Location, Location, Location
I start by choosing my neighborhood. This is obviously easier when you have been to the city before but there are still easy ways to find a good location if you are unfamiliar with a city.
- Start by looking at a map of the city and the main things you want to visit while you are there – you want to be within walking distance of as many things as possible and will often save money even if those neighborhoods are a little more expensive to stay in because you won’t be paying any taxi, uber, or public transportation costs once you get there – you also won’t have the headache of trying to figure out a city’s transportation system if you don’t speak their language.
- Read reviews, travel blogs, email friends you know have been to the city…do some form of homework to get recommendations. I can’t over-stress how important it is to choose a good location – it makes or breaks the trip. Many times I choose where I want to stay based on what I’m hoping to get out of the trip. For example: in Paris if I want to check out great local restaurants, see Musee d’Orsay (my favorite Paris museum), experience nightlife, and be within walking distance to major sites like Notre Dame, it’s tough to beat St. Germain. If my main goal for the trip was high-end shopping and seeing sites like the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, going to the Opera, eating at upscale restaurants, I would stay in the 1st or 8th arrondissements. If you have a loose itinerary for your trip, it makes choosing your location much easier. When in doubt – choose what is most central in the city in your price range with the best reviews.
In Europe we exclusively stay at Airbnbs. You get a completely different feel of a city when you stay in an apartment vs a hotel and it has a way of making you feel like a local instantly. I’ve been to Paris on 7 different trips and I’ve stayed in hostels, upscale hotels, discount chain hotels, boutique hotels and Airbnbs. In my opinion, there’s really no reason to stay in anything other than Airbnb unless you really want access to a concierge and room service. With an Airbnb you can choose the exact location you want, it’s often more affordable than hotels, you can choose the size of place you want and have multiple people/couples/families stay together and split the cost, you have access to a kitchen and living room, and somehow the city just feels more like it is yours.
That being said, a bad Airbnb can really ruin your stay. So on Airbnb, I take my time choosing a spot and it’s all about the filters (to be sure I get things I absolutely need and eliminate things that are dealbreakers) and the reviews. I never take chances on new hosts or anyone with mediocre reviews. Even when you find good deals on flights, you’re still spending hard-earned money on the trip and want to have a great experience when you get there. I personally prefer to have the entire house to myself (vs a private room in someone’s house) but its really nice to have both options for different budget levels – just be sure you read carefully and know what you are getting when you book. Be sure to ask the host any questions you are unsure of from the listing before you book – airbnb hosts are usually great to work with!
In the U.S. we go back and forth between hotels, Airbnbs, and VRBOs. It depends on the trip, where we’re going and what we’re doing. Extended family trip? VRBO or Airbnb for a big house. A week in New York City? Airbnb so we have a little more space and can feel like we have our own place and neighborhood. Couples getaway to a resort or staying in a city with more sprawl? Hotel.
Loyalty reigns in maximizing rewards so for hotels we always book with hotels.com. You get a free night for every 10 nights you book through them and can often get rebates through ebates or ibotta on your stay. If you are a member of a hotel loyalty program, definitely stay true to that brand – status is a great thing to have if you are staying often enough to get it! Again, this is easiest for business travelers. I was platinum with Starwood when I worked at Deloitte and traveled all the time – I still miss having that status!
I follow the same guidelines for Airbnb when booking in the US, plus its even easier to communicate with hosts. Example: my parents are actually Superhosts on Airbnb and I can vouch for how accommodating they are haha. Their listing is a great example of a place I would book though, it has all of the markers I look for in a listing. You can see it here.
If a place has consistently good reviews on any site (airbnb, vrbo, tripadvisor, hotels.com, etc.) It’s a good bet that it’s a good place. Since most people only leave reviews to complain, a place that compels people to write good reviews is generally worth booking.
For last minute travel, Hotel Tonight is an app that you can find good deals on if you are ok with not having everything planned out in advance.
For packages I check go-today.com and they have some really good offers, it just has to be the full package of everything you are looking for and I often have slightly different things in mind.
I subscribe to Travelzoo and they send out great deals and are always worth checking for packages.
If you have any questions or would like me to go into more depth on anything, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best!