The first step to any successful travel planning is to understand the reason why you want to travel. Are you traveling for the love of exploring new places or are you traveling to immerse yourself in a new culture? Are you traveling to escape from the pressure of day to day life? Or, are you traveling simply because you need to relax and be in the present?
The reason you need to ask this question is because everything about your travel – the destination you choose, the place you stay, the length of your travel, the budget you are willing to spend – will depend on the very answer to this single question. For the sake of this post, let’s understand how the reason why you travel should impact the kind of place you choose to stay. Let’s say you are traveling to relax and rejuvenate yourself. In that case, most of the time spent during your travel would be in or near the place you stay. Would you then think about staying in a hostel amidst the chaos of backpackers, in cramped up spaces? No, right? You would rather stay in a resort, where you can stretch yourself beside a pool, with a drink in one hand a book in the other. But let’s say your sole purpose of traveling is to immerse in the local culture and to explore as much as you can. In that case, you wouldn’t want to stay at the typical ‘touristy’ spots where all you can see are tourists, not the locals, or in a faraway resort that is shut off from the rest of the world. Also, in such cases, the only reason you would need a place to stay is, to store your luggage, crash, shower and perhaps also to get your visa approved. You might then be better off staying at a much cheaper place in an area where the locals stay, possibly in an Airbnb apartment or you could couch surf.
Choosing the right type of accommodation that suits your travel needs would help cut costs to a great extent. I’m going to list out a few tips on how to choose the right accommodation for a budget trip. These tips are universal irrespective of the reason why you want to travel so long as you’re looking to cut costs on your trip.
Ditch the hotel and stay in a hostel/an Airbnb apartment or Couch surf: Not only do I find hotels more expensive than hostels/Airbnb/couch surfing, I also personally feel, hotels of the same or a slightly higher price range are a tad on the unhygienic and unclean side when compared to Airbnb apartments. Airbnb apartments are considerably cheap and staying in one feels like staying at home. Plus, the hosts can be extremely helpful. When traveling to Edinburgh, my host was kind enough to lend me her jacket when she realized I hadn’t come prepared to face the harsh cold climate of Scotland’s Highlands. Another time in Pisa, we had a lovely conversation with our host about the French culture (our host happened to be from France) and how it was in stark contrast with the German culture (her boyfriend was from Germany). Such interesting turn of events happen only in an Airbnb apartment or at hostels or when you couch surf. Hostels are a good choice when you don’t really care about anything except for a storage space and a place to crash. At Adelaide, my friend and I happened to stay in a private twin room in a hostel and we had a wonderful experience. Couchsurfing is ideal when you love spending time with people and you want to get to know the locals and their culture on a deeper level. Airbnb, on the other hand, gives you a choice. You either just stay and leave or you can choose to interact with the hosts and get to know a city on a deeper level.
Never overlook the possibility of finding a decent hotel at a cheap rate: I understand that this is in direct contradiction to my previous point. However, there are times when you could be lucky to get an accommodation in one the popular budget hotels chains – Ibis, Mercure, Novotel, etc. – for a price lesser than the Airbnb accommodations. So, ensure you check all possibilities – Airbnb/Hostels and Hotels – before booking your stay.
Choose a place which is a little away (but not too far) from the city centre but it still well connected to the city centre by public transport: The places near the tourist spots (usually the city centre) are far more expensive than those with a similar offering away from the city centre. When visiting Berlin, my husband and I found a spacious Airbnb apartment (the whole house) for a very cheap rate of just 40 USD (Rs. 2500) per night. The apartment was an hour from the city centre, located in the suburbs, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the tourists. It was very spacious and we loved the apartment. It doesn’t really matter if your place is an hour away from the city centre. It’s very unlikely that you would keep coming back to your room during the course of the day. You would make two trips at most, one in the morning and one in the evening, from and to your room and a nice long drive is worth it if it ends up costing you much less. But just ensure you have good connectivity by public transport to and from the city centre.
Be wary of very low prices: I’ve seen Airbnb rooms that are as cheap as 15 USD (Rs. 1000) per night. While, it may be exciting to save up by booking a very cheap accommodation, you may end up regretting the decision. After all, it is the very place you would want to stretch your feet and relax after a tiring day of running around. And you wouldn’t want to return to an unclean and cramped up space in a poor and unsafe locality just because you wanted to save a few extra cash. My average spend per day on accommodation is around. 45 USD (Rs. 3000). If the price is too less – be wary of the quality and if it’s too high – it’s just not worth it. My husband and I were unfortunate to stay in such a place during our trip to Milan. We were on a frugal spree and we found a very cheap Airbnb apartment a little away from the city for a dirt-cheap price of just around 25 USD (Rs. 1500) per night. Never have we more regretted our decision. The space we were given was separated from the main area by just a curtain. There was no privacy, we had no place to walk and the shared bathroom was unclean. We were glad that we had to spend only a night in the room.
Give the new guys a chance: The number of reviews a room has in Airbnb is one major factor I consider before booking a room. The more the better. My assumption is that more people stay in a place because it is great. This is true. It also means the prices of such places are going to be higher than those with similar offerings which are new. So, don’t always go by the number of reviews a property has (like I do most of the times). While it is a good indicator of the quality of the place, it doesn’t mean that the rooms with lesser reviews are any bad. In all likelihood, they may even be better since they might try to do all they can in their power to keep their customers happy.
Be patient. Don’t always choose the first good one you come across: Search, Compare and Search Again should be your mantra when you book an accommodation, or rather anything for that matter. Do not always book the very first room that google search throws up or the very first room that comes up on your Airbnb search. Bookmark all those places you like and take an informed decision before you book your room. In most cases, the cancellation policy of Airbnb apartment is strict, which means you cannot go back on your decision. So, think twice before you finalize the place you want to stay and then book.
A few other points to consider before you book an accommodation –
- Always ensure the check in and check out timings are suitable. When my husband and I travelled to Paris, we reached our accommodation ten minutes after the check in time and we ended up having to pay a little extra. If you will arrive at a time that does not fall in to the check in time range, make sure you inform the hosts prior to your booking and request if it is possible to extend the check in time.
- Read the reviews carefully before booking an accommodation. The good thing about Airbnb reviews is that only those who have stayed in the room, can give reviews/feedback about the room which means there are no possibilities of falsified reviews unlike a majority of other hotel aggregator websites.
- Ensure that you choose an accommodation in a safe locality. If you pick a room in a shady locality to save on your costs, you will have to ensure you return to your room much early than you would have, had you booked your room in a safe and friendly neighbourhood.
- Make sure your room is well connected to the airport, especially if you land late at night or if you have an early morning flight. It makes it easier for you to commute.
- Make sure you have an internet connection in your room. Most of the times, we assume that Wi-Fi is a given. But apparently that’s not the case everywhere.