The Balancing Act of Booking Hotels

You’re an independent traveler and a capable online researcher, and you don’t need a travel agency to choose where you’re going to stay on your much-anticipated, desperately needed vacation….right?!? So am I, and I know how simple booking a hotel initially seems. But when it comes time to book where to stay – a rather critical element of your life, er, trip – it is not quite *that* simple. Having just booked the final hotel room of our upcoming trip, I’m reflecting on the delicate balancing of factors used in my own hotel search, and decided to translate this thought-scale into words. Below, I have listed and described the factors I use in considering hotels, including a couple of “real life” examples from my travels.

Location, location, location!  For city travel, I almost always choose the neighborhood in which we want to stay first, and run with it from there. To choose the neighborhood, I break the analysis down into a few more pieces, including proximity to major attractions, convenience of public transportation, and pedestrian-friendliness (including nearby food and watering hole options).

  • Proximity to Major Attractions: To me, this is a relatively simple factor.  You probably have sightseeing priorities, so if you can stay in a location convenient to (hopefully more than) one of those priorities, then definitely consider it. This is especially true if your time is limited; knocking out the Eiffel Tower, the Orsay and the Louvre in a day will be difficult to accomplish if you’re staying by the airport. It has also been a major factor in booking our Southwest trip, with stops lacking nearby major cities. We’ve chosen lodging in towns as close to the day’s park trips as is practical – why waste time driving when you could better use that time hiking to the Delicate Arch?
  • Access to Public Transportation: In large cities with reliable subway systems (Paris, NYC, Munich, London, etc), staying close to a station is quite important. I choose walking or public transportation whenever possible. Even with a station close by, city travel will quickly tire your feet, so shaving off a couple of blocks of footsteps will keep your soles from protesting too soon. Such proximity can also easily get you back to the airport, or to a central train station. Where the subway is not the easiest mode of transportation (I’m thinking of Rome’s subway as an example), you’ll think more about foot, bus, or taxi access. And if you have an extended stay in one city, or if you simply prefer to taxi around regardless, this factor may weigh much less on your own balance.
  • Pedestrian-friendliness: After a day of sightseeing, and then catching your breath back at your hotel, is the neighborhood friendly for dining out, and perhaps an evening drink? This is the spot reserved for considering that fantastic, walkable neighborhood that you’ve heard about, with its fantastic restaurants and wine bars all in one, compact area. Or maybe you’re like me, and would at least *consider* choosing a neighborhood simply because of the amazing brewery that it contains. There are a myriad of factors to consider, including safety, traffic congestion, etc., and then 20 more driven by personal preference. Entertain these thoughts, as well.

What’s the price, silly?  Unfortunately, most of us won’t be staying in five-star accommodations on our trips. Price ties into every other factor listed here, too. Typically, I view my hotel as a place for necessary snoozing and hygiene, and not much more than that. I’m looking for clean and reasonably priced for the chosen locale, and then for the best-reviewed, cheapest hotel deal from there. That’s not to say I haven’t wavered +~$20 a few times for a view (hello, Alhambra and Eiffel Tower at night!), but for a city sightseeing trip, I generally keep it practical. If you’re staying someplace of natural beauty (I miss you, Amalfi Coast), and have time to enjoy it, then consider spending more to bring that beauty into your room.

Speaking of reviews: You must check them out, even if it means filtering out those super-irrational, rambling folks with incredible hatred for their hotel. Look for trends! If five of the last eight reviewers felt it was unclean, well, it’s probably true. If there’s one rambler out of 20, you might attribute it to the rambler’s jet lag rather than reality. My point? Our access to travelers’ reviews provides fabulous transparency to our hotel options, albeit with the occasional reminder that reviews are, in fact, written by humans.

Airports & Tired Travelers:  I’ll provide a real life example that just happened a couple of hours ago. We had one night left to book for our Southwest trip:  Phoenix, our last stop, and launching pad of the dreaded flight home. I tried to go by my location first mentality – we want to stay someplace that screams, “Phoenix!” and is pedestrian friendly!  I searched online until my eyes glazed; folks on the forums were not enthused with the idea of there being that one great place to stay in PHX. I phoned a friend in PHX, and she confirmed that it’s not really a pedestrian’s town (so our rental car will come in handy). My priorities shifted; with just one evening in Phoenix and a morning car drop-off/flight home to follow, we’re staying in Tempe, which is near the airport. It also did not seem too close to the airport, with absolutely nothing to do but chain restaurants. With a college campus in its limits, we’ll still have some restaurant and nightlife options. For trips like this, with busy agendas, never forget to consider your tired traveler card, because you’re most definitely going to have one. That’s what happened with Phoenix.

Does it have to be a hotel? Nope. I always compare with Airbnb and VRBO options. Since we booked Denver during a major event, hotels that were convenient to the event were $250+ per night. Hence, my first Airbnb booking, with a much more reasonable price and situated within a mile of the event. And for longer stays, many of these options offer weekly or even monthly rates.  So check ’em out, too.

Now, wasn’t that simple? It’s definitely not, if you’re as worried about choosing the perfect resting spot as I am. Every traveler must throw their own priorities and preferences onto the scale, too, further complicating matters. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of your own priorities and can balance them accordingly; it might be painful, but it’s for your vacation!  All I can say is good luck, and happy travels!

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