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There are all sorts of ways that people choose where they’re going to say while on a trip, whether that journey is long-term or short-term. This is a topic that arose when Aden wrote about planning your vacation ahead of time. What accommodations you select depends on all sorts of variables. Here are a few:
- How much money you’re willing to spend
- How much time you’ll be spending at your accommodations
- What kind of transportation you’ll be using
- What you plan to do during your stay
Making the right choice can be the difference between a pleasant, restful, thrifty stay or one that leaves you annoyed, overspent, and uncomfortable.
What are your priorities?
I basically lived in Airbnbs for three years, and I rarely ended up in one with which I was unhappy. I chalk it up to the fact that I have very clear selection priorities. Now, keep in mind, I was spending a month or two in each location, and if you’re vacationing it will be more like a week or two, so your priorities may differ. (You may not need a washing machine or internet, for example.)
Here’s what I want in my accommodations:
- Excellent internet (I work online, so this is a must)
- A walkable location with plenty of food, markets, and interesting things nearby
- A comfortable bed
- A washing machine
- Easy access for bringing in my luggage
- A pleasant host
- A safe neighborhood
- Quiet nights
- A price that fits my budget
- A kitchen with (at least) a refrigerator and a way to reheat food
This sounds very specific, and it is. But it’s actually not difficult to find what you’re looking for if you know how to “shop.” Read on, and I’ll tell you how to locate what you want and avoid what you don’t want.
Set your search filters.
Some popular websites for selecting accommodations are Airbnb, Booking.com, and VRBO. On all of these sites, you can set filters to screen out locations that don’t have the amenities that are the most important to you. So you can select, for example, your dates, your price range, things you must have, parking if you’re going to have a car, and the number of people who will be staying.
Put only the deal-breakers into your search filters. For me, since most of my stays are 2-4 weeks, my accommodations must have wifi, a washing machine, and a kitchen. Without these things, my stay will be less convenient and more expensive, so I’m willing to pay a bit more for them. (Plus you often get a discount when you rent an apartment for a full month, which makes it much more affordable.)
Always put your price range in because there’s nothing that’s more of a bummer than seeing a place that looks perfect…only to find it’s $700 more than you wanted to spend. As well, this way you won’t make an impulsive decision to break the budget because “it was so nice!” Come on, admit it. I know it’s not just me who has done that. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.
Look through the listings.
Once you have your results, it’s time to look through the listings. You can narrow things down pretty easily this way. I do judge these books by their covers because I don’t want to stay in dark, dingy, and dated accommodations. This might not be a priority for you, however, particularly if you’re going to be on the go most of the time and are just using the accommodations for sleeping. I also prefer an apartment with a view, or one that is very close to a scenic area.
By looking through the photos and reading the descriptions, you’ll quickly get an idea of what is normal for your destination and what appeals to you. Bookmark the ones that you want to research further.
I never rent a car when traveling so I want to be somewhere walkable – usually the downtown center. This means I can do my shopping, use public transportation, or go sightseeing on foot. Not renting a car saves hundreds of dollars (at least) and you really do see a lot more of where you’re visiting when you’re on foot.
Reviewers Are Your Friends
Next, dive into the reviews. The reviewers are your friends – and your glimpse inside the apartments and how you’ll be treated there.
You can get a lot of clues if you know how to read between the lines.
For example, when someone mentions watching Netflix at the apartment, it means the wifi is fast enough for streaming – so it’s a safe bet that your internet will be decent. When someone mentions the distance of the walk to the beach or the market, it will give you a clear idea of how far it actually is, as opposed to how far the person trying to sell you accommodations says it is. (I’ve noticed that in Europe, phrases like “just around the corner” and “a quick walk” mean something entirely different than it does in the United States. You know who you are.)
Notice the complaints as well. If everyone mentions that the apartment is noisy at night, you may find yourself situated right over a bar. If you’re a night owl or there to party, this may not bother you. But if you’re like me and you’re 50-ish, you might want to get a good night’s sleep and you need your beauty rest, this might not be the apartment for you.
Key things I look for in reviews are comments about the location with regard to things like grocery stores and restaurants, the noise levels, the speed and reliability of the wifi, the comfort of the bed, and compliments or complaints about the host. Your key factors may be different – it all depends on what is most important to you.
Look out for red flags.
Not all reviews are fairly written – there are some angry travelers out there who have unreasonable expectations. However, if you see a trend with the complaints, this may be a red flag that is warning you of a place you do not want to hang your hat and park your flip-flops.
For example, one absolutely adorable apartment I looked at had multiple reviewers who mentioned the owner’s father showing up in the apartment and coming in with a key in the middle of the night to “fix” things. Y’all, I don’t know about you, but if I woke up to some guy in my apartment at 2 AM, I would not be a happy traveler.
I also pay attention to the way apartment owners respond to reviews with complaints. If they deal with it tactfully, I give a bit less credence to the complaint. If they respond angrily to what seems like a reasonable complaint, I’m generally hesitant to stay in their apartment because I feel as though any issue I might have will be treated the same way.
Other trends to look for are complaints about noise, uncleanliness, tardiness on behalf of the host (who wants to wait for an hour to get into the apartment when they’ve been traveling all day?), bad wifi, and things that are uncomfortable or inoperable. Another example I saw was a gorgeous 3-story apartment that allegedly had three bathrooms – one on each floor. Unfortunately, according to reviewers the only bathroom with an operating toilet was on the first floor – quite a climb down the spiral staircase from the 3rd-floor master bedroom.
Another thing that might be a red flag is when several reviewers claim that the listing is inaccurate in some way. To me, this casts doubt on the entire listing. At the same time, you have to be aware that the norms in the US aren’t necessarily the norms in other countries. For example, in Europe a lot of places don’t have hot water all the time – you flip a switch and turn on the hot water about 20 minutes before you’re going to take a shower. Also, quite a few places push two twin beds together and consider it a full-sized bed. Neither of these practices is common in the US, but it doesn’t mean that the host is dishonest – these are just cultural differences.
There are other words or phrases that are also pretty different. “Spacious” in some places doesn’t mean the same thing as “spacious” in the United States. “Large shower” doesn’t always imply what you may be imagining. “Laundry facilities” usually means a washing machine and a drying rack – few places in Europe have tumble dryers.
Do a safety check.
Most Airbnbs and Booking.com listings give you a pretty good idea of the location of the apartment. Do some googling for crime rates and news for that neighborhood. This will help you get an indication of the safety of where you may be staying.
Obviously, even a safe neighborhood isn’t completely immune to crime. You should always practice routine safety precautions such as keeping doors and windows locked, remaining aware of your surroundings, and not getting intoxicated before walking home alone.
I’ve had great luck with accommodations.
I used the same driver throughout Greece, Macedonia, and Montenegro and he was constantly amazed at the prime locations of my rentals. For me, location and views are really important because I spend a lot of time working in my accommodations.
In Athens, I had a private garden and a rooftop patio with a view of the Acropolis. In Skopje, I was right on the promenade by the river. In Montenegro, my balcony had a stunning view of the Adriatic Sea and the New Year’s Eve fireworks. I’ve had delightful hosts as well.
Either I’m super-lucky or maybe my apartment-hunting routine has something to do with it. Hopefully, this quick guide helps you to find the perfect accommodations for your next trip.
How do you choose your accommodations when traveling? What are your most important criteria and why? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at Learn.TheOrganicPrepper.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.