Touring a new city is exciting, but figuring out where to stay there can be quite daunting and can sometimes feel like an endless loop of options. To help you with that, I’ve come up with a handy guide to walk you through the process of choosing a hotel. I have listed some important factors to consider, as well as mistakes I’ve made that you can avoid.
Start by determining what’s important to you.
How to choose a good hotel should not be the question here. It’s how to choose the right hotel for you.
Think about your non-negotiables. Is fast access to the Internet something you can’t live without? The perfect location to navigate the city? An amazing view of the beach or mountains?
For me, it’s usually a good sized room with a nice modern bathroom (preferably with good water pressure in the shower!). If I’m crashing for a night I don’t mind a small room – but for a real vacation I like having a little room to spread out, and I hate it when there is barely enough to maneuver and move around in either the room or the bathroom. Even worse if the bathroom isn’t separated from the bedroom by a solid door! I try to go for a minimum room size of around 325 square feet whenever I possibly can.
Realistically, unless your budget is unlimited, every hotel and hotel room will have tradeoffs. The best hotel is the hotel that’s right for you and meets your most important must-have criteria.
After deciding what you need, think about what you want. Perhaps there are certain aesthetics you lean toward or avoid. It wouldn’t hurt to check the geography of the place you’re traveling to. When I’m on a city trip, I book hotels that offer a view of the urban night lights. If I’m going to somewhere more off-the-beaten path especially in developing countries, I make sure to stay in reputable hotels where I feel safer.
How To Choose A Hotel – Step by Step Guide
1. Read hotel reviews.
I once stayed in a hotel that looked nothing like the pictures advertised on the hotel website. This is why checking reviews from multiple sources is necessary.
Review sites are way more dependable than the hotel’s website alone. If I want to weigh the pros and cons of a hotel, I check it on Oyster.com. Reliable sites like Booking.com and Tripadvisor also provide unbiased reviews from real guests. If a hotel scores 9 out of 10 stars on Booking.com and 4 out of 5 stars on Tripadvisor, and assuming there are a lot of reviews it’s pretty safe to say it’s good. Make sure to also read the negative reviews, especially if multiple people were bothered by the same issues. This will warn or give you a clue on what the flaws of the hotel are.
Be cautious about places with a high review score but only a handful of reviews. Don’t get me wrong, you might find an undiscovered gem this way! But you’re taking a gamble by not being able to rely on a larger sample size of crowdsourced perspective.
Important note: make sure to scan through the guest reviews published within the last year! A bunch of positive reviews from years ago can drag up an average hotel rating score even if the hotel has run into issues more recently.
Pro tip: This year I’ve stayed in hotel rooms over 100 nights, and following just this step alone has resulted in a very high success rate of great hotel stays.
2. Check the hotel’s reputation – what is it known for?
Aside from the positive and negative reviews, it’s wise to also check the reputation of the hotel. Is the hotel a famous honeymoon or couples destination? If you’re traveling to bounce back from a breakup, you might want to consider booking elsewhere. Trust me, I learned it the hard way.
Same goes for hotels with lots of kids around – this may be great if you’re traveling with your family, but if you’re looking to relax quietly and read a book by the pool, you may want to steer away from places that are targeted by lots of families for fun times around the pool.
Standalone boutique hotels are great when you’re out exploring the city most of the time. But many prefer hotels that are part of renowned hotel chains. Aside from the added security, I also enjoy being a member of their loyalty programs. Reward points (especially if you’re a frequent traveler) may be converted to discounts and room upgrades! Other perks may include early check-in and late check-out.
3. Check the hotel’s facilities.
Don’t forget to check the hotel facilities as well. Do they have a gym, a pool, a restaurant, a spa, room service? Ask your hotel if these are available. Some may be under construction during your visit.
The most common hotel complaints are about its Internet connection, air-conditioning, and parking. Identify ahead of time if the WiFi is available throughout the whole premises or just in your room or the lobby. Double-check also if the parking is on-site or off site in a third-party garage.
4. Consider location and accessibility.
Accessibility is another important factor when choosing a hotel. Is the hotel close to the airport? Are there grocery or convenience stores nearby? If you’re like me and organize your nights around places with great food and drinks, opt for a place that has plenty of quality dining options around. Again, it depends on what’s important to you.
Figure out the places you want to see during your vacation and book a hotel within that area. If the attractions you want to see are far apart from each other, book a hotel near a train station or a bus stop. All major sites in the city will remain to be within your reach via public transportation.
Due to marketing purposes, hotels may claim that they’re “close to” some tourist spots. Before you book the hotel, see where it’s situated on the map. The description of their hotel’s location may not be what you expected when you see it on an actual map. Try Google Maps instead.
