It used to be so easy. A few select hotels and guesthouses would be listed in a guidebook and you’d choose one, mostly based on price. Now, virtually every doss house and shack has an online presence of some kind. Picking through them all is so time consuming – I’m sure that sometimes I’ve spent more time picking out a hotel than I actually spent staying in it.
Another big difference these days is that with so much accommodation bookable on the internet, the best value places get booked out months ahead. Which makes spontaneity more difficult. Many hotels on sites like booking.com allow penalty free cancellation, so you can make tentative arrangements and change them later – but everybody else is doing the same thing.
At least these days we are clearer about our requirements, which makes narrowing the choice easier. Yours may be different, but my checklist is as follows:-
- Price – under £15
- Private bathroom with hot water
- Location (not too noisy, walking distance to restaurants)
- Air conditioning if the climate warrants it
- Wifi (in the room, not just the lobby)
- Wardrobe or shelves (unless it’s just for 1 night)
- Room size – at least 12 sq metres
- No horrendous reviews for cleanliness, bedbugs etc
Nice to have
- Included breakfast
- Natural light
- Kitchen facilties
- Desk or table (for Mr V’s laptop)
- Garden, terrace or balcony
- Swimming pool
- Nice/interesting view
That’s not to say that every hotel in which we’ve stayed had all the “essentials”. We’ve had to book somewhere with a shared bathroom in Australia’s Kakadu National Park, because even that’s over AUD$150. But I use the essentials list first as a shortlisting tool.
We usually try to find somewhere for less than £15 per night, but in some places it’s impossible to get a room for that. Nevertheless, a private room is an absolutely non-negotiable requirement. I don’t do dorms. So sometimes we’ve had to pay more – but not over £30 except in Japan, Taipei, Mumbai and Singapore.
A fridge is worth paying a bit extra for because it can save money elsewhere. Beer is invariably cheaper from a shop than in a bar, but who wants warm beer? It also facilitates room picnic breakfasts and lunches. A kettle is less important because we carry an immersion boiler – but it is easier, and you can boil eggs in an electric kettle apparently (we haven’t tried this yet!).
In small rooms a double bed may be pushed up against a wall. I hate that – being older means I rarely make it through the night without needing a bathroom visit, and I don’t want to have to clamber out via the foot of the bed. And it means there’s nowhere to put my water bottle, painkillers, earplugs etc. So quite often we’ll opt for twin beds.
It’s interesting to see how far a TV has slid down our list. When our only other entertainment was carefully rationed paperbacks and a pack of cards, we really appreciated a TV even if only one channel was in English. Now, with the internet, downloaded film and TV programmes, radio play podcasts, and about 20,000 digital books, it’s really superfluous.
15 May 2015 – Our hotel in Tokyo was located in Kabukicho, a red light district. Absolutely not a problem – it was all so discreet, the only clues were the hotel rooms rentable for short ‘rests’. Our hotel in Singapore, one of the Hotel 81 chain, was also in the red light district of Geylang. The activity was much more obvious here with girls lined up along the pavement and waiting in the lobby with clients. But again, it was really no problem for us – nobody pestered or approached us. In Kuala Lumpur’s Brickfields too, there were brothels just down the street, but I happily walked to the shop on my own in the evening. Of course, a young woman alone might feel differently, single men might be approached, and the situation might be tricky to explain to kids. But, especially to a couple, I would say don’t automatically rule out a location just because of prostitution – it doesn’t necessarily make an area unsafe.
1st July 2015 – Although we book most accommodation through booking.com or agoda.com (the latter’s website being less user friendly), we had our first Airbnb experience recently. It was great – we were subletting an apartment rather than lodging with someone (but we’ll be doing that in Darwin). I’ll certainly be looking on their website in future, even though it is an absolute pain to use.
September 2015 – Having gone through the dreadful experience of a burglary and having no desire to repeat it, a safe has soared up to rest near the top of our room requirements. Not an absolute must-have, but highly desirable. Especially having re-read the small print on our insurance policy, and seen how much isn’t covered if it’s not on our person or in a proper safe (I very much doubt that our travel safe counts).