A warm welcoming lobby in Maui's Hotel Wailea

21 TIPS: How to Pick BETTER Travel Accommodations

At some point when planning your trip, you have to pick a place to stay. So, how do you pick BETTER travel accommodations? A place you want to go back to at night? This post will help! 

Apparently there are many of you who hate picking accommodations for your trip. I bring HOPE! Picking a place to stay is one of my favorite parts of trip planning. It’s like a treasure hunt for that perfect spot.

Your travel accommodations are MORE than a bed. No matter where you stay, it’ll give you a taste of your destination … good OR bad. So, let’s make it GOOD. 

This post builds from the first two steps of trip planning: Step 1: Define YOUR Perfect Experience and Step 2: Build Your Itinerary and Book

How to pick better accommodations, trip planning tips infographicCONTENTS: 

1. #1 Tip to pick BETTER travel accommodations: Find your compass

My #1 tip on how to pick BETTER travel accommodations is this: Pick a place that contributes to the overall experience you want on on your trip. 

So, what experience do you want to have on your vacation? When you get back from your trip, what will make you say, “That was a FANTASTIC trip”? What VIBE are you looking for? What are the top 3 things you want to see and do? 

Use the experience you want as your compass when looking for travel accommodations.

The rest of these tips are simply filters to help you find that spot that’s perfect for your trip.

2. AMENITIES: List what you need and really want for travel accommodations

Which amenities are must-haves for you? Which do you really want? List these out. This list of amenities is your starting point to find better travel accommodations. Kinda like the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, travel-style.

Here are common amenities that might make your list:

  • Wifi in your room – included or extra
  • Breakfast – continental or full, included or extra
  • Parking – self-park or valet, included or extra
  • Fitness facilities – fitness room, sauna, pool
  • Onsite services – concierge, spa, 24/7 room service, laundry, business center
  • Private or shared washrooms (at smaller accommodation types)
  • Lockers (at hostels) or in-room safes 
  • Specific types of rooms – family suites or adjoining rooms in hotels, to gender-specific or private rooms in hostels
  • In-room luxuries – nice view, balcony, jacuzzi to soap, towels and linens
  • Beach towels, lounges and attendants

3. REVIEWS: Traveler reviews help you pick BETTER travel accommodations

Before picking accommodations for your trip, read traveler reviews from multiple booking sites. I usually start with Google Search, and then verify these reviews on Booking.com (great for larger hotels and apartments) and TripAdvisor.com (great for smaller places). 

When reading through reviews, look for these three things:

  • Patterns: Look for patterns of concerns. If a lot of people complain that it’s outdated, it’s likely outdated. If some complain about the food and others love it, chances are it’s a matter of taste.
  • Beware of complainers: Some people are very tough to please. When reading a negative review, consider if it sounds like a personality conflict more than a true issue. How did the hotel respond? Did it meet your expectations?
  • Trust your gut. If you read something that flags for you, trust it. For me, these are things like lots of cleaning issues or security gone badly. Follow your spidey sense.

Template image for how to pick better accommodationsDownload my FREE fillable PDF template to think through these filters and compare accommodation options.

4. DESTINATION-Inspired: Better travel accommodations reflect what you love

Looking down at Cape d'Or Lighthouse and the Bay of Fundy
Looking down at Cape d’Or Lighthouse on the Bay of Fundy from the parking lot above

How to pick better travel accommodations for your trip? Look for places that reflect why you’re excited about your destination!

  • What is it about the destination that gets you really excited to go? Why is it unique? What makes it shine? 
  • Do certain types of accommodations or certain areas embody what you love? For example: The Cape D’or Lighthouse (in the image above) is the perfect place to enjoy the Bay of Fundy’s 600-foot cliffs at sunset.  

5. TIMING-Inspired: Pick travel accommodations by season 

Let the season guide you in picking better accommodations for your trip. You might just find super-unique options.  

  • What makes your destination extra special during the season you’re visiting? If you’re traveling for certain festivals, tours or events, is a specific area ideal? Maybe it’s ideal because of its proximity or how it captures the vibe you want. For example, a hostel in Montreal during the Olympics.
  • Are certain accommodation TYPES perfect or not because of the season? For example, glamping or rustic cabins in summer. Or a cozy inn, chalet or even ice castle in winter.

