One of the keys to the success of any trip can often be based on the place that you stay at during your visit. While people, including ourselves, often say it is just a place to sleep and not as important as the destination itself, it can effect your overall impression of a location and even your mood while you are there. We didn’t list hostels as a place to stay only because we have never stayed in a hostel, although we would assume that the same principals would apply. Some people can just show up and find a place to stay once they get there, but we’re not comfortable with taking our chances that way and always make reservations ahead of time. When selecting a place to stay, there are several factors that we consider as we go through the process of deciding on a where to make our reservations.
Location – This is clearly one of the most important things to consider when choosing a place to stay. How far is it away from the major sites that you want to see, how convenient is the transportation from the place, is it located in a safe area of the city, and how much noise is in the area? Especially if you don’t have your own vehicle, being within walking distance or at least short rides to the various places that you want to see is very important. We love to walk as much as possible in the cities that we visit, so the more central the location, the better that we find it. Although it isn’t a high priority, staying at a place that has views of the city is often a nice bonus that can make your stay even more enjoyable.
Amenities – Obviously, this is dependent upon your needs and travel style. For some people, having a restaurant on site or free breakfast can be important. Is there a private bathroom, does the property provide a hair dryer and bath products, etc. Is there a concierge on site, do they allow pets, do they have Wifi, is there a safe in the room, and whether the property provides housekeeping are things that might be important to some people. For others, having a kitchen or in-room refrigerator and coffeemaker are must have items in order to save time and money. We like to know if there is a bar on-site and whether room service is offered because we often want to unwind after a long day of touring the city and surrounding area. We also prefer a location that has housekeeping since we don’t want to do any cleaning during our stay, so we tend not to stay at Airbnb or VRBO type property.
Comfort – The size of the room and bathroom may or may not be important, but whether the sheets and carpets are clean should definitely be a consideration. Even if you only spend a few hours in the room sleeping, you want those hours to be as comfortable as possible. We prefer at least a king or queen size bed as opposed to having to push two twins together. We definitely want to have a shower and a bathtub is a plus. Unless we’re in an ecolodge in the jungle, we’d definitely expect to have hot, running water. If there are multiple floors, some people might need an elevator, although that isn’t a concern for us, at least for now.
Staff – Other than through reviews, there isn’t really a way to determine whether the staff will be friendly and helpful until you arrive, but it can definitely determine how much you enjoy your stay. Rude staff that isn’t willing to help, especially if there are any issues during your stay, can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for the entire place that you are visiting. We rely heavily on getting tips for local restaurants that aren’t touristy as well as places that might not be on your tourist guide to visit during our stay. We have even remained friends with some of those people long after our time in that location.
Price – The place where you are staying can be one of the most expensive costs of a trip and therefore it is one of the main considerations. Obviously there is more to it than just the actual nightly room rate, it is a combination of all of these considerations to determine what value you are getting for the price. Even so, if after researching the various choices that can be found at a destination, there are several places that provide similar value, then obviously trying to spend the least amount as possible is desirable. Paying more doesn’t mean that it is better. We are definitely believers in getting the most value (location, comfort, amenities, and friendly staff) for the money that we do spend.
Regardless of what your priorities are, researching a location is important. Reviews from people who have actually stayed there are often one of our primary deciding factors. We’ll visit the site’s website, assuming that they have one, look at the pictures, read what they have to say, but we don’t stop there. Pictures can be deceiving and marketing material is meant to entice you, even if they over promise. We also pay attention to whether the manager or owner of a property responds individually to reviews and if they demonstrate an honest commitment to making the stay’s of their guests successful. Brand loyalty is also a factor for us as we belong to a couple of loyalty programs and there is a sense of comfort knowing that you can trust what to expect. What are your priorities when looking for a place to stay when traveling?
