Travel Guide Part I: Looking for a Place to Stay

Although it’s too early to plan, would-be travelers all hope that the end of COVID-19 is upon us. Within 1-2 years, international and domestic travel will be back in swing again. While you (hopefully!) stay at home, an excellent way to pass the time is to plan for your post-COVID trip. Think of it as a celebration of the end of the pandemic. It will be a return to normality, and the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new place again!

The idea of travel is appealing to many, but the logistics involved can be intimidating at first. There are so many factors to consider: how much money to spend? What places to visit? Which local dishes to try? What things to pack? Where to stay? 

Today, we’ll be tackling the last question, the problem of finding a home for the duration of your vacation. Between price, location, quality, and others, below is a guide and set of tips to optimize looking for a place to stay.

Option 1: Look for friends or relatives in the area

This might be an obvious step, but is worth stating. The value of having someone you know in a new place can be immense. While most of the perks of traveling can be purchased, friends and relatives cannot. Besides free housing, having a friendly local guide can provide a much more authentic experience than you might otherwise have as a completely foreign tourist. 

Living together with a local can introduce you to many aspects of life there that make your stay easier. For example, you might not know how to access a hidden elevator, or where to find the cheapest convenience stores for toiletries. Or maybe there’s an amazing, to-die-for food stall buried in a labyrinth of winding alleyways that you would never be able to find yourself (the author has personal experience with this). 

If your friends or relatives are unwilling or unable to provide a place to stay (due to lack of space, a busy life, or other reasons), they still probably know the place better than you ever could from searching the Internet. Good deals, Airbnb hosts they can vouch for, hotels with a good view of the skyline are all things they might be able to find at the drop of a hat that might take you hours to search for otherwise.

Option 2: Credit card points

This option requires quite a bit of finesse, patience, and financial literacy. If you struggle with managing credit cards and finances, dislike using credit cards in general, or if the thought of tediously researching the benefits of several card companies makes you nauseous, it’s best to avoid this option.

Credit card companies offer a lot of perks to their products and it can be smart to capitalize on them.

Used correctly, however, leveraging credit card points can be a huge budget-saver when traveling. Many credit card companies partner with airlines and hotels that allow customers to accumulate points (through purchases) in order to encourage customer loyalty. These points can be accumulated simply by purchasing everyday necessities like groceries, toiletries and clothes depending on the stipulations. Over time, these points can be enough to pay for entire plane flights or several days of a hotel stay, removing a major portion of the cost of traveling. 

If you travel frequently for work, you’ll be familiar with a similar benefit: accumulating miles that add up to free or cheap flights in the future. Management consultants are probably the most familiar with this benefit. When credit card companies and airlines offer benefits in return for becoming a repeating customer, it’s always an option to use them. 

Option 3: Airbnb

If you have no friends or relatives in the area, don’t have credit card points, and balk at the expense of staying in a hotel, Airbnb provides a third affordable option.

Airbnb is a cheap alternative to hotels.

Since its inception in 2008, Airbnb has been providing affordable alternatives to expensive hotel stays. Booking a place to stay is almost as convenient, and sometimes more so than making a hotel reservation. You simply go to their website and specify the location and duration of your stay. Then you can filter it based on your preferences of price, size, location, property type, neighborhood, and even host language. Airbnb allows prospective guests to chat with the host for questions, and the reservation can be made as slowly or quickly as the guest desires.

Airbnb has other advantages over a hotel stay besides price and customizability. Many times, the host can offer tips or advice as a local, similar to the benefit of staying with friends and relatives. Living in someone’s homestay allows guests to experience more of local life than they might with a hotel. It also provides more variety, and quality or cleanliness is rarely compromised if you pick a place with good customer reviews.

Factors to optimize for

Now that we’ve covered three budget-saving options, it’s time to look into the factors you should consider when picking a place to stay. Many of these factors are related to each other, but let’s take them one at a time as if they were separate.

Location

Looking for a good location for vacation is somewhat similar to looking for a good place to rent or live. One common question issue is commute: how long would you like to spend traveling to your tourist spots?

Location can make or break a vacation.

