Don't let hotels kick your vacations butt
These days I’m booking hotels non-stop. Really. About 10-15 hours a week are dedicated to looking at accommodations for our hosted adventures, travel design clients, upcoming research trips, my own vacations, etc. I’m always looking for the right pocket of the city to stay in, finding ‘gem’ hotels in my budget by looking at blogs, travel sites and guest reviews, corresponding back/forth with hotels to find availability, and then making final reservations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy with my gig these days, but it is work
But along this journey I’ve made a few hotel mistakes, been rescued by some ‘phew’ moments and unfortunately learned from mistakes made by others. Here are my go-to questions you should ask a hotel or other accommodation before you finalize your reservation, and a few tips to ensure you have an enjoyable stay!
When you email your hotel to reconfirm your reservation (about a week in advance of your arrival) ask the hotel to provide step-by-step directions for getting from your point of arrival to the hotel. This is very important if you plan to take public transportation. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional details if the initial response seems vague. Every location will be different, but the ideal directions are along the lines of, “when you leave the main train station look for bus 29. It arrives just outside the main train station entrance every hour on the hour. Get on this bus in the direction of XYZ and get off on the third stop, named XYZ. Buy a ticket from the kiosk near the bus terminal for 1.30 Euros and be sure to validate the ticket as soon as you get on the bus.” The last thing you want when you start your vacation is to experience the frustration of getting lost because you’re confused and jet-lagged at the same time.
Hotel rooms are often marketed as having a ‘double bed’ when in reality it is two twin beds pushed together, each with their own set of twin sheets. While common in Europe it is difficult for Americans to adjust to this bed formation. Before you know it you have a crevasse between you and your partner, or worse, someone has fallen through the crack! Ask for photos of the room in advance or inquire if the double bed is made up of two twin beds or is one full bed.
If wifi is important for you to have on your travels, to FaceTime/Skype with family back home, or to research your travel plans, then be sure to confirm with the hotel that the hotel has wifi and more specifically if the wifi is reliable in the guest rooms or just the common areas.
Pride of place is a truism no matter where you go. People want to show off their home city and make visitors feel welcome, comfortable and leave with a positive impression. To that end, talk to your hotel or AirB&B host if you have special interests. If you are a foodie they might be able to recommend restaurants, cooking classes, etc and even make reservations for you. If you like live music they can recommend concert venues, public concerts, local musicians, etc. Assume they are willing to help. Hotels can often book tickets to museums, plays or other events at no additional charge. I often ask hotels if there are any ‘must-see’s’ in their city that require advanced purchase of tickets or passes.
Not a night owl?
If you enjoy quiet evenings at your hotel, or generally go to bed before 9PM and like things quiet, ask your hotel about the noise level around their hotel. They might say “it’s quiet” but subtle ways to push back are to ask if there are bars/nightclubs within 1-2 blocks, if the hotel is on the same street as a city bus/metro route or if they have rooms off the main street. And look for comments on TripAdvisor or AirB&B reviews that speak to neighborhood noise.
Access to public transportation
“How close is your hotel to the main public transportation line?” It’s an easy question to ask, but if you don’t and you have to walk a mile to/from the subway line, or take a $20 cab ride two times a day you could have a sour start to your vacation. In most major cities in Europe a subway, light rail or bus system is pretty comprehensive so you don’t necessarily need to spend a premium to be in the heart of the city. So long as you are a reasonable walking distance away from a main transportation line you’ll be just fine.
Cash is king
Many hotels prefer to receive cash payments over credit and will often give a discount for customers that settle up with cash. Ask your hotel in advance if they offer cash discounts. 3% to 5% off each night can really add up over the course of your vacation! If you know you can pay cash up front let the hotel know and try to negotiate. If your traveling alone ask for a discount. If you are staying more than three nights ask for an extended stay discount. If you don’t eat breakfast ask to have the breakfast surcharge removed from the nightly rate. Just be sure to get a receipt for your cash payment.
Even if you’re staying at a hotel a friend-of-a-friend stayed in and “loved!” you should still read reviews online so you know what you’re getting into. The person who “loved” the hotel might love it for a reason that you hate. For example, they might have “loved” the hotel because of its proximity to the best night clubs and you prefer to fall asleep by 10PM with a book by your side. Just Google “reviews of XYZ” to see what others have to say, but know that everyone has their preferences and those that complain talk the loudest, so within reason take reviews with a grain of salt.
What other hotel tips do you have? Any nightmare stories the rest of us can learn from? Share your stories in the comment section below or contact me.