6. COMPANION-Inspired: Pick travel accommodations you’ll all love

Better accommodations for couples, trip planning tips
Room with a view for two. Photo credit: Jisoo Kim from Unsplash.

Picking better travel accommodations means picking a place everyone will love. So, how to do this, you ask? Great question!

  • First, consider the ages, personalities and travel styles of all your travel companions. Would a TYPE of accommodation be super fun to stay at, such as a hostel or resort? Do you need the convenience of lots of activities, a kitchen or a suite? Or, is it better to keep it super-relaxed? 
  • Are certain options PERFECT or definitely OUT because of who’s going? For example, a romantic adults-only resort or a loud kid-friendly resort. 

Check out my top 10 unique travel daypacks for men!

7. PREFERENCES: Better accommodations have the little things 

The little things matter. They make you happy or they make you grumpy. So, how to pick better travel accommodations has to count them. 

  • Are there certain luxuries you’re willing to spend more money on for the place you stay? Maybe it’s being in a certain location, having nicer sheets, or a full breakfast?
  • Do you love the idea of meeting other travelers or locals? Would you spend time in an on-site lounge or take advantage of on-site activities? 
  • Do you prefer to walk, drive, take taxis or Uber, or use public transit? 
  • Is it important to be near parks, markets, shops, pubs or fantastic restaurants?

8. VACATION RHYTHM: Better accommodations match your rhythm

Lighthouse view from Baddeck on Cape Breton Island
Bras d’Or Lake lighthouse view from our inn in Baddeck, Cape Breton Island

How does picking better travel accommodations have to do with your vacation rhythm? Well, because your vacation rhythm points to things like noise. Access. Food. 

  • Do you like to spend relaxed mornings lounging and sipping your coffee? Ideally with a view and the morning paper?
  • Do you tend to retire early in the evenings or stay out late? Would it be great having a karaoke bar downstairs?
  • When it comes to food, do you prefer a big breakfast before you get going? Or, do you prefer grabbing something at a cafe down the street? 

9. PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS: Better accommodations make vacation easier

Our physical limitations can help us pick better accommodations for a trip. 

  • Are you facing tough travel days? Look for places with a flexible check-in and a refreshing view.
  • Do you need to reduce your walking? Look for a place that’s central or close to public transit.
  • If you crave solo time, what features could give you this? Maybe a suite, on-site lounge or easy access to a walkable beach?

10. Maximize TIME: Airport Accommodations

No – I’m not talking about naps while you wait for your flight! Have you heard of Yotels? If you have a red-eye flight, a long layover or flight delay, definitely check to see if your airport has one. 

Yotel Air is a hotel brand that offers comfortable private rooms at major airports. You rent them by the hour, so you can check in and out whenever works for you. A yotel is the perfect travel accommodation for catching up on sleep and freshening up after long-haul flights. Just give yourself plenty of time, as they’re usually outside security. 

I discovered Yotel after our loooong red-eye flight to London. Our room felt like a little bunker – no bright sunlight or noise to keep us awake. It was very comfortable and had everything we needed to reset. I highly recommend.

Template image for how to pick better accommodationsDownload my FREE fillable PDF template to think through these filters and compare accommodation options.

11. Maximize TIME: Overnight train accommodations

Many countries have trains with overnight cars. I’ve used them in Europe and Southeast Asia. Overnight trains are perfect travel accommodations for getting sleep AND for getting to wherever you’re going. Ideal for travelers like me who don’t like to waste time!

The other thing I love about overnight train cars is that they’re fun. Being lulled to sleep by the gentle motion and sounds of rolling over the tracks … in a bunk bed … It’s what adventures are made of!

Beware trying to sleep on a regular train. It might be okay in Europe, where the seats are soft, but not in Asia. I spent an AWFUL night (I mean, seriously AWFUL) on a regular train in Vietnam, with only a sheet between me and the metal floor. It was surprisingly better than the ultra uncomfortable wooden benches. AWFUL, I tell you. Don’t do it.

