask if they have any sea view rooms available, or ask if you can upgrade to a suite for a discount. If you don't ask, you don't get, and being a loyalty card owner will win you favours!
8) Stay in Business Hotels at Weekends
Business hotels can be a little clinical, but they are often in prime locations and quite luxurious. Many of them will have a health suite for example and free wifi. Why should you consider them for weekend breaks? Well their business customers travel Monday to Friday, leaving their big hotel close to empty at the weekends. Many business hotels will sell their rooms at a hugely reduced price at the weekends, just to fill them so they are always worth considering, particularly if your weekend break is in a big city in Europe. Think Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin, New York, anywhere that has a financial district, they will all have hotels that cater to business travellers!
9) Watch Out for Extra Charges When you Book
Always read the small print before you book your accommodation. Some cities charge a tax on top of your room fee which is payable on arrival, making your room more expensive than you thought. Some charge booking fees, some charge deposits, cancellation fees, non refundable rooms... these little things are sent to test us, and so many of us get caught out on the small print! All websites should inform you of any extra charges before you book, but they'll often be hidden in a contract or terms and conditions. Make sure you know exactly what you are paying before you click 'book'!
10) Know How to Get to Your Hotel
Most of us, when we book accommodation, are looking to spend some time in a foreign country. A lot of the time, this means a country where they speak a foreign language! It could be Spanish, French or German, which is reasonable easy to decipher when you need to, or it could be Japan, China or even Turkey or Greece, countries that use a completely different alphabet and a language that is barely recognisable when written down.
Don't get caught out if you leave to explore for the day, don't get lost! My tip here is to take a business card for your accommodation, which will have the address of your hotel or hostel on it in their local language, an address that any taxi driver should know! If you are staying in an apartment, ask the owner or the agency to send you the address in the local language before you go. Believe me, if you get lost in Beijing, you're tired, hungry and you can't speak Mandarin, this little piece of paper will be your saving grace!
The Dalyan exposé will run for 3 weeks in May and will include a lot of exciting articles every day and videos on our YouTube channel with interesting interviews with business owners and those who work in tourism in Turkey. We'll also be tackling safety issues and what terrorism means for Turkey and the beautiful riverside town of Dalyan.