Where Should You Stay?
Travel Style Dictates Choices
The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was.”
On the second-to-last night of my full-tilt trip through Patagonia, I gazed out at my version of the secret garden. Through the windows of my peaceful room at Bories House, an adobe hideaway on the outskirts of Puerto Natales, fallow fields glistened with late-winter rain. I had checked in just in time to see the sun set over the snowy slopes of Torres del Paine National Park. I got lost in that view as I snapped it again and again, knowing photos would never convey its lonely beauty. I set my alarm to try again the next morning at sunrise.
Later, sipping a glass of Chilean Malbec in the small dining room, I asked the owner (who spoke fluent English) if he had many American guests.
“No,” he replied. “Americans want big tourist hotels, not quiet guest houses like this.”
Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I don’t think so. What do the statistics say about the kind of accommodations Americans generally want? According to a 2013 Trip Advisor survey, the majority (70%) of the over 1,200 respondents said they would book hotels for their summer vacations.
Still, rentals are gaining popularity, especially among families and groups. Almost 30% said they would stay in the homes of family and friends and 20% said they would stay in vacation rentals. The percentage of people who planned to rent vacation homes in 2013 rose 3% over 2012, and 79% said they had previously booked vacation rentals with friends and family.
Based on the data about research and discounts, finding the best value for the money appears to motivate many of these respondents. Among those surveyed, over 50% said they considered 1-5 options before booking, and almost 80% said their decisions were motivated by discounts. But beyond these generalizations, it’s difficult to draw more specific conclusions.
I’m sure there are other, more extensive surveys that break it down. The fact is that from AirBnB to Flipkey, Home Away to Vacation Rentals by Owner, Couchsurfing to the distant-cousin network, camping to glamping, home exchange to B&Bs and countless search engines from Expedia to Hotels.com, travelers have more options for lodging than ever before. From caves to cottages, castles to condos, villas to log cabins, farmhouses to eco-lodges, yurts to trailers, houseboats to cruise ships, ranches to resorts, Airstreams to apartments, dorm rooms to luxury hotels, you can find almost any kind of escape you want with a quick internet search.
Here are a few tips to help you choose:
Decide what’s most important to you: location, size, convenience, price, kind of accommodation by asking yourself questions: How long do want to stay? How much space do you need? How much luxury do you want? How will the tastes and needs of your traveling companions affect your choice? Where are you willing (and unwilling) to compromise? Are you looking for a crash pad or a honeymoon suite?
Make sure to read at least 5-10 recent, verified reviews (like those on Expedia, which have been checked to make sure the source actually stayed in that property). Check to see what kind of traveler (solo, senior, family with older children, family with small children, honeymooner, etc.) left each review. Do their needs align with yours?
Note that a high score reflects an average, and the reviews might still reveal deal-breaking considerations. I was horrified to learn that one reviewer found bed bugs in a property I was considering in Paris that had an average rating of 4 on a scale of 5 . Similarly, I kept coming back to a flat listed on Booking.com in a coveted location in St. Germain des Pres. The only drawback was that every reviewer complained about the lack of elevator and narrow, steep staircase. When I searched Expedia, I found ground floor rooms in the same property at a slightly higher price.
Think about hidden fees and potential savings. For example, many apartments require you pay a cleaning charge no matter how long you stay. Are there cancellation fees? If you need wireless, you should choose a place that provides it free. If you have a car, you’ll need to know if there’s parking available and how much it will cost. If you don’t have a car, you’ll need to know how close the rental is to public transportation, and how safe the neighborhood is at night. Does the property offer a discount on bookings over 3 days? Can you earn rewards points (from your credit card or a travel rewards program) with this property?
Sometimes a few tweaks to an itinerary can save you money. Taking a red-eye flight or train is sometimes cheaper. It also saves you the cost of a room for one night. For a memorable night at an English manor or a lighthouse on the Irish Sea maybe it’s worth sleeping a few nights in transit.