The second major expense in your trip is accommodation. Weather you plan to stay just few days or few weeks, the quality of your vacation may depend greatly on your accommodation: location, comfort, cleanliness, included services and, eventually, meals. I know that price is a factor too but it shouldn’t be the main criterion in selecting a place to stay; a bad choice of accommodation can ruin your vacation at least in part.
Start by examining your stay and the main objectives: how long will be your stay, what area do you intend to spend the most of your time, what are the local transportation options if you decide for a certain place, what are your personal needs when you return at the end of the day for rest, where do you plan to eat, etc. Prioritize the answers based on what you care the most and start searching for accommodation without spending too much time on costs but obviously looking for something in your reach. Create a list of places you would like to stay giving points for each objective including the cost. You may want to consider things that you can trade off in exchange for a better deal, but without ignoring the fact that you want to enjoy your vacation and not to survive it!
I will use my trip to London as an example: a family of three looking for a triple room for a period of ten days with the clear intention to visit major places of interest like museums, art galleries, palaces and castles, cathedrals and abbeys, parks, markets, places of entertainment, all located with few exceptions in the inner part of the city – the Central London.
The geographical center of London is Trafalgar Square. Consider a circle with a 4 miles (6.5 km) radius around this point: this is where you will find most of the tourist attractions that make London such a great destination. You can limit your area of interest to the City of Westminster that has its center approximately 1.5 miles (2.5 km) West of Trafalgar Square – this is probably the area where most tourists will spend about 80% of their time in their first visit in London.
A great thing about London is its network of public transportation, especially the London Underground that covers all major areas of interest. This simplifies the search for accommodation as well: nearly all hotels in London are within minutes walking distance of an Underground station and, usually, you will need less than 30 minutes to be where you want to go.
If you like to be pampered in all comfort and have a significant budget at your disposal, the hotels in the West End are 4 or 5 star grade with prices for those on business accounts or that are quite wealthy. Strangely enough, I’m not one of them
The major hotel districts for visitors who have one eye on their wallet are Kensington, Bayswater/Paddington and Kings Cross St Pancras/Euston. Read my “London: The Final Destination” post for more details regarding my choice. Not necessarily cheap for some but within reach, these hotels offer a decent balance of amenities, comfort and convenience for a reasonable price (especially off-season and special promotions).
The cheapest hotel accommodation is the so called Bed and Breakfast hotels. Despite the name suggests, these are not homely houses with a couple of rooms rented out by attentive family owners. These are small simple hotels, with none of the frills. The main attraction is price, somewhere to safely store your luggage and a simple place to sleep overnight while you spend the day exploring London.
I’ve got a taste of a B&B hotel when stopping for a night in Luton on my way to another destination. The choice was Luton Hotel Residence (see photo). I admit this is not a place to stay while visiting London because of the distance: about 34 miles (55 km) from London, requiring at least one hour and a half with public transportation just to get there. The price for a double room is around $80 (£50) per night but if you add the price of the transportation to Central London of about $65 (£40) per person per day, the final cost is too high anyways – for the total price you can find a good hotel centrally located around Hyde Park (Bayswater/Paddington area). Our (triple) room was clean but very small, with TV and Wi-Fi included but without breakfast (however, with self-catering if you care about it). With the exception of some minor issues with the heating and with the quality of the Wi-Fi connection, the accommodation was fine for one night but I cannot imagine a family of three used to some level of comfort willing to spend a whole vacation in such a confined space.
In the end, you will get what you pay for. With all the variation in prices from season to season, month to month and even day to day, the price is a reflection of the quality of your accommodation. The only thing to do is to avoid paying more than what is worth. As in the case of flights, Internet is your friend. Go to places like: Priceline, Hotels, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotelclub, etc. if you want to compare prices and options. But the absolute best thing to do is to search through the services of hotel reservation agencies that specialize in the region you are traveling to. For Europe Booking or All Hotel Deals are good places to start. You can fine a great guide to hotels in London by visiting The London Toolkit – a highly recommended resource.
Finally, use a PC and not a Mac to browse the Internet. While this may sound like a joke, there is some truth in this advice. Recently I found this: On Orbitz, Mac Users Steered to Pricier Hotels – the article may not be available for too long (without registration) but searching on Google for the title you will find many other sites referring to the same story. In essence, the article says that the travel shopping site Orbitz is offering more expensive hotels to Mac users because the company found that Mac users prefer more luxurious rooms.
It is technically possible to identify the Internet browser and the operating system indicating indirectly the type of computer you use for browsing. Even more, the Internet address of your computer may also tell something about your location and service provider. This way a company that advertises or sells you something can adjust the offerings according to your presumed household income (about $100,000 for Mac users and about $75,000 for PC users on average). True or not, use a PC with Windows XP or go to an Internet Café to search for good travel deals. And force ranking hotels by price (and not the default “recommended” option) – this will produce the same results no matter what platform you are using
Until next time, you have some research to do: ask a friend with a Mac (or a PC) to join you, start searching for deals in the same places and, finally, compare the results. Does your computer matter? Is the “predictive analytics” used by Orbitz (and most likely others) able to offer more tailored results to shoppers? Please send me your feedback by clicking the comment button on the right side of the title or view the post in its own page by clicking on the title itself and go to the bottom where the comment box is located.