12. LOCAL FLAVOR: Travel accommodations for a short-but-sweet taste

How do you pick better travel accommodations for a whirlwind trip? How do you still get a taste of your destination with little time? Pick smaller accommodations to meet locals and absorb more flavor, like:

  • Small inns: Get a more personal experience while maintaining a comfortable level of privacy. Look for super-cute ones that reflect something about the destination … think castles and lighthouses.
  • Bed & breakfasts: Hosts welcome you into their home by offering a private room (sometimes a private washroom) and breakfast. Be as social as you want to be. The real gems are the insider’s tips and tricks your hosts are eager to share about their area.
  • Hostels: The friendly atmosphere of a good hostel can be pretty fantastic. You can learn about must-see stops you hadn’t heard about or be warned off tourist traps. And you might just find a really fun travel companion and lifelong friend.

13. PLACE = EXPERIENCE: Travel accommodations for short trips

Tree swing at a hotel in the jungle
Find your perfect EXPERIENCE. Photo credit: Taylor Simpson from Unsplash.

If you have limited time, picking better travel accommodations might mean picking a place that IS the experience you want. Certain accommodations provide a complete vacation experience:

  • An all-inclusive resort: From ultra-luxurious adults-only resorts to mini amusement parks. If you get bored, you can take a day trip with a tour or explore on your own.
  • Cruise: Cruises are like all-inclusive resorts, but change things up by stopping at different ports along the way. Cruises are like small cities, with a variety of excellent restaurants, relaxing adults-only areas, spas and entertainment.
  • Glamping in a national park: Many national parks in North America have some pretty cool “glamping” experiences. Stay in a yurt, dome, tipi or rustic cabin while exploring the natural destination around you.

14. LONGER STAYS: Pick one great place to save money and convenience

You often save money if you stay longer at one place. This applies across the board on accommodation types. Think: 3 or more nights.

The other benefit of staying longer in one place is avoiding the hassle of moving. Instead, day trips might be a better option for you. In two weeks, I stayed in three different areas of Maui; I loved it, but my husband didn’t love packing up! 

15. WATCH PRICES: Better travel accommodations at the right price

This is an obvious one, but it’s worth noting. The moment you have a sense of which accommodations you want for a trip, check them regularly for price fluctuations. 

And, watch different booking sites, because they’re not all equal. (My favorites for accommodations are Booking.com and Expedia.com, though I always compare them on Google Search first.)

16. DISCOUNT CARDS and LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Put them to work on your trip

You might already have access to discounts at travel accommodations you’re considering. Discounts are often available to:

  • Students
  • Seniors
  • Automobile associations like AAA (CAA in Canada)
  • Specialty club members (check all you’re a part of!)
  • Online booking platforms (like Expedia.com, which often has 30% off deals)
  • Certain credit cards

If you travel quite a bit and like to stay with certain hotel brands, it might be worthwhile to get one of their loyalty cards. Beware of cards with annual fees, though, unless you travel a lot. Also, note that you typically need to book directly with the brand to make use of their loyalty programs. (This may or may not be cheaper than booking through an agent or online booking site).

17. GROUP BOOKINGS: Travel accommodations that save per-person costs

Better accommodations for group travel, trip planning tips, beautiful hostels
A beautiful hostel for group travel. Photo credit: Nicate Lee from Unsplash.

How do you pick better travel accommodations with a group? You have a few very interesting options!

  • Apartment, house or cabin: This can save you per-person costs. AND you might find a fantastic option to take your trip up a few notches. A huge space in stunning settings. Or your perfect cozy vibe only steps from the beach.
  • Small inns and bed & breakfasts: You can sometimes get discount rates by booking the entire inn or house. Plus, these places are often very cute.
  • Hostel: An easy way to book separately but stay together. Rates are cheaper and the experience is fun, too!

18. LOW SEASON: The BEST travel accommodation for the BEST price

If you can travel during low season, you’ll score a deal. For example, staying on Rodeo Drive pretty much doubles in price if you visit during the Oscars instead of the fall. 

Low travel season is generally November to March. BUT, this obviously depends on the location, like in my Rodeo Drive example. Christmas and Spring Break are also expensive times to travel. Shoulder season – April to mid-June and September to October – is often a great time to travel. Rates are lower, touristy stuff is usually open, and the crowds haven’t followed you. 

