Doing the Research, Baby!
One can argue that Research is the answer to almost anything – but somehow people seem to forget research when they travel. Instead – too many people I know tend to choose one of two travel options – The unplanned, loosy goosy option – or the turn over everything over to someone else choice.
The later is the most expensive of course. If you love travel on the cheap and if someone else is doing the planning – unless it’s your BFF – they are going to be making some money somehow. Even cruises – which are seriously an economical choice – have to break-even at the end of the day. So somewhere, somehow – someone is making money off your desire not to plan!
How does the loosy goosy option work. Well – if you are flexible, willing to pay extra when the nicest inexpenive options are long gone – well – clearly – that’s the best. You have the most opportunities for making new friends who will put you up, and you can fall into fab happenings – things you wouldn’t know about if you had to be here or there on this or that date. But Loosy goosy can work against you when you are talking Opera Tickets – or getting into crowded museums or events. Sometimes they just plain sell out – and by making plans ahead – you can assure that you get to go.
In my wanderings – I’ve met lots of people that fit into these two groups – more of the former than the later given my penchant for cheap travel, but you get the idea. Most interesting I think was the doctor we bumped into in Buran, South Korea. His idea of travel – stay cheap, walk the city – and only work when you run out of funds.
Problem – I happen to love doing the planning – and I hate not knowing where I’m sleeping at night. Drives me nuts. Plus – I hate dragging my suitcase – tiny as it is – around all the time – so spending several nights in the same city is not just a preference – it’s almost a necessity.
So – how does research fit into this.People are always asking me how do I plan for 4 to 5 week trips on a serious budget. First off – it actually helps to have a budget. Yes – I have to make some hard choices – but at least I know where the choices are going to have to happen.
5 star hotels and restaurants – definitely out! As are 3 star and probably 1 star. Nope – I’m going to be looking out for hostels/BnB’s that have been for well reviewed by at least 50 reviewers. Only a few reviewers? I’m sorry – I”m suspecious that these represent friends and family. Not highly rated – I’m going to be checking out those negative comments. Great place but noisy – not going to work for me. A real party place – nope, not my kinda locations. Great place but a poor location – far from the city maybe – again – that’s a no. I’m fussy – I want it all – and I want it cheap.
So – Housing – my go to options are Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. I’ve checked out VRBO.com and Homeaway.com – but generally they seem to offer options for larger groups, and we are just 2. They also tend to be more expensive per night for the places with better reviews. Way the cookie crumbles, I’m guessing. Air BnB is sometimes of interest – but when you read my criteria – you’ll understand why it often doesn’t work out for me.
But it’s easier to explain my hot list of budget housing ‘must-haves’ then to just mention websites.
So – What are my must haves when budget travelling?
1. Location. I care a lot about how far you are from public transport. And while buses are great – if there’s a metro – I want to be able to use it without needing hiking boots! Another perfect location – down town of course. I adore being right in the heart of the action, but in a hostel that reviewers describe as quiet. My cup of hot cream tea!
2. Bathrooms. My preference is to have my own bathroom en-suite. And yes – you can get those in hostels. But you are going to have to look – and sometimes look very very hard. But I’ve spent my last night in a dorm – and while I’ll bend on the bathroom – the reviewers had better be talking about multiple bathrooms. There are pigs out there who think nothing of trashing a shared toilet – and compelely fog out on why I don’t want to share their mess!
3. Kitchen. I’ll trade off an en-suite bathroom for a kitchen if I absolutely must. It’s that important. You can’t budget travel pleasantly without a kitchen. I’ve had people tell me that I’m overly fussy here – that you can easily smuggle food into your room if you don’t feel like eating out that night. But the key here is ‘smuggle’. I don’t want to have to sneak around. I want to be able to sit at a table, open my bottle of wine, and relax with a view, a nice assortment of cheese – and maybe some sausage. You need a kitchen – and a shared place to eat to achieve that! Trust me there.
4. People. The Intrepid Traveller and I love meeting people – local people. other travelers – it doesn’t matter. So having a common area where you can easily rub shoulders with other people feeds our desire to chat. And sometimes – it turns out splendidly. We’ve picked up fellow travelers from all over the world – sometimes just for a night or two, sometimes for longer. So on our must have list – common space!
And how to I find these kinds of places? At reasonable prices? I start early! As soon as I know my travel dates – I start looking for where I’m going to be sleeping. My preference – have all these reservations in hand at least 2 months prior to the trip.
Yes – I hear you – cuts down on flexibility. But I’ve rarely picked wrong! For example – turns out that the 2 weeks we’re in St. Petersburg is their White Night’s festival. And nope, I didn’t know!
But – hey – take advanage to what comes your way I say.
Next blog – More advantages of planning ahead – including the joys of finding amazing Theatre options – but meanwhile I need to sign off.
Do the research takes time – lots of time! The Soup Lady
I agree about the research, and web comparisons and lead time are important. Lately I’ve found the human touch to be a huge factor too! I will often phone my potential places to stay, especially independent, smaller ones, and I find that with a little negotiation I’m getting a great price, otherwise unfindable on the Internet.