One of the major aspects in any holiday planning is your stay. It can leave you with some memorable memories if the accommodation is good; and can dampen the entire experience if the stay is not up to the mark. That makes choosing the right accommodation very crucial. Since it depends on many factors, I decided to dedicate an entire post on this topic.
There are 4 steps in booking an accommodation:
- Deciding on the area where you want to stay.
- Type of accommodation
- Booking the accommodation
- Things to do after booking your stay
Lets look at these one by one.
Area where you want to stay
The choice of area usually depends on the following factors:
- Proximity to the activities/ attractions you want to visit
- Restaurants in the area
- Facility in the area – supermarket/ pharmacy/ car-rentals etc.
- Connectivity of the area – availability of taxi/ metro/ buses
- Comfort/ activities/ in-house facilities that you expect at the accommodation
- Last but not the least, your budget.
Proximity to the activities/ attractions you want to visit: Go to TripAdvisor’s things to do in the city you are visiting and briefly research on best things to do. This is only to know which area they are in so you can get an idea how far you will be staying. Its not a great idea to travel for 2-3 hrs everyday to reach your destination. If the attractions are widely scattered, you may want to stay for a few days in one area and then in another area. We did this in Bali. Bali is known for its temple architecture and also for beaches. We figured that on the days we visited the temples, we would hardly have time for beach. Also, the area where beaches were good was far from temples and was expensive. So we stayed in west Bali for first 3 days and then moved to a better resort with private beach for the last 3 days. Do searches like “best area to stay in Bali”, “different areas in Bali and what they have to offer”. Tripadvisor forums come in very handy for such queries.
Restaurants in the area: Since my husband is a vegetarian, restaurants around the area is a big factor for us. Packages including breakfast are preferable because that makes sure we have enough choices in veg/ non-veg/ fruits and the start is healthy. Find out which area has the biggest concentration of kind of restaurants you will be dining in. For vegetarians, Indian and Italian cuisine are the best bet. You can be assured that an Indian restaurant will have some vegetarian in their menu or even if they do not, they can make something veg on order. In Italian, Pizzas and pastas usually come with veg options. We usually look for Indian restaurants if possible and decide on the area to stay accordingly. Eg. in Singapore there is an area called Little India which is full of Indian restaurants. One of the reasons we chose Parkroyal hotel was because of restaurants.
Facility in the area – supermarket/ pharmacy/ car-rentals etc.:This is especially important if you are opting or a vacation rental. Having supermarket close-by means you have easy access to packaged drinking water, juices, snacks and over-the-counter medicines. If you plan to hire a car/ bike, its best to hire from a place close to your accommodation so you can return it comfortably.
Connectivity of the area – availability of taxi/ metro/ buses: You do not want to be in a secluded area unless you plan to have your own mode of transport. In places like Bali, Mauritius, Seychelles many people get a car/ bike rental. If you have a car/ bike at your disposal; this factor will not matter to you. Otherwise, make sure you are close to public transport/ areas where you can find taxi. Do a quick search on “best mode of transport for tourists in Singapore” kind of search. In places like Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai; its best to stay close to a metro station because that’s the preferred, cheapest and easiest way to travel.
Budget: Area also depends on your budget. For eg. Little India area in Singapore is one of the most reasonable areas. Do a quick search on “where to stay in Bangkok on budget” kind of search before deciding on the areas. Note that some countries could have red-light areas and such areas could be cheaper too. Read reviews of hotels in such areas before deciding on them.
Comfort/ activities/ in-house facilities that you expect at the accommodation: While we are not fussy about the type of accommodation and do not splurge much on stay, we prefer to have 2-3 days of luxury if its affordable. If we are on a beach holiday, we prefer to stay near the beach or have a hotel that has private beach. Also, since we travel with our kid, having kiddo activities in the hotel makes it easier for us if we want to relax at the hotel itself. Shortlist the facilities you think you definitely need in the accommodation.
