If you’re just joining us, welcome! You can check out part 1 of this series on cheap international airfare here.
But today we’re talking about hotels. Or, erm, at least, a place to stay. Now, here me out. I’m definitely not going to endorse couchsurfing. That’s just not my style. If you’re comfortable with that, good for you! Save your money! But I have a husband and personally I feel super weird about that.
SECOND STEP: A place to stay?
My quick disclaimer: This is for BUDGET options on lodging. Personally, when we travel, we don’t spend much time in our hotel or apartment. All we really need is a comfy bed, a clean bathroom, a shower with plenty of hot water, maybe a fridge to house our leftovers. You likely won’t find 4 or 5 star hotels through any of these sites. If you want a Ritz Carlton (or even a more traditional hotel stay), Hotels.com, Travelocity, Expedia, even Kayak will have great options for you.
All that being said, I can confidently and highly recommend each of these sites based on personal experience.
AirBNB – To any millennial, this may seem like a no-brainer. But for anyone unfamiliar with the concept, AirBNB allows anyone in the world (after a background check) to list their apartment, condo, house, studio, spare bedroom, basement, you name it. Sound sketchy? It’s not. It’s totally my fave. And they have locations EVERYWHERE.
If you don’t like the idea of staying in the same house as your stranger host, you can set parameters within the search so you only see entire apartments or homes (make me feel way less awkward). We stayed in an AirBNB in Paris and it was heavenly. But please!! – read the tips below before jumping in and booking the first place you find on AirBNB.
VRBO – (Stands for Vacation Rental By Owner) Some girlfriends and I went to Hawaii a couple years ago and found an awesome condo for dirt cheap through VRBO. From what I understand it works best domestically, but they do have some international options too.
TripAdvisor – Okay confession, I freaking LOVE TripAdvisor, and not just for. I’m an uber-planner, and I rely HEAVILY on online recommendations for sights, activities, and probably most importantly, FOOD, when I’m going somewhere unfamiliar. Sites like Yelp don’t exist internationally, so TripAdvisor saves me every time.
All that being said, the Vacation Rentals listings on TripAdvisor is great (the hotel listings are kind of meh). We found our lovely apartment in St. Petersburg through TripAdvisor. Now, it’s been a couple years since we used it, but if you feel like you’re striking out on AirBNB, try looking here.
EuroCheapo – I’ve personally never used this one, but I have friends who have loved it. As implied by the name, they only have deals in Europe.
HotelTonight – Must download the mobile phone app. This one is not for the faint of heart. But if you like to live on the edge, HotelTonight has some crazy awesome last minute hotels deals. But you literally have to book 7 days or less before your trip. I’ve only done this for things like a weekend stay in Las Vegas where I know I’ll at least get something, and it does look like their best deals are with domestic hotels.
A few more things to keep in mind…
Tip #1: AAAAAAALWAYS read the reviews
I probably do more than my due diligence, but since we’ve started doing more AirBNBs, in order to stay sane and not feel like we’re going to get murdered by the owner, I have to read my reviews. All my endorsements can be tossed out the window if you choose to book a place with minimal or negative reviews. I personally don’t book anything with less than 30 solid reviews. Is that unfair to newer listings? Maybe.
Tip #2: To some degree, you do get what you pay for
Of course this is true of hotels too, but I try to book things somewhere in the middle range of prices. Not the most expensive, but also not the cheapest. Those are usually the gems and the really great, fun finds.
Tip #3: Consider your location
When we went to Paris, we chose to pay about $7 more a night to be within like 10 steps of our metro stop. But — if we’d had a rental car, there were REALLY cheap options outside the city that could have been fun too. Consider the trade offs. Sometimes it’s okay to pay more for something if it makes your whole stay more enjoyable.
Tip #4: Google Street View is your BFF
Some places are awesome enough that they will give you a physical address for the listing before you book it (AirBNB not so much). If they do, check it out on Google Street View! Get a feel for the neighborhood — does it look safe? If it looks iffy, double check those reviews to see if people said things like “Yeah, it looks kinda sketchy, but we were totally comfortable and never had any issues!”
BONUS Tip #5: Always always always always read your reviews.
Have I said that enough?
Seriously. If there is ANYTHING that feels weird or funky about the listing, or you just don’t feel good about it, don’t do it. There are plenty of other options out there. Go with something you love and feel totally comfortable with.
I personally think finding a place to stay is one of the more fun parts of planning a trip. I inevitably using Google Street View wayyyy too much, scoping out neighborhoods, finding out what’s nearby, planning out my walking route and such.
I hope this gets you excited for your next international trip! Stay tuned for more travel trips in the coming weeks!