In one of the previous posts, we discussed the pros and cons of accommodations in hotels, hostels, AirBnB or Couchsurfing. I will now share the most widely known secret that lots of inexperienced travelers are unaware of. Based on my experience of around-the-world travels, you can find a room in a hotel for $20 plus/minus $5 in the majority of of the developing world. Obviously, that excludes US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, although you might still be able to couchsurf for that much. I am talking about your own separate room, with attached bathroom (sometimes without), clean and perfectly comfortable. If you follow my advice below, you will see how this is possible. Keep in mind that this rule will probably exclude most countries of Africa due to the very rigid separation of tourism life from everyday life of local people. Translation: you will be taken to the cleaners in Africa at every turn and there is little you can do about it.
Fortunately, there is plenty of exciting countries to visit in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. There are several rules you should always follow when moving into a hotel.
First, here is now to search for a hotel. Sure, we all like to frantically look for recommendations in our guidebooks once we arrive at a bus or a train station somewhere. And that is the correct strategy except – if you are a prudent backpacker, you will not stay in the guidebook-recommended hotel but find a similar accommodation nearby. Why? Because guidebook recommendations are a double-edged sword. They do mention places that were good at the time of review, but there is no guarantee standards are maintained. And you can be assured they would have some of the highest and least negotiable prices. A reputable guidebook mention, you see, is a huge publicity and marketing boost for a hotel just about anywhere in the world, and such hotels are certain to have a stream of guests and therefore, are not always motivated to cut you a deal or simply be accommodating enough. That’s why you will see the “Lonely Planet” logo on so many hotels, especially in Asia. I have even seen hotels named “Lonely Planet”. But remember, guidebooks rarely review ALL the properties in the area, so there are likely to be plenty of perfectly good hotels that do not get the same publicity as those reviewed, and that’s where you want to stay.
Second, always ask to see the room before you agree to anything. Keep in mind that if there are several vacant rooms, the owner is not likely to show you the best available choice; ask to see 2 or better, 3 rooms. Check the appliances, especially AC in hot countries. Make sure the bathroom is reasonably clean and has hot water, if it’s not in the tropics. If the bathroom is shared, you want to be close enough to it so that you don’t have to go upstairs or downstairs for a midnight leak. Of course, it is up to you what standards of cleanliness you choose to follow; however, it never hurts to check for bedbugs, mold, etc. If Wifi is important to you, it’s worth trying it on your device before you pay for the room. Too many times I have experienced issues such as bad connection with allegedly availbale Wifi.
Thirdly, do not leave your passport at the reception. Yes, there are properties that would tell you it’s necessary, but that would be rare and only in some countries. Most of the time, you should retrieve your passport immediately after the clerk or the owner takes down your information. The main reason for that is you yourself might easily forget your passport, especially if you have to leave in a hurry.
Next, make sure you pay what you agree and nothing extra. If possible, pay at the checkout, although many hotels will demand money upfront. That’s okay, too, because you have already seen the room and checked out all the amenities. One way to avoid unpleasant surprises when you are in a hurry to check out is pay every day for the night you spent before and keep your own record it payments.
Finally, if travelling in third world countries, try to avoid reservations online. Why? 2 reasons. First, in many countries, the majority of perfectly good properties do not have presence on hotel-booking sites, and those that do, tend to be more expensive. Second, if you book online, you are paying before seeing the room, which violates the 1st rule of hotelling abroad. I do not reserve online in about 95% of cases and never in my many years of travelling have I not been able to find a place to sleep. Yes, once or twice if it was really close, but trust me, nobody wants to see you sleep on the street. If need be, you might even be offered a room or a bed in someone’s house – how cool an experience would that be! But not to fret, that is not likely to happen. The 5% of cases when I do book online are: when I arrive late and need to have the first night guaranteed, and when I am visiting a destination where there’s a popular public holiday or a festival at that time. And of course, booking online is always recommended when visiting 1st world countries. In fact, it would probably save you money as walk-in prices in those countries are usually higher.
So there you have it – these rules are basically common sense, as most rules are, but they will save you a great deal of worry and cash. Safe travels!