How to Choose the Best Hotel
Your hotel room is your home base when you're travelling. At the very least, your hotel is where you'll sleep and recuperate from your adventures while abroad. At most, it'll be your home away from home or even your temporary office space. Keep reading to see our advice on how to book the best hotel for you!
Regardless of whether you're a backpacker on a budget or a luxury resort vacationer, you'll need to consider what your priorities are while travelling and book a room that meets your specific needs to get the most out of your trip. Here are the most important points to consider when booking a hotel:
"Location, location, location" doesn't just apply to real estate. What's in your neighborhood (and what's not) can make or break your trip.
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Critical Amenities
Some amenities are so obviously important that you might forget to check for them - but if they're not there, your trip will be far less pleasant.
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Luxury Amenities
These will vary greatly from hotel to hotel, and what's important to you may not be as important to other travelers.
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Location: Where are you staying, really?
Regardless of how detailed the website is, you should always double check the location of the hotel yourself online and know exactly what is (and isn't) in the vicinity before you book. Watch for misleading descriptions or misconceptions. For example, the hotel may be located in South Beach (neighborhood in Miami), but may not be anywhere near South Beach (beach).

You'll also want to make sure that your information is as current as possible. The last thing you want is construction crews across the street waking you up with jackhammers at the crack of dawn every day (yep, this has happened to me!).

To figure out who and what your neighbors are, type the exact address into Google Street View. You'll get an in-person look at the outside of the building, which can already tell you a lot of information about the hotel itself. Does it look old and rundown, or new and clean? Does it have gates in front, or any kind of security booth? More importantly, you'll be able to see the street that the hotel is on. Pay particular attention to what's next door and across the street, whether it's a delightful looking coffee shop, a 24 hours convenience store, or an open construction pit. You can also use Google Photos to see which pictures people have uploaded from the interior of the hotel in their reviews, which can sometimes be more reliable than the perfectly clean and polished pictures on the hotel website or brochure.

It's also important to see how "accessible" the hotel is to local public transit routes and major roadways. While it certainly is easier to get around if you can flag a cab or a catch a bus from right outside your door step, there are major cons to consider as well. Is there high speed road outside that will make it difficult or dangerous to go for a walk? Will a nearby subway or streetcar line rattle your windows every few minutes in the wee hours of the morning?

The best location for you will vary on what you want to get out of your trip. If you're packing your schedule full of activities every day, you don't want to waste your precious vacation time commuting. Type the addresses of the things that you want to see into Google maps to see the approximate travel time from your prospective hotel (This is especially important if you're sightseeing with kids!)
On the other hand, if your travel style is a little more relaxed, or if you don't plan on leaving the hotel/resort that much, you might prefer the peace and quiet of being a little further out of the central tourist hub. Remember that the further your hotel is "off the beaten path" the harder it is to give directions and get to and from. If this is the case, you may want to make sure that you can get food and laundry services directly at the hotel or delivered to you.
Things to Remember When Selecting a Location: A Checklist
  • Check exact address on Google maps and see what is nearby in terms what to explore (museums, parks, beaches, etc) and what you want to avoid (noisy highways, shady neighborhoods).
  • Use Google Street View to get an estimation of the building and the immediate vicinity of the hotel. Pay special attention to what's directly next door and across the street.
  • Check access to either major roads and/or or public transportation services nearby, especially if you want to get out of the hotel and see as much as possible.

Critical Amenities: They Aren't Always Obvious
When you are staying somewhere other than home, cleanliness and comfort outweigh everything else. If you can't sleep well because the bed is hard or the area is noisy, or you don't feel comfortable and safe because of pests or a lack of security, you won't be able to enjoy your stay, no matter how many free breakfasts you are offered.

