10 Tips On How To Book The Best Hotel Anywhere And Avoid Overpaying

Booking a great place to stay is a minefield. Will the bed be hard? Is there hot water? Will the bathroom be down a dark jungle path with snakes? True story. Even the experts get it wrong sometimes, but when you’re constantly travelling you get pretty good at picking up tactics to find the best hotel. After all hotels, hostels and apartments are your home when you live on the road. So I’m going to share with you the 10 tips you need to not make the same mistakes I have.

Holbox Island Hotel Mexico

Location, location, location

Honestly it’s repeated three times for a reason. If you are staying in a city first consider what area you want to be in. Read up reviews of the city areas. For instance the cheapest place to stay in San Francisco is the Tenderloin district, the reason is it’s where all the drug addicts amongst other undesirable aspects of the city can be found. Are you going to be exploring all the sights on foot? Do you want to be able to go for a swim and get back to the hotel easily to get changed? Is there great options for dinner nearby after a long day of walking?

Transport links

So we know location is number one but how are you getting there? I generally always travel by public transport where possible, especially in Europe where it’s so easy to get around and taxi’s are soo expensive. I also hate lugging my bag around for longer than necessary so always work out where I will arrive at the bus/train station and book somewhere within 15 mins walk. Not too close to be affected by the noise of a busy station but close enough to use all the traveller friendly amenities. This doesn’t really apply in places like Asia where public transport is non existent and tuk tuks are dirt cheap.

How long are you staying?

It’s pointless saving a few pennies staying in the outskirts of a city if you only have a weekend to explore and waste half of it getting back and forth. Conversely it’s silly to pay to stay in the busy tourist center if you have time to enjoy the quieter suburbs with less costs.

What will you need?

Trust me we’ve all been sucked in by a shiny resort with infinity pool outside of town with an infinity pool at a too good to be true price. Why is this? Because they know they’ve got you, over inflated taxi prices to town, shoddy overpriced dinners that your dog could cook better. It never ends up as good a deal as you think (see location above). I’m not saying never book a place that out of the way, there was a jungle lodge in the middle of nowhere in Belize I never wanted to leave, but just check what’s there first. Account for costs of getting around and make an informed decision.

Reviews

Maybe this should be number one? The hours I’ve spent on Google or Booking.com scrolling through random strangers opinions is quite frightening. Should I get a life? Maybe. But it is the only way to truly know what a place is like. Of course you always get the odd Sandra who complains that the bed sheet is the wrong shade of grey (don’t be a Sandra). Are the beds comfy? Is the water hot and does the WiFi actually work? Is it really a good location? Booking.com has handy little filters for their customer reviews, I increasingly find myself looking for a comfy bed above all else but you can set it for whatever makes you happy. There are no filters for the colour of the bed-sheets.

Blogs and travellers are the best source of advice

I trust no-one more than someone that’s been there. I often find places to stay from other bloggers, you can’t go wrong with a recommendation. Other travellers that you meet on the road are also a great source of information. I ended up on a small island in Brazil after some Argentinians inner on a night out in Rio said I couldn’t miss this hostel. They weren’t wrong, it was pretty great.

Be aware of hidden fees

As a budget traveller I always put the price filter on. But in some countries like Mexico they have an annoying habit of not including the tax on some listings (it’s in the small print) whilst on others they do. I can be quite a big difference when booking multiple nights of up to 20%. When you could have paid the same for a nicer place the tight old lady inside me cries a little. Air BnB comes with its own little extras, with some owners including cleaning and service fees but other charging up to £30! It’s the equivalent of those entrepreneurial individuals on eBay sticking a £10 postage fee on something the size of a letter. No thanks.

Have confirmation

On that note always get a screenshot of your booking confirmation. What’s the final price? What do you get included? Have you paid already? There have been more than a few times a hotel has demanded payment when I’ve paid in advance. I’ve worked in hotels and can tell you they’re probably not trying to rip you off, they are just extremely overworked and unorganised. Have proof of what you have brought and there won’t be any problems.

Last minute


Often one of the best ways to save money is to book last minute. Sites like Booking.com, Trivago and Lastminute.com don’t want rooms to go empty so heavily discount them in the days leading up to them going vacant. As long as you are flexible this can work in your favour. I usually bookmark a few that seem alright and check closer to the date what’s still available and how cheap it’s become. I’ve booked the morning of the night I’ve wanted to stay on many occasions; often leading to confused staff when trying to check in if they haven’t checked their emails recently!

Where to book?


Lastly it’s important where you book. In the old days a backpacker would just turn up to somewhere that looked half decent and see if there were any rooms. With the internet in the palm of our hands we’ve gotten smarter. As much as I hate to say it now, walk ins used to be my favourite customer as a hotel receptionist. It was a chance to charge as much as we could get away with for a pat on the back from management. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but it happens, so my advice is to book ahead. Booking.com and Air BnB are the sites I use all of the time and rarely fail to get a great deal for a decent bed for the night. Agoda, Hostelworld, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Trivago are all great places to check too. You can also book direct through the accommodation website which is sometimes a good deal especially for multiple nights.

cheap accommodation 2020

How to travel better for less

Skyscanner – For flights at the best prices this is my go to site. I have also started using them for car hire and they can’t be beat!

Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!

Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!

Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!

Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.

World Nomads – Travel insurance is one of the most important things you can have while travelling. Don’t leave home without it! World Nomads provide the very best cover.

Ethical Superstore – My go to site for cleaning products, eco clothing and even groceries. All ethically tagged and delivered free from plastic packaging. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.

Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!

G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips.

Contiki – The day job. Group travel for 18/35 year olds and memories to last a lifetime.

Hey, some links in this post are to affiliate sites. If you purchase something through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

A note on Amazon Affiliates – LW no longer uses this program, instead focusing on eco friendly alternatives. Read the reasons why here. LW will not profit from any links that may remain on this site. Please advise us if you spot any. Thanks!

Travel like a pro

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Jo Williams

A Brit that got fed up of the 9 to 5 corporate life, I sold everything to become a full time wanderer. Having travelled to over 70 countries so far, I share my money-saving tips and secrets from inside the travel industry. Hoping to inspire you to work less and travel more.