How to find the best travel accommodation

IMG_3697There’s often a bewildering choice of accommodation to choose from when you visit a new location. I usually start my accommodation search by opening up (, Airbnb ( and TripAdvisor ( and inputting my travel dates. This gives an initial indication of the price range and what I’ll get for my money. I then apply filters on price and location; sort by customer rating and then spend most of my time reading customer reviews. There is a lot of average accommodation out there, from hostels to five-star hotels so I look for the wow factor – it could be the friendly management, the rooftop pool, the central location or the best facilities.

What are your top priorities when looking for a room once you take budget out of the equation? Do you want to be in the thick of it – in the centre of town where the bars and restaurants are, or in a sociable hostel where you can meet lots of other travellers? Do you want to be sure of a peaceful night’s sleep? Perhaps you want to be close to nature or public transport links? Or something else entirely!

Of course, you’ll need to read between the lines in customer reviews as everyone has a different idea on what makes the best (or worst) place to stay. There’s always someone who wants five-star luxury for rock-bottom prices, or someone who gives a bad review just because the Wi-Fi is a bit slow…

For me, I like to guarantee a quiet night’s sleep and be within walking distance to the centre where the shops, bars and restaurants are – but far enough away to ensure the loud music from a bar isn’t going to keep me awake until four in the morning. Cleanliness is a top priority. A private bathroom and air conditioning are a bonus – but by no means deal-breakers. What are your accommodation must haves?

Some of my favourite accommodation has been bare bones, but in the most amazing locations: staying right on the beach in a bungalow in Koh Lanta, Thailand, falling asleep to the sound of the waves, with nothing but a bed, a fan and a mosquito net for £8 per night– it’s basic but the best spot on the island.

When to book

I think it’s usually worth booking in advance – it saves you from having to lug around your bags from hotel to hotel when you arrive to see if they have vacancies and if they’re within your budget. Booking ahead gives you piece of mind that you’ll have somewhere to stay and a decent indication that you have somewhere nice if you’ve done your research. On the other hand, many travellers prefer to find somewhere when they arrive, and they often end up with cheaper (last-minute) prices. Not every hotel or hostel advertises online, of course, so there are often some real gems available to discover when you get to a new location. Perhaps a half-way house (if you’ll pardon the pun) is to book your first night to guarantee you have somewhere to stay when you arrive, then once you’ve dropped off your bags you can go out in search of somewhere to stay for the next few nights.

When choosing a hotel, always ask to see a room before handing over the money. Check the room for noise (is it next to a loud bar or can you hear noise from the room next door?) and also for security (do the locks work and is there a safe?)

In some countries you won’t get past immigration if you don’t have proof of accommodation, so if it’s your first night in a new country, you’d be advised to check the entry requirements, or just book somewhere to be on the safe side. When I was in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, I needed to provide proof of booked lodgings in order to clear immigration at the airport. I heard horror stories from other travellers about how people had been turned away at the border for not having booked accommodation in advance– and put back on the next flight out of the country. Imagine travelling all that way to somewhere so remote only to be turned away for something as simple as not having booked a room! It wasn’t a case of there being no available accommodation, but a way for Immigration to account for every tourist’s whereabouts – so make sure you’re aware of what’s expected of you on arrival in a new country.

Bed bugs

In tropical parts of the world, it is advisable to check for bed bugs before checking into a room. They may be more notorious in budget accommodation but are not discerning and an unfortunate infestation could mean they are just as likely to plague a five-star hotel as a hostel dormitory. To check for bed bugs, pull back the sheet and check the corner of the mattress for small blood stains. Lift and drop the corner of the mattress and you might see the little critters (the size and shape of a flax seed) scurry away.

Tell-tale signs of an infestation are bites – not dissimilar to mosquito bites, but in a straight line. If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in a room with bed bugs, you’ll need to make sure you don’t take them with you to your next destination – or you could permanently infest your bag and clothes for the duration of your trip. If you’re worried your clothes might have come into contact with bed bugs, wash them on a hot wash. If you don’t have access to a washing machine or have delicate garments that are hand-wash only, put them in a black bin bag and leave them out in the sun (if you’re in a country with a tropical climate). The heat will kill off the bugs without damaging your clothes.

Taxi card

When you’ve found a place to stay, pick up a business card from reception, or do a pin-drop of your location on your map app on your phone. This can come in handy if you get lost and can’t find your way home or need to give directions to a taxi driver that doesn’t speak your language. Ask your hotel reception to write down the name and address of the lodgings in local language and provide a phone number. Hotels in China give out what’s known as a taxi card with the address written in Chinese characters, to save any confusion when getting a taxi home, without needing to ask for directions.

We can’t stay here!

Sometimes, no matter how much research you’ve done, or how many reviews you’ve read, you’ll end up staying somewhere that’s not as described – albeit filthy, or just downright weird.

My first time in Hong Kong I inadvertently checked into a guest house in the infamous Chungking Mansions – little did I know that its reputation preceded it and a film, Chungking Express ( has been made about it!

Chungking Mansions holds Hong Kong’s record for the most guest houses in one building, packing in nearly two thousand guest rooms in total. Its cheap prices and central location make it a popular choice for backpackers and budget travellers, but the communal areas leave a lot to be desired.

My room itself was clean, quiet and featured everything I could need in a central Hong Kong residence, however, to get to it, I had to wind my way through a dingy shopping centre and take a tiny, cramped lift to one of the top floors of the building.

The lift was always packed to capacity and contained people from all walks of life: from weary tourists dragging heavy suitcases, to enterprising locals carrying giant tubs of curry. The landings and stairwells were squalid, filthy areas, often frequented by unsavoury or suspicious looking characters. I think I even stepped over someone smoking a crack pipe in the stairwell… Fortunately my stay was only for a few days, so I stuck it out but I was pleased to finally check out!

If you find yourself staying in a dodgy guesthouse, don’t feel particularly safe or are unable to lock the door, a top tip is to carry a wooden or rubber wedge in your bag – if the door to your room opens inwards, wedge it shut from the inside to stop anyone on the outside getting in. It’s simple, effective and doesn’t take up much bag space.

Excerpt taken from The Travel Secret (How to plan your big trip and see the world) by Sarah Kerrigan. For more details and to purchase, visit

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