19. CHEAPER OPTIONS: Better travel accommodations can be cheaper! 

Hostel community in Montreal
I loved the community vibe in my Montreal hostel

For the skeptic: Cheaper doesn’t have to mean awful. I recently researched which borough I want to stay in on my next trip to New York City, and I found some pretty fantastic, reasonably-priced options all over NYC. You CAN find a reasonably-priced place you’ll want to go back to.

When looking at cheaper types of travel accommodations, use the same filters as any other place. A hostel, for example, should have a solid history of strong traveler reviews. They should be clean, comfortable, safe, and have the amenities you need. And they should also contribute in some way to the experience you’re after (or at least, not take away from it).

Here are options for cheaper types of travel accommodations:

  • Small inns or bed & breakfasts: Book a private room in a house, which may have a private or shared washroom. Breakfasts might be simple or grand, and you’ll likely meet other travelers and get to chat with your hosts. (These are my go-to for cheaper accommodations with personality.)
  • Budget chains: These are my least favorite, because their styles don’t tend to make a trip better. But, they can offer a comfortable stay with a good breakfast in a good area. 
  • Hostels: The bigger the room, the cheaper it’ll be. But, private rooms are cheaper options to a hotel room. A good hostel can be a fantastic social experience. When reading reviews and picking a good one for you, keep the amenities, your travel style and experience in mind.
  • Student housing: Colleges and universities often open up their residences to guests over Christmas and summer. Search “academic housing in CITY” to see what’s available.

20. LOCATION, LOCATION: A BIG detail to picking BETTER travel accommodations

Selfie at the Luxe cafe overlooking sunny Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles
Luxe cafe overlooking Rodeo Drive

A good location can save you both time and money, and help you see and do what you want. It can also contribute to the overall experience you want, or take away from it.

The best time to think about the BEST LOCATION for better travel accommodations is after you’ve researched your destination and the activities you want to see and do. Generally, a great location is based on access:

  • Near public transit. Touristy spots are often conveniently on transit routes, so being near public transit is an easy, cheap and fast way to get around a city. Major tours, like hop on-hop off bus tours, are usually near public transit, too.
  • In an area you enjoy. I like staying in friendly, walkable areas with great places to get coffee in the morning and drinks at night. Do you enjoy being in the middle of the action or a short train ride away with some reprieve? Right on the beach or in the middle of the best shopping district? Right at a distillery or winery? What style fits YOU best?

21. IMMERSE YOURSELF: Travel accommodations that put you THERE

This last point on how to pick better accommodations for your trip is all about your MUST-DO activity. That #1 thing you have to see and do to get that quality experience. 

Sometimes proximity isn’t quite enough … IMMERSION is what you’re after:

  • Nature lover: – There are SO many amazing experiences popping up in national parks all over North America. Yurts, domes, tipis, tiny homes, rustic cabins. Just take a look through my 35 coolest things to do in Nova Scotia! Then there are epic places to stay around the world, like treehouses in Costa Rica’s cloud forest, jungle ecolodges in South America and an ice hotel in Sweden (or the one in Quebec Canada!).
  • Culture junkie: This might mean looking into homestays (I’ve only done this through organized tours, so I can’t give insight here). Or staying at super-cool places like a castle, monastery, or cave.
  • Adventure junkie: Hike to the top of that mountain for an epic stay with an epic sunrise. Or, get out on an adventure tour, like overnight whitewater rafting or back-country hiking. 
  • Disney: Oh, Disney. Disneyland Park. Disney World Resort. Disney Cruise Line. No one does “immersion” quite like this entertainment powerhouse. Take your pick of place and you’re sure to be wowed. (Check out when to book your Disney cruise!)

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Summary and Resources:

I want to repeat something I said at the beginning: Where you stay is MORE than just a bed. Your travel accommodations will leave an impression on you about your destination, whether good or bad. So, make it good.

No matter your trip constraints. No matter the season you’re going, or the people you’re going with. You can pick BETTER travel accommodations … A place you’ll want to go back to at night.

Hopefully you found the filters above helpful in finding a place you’ll love staying at.

Template image for how to pick better accommodationsNeed a printable to think through these filters? Download my FREE fillable PDF template to help you pick BETTER travel accommodations!

Resources to find super-cool places to stay on your trip:

Check out my 3-step trip planning process:

And remember to SHARE this post with your TRAVEL COMPANIONS!

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How to pick better accommodations, trip planning tips infographic

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