5. Compare hotel room size and amenities.
Depending on how you plan to spend time on your trip, hotel room size may not be the biggest factor in selecting the room, but I find it especially handy when trying to decide between a few different hotel options at similar price points. If other factors are roughly equal, I’ll almost always go for the hotel that has a larger room size.
Amenities in hotel rooms should be considered, too – that is, if they are important to you. Have a checklist of anything you really want inside your room. It can be a refrigerator, a bathtub, a kettle, an iron, or a hairdryer. If you’re on a business trip, you might also need a desk or a safe. Then check the hotel website or online reviews if the room you’re booking has these amenities.
6. Double check the fine print.
Now that you’re satisfied with the amenities, do not forget to read the fine print. Make yourself informed of the hotel’s specific terms, conditions, or restrictions. Sure, the hotel may have all these state-of-the-art facilities, but are you sure that they don’t come at a cost? Some hotels charge a non-optional ‘resort fee’ to cover WiFi, pool, and gym that is not included in the room rate. Parking fees can also be killer, especially in larger cities. Just because a hotel has parking available doesn’t mean that it will be free (or even reasonably priced), so it’s worth checking on this if you’ll have a car with you.
Ask your hotel in advance. Check their website and what their cancellation policy is. What time can you check in? What time should you check out? Are there hidden taxes or resort fees? It’s better to be safe than sorry (and broke)!
7. Confirm if your booking comes with free (and good) breakfast.
Here’s an interesting one. A common complaint across review and booking sites is the breakfast. Don’t let the ‘breakfast is available’ phrase fool you. This only means that the hotel has a cafe or restaurant that serves it. If this matters to you, make sure to verify if your booking does come with free breakfast.
Having breakfast available in your hotel can come in really handy, as it’s one less thing to figure out and deal with during your trip. If you’re traveling internationally from USA, depending on the country you are traveling in, you might not be able to find the breakfast items you are used to around town and it can be convenient to grab a solid breakfast at your hotel before starting your day.
All that said, for me personally, I don’t really care if the breakfast is free unless it’s alway going to be good! I’ve seen way too many old trays of stale pancakes, floppy bacon, and sloppy trays of scrambled eggs that you probably couldn’t pay me to eat. Unless I’m staying at a 5 star hotel or a hotel with a real quality restaurant attached that people would actually visit for a meal on its own merit, I personally wouldn’t expect to be impressed with the hotel breakfast – free or otherwise.
8. Review the Overall Value for Budget
Your budget of course plays an important role in choosing a hotel. What are you willing to give up to accommodate your budget and what’s important to you?
I used to think that I could always find a solid hotel option for under $200 per night and would start my search with a specific dollar budget in mind. Over time though, I’ve come to recognize that the range of offerings in different markets is so big, that in some places $200 will only get you a tiny room in sketchy neighborhood while in others it will get you a palatial suite.
So if I’ve already set my mind on traveling to a certain city, I find it’s better to first explore for 20 minutes or so on a major booking site to understand what it actually costs for a solid room in a decent neighborhood, and then recalibrate from there. If I plan to spend my time going out at night and exploring the city all day, I might stick with a more basic room at a mid-range place with consistent reviews. This frees up more budget for eating out and seeing the city.
On the other hand, if I’m planning a more relaxing trip where I’ll hang out at a hotel or resort and make it the centerpiece of my trip, it usually feels right to splurge a bit more on the room so that I can really get the most out of the trip. Since I won’t be spending as much money on exploring and dining out, I can justify investing in higher per night rate on the room.
I think of this concept as the overall ‘value for budget’ for my trip across both the hotel and the other planned expenses. Sometimes I don’t really mind spending $300 per night from a budget point of view, but I just can’t stomach spending that much for just a basic hotel room. If the overall numbers don’t work out to get a nice room and make the overall trip a good experience, I’ll usually shift gears and look into a lower cost destination.
With rising costs clearly impacting travel budgets, at Modern Traveler, we aim to really highlight destinations where you can achieve a great travel experience at a relative value, if this is something you’re looking for I would recommend signing up for our mailing list below.
In closing, it’s a good idea to cross-check hotel rates at three or four of your trusted booking sites before finalizing your booking. A great deal might just be one booking site away. To avoid spinning your wheels, I recommend saving this for the last step once you already have a good idea of the one or two places you’re thinking of booking.
Planning a vacation in a rather unfamiliar place is not an easy job. Choosing a quality hotel in a new city makes it more challenging. Your accommodation alone can make or break your trip. Hopefully the tips and tricks I shared will take some weight off your shoulders. Now that you have done your research, it’s time for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Book that hotel and enjoy it as much as you can!