Type of accommodation
Apart from hotels, there is also a choice of holiday homes these days. They are called self-catering apartments, self-catering villas, rental apartments, vacation rentals, rental villas, self-service apartments etc. These are houses that individual rent out. Some rent out entire house and some rent a room in the house. If the entire house is rented, you have your own kitchen etc. If a room is rented, you may have a private/ shared bathroom, usually a shared kitchen and shared terrace/ balcony. In shared accommodations, sometimes owner stays in the same house.
Some countries however, do not allow vacation rentals for short stays. For eg. Singapore official URA Housing rules states that it is illegal to rent a private apartment for less than 6 months. Make sure you research on internet if booking private rentals are legal in the country you are visiting. Also, ask your host to send you complete address, phone number and an invite letter for immigration purposes.
Each accommodation has its own pros and cons.
- give you privacy; you can do without interacting with anyone.
- usually have in-house restaurants
- come with various amenities
- have all-inclusive packages and help you in planning your itinerary
- you need not worry about house cleaning etc.
- are usually much bigger in size
- have a kitchen, balcony, terrace depending on the vacation rental you book
- mostly do not have breakfast included
- offers you a chance to interact with locals. You need to buy things from locals, need to find out about activities on your own
- may not offer housekeeping services everyday, you are required to maintain some level of cleanliness yourself
- may have some rules too; which are usually clearly mentioned in the rental listings
Hotel or holiday rental?
Travelling in big group:
If you have a bigger group like you are travelling with friends/ extended family; holiday rentals work best because you can all be together in one place. You have a living room where you can play games/ watch TV/ socialize and spend time together; instead of cramping in one hotel room and worrying about kids sleeping in the other room.
Vacation rentals are very popular and well set in some destinations. For eg. in France/ Spain/ Portugal/ Singapore/ Seychelles, hotels can be very expensive. The rooms offered in hotels are extremely small and usually do not come with breakfast packages. In such cases, holiday rentals usually fit in one’s budget.
Purpose of visit:
If you are on your honeymoon, you may want to opt for a hotel. Honeymoon is one time when you want complete relaxation and spend as much time with your spouse as you can. Hotels have all-inclusive package/ in-house dining which makes it very convenient.
Travelling with a kid, especially an infant can be totally different experience. They do not have fixed times to eat, can get cranky when overwhelmed and can be very difficult when exhausted. You need to make sure you have access to kitchen even late in the night. Before our kiddo turned 2, we always booked one of the best hotels available at destination. When we travelled for his first birthday to Bhutan, we booked a package at Taj Tashi. This ensured that we could get milk any time of the day, and get food made on request whenever we wanted. Five stars are also very accommodating and they pampered our little one to a great extent. Right from mashed fruits to khichri with grated veggies to milk anytime of the day; all our requirements were met. However, 5 stars may not always be affordable. In such cases, self-catering apartments should be preferred where you can take care of kid’s needs. Though our son is going to be 6 in a few days, he still prefers we book holiday rentals because he can get his favourite khichri 🙂
Booking the accommodation
Once you have decided on the area and type of accommodation you prefer, start looking for properties. Check for hotels on TripAdvisor/ booking.com etc. You can also open the area on Google Maps and looks for hotels nearby with their “Nearby” feature.
Read the reviews online for hotels/ vacation rentals in your budget. Look at the reviews to know more about the property, owner/ staff etc. If you are travelling with family, check for reviews by families. If you have any special requirement like having an elevator/ accessible toilets, extra beds/ cots etc; check if they are available. Since vacation rentals are by individuals and there is no background check done; we do not go with ones which do not have any reviews.
Our preferred sites for reviews/ booking are:
For holiday rentals:
- airbnb.com (Looking for a referral on airbnb to save Rs.1000? Use this link to signup: www.airbnb.co.in/c/psinha38 )
- tripadvisor rentals
- booking.com (also has listing of suites/ vacation rentals)
- tripadvisor.com for reviews/ rankings
- cleartrip.com (they have good listing for domestic hotels in India)
Things to check before booking:
- For any hotel/ vacation rental; also check if they have their own website. “Le Hibiscus Seychelles apartment” type of search should let you know if they have a website. Check the details/ rates on the website also; and check for their offers too.