There are usually options on how you can tour a location such as self-guided walking tours, group tours, or hiring a private guide. Even if you just read a guide book and walk the streets on your own, you are actually touring a location, it is just very casual. We have tried a variety of styles of touring and have probably done a combination of several styles on every trip. We don’t like being on a schedule, so we lean towards self-guiding ourselves through an area, but there are times when it requires a guide of some sort to really understand the history of a place.
Self-Guided Tours – Whether you get a map and highlight the path that you want to follow or just pick a starting point and wander, self-guided touring is a very relaxing way to see a place. You can see what you want to see, decide how long you want to spend at a certain site, and stop for a bite to eat at a place that fits your style and budget. One of the downsides is that it is up to you to make sure that you have read all of the information to truly understand the history and interesting facts about a location. Also, there are often times when informational signs are only in the local language and if you are not fluent, you might miss out on some interesting facts.
Group Tours – These can take on a variety of types of tours from hop-on, hop-off buses, river boat cruises, or group walking tours. These tours can be interesting depending upon the personality of the guide. It is often look this way, get a couple of sentences about it, and then you are off to the next site. If you are with a group of people who are truly interested in the place and have read a certain amount of information in advance, you can often learn interesting things based on the questions that are asked in addition to whatever information was on the guide’s script. The schedule is not your own, though, and you can sometimes end up spending more time in places that don’t interest you as much as perhaps it does others. Also, on walking tours, if you have people who decide to wander off to take pictures, you can find yourself standing around waiting for the group to regather.
Private Tours – Although you definitely pay a little bit more for private attention, there a many benefits to having a private tour guide. We have found them to be highly knowledgeable about the locations that you want to see and you have their complete attention to ask them questions that are of interest to you. Since the tour is private, the guides are usually willing to cater to your tastes, physical capabilities, and even potentially add things to the tour that might not have been in the original schedule. Obviously, the experience is completely dependent on the personality of the guide. If you are going to spend several hours with only yourselves and the guide, they better have a good personality or it will be the longest few ours of your trip.
There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to touring a location and we have found that it often takes a mix to see a place from all of the different angles. If you are going to do a guided tour, be sure to negotiate the price in advance, especially if you are hiring a guide right at a specific site. You should also consider a tip and it should be reflective of the information that you received and the quality of the tour and the guide.
With cell phone cameras getting better and better every year, it begs the question whether or not you should take up room in your bags for a camera. Even if we have a camera with us, we still use our camera phones in addition to using a traditional camera. On a couple of occasions we have decided not to take our camera with us at all, but in most cases we always take a camera with us. There are several reasons for packing our camera and extra lenses when traveling, despite the improvements in cell phone camera technology.
We have a couple of lenses for our camera, including a vibration reduction zoom lens. There are many times during a trip that we get the opportunity to have amazing views of a city or landscape. Having a camera with a zoom lens allows us to take photographs of objects in the distance and see them in a way that we couldn’t otherwise. Many of these photographs turn out to be some of our favorite photographs from a location. Another benefit that we find for taking photographs with a camera when traveling is that we can quickly focus on various objects as we walk through a location. Whether on a tour or just walking through a place on our own, we don’t want to stop every 30 seconds to take a picture and we find that we can get photographs of different objects without having to come to a full stop and playing with the zoom of a camera phone.
With that said, there are times when the cell phone camera is our preferred choice. Obviously, there are the selfies, probably one of the biggest reasons that camera phones became popular. Also, when we are in a restaurant and want to take a photograph of our food, we’re not likely to pull out our camera and snap a few pictures. Depending on the lighting, we have also found that cell phone cameras work fairly well in low light situations like inside of buildings, churches, and museums. There certainly isn’t any doubt that camera phones continue to improve and they can produce high quality photographs.
We have included several similar photographs here, one taken with the camera and the other will the cell phone. Obviously, there are other factors that come into play regarding the results, but we found the comparison interesting. For the reasons previously mentioned, we’ll continue to take a camera with us, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should. Would you leave your camera at home on your next trip and rely solely on your cell phone camera?