If there’s one thing that makes me happier than chocolate coated strawberries it’s researching accommodation options.
I know, I’m a total square.
There’s no denying it, it gets me all fired up every time. Maybe it’s the pre-holiday anticipation; when you get as far as actually booking where to stay you know the trip is not far off.
I also know that I am very much in the minority when it comes to getting a kick out of finding accommodation online. Most people would rather poke their own eyeballs out with toothpicks than search for hours for places to stay. Me? I need to give myself a time limit or I’d be whiling away the days in cyberspace.
So, how do you do this magical online booking malarkey without committing harakiri?
1. Hire me to do it for you. I’m serious!
2. Follow these simple steps to stay sane:
Decide on a Destination
Have a definite idea of where you want to go. If you start aimlessly searching destinations things can get overwhelming. Narrow down your options to two or three places to make decision-making easier.
Book by Budget
Once you’re decided where you’d like to go, do some research on each destination to see how expensive it is when you’re there. This may be dictated by how long you want to stay in a place, too. If you’re travelling for a month you will probably want cheap accommodation rather than blowing your budget in a week.
Apartments or cabins in campsites are probably the cheapest option for families. Anywhere you have kitchen facilities where you can prepare your own meals any time of the day is ideal. Few hotels provide kitchenettes in the rooms, but I have stayed in one or two, so if you’re persistent you will find them.
Find the Best Travel Search Engines
By now you should have decided on your final destination. Things get easier from here on in. When you know where you’re going, do a simple search for ‘family accommodation in [destination]’.
The results will show sponsored links first. Some people choose to ignore these and scroll down to the main results, but I often click on them as I really don’t mind if my click will send money their way, they’re doing me a massive favour. These companies obviously have enough dosh to be able to promote their brand so they must be doing something right, and you’ll often find they’re offering exactly what you’re looking for. Good targeted advertising, that is!
Go With Your Gut
Open all the links you like the look of, or that say they’re offering what you’re looking for. Ignore the review-type websites, for now. You can read reviews later in the search, if you’re on the fence.
Often, you’ll be drawn to a site that suits your sensibilities. It’s a very subjective process. What might appeal to one person may not appeal to another. It’s usually down to how good the website looks, and how easy it is to navigate. If people can’t get past that the rest of the site doesn’t matter.
Set Your Search Criteria
Once you’ve opened a few accommodation booking websites, set your search parameters. So if you’re looking for child-friendly places with a pool or somewhere that provides cots tick the specific boxes before you search.
And don’t rule out some of the larger websites like Booking.com, Agoda or Stayz. Each one has a good selection of hotels, guesthouses, apartments and campgrounds on their books, which are perfect for families. Also, using them allows you to check a number of options through the one portal, saving valuable time… and headaches if you find all this searching a chore.
Double-check Your Search Parameters
If you’re booking for a family of four, many accommodation systems will try and fob you off with a studio containing a double bed and sofa bed. That’s not a good idea if you’ve got toddlers.
You need at least one bedroom so when it comes night time you’re not forced to go to bed at 7pm with the kids because you can’t cook/watch TV/have the light on. And make sure you’ve checked the ‘lift/elevator’ option for accommodations in Europe. You don’t want to arrive at your bodacious abode to find out you’ve got to traipse your brood and luggage up four flights of narrow winding stairs.
The easiest way to do a mammoth search online is to use ‘tabs’. It’s amazing how many people don’t know the joy of tabs. Regardless of whatever browser you use, there will be the option to open links in new tabs. (If you don’t know where to find it, do a search for – finding new tab in [your browser]). This is the key to being able to search for and discount things quickly.
When you look through each accommodation company, simply open the apartment/hostel in another tab; don’t look at it, just keep browsing and opening tabs.
Become a Scanner
If you’ve gone tabtastic and have clicked on pretty much every option there is, you need to cull. To become a champion culler, you need to be a champion scanner. This is a worthy skill to possess in the age of the Internet, and is also a case of practice makes perfect – the more you do it, the better you get.
Click on the first link, check out the important information first. If it’s not offering what you’re looking for in the quick details, dismiss, move on. Be brutal!
Once you’ve chosen a few options that will suit now is your time to check for reviews. I don’t often, but then I’m usually pretty happy with what I find and have years of practice at booking my own accommodation.
Also, people are more inclined to leave feedback online if they’re disgruntled. This means the majority of reviews will be negative, so it’s hard to get a balanced view. Unless there are glaringly obvious problems on review sites, again, go with your gut.
Read the Fine Print
Before you go booking any accommodation online, check first if the company has a booking policy that involves a cash deposit. I’ve been caught by this before, and it’s a pain.
Many of the apartment sites, especially, will require you to give the accommodation owner a cash deposit in the local currency when you meet to collect the keys. This can be annoying because then you’re left with a wad of cash in a currency you no longer need when you leave. Try and arrange a credit card deposit instead. Be aware, if you book through an apartment-only site, there may also be hefty cleaning charges when you vacate the property, too.
Before you book, double-check if the accommodation ticks all the boxes, then check what is available nearby. Is it close to transport/the beach/sights etc? Also, check the cancellation policies of the site. Oh, and if you haven’t already done so, book travel insurance!
If you travel as a family, what is your favourite type of accommodation? Do you do luxury hotels, apartments or campsites?