The most critical features in a hotel won't likely be mentioned in a brochure or on the website - it's not exactly a sexy selling point to say that a hotel room is roach free. Some things should be obvious and are taken for granted, but if you end up staying somewhere that is missing these key things, it will have an immediate negative effect on your trip. Here are the top things that you might forget to ask about, but that every hotel should have:

24-hour check-in: This is especially crucial if you are flying in very late at night or early in the morning. If the hotel doesn't have staff available 24 hours of the day, make sure that you call or message them in advance to let them what your expected time of arrival will be, so that someone can meet you, give you keys, and show you to your room.

Locks on all doors, including any balconies or windows: This is a no-brainer, but some small hotels (like locally owned bed and breakfasts) may put you up in what is essentially a spare room in their home. If the door itself doesn't lock, make sure that there is a deadbolt on the inside or something similar to ensure your privacy and peace of mind. It's also a bonus feature to have a safe in the room to store your valuables, although bear in mind that staff very frequently have access codes to safes. You may be better off locking your cash, electronics and passports in a hidden pocket in your suitcase.

Security: Making sure that your hotel is safe is especially important if you are in a big city or a potentially dangerous country. No one wants to think about it, but the amount that you spend on a hotel room for one night could very well be a worth month's rent for a local in India or Cuba, and luxury hotels are prime targets for theft because travelers often carry valuables and large amounts of cash.
Exterior security can come in a number of forms. Doormen or security guards can make sure that only guests are entering the building, and will ensure that you can get in the building even if you get back your room very late at night. Locked gates and cameras outside the building can deter burglars or other undesirables, ensuring that you and your valuables are safe at all times. The best kind of security is that which is noticeable enough to reassure you that the hotel takes your safety seriously, but not so obvious that it feels intrusive or liked you are locked down.
Wifi: Even while on vacation, more and more people require an internet connection while traveling; they want to be able to stay in contact with friends and family back home, share photos online, even keep up to date with their favorite TV shows. If you're travelling for business purposes, a wifi connection is even more crucial, as you'll need to keep up to date with emails or have conference calls online. Some hotels may charge a daily fee or per GB of wifi - these costs can quickly add up! Some may also only have internet only in the lobby, and you won't want to go all the way downstairs every time you want to send an email of check your Facebook. Be sure to ask hotels if they have free internet, the speed of the connection, and whether they have a router on every floor for the best experience.

Friendly and helpful staff: This isn't really something that you can ask the hotel about (unless you call ahead and someone is rude to you on the phone). However you can look up reviews from previous visitors to see if there is any mention of staff interactions. Even if it's something as simple as getting a smile at the start of your day, friendly staff can really set the tone for your vacation. The value of hotel staff is really apparent when they can help you navigate the local area or tell you about nearby services such as a laundromat, highly rated restaurants, even water delivery (if you're in a country that does not have potable water - many tropical tourist destinations do not!) They may even have a partnership with local vendors and can help you get a better rate than if you approached them yourself.

Air conditioning or heating: Obviously this depends very much on which kind of climate you are travelling to. Some cheaper hotels in tropical climates will only provide you with an electric or ceiling-mounted fan, and may not have any information indicating this on their website. It's always better to double check before you spend your nights in sweltering heat.

Clean rooms: Again, it's not really possible to ask the hotel staff about this (it's not like they'll tell you if the hotel is filthy and rundown!), but you can look up reviews from people who have stayed there previously and view their pictures online. Remember that photos on hotel websites can be staged, use selective perspectives, or use different lighting to make a hotel room look good, so take these photos with a grain of salt. Do a search for a few keywords in guest reviews such as "dust" "bugs" "dirty" etc - if someone were to experience any of these negative things, you can be fairly certain they would include it in their review afterwards.

Bonus Travel Tip:
When you arrive, wipe down commonly touched surfaces such a door knobs and remote controls with disinfectant wipes. Even expensive luxury hotel rooms are usually not cleaned thoroughly, as staff have to clean dozens of rooms in one day. They therefore dedicate maybe 15-20 minutes per room, just enough to LOOK clean (make the bed, vacuum superficially, wipe down the bathroom and counters). They will rarely be deep cleaned or disinfected, so be aware