Love Your Lodging
How to Find the Perfect Accomodations!
Deciding where to spend the night is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when traveling with your family; oftentimes lodging can make or break your whole experience. With the internet at your fingertips there are literally thousands of options to choose from and this can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Decide on your budget.
This step is left out more often than you’d think, or at least, comes way too late in the process. Mamas, your time is precious, don’t waste hours of it looking at hotels and rentals that, come to find out, aren’t even in your budget. Plus, don’t torture yourself.
If you can only afford the Chevy, don’t test drive the Tesla (not that there’s anything wrong with a Chevy). If you can only afford a Holiday Inn, don’t look at rooms at the Hilton (not that there’s anything wrong with a Holiday Inn).
Sit down and put a budget together for the entire trip with all expenses included, even food, then as a REALLY rough estimation allot about 30% of that for lodging. Decide how many nights you want to stay and then do the math to give you the amount for what you can afford for lodging per night. If you’ve budgeted $1,000 for the entire trip, about $300 of that should be your lodging costs. If you want to stay for two nights, then bam, you’re looking at $150 per night.
Keep in mind that most nightly rates advertised online are only the base rates and don’t include the total with taxes and fees until you continue the booking process. There is no standard tax rate, as amounts vary by city, county, state, and country but as a reference point, for a hotel room that’s $150 a night you can expect to add on anywhere from $10-$20 per night in extra fees. Rental websites work a little bit differently. You’ll find a base nightly rate but the host usually charges a cleaning fee in addition to the 5%-20% service fee the website charges upon booking. Moral of the story: account for taxes and extra fees in your lodging budget.
Get to know your destination.
Location is everything when traveling with your kids. Make sure you research your destination to find out what activities you want to do and what lodging options are available closeby. The closer you stay to the attractions you you want to visit, the better; no one likes dragging strollers and hangry children on long commutes back and forth. Even more important than convenience is researching your destination to make sure you find lodging in a safe part of town. Every hotel and Airbnb wants to sell you, so be sure to do your research, look at a map, and read reviews to make sure the surrounding area doesn’t give you a heart attack when you get there.
Decide what you value the most.
Location? Room with a view? Within budget? Breakfast buffet? Spacious? Pool? Just a clean bed to sleep on? Like house-hunting, you may not be able to find all of your wish-list amenities bundled up into one option, so you’ll need to decide which amenities are most important to you and your family, which are non-negotiable, and which you’re willing to give up if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for.
Hotel vs. Airbnb?
For those who aren’t familiar with Airbnb, it’s a traveler’s dream and a potential game-changer for your lodging search. People from all over the word list their homes or rooms for rent on Airbnb, from a small room with a shared bathroom to a beachfront mansion and literally everything else in between. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend you do so NOW before booking any other lodging on your trip. It could really open your eyes to alternative options available aside from commercial lodging.
Deciding between a hotel or an Airbnb depends on where you’re going, the kind experience you want, and the amenities you’ve decided are most important. Hotels typically offer a wider range of amenities, like entertainment, shuttles, pools, hot tubs, breakfast buffets, room service, housekeeping, etc. You’ll most likely get a fuller package at a hotel, but you get what you pay for; hotels run more expensive compared to the price you can find an Airbnb in a similar, if not better location. Because Airbnb hosts are local, oftentimes you’re able to explore and immerse yourself more into the culture and local vibes of your destination. If amenities aren’t your #1 and you’re looking for a more authentic, cultural experience, Airbnb might be a perfect fit.
You should also take your lodging budget and global financial situation into consideration. Can you afford to pay more money up front for a better deal in the long run, or do you need to wait until your dates of travel to pay the larger amounts? Most hotels require only a deposit upon booking and don’t require payment of the remaining balance until you arrive for your stay. However, usually this option is only available if you book directly through the hotel and not a third-party travel site like Kayak or Hotels.com. Typically travel websites that offer lower rates for the same hotel require full payment upon booking to secure the discount. Airbnb almost always requires full payment for your stay upon booking and all renters have different cancellation/refund policies. Or, you could make this really easy on yourself and just win the lottery already. Slacker.
Now the real fun begins! Start shopping around and bookmark your favorites. Here are my favorite go-to lodging resources:
- Hotels.com (click here) – Search over 10,000 hotel deals, compare rates, and book directly through the site. Best if you’re looking for just a hotel.
- Kayak.com (click here) – Allows you to search hundreds of travel sites at once. If you are booking a trip with multiple modes of travel, Kayak offers a wide selection of affordable hotel/flight/car travel packages.
- Airbnb.com (click here) – Find rooms, houses, castles, tents, pods, tree houses, campers, cabins, condos, mansions, and anything else in between to rent all over the world. Does not offer travel packages but does offer travel “experiences”, like tours, classes, concerts, and social impact experiences.
- Homeaway.com (click here) – Very similar to Airbnb but does not include “experiences”. Most independent renters list their properties for rent on both Airbnb and Homeaway, but there may be some differences depending on the renter’s preference. It’s worth checking out to compare!
Look for package deals.
Most people are familiar with entertainment deals through Groupon (click here) and LivingSocial (click here) but these sites also offer some pretty sweet discounted hotel rates and travel packages. Some of the rates can’t be beaten but beware, a lot of the deals have restricted or week-day only travel date requirements. Make sure you read through all of the package details before purchasing. Also check out TravelZoo (click here) and other travel sites like Expedia and Kayak for discounted hotel rates and travel packages.
Read, read, READ REVIEWS.
Don’t EVER book a place without reading reviews first…several of them. Yes, it’s true that the people most likely to leave reviews are the ones who have negative experiences, so it’s important to keep in mind that no place is going to be perfect. You may take a lone negative experience with a grain of salt but if several reviews bring up the same concerns and issues, there may be some legitimate merit to the claims. These travelers don’t know each other and typically don’t have anything at stake by sharing an honest review of their experience. What’s important to remember here is to look for a PATTERN of negative experiences. If a property doesn’t have any reviews, like a newer Airbnb that hasn’t hosted many guests, be leery that you and your family may be guinea pigs and won’t know exactly what you’re walking in to.
Hotel companies and renters are also going to put their best foot forward and market their property to get the most amount of bookings. We are mamas…we can stiff this facade a mile away. Read reviews from fellow travelers to gather a more accurate picture of what the property is really like. Also, oftentimes your questions about what the property is REALLY like are answered in the reviews: What’s the food like? How close to the beach? What’s your definition of “walking distance” or “right down the street?” Noise level? Cleanliness? Working AC? Friendly staff or host? Activities for the kids? And the million dollar question…WORTH THE MONEY AND SANITY?
The best place to read traveler reviews is on Tripadvisor.com (click here). You can find reviews for almost any commercial property in existence here. For private rentals like Airbnb and Homeaway, you will have to access reviews through those sites. Smart people learn from their own experiences. Smarter people learn from the experiences of others. Don’t miss out!