- Check the rates on various websites before booking. Check for any hidden/ additional charges (some like agoda, MMT do not include taxes with the room rates. Go till the end to see if there are any charges mentioned as “to be paid at the property”). Do check out online deals before booking the hotels. Also, if you have time in hand, wait for festivals. Makemytrip, yatra, cleartrip, travelguru etc have deals during festivals. Don’t be too greedy though. If you wait too long and a better deal, you may not get any deal.
- If you have specific question that you think only a guest can answer, write a private message to the reviewer on tripadvisor.com. In my experience, reviewers are generally very helpful and reply back. Do not bother them with general questions though, that could be annoying for the reviewer.
- When travelling with young kids, figure out the hotel policy with respect to kids. Some hotels require kids above 3 yrs to have a separate bed; while some are okay with kids up to 12 yrs of age sharing bed with their parents. Some have to pay extra for breakfast for kids above 5 yrs of age. Usually the rules are mentioned in the booking websites, but if there is any discrepancy in 2 sites; also look at the hotel’s website. You can get the vacation rental’s/ hotel’s contact address from the website and also write to the hotel for clarifications. A sample mail could be like:
We are visiting Bali from 8th-14th May and would like to stay 2 nights at Mara River Safari Lodge. I had a few queries before booking:
* What is your child policy? We are travelling with our 5 yr old and wanted to know if we need to pay for extra bed.
*The schedule link on your website is not working. Can you send me details of the shows with timing/ days? Also, the timing for safari/ Bali Agung show?
*What is your check-in and check-out time?
*I also need to know the price for funzone entrance (since it is not included in the 1 night package).
*We are vegetarians so wanted to know the options we have for a-la-carte meal at Tsavo Lion Restaurant. Can you send me a menu card?
*Let me know if you have some promotions going on for that period (I see that the current 2 night package promotion is only for March). Also, what activities are included for in-house guests (complimentary as well as paid)?
Once you have got all your doubts clarified, go ahead with the booking.
Things to do after you have made your booking
Its always a good idea to write to the hotel/ vacation rental after you have made the booking. Send the hotel voucher(s) in the mail. If they don’t reply, call them. With huge discount deals online, there is a small chance hotel may not honour them. Apart from confirming your reservation, you can also mention requests if you have any. A sample mail could be:
We are travelling to Singapore in September and have booked a Superior room at your hotel (Park Royal at Kitchener Road). The booking voucher is attached with this email. Our 5 yr old kid would be sharing the room with us. Please let us know the inclusions for this category of room.
We also have few requests:
*We prefer a non-smoking room on one of the top floors with a nice view 🙂
*Our flight lands in Singapore at around 9am. Please let me know if you would be able to accommodate an early check-in.
*My husband is a vegetarian and it would help if you could send us your restaurant(s) menu so we have an idea about the vegetarian food you serve.
*We are in Singapore for our anniversary. I hope you would make our day special in your own way and make the day and trip memorable for us!
Looking forward to a memorable holiday with Park Royal!
The last point I have included is about the special occasion. Many hotels have freebies for their guests on their honeymoon/ anniversary/ birthday etc. To give you an idea, what we have received:
- Special decorations in all hotels where we stayed during our honeymoon (in Maldives and Srilanka). Fruit basket etc at some hotels.
- Royal pampering at Taj Tashi, Bhutan for kiddo’s 1st birthday (a small birthday party, loads and loads of chocolate/ cookies/ desserts/ balloons kind of freebies through the day kept as surprise in the room, upgrade to their best suite, special prayer organised for kiddo, made-to-size Bhutanese dress for kiddo as his birthday gift from the hotel). This was all complimentary. Not to mention the wonderful memories we cherish of that holiday.
- Complimentary cake and room decoration for kiddo’s birthdays when we stayed in hotels. Freebies like fruit basket, cookies, cakes etc on our birthdays/ anniversaries.
Some hotels may not have any complimentary offers, but will charge you for arranging something special. Do find out about them and see if you want anything to be done. Some of the hotels have gone above our expectations when doing such arrangements. No harm in checking out 😉