Hotels are possibly the single biggest expense incurred when traveling. They can be so expensive! For me, a hotel is a place to sleep and safely store my belongings.
However, here are some valid reasons why you should stay in an upscale hotel:
- The hotel is the destination or one of the main reasons for the trip- resort-type properties or a Las Vegas casino fit in this category.
- You are going to a special occasion such as a wedding/family reunion and everyone is staying in the same hotel.
- The hotel has a unique amenity such as a top location or an amazing pool – the Marina Bay Sands fits in this category
- You’re trying to impress someone with a romantic getaway.
- Your company is paying for it
- You have hotel points or need to spend the night for a points-related reason (such as obtaining status).
If the trip doesn’t fall into one of those categories, you could be wasting money just to be unconscious in a fancy box. When looking at hotels, consider what experiences you could have instead with the money saved. For instance, $30 can be a nice meal, a night out, admission to multiple museums or a week’s worth of public transportation in a major city.
If you want the upscale hotel experience, here are some cheaper alternatives.
- Stay there for one night and a cheaper place for the rest of your trip. Pack all your hotel experiences such as spa treatments and the pool into that day.
- Stay nearby in a less expensive place and visit the pricier hotel for drinks, meals and spa.
Here are some tips on the pros and cons of various categories of places to stay:
- Friends: Staying with friends gives one insight into how people actually live in the area you are visiting. The free room has a catch-there is an expectation to hang out with your host for at least a bit- minimum one meal or experience. So, if I am going somewhere and have a packed schedule, I will avoid reaching out to friends as a courtesy to their time and effort spent to host me. When contacting friends, be upfront about your schedule constraints when planning your stay- not after. Also, make sure to figure out exactly where someone lives to see if they live reasonably close to where to you want to go. You might have friends in a city you are visiting, but they could be inaccessibly or inconveniently far from where you really want to go.
- Hostels: Hostels are my personal preference when I can’t find a free room. I genuinely enjoy the atmosphere of hostels. It is nice to meet like-minded travelers and the owners/staff usually have good advice for budget and adventurous travelers. For people who like the social vibe, but want privacy, a great option is a private room, which usually costs 3 to 4 times the price as a dorm bed but can typically sleep 2. When booking hostels I will usually pick the highest rated one with sufficient reviews on Hostelworld – I look for a rating of over 9, but will accept a place over 8. While some travelers try to save the extra $2/night on a cheap hostel, the cost difference is so minimal that I will take the nicer hostel which usually has a much better experience. Most people don’t realize this, but there are actually great hostels in the US. I have never had anything stolen or heard of anyone having anything stolen at a hostel, but I do take precautions. When sleeping in a dorm, I always keep my valuables on my person under the blanket or in a locker if provided. When selecting a lock combination, I make sure it is different from my phone password. However, I rarely lock my bag because clothes are generally useless to a thief.
- Hotels: I have 3 criteria for selecting a hotel. Price (in the US I strive for under $70-80/night, but the pricing varies by region). Location-has to be safe and reasonably close to where I want to visit. Wifi– for international trips or areas without cell coverage, I need to be able to use my phone to make plans. I usually search for hotels on an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like Kayak or Booking.com and pick the least expensive option. OTAs have rating systems too. I am personally willing to stay in anything over a 6 on Booking, but I understand that others have higher standards.
- AirBNB: AirBNB’s have some major advantages over hotels. They are more personal, often have unusual perks, can be cheaper than hotels and are often located in interesting neighborhoods off the tourist track. Since many people who run AirBNB’s are not professionals in the hospitality industry, a stay in an AirBNB can lead to some funny travel stories. That said, they can be problematic depending on how professional the host is. For instance, the host will cancel your booking last minute or will be unreachable. Reading reviews of the host is the single most important thing you can do when deciding to book an AirBNB. In addition to my Hotel criteria, I only choose a host with near-perfect (4.5 stars and up) Communication and Check-In ratings and a sufficient number of reviews (relative to the area).
- Camping: This is a surprising option for many, but you can actually camp outside of most small to medium sized towns or in rural areas. Depending on the location, you may have to pay a fee. Most local campgrounds run between free and $15 for a tent pad. Also make sure to factor in the cost of checking in camping gear if flying to your destination.
- Sleeping in the car: I occasionally do this on road trips when I am unsure of how far I will be going that night and could not find reasonable other options. If you chose to sleep in your car make sure to find a space that is sufficiently off a road (at least 5 feet), to avoid being struck by a vehicle but not too far away as to attract thieves. Always keep the car locked and avoid rest stops if possible. Rest stops can draw thieves. Some states do not allow sleeping at rest stops. Also make sure to keep the window ajar to allow fresh oxygen to get into the car, but not enough so someone could rob you. In a sedan, the passenger seat is often more comfortable than the driver’s seat because there are no pedals or steering wheels to constrain you. Sleeping in a car is 100% legal in unincorporated areas, but some cities do outlaw it. Should you find yourself approached by the police, simply say you were feeling drowsy and wanted to take a power nap before proceeding on. Then offer to keep driving. Also be aware of private property and do not trespass.
In short, don’t fear the cheap hotels. If you are going to stay in a fancier hotel, think about why and make sure those reasons are valid. Otherwise, you are throwing away a lot of money and making travel more expensive than it has to be.