A good location is often a trade-off between price and convenience. In New York City, for example, a place in Manhattan will cost more than a place in Queens. But popular destinations in Manhattan will be mere minutes away if you stay there–Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum, Central Park and so on–while you’ll have up to an hour or two of subway commute if you decide to stay in Queens. The choice is yours between how to optimize between the two.

A good location is also part of the travel experience. Having a good view of the city skyline or faraway mountain peaks integrates the fun aspects of travel even when you’re not moving around. Proximity to fun neighborhoods, flea markets, street stalls or off-the-beaten-path tourist destinations add appeal to a location that aren’t otherwise valued highly in terms of real estate. 

Price

As mentioned above, price is often a function of location. But location is not the only factor of price (though it might be the main one). Aspects such as size (how many bedrooms, bathrooms), neighborhood (cleanliness and safety), or individual decisions such as what Airbnb hosts choose to charge for factor into your vacation budget. 

Are you traveling as a family? Then you might have to plan for a bigger living space, and perhaps compensate by choosing less expensive locations. 

Do you want to splurge in expensive restaurants? Then tone down your living budget. 

Is your goal to relax in a vacation getaway rather than busily visiting tourist attractions? Then prioritize your living space because you plan to spend less on other aspects of travel.

Safety

Most urban centers will have their dangerous neighborhoods. Most rural areas will have their territories where wild animals pose a danger. Especially when traveling with kids, it’s important to make sure that safety is a non-issue and doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of your stay.

In general, safety is a function of price. The more expensive a place, the safer it probably is. 

Keep to the safer parts of the city!

It is also a function of location, and depends on a country’s gun laws, crime rates, districts, and poverty levels. Taiwan, for example, has almost no dangerous neighborhoods in its capital city, Taipei. Chicago has dangerous crime rates overall, but most of them are concentrated in the South Side; most tourists are fine if they stay in other parts of the city. Many places in Southeast Asia have relatively harmless tourist scams and pickpockets, but very low levels of violent crime. Most major European cities are safe as average quality of life and wealth levels are fairly high.

Quality and Experience

Of course, it’s preferable to get the highest-quality living space you can afford as a tourist. Aspects such as cleanliness, furniture, attractive room arrangements, and functioning facilities like electricity and water are a given.

Bed-and-breakfasts are a fun way to experience more local life.

However, there are ways to think about quality outside the typical habit of “the more expensive and luxurious, the better.” Many tourist spots offer rustic experiences that might look a bit rugged to first-time travelers. In reality they just embody a unique theme that one wouldn’t get from a hotel. Examples include log cabin rentals for ski trips, or bed-and-breakfasts that makes you feel more like a traveler than a tourist. Taiwan offers many themed “minsu” or homestays, with themes ranging from cats, castles, or bamboo. Hosts often serve traditional breakfasts in idyllic settings that look straight out of a movie or documentary.

These kinds of experiences offer a more creative take on traveling that give you memories to recall fondly for years.

A general tip

Remember when you’re traveling that you’re staying in a place that does not technically belong to you. Particularly in Airbnbs, homestays, and living with friends and relatives, remember to be respectful of your host, keep your living area tidy, and clean up after yourself as thoroughly as situation permits. Living with a host is much more personal than a hotel stay, where room services are more standardized. 

Being respectful can prevent many problems.

While there are clear advantages in terms of price and local knowledge that come with these kinds of living arrangements, there is also a risk in souring your relationship with your hosts if you are not respectful. There are plenty of stories gone wrong in homestays and Airbnbs when hosts and guests did not get along. Being respectful of your host, staying tidy, and being a good guest go a long way in preventing these kinds of issues.

Takeaways

Looking for a place to stay if you’re a first-time traveler can be a challenge. Going on a vacation is basically a short-term move that requires you to optimize budget, quality, location, and experience. If you do so successfully, you’ll get the most out of your trip and enjoy a vacation worth remembering.

Hopefully, we’ve provided a general layout of factors to remember and your options in finding an affordable, quality place to stay. 

Aside from living spaces, there are many other aspects of travel to consider. Stay tuned as we’ll be providing more travel guides in upcoming articles on travel itineraries, looking for authentic local food, packing, and more!

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