Choosing a hotel is probably one of my favorite things to do, even though it might seem like an exhausting process. I use a mix of TripAdvisor, hotel websites, and Instagram to select the perfect one. TripAdvisor is my bible — I use it for reviews, room tips, and realistic photos (always look at travelers‘ photos, not hotel/management photos). I only stay at hotels that have an average of at least 4.5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Once I’ve narrowed down my options to just a handful, I then use Instagram to see a more curated selection of photos — what type of people stay at this hotel, and how do they make it look attractive to their followers? (Yes, I use Instagram for hard-core research purposes.)
Here are some factors you should consider when choosing your hotel:
How close do you want to be to certain sites? Within walking distance? A subway-ride away? A car ride? Location will mostly depend on how long your stay is. For four or more days, I’m usually fine with catching the subway to things, but for shorter trips, it’s better to be within walking distance. The easiest way to tell how convenient a hotel will be is to peruse TripAdvisor and read what previous guests say. Most people are pretty vocal and will complain about being too far from things, or will gush over how easy it was to get to that obligatory museum.
What kind of neighborhood do you crave? As a 26-year-old, I tend to prefer somewhat trendy neighborhoods (think: hot restaurants and cute boutiques), but I predict this desire will wane as I get older.
How much are you willing to spend? My typical budget for a hotel per night is $150-$200, and I usually have a fairly easy time finding 3-star or 4-star hotels. Of course, I make exceptions depending on the city. For example, $150 in Santorini will get you nowhere, while $150 in Portland is a bit generous. Choose a rate that you’re comfortable with, then do a quick search on hotels.com or TripAdvisor to see what the average rates are, and adjust your rate accordingly. If hotels are well over your budget, Airbnbs are always an option. In fact, I prefer Airbnbs in certain cities, especially in mid-size American cities.
What sort of amenities do you require? I’m a pretty cheap date — the only amenities I require from a hotel are WiFi and air conditioning (apparently in some places, such as Scandinavia, air conditioning is not always provided). However, certain cities necessitate certain amenities. For example, in Tokyo, I needed my hotel to have a view of the city.
In the summer, I travel primarily to explore, not to watch TV in my hotel room. In the winter, however, I tend to spend a little more on hotels because I’m more likely to return to my room sooner to escape the cold. Thus, I usually want more amenities when I travel in the winter, such as a fitness center and spa.
What type of experience do you want from this city? The style of hotel you’ll want in one place may be very different from the style you’ll want in another. For example, during my six-day trip to Paris, I wanted to feel like a local, so I stayed in an Airbnb in the hip neighborhood of République. We were surrounded by actual Parisians and adorable boulangeries. Meanwhile, staying in a traditional ryokan is a must in Kyoto, so I booked a romantic ryokan during my honeymoon. The ryokan provided eight-course kaiseki dinners served in a private tatami room and nightly onsen. In Portland, I wanted my hotel to match the quirky city, so I chose a hotel that offers a pet goldfish, free bike rentals, and hotel rooms covered in bird wallpaper.
Book your room directly with the hotel. Booking through a middleman (e.g., Orbitz, Travelocity) doesn’t always go through, and you don’t want to arrive at your hotel to find out that they didn’t get your reservation. Besides, the hotel will usually offer you the best rate — and if it doesn’t, most will allow you to show them where you saw a lower rate and match it.
Read the room tips on TripAdvisor to figure out which rooms are better than others. In Positano, I knew to request the “Blue Room” at our hotel because guests had warned that other rooms didn’t have as nice of a view. You can also use TripAdvisor’s search bar to filter for the exact room you plan to book and see what guest experiences were like in it. Someone who stayed in the King Suite will have a different experience from someone who stayed in the Economy Single.
Sometimes I prefer to email the hotel instead of using their online booking service. This allows me to request specific things, such as a floor level or room. I also use this as a chance to tell the hotel that my husband and I are celebrating a special occasion. I’ve always done this, even when we were just dating. Half the time, the hotel will do something nice like upgrade you to a better room or greet you with champagne. Hotels benefit when they can provide their guests with memorable experiences (especially if they think you’ll write a loving review after), so it works out for everyone.
Hope this helps you find a perfect hotel every time. Happy wanderlusting!