How I cost optimized accommodations in a 22 country trip
Sleep is precious when traveling because it allows you to consolidate memories and experiences so that you can remember and cherish them for longer. Getting enough sleep also maximizes enjoyment because you’ll have more energy to explore, interact with people and try new things. There are a lot of accommodation options ranging from hotels to hostels, each with their own costs and benefits. The price and savings differences between hotels and hostels are pretty obvious so I assume people who want to save money will avoid luxury hotels. Of the practical choices, here’s how I chose accommodations when trying to optimize to save time and money.
Identify Important Amenities
Places offer a lot of different amenities, from free breakfast to airport pickup and tour packages. Usually more amenities, especially the “comfort of home, western hotel style experience” amenity, correlates to higher prices. There are exceptions such as places which offer lower bed prices because they want more people to walk through the door and buy expensive tour packages at their tour desk amenity or drinks at their restaurant/bar. It’s important to decide your priorities and what amenities you need at each place because they can and should change depending on factors like if you need to do laundry (you probably don’t need to do laundry every day), if you want a quieter night sleep, or if you want to get tour information.
Many amenities are easy to compare because they’re listed on booking apps and websites, but there are other things which I consider as amenities. For example, size of the place will impact how many other tourists you encounter and can interact with and get information and advice from. This is a pretty cheap amenity which has the extra benefit of cheaper prices. Trains and overnight buses offer transportation as an amenity but lack showers. You’ll need to weight the pros and cons of your selections. I try to quantify them into a monetary value such as the cost of a taxi from airport to hostel, or time saved looking for breakfast (and price of one local meal).
Compare multiple apps
One way to see all the choices is through apps and websites. Almost all apps offer the same prices, but may present amenities in different ways. Some charge a commission and hide it within the total price, but for the most part, hotels send the same prices to the different sites/apps. There are occasional real price differences or promotions, however what I find most different is the total selection of listings because not every place pays to advertise and be listed on every app/website, which saves them money (that they can pass on to you), but they can still fill enough beds/rooms using one or two websites. So, the benefit of checking multiple services is that you can see a larger listing of options and possibly cheaper prices. My default was bookings.com mainly because it has better integrations with maps.me. Sometimes, you can also save money by booking using an app that lets you pay in the local currency or something else with a cheaper exchange rate.
Use the offline maps.me app
Using only bookings websites won’t be enough, because they are designed to sell beds and rooms to hotels and hostels, not necessarily help you find the best option closest to the tourist attractions that interest you, so it’s important to cross reference your choices with a map that is designed for travelers, which shows you all the nearby attractions and areas of interest. Even maps like Google are a little biased because their advertisement paying customers want you to visit their restaurants and shops. They don’t make money if you visit a temple or museum unless they happen to be located near the temple or museum. My preference is maps.me because it is very comprehensive.
First, I look for the major transit stations like train stations, bus terminals, or metro/subways connected to the airport. When tracing these points, I take note of the nearby tourist attractions and start dropping pins (marking favorites) to lay a path for sightseeing. Finally, I look at which grouping of pins has accommodations, then I switch over to the booking apps and search within that area, then I book ahead of time. I highly recommend booking in advance, even if it’s just a few hours ahead of time because it is the best way to secure your bed/room. There are people who try to walk up and ask for discounts, and sometimes they get them, but sometimes they spend a few hours searching for a place. Personally, this isn’t worth the stress and effort for me. I like to know what I’m booking.
Paying close attention to the different maps gives you a big advantage over other travelers because it’s possible to find a great place in a dorm by yourself sometimes, meaning you get the value of a whole room for a fraction of the cost.