Looking at potential lodging places has become quite the past time of mine in the last several months and I’ve developed quite the system to make sure we end up at a place that truly feels like home away from home. Everyone has a different list of what makes “the perfect” place, but this is my systematic approach to finding a great fit for us, no matter the city or country.
- Start with search engines. My favorites are TripAdvisor and Agoda. Agoda’s app is more user friendly and easier to see the pictures while TripAdvisor’s picture viewing is buggy and slow. However, TripAdvisor tends to have more comprehensive reviews which is incredibly valuable. So, I usually have Agoda app on my phone open and TripAdvisor on the computer open at the same time to compare once I’ve found a few. Some destinations are so small you won’t need to research neighborhoods, but searching for neighborhoods that include what you’re looking for is huge. You don’t want to be taking transportation every time you leave the hotel/B&B/guesthouse. For us, we look at the neighborhoods on google maps that have vegan/vegetarian restaurant clusters, sights we want to see, or a nearby yoga studio and then coordinate those areas with Agoda/TripAdvisor. We do use AirBnb/HomeAway/VRBO in the United States with a similar neighborhood system. We have stayed at AirBnBs in Asia, but we like trying local food for lunch/dinner so save money by staying at a place that provides breakfast. In general we’ve found hotels and guesthouses to be the same price as AirBnBs in Asia with higher standards, easier checking in (important after long travel days), and some with pool and workout areas.
- Once you have the area narrowed down, start getting a feel for average prices. In Bali, it was easy to find quality places for ~$25-35/night while in Singapore you’re looking at ~$100. You likely have a budget ahead of time, so stick to that immediately in your search (so you’re not tempted to get something in a higher range – because we all know the luxury places can be beautiful!). Also, know that sometimes you will spend a little more, and sometimes less. We found most of our accommodations in SE Asia for average of ~$60/night and they all have been very comfortable digs.
- Read reviews. After reading countless reviews, I’ve learned to throw out the outliers. For example, there will always be someone who has a rotten experience and turns everything during their stay into something negative. Yet, if the review contains realistic pros and cons, it’s worth considering. This is also where Agoda is helpful – start your search with a rating. We found 8.0 or 8.5 or higher to be outstanding stays and helps narrow down the playing field. Read reviews for key words that interest you (breakfast, WiFi, fitness facilities, transportation, clean, spacious, modern, great location, etc).
- Once you’re ready to book, don’t be afraid to book for a few nights and then extend once you’re there if you really enjoy the place and have open travel plans. We’ve done this several times and it helps if you’re feeling the need to chill, work off a bout of food poisoning, or just really like your digs (all happened to us). Usually, in SE Asia the hotel will give you a discounted rate when you extend directly and it’s generally unlikely they are completely booked.
- Provide variance in your lodging. We’ve stayed at inexpensive value guesthouses that don’t have much more than hot water and a clean bedroom but then follow it with a more ‘luxurious’ place. This helps to appreciate the amenities in the higher range while saving some money at other places in between. In the more value based places, we’ve found they are smaller and cozy, often family run and staff/guests are more conversational. There’s also this understood consideration for guests and an unmistakable amount of customer service and pride in the smaller places. Meanwhile, at larger hotels people tend to keep to themselves if you’re looking for privacy and you do have more amenities, which can be refreshing after ‘rough and tumble’ experiences.
Wherever you end up, enjoy it! You’re meant to be there and it’s likely only for a few days, so try to soak it up.