Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Preparing for a Trip (Part I)

Looking ahead to August, I'll be traveling to the West Coast for some California Girl lovin'.  I've already talked about how I pack for a trip, so let's talk more about how to prepare for a longer trip.  I usually spend the month before booking hotels, rental cars, and planning specific sight-seeing trips within the vacation.  Let's focus this entry on an important element to a smooth vacation: booking hotels.

Location:
The first thing I consider when choosing a hotel is its location within the city.  What are the priorities of traveling to this city?  Would you like easy access to a beach; would you rather stay closer to a night-life scene; would you like to be near the trendy shopping areas; or would you like to be in walking distance of the best tourist sites?  The best thing to do after you figure out what you appeal to most is to use a mapping system to help you locate the best radius to encompass this area.  For me, I usually also use this mapping system to figure out if I can get to most places by local transportation or even by walking.

Visitor Reviews and Ratings:
Next, I list all the hotels within the area I chose from selecting a location.  If you're good at being a budget traveler, then staying at a Best Western or Holiday Inn shouldn't be a problem, and you can end your search after this step.  If you're like me, though, I like to try to spend a good amount of time enjoying my hotel experience while also seeing as much as I can around the area.  Thus, you'll want to consider checking a website like Trip Advisor to help narrow your choices.  This website is quite comparable to a life saver (haha) because not only do you get a professional rating on the hotels you're considering, you also get reviews from travelers who have stayed at the hotels, plus "real" photos rather than just the glamorous versions on the hotel websites.

You'll want to combine three things you research on sites like this: overall ranking, quality of positive reviews, and personal satisfaction that comes from the "real" photos.  If you're satisfied with all three of these categories, you should feel confident that you'll be going somewhere you will be content with.

Pricing:
This is probably the most difficult part: compensating for the package and the price.  If you have more than a month to decide where you'll be staying at, I recommend joining hotel mailing lists.  Sometimes, hotels will put together special deals for their mailing lists that other third party websites can't offer.  Otherwise, there are two approaches you can take for this part of the booking process: join "coupon/discount" websites for that area; search daily on third party websites for the best deal. 

If you join a coupon/discount website such as Travel Zoo, you could possibly find package deals for your specific hotel.  Websites like Travel Zoo are convenient because they do the narrow search for you.  They constantly browse other discount/third party websites that post deals, and keep them all in one place for your viewing ease.  The downside is that you have to wait until your ideal hotel has a worthwhile deal listed on sites like these (sometimes not even at all).  Otherwise, if you go the third party route, such as Orbitz, Hotels.com or Travelocity, most of these websites now give you the opportunity to view all other third party websites side by side, so that you can see which website has the best deal.  For the most part, though, these websites are aligned so well, that, it's a matter of cutting a few dollars from your taxes/fees when choosing which one to stick with.  One thing to watch for, though, is when certain hotels offer deductions on third party websites to reel in guests.  I've seen as much as 33% off for some hotels, and while you can still use this on the actual hotel's website, sometimes you'll be corned with a higher fee if you go this route. 

Wrap Up:
Make sure you consider other things when booking your stay: most hotels will have some sort of incentive if you stay for more than one night; calling the hotel to see if they can cut you a deal for a weekend rate if you stay for a few days during the week may work; booking both airfare and hotel at the same time can save some money.  If you have other tips or suggestions on how to book hotels, share them here! I'm always trying to become more refined and practiced in hotel searching, so I'd love to hear your ideas ;)

Until the next part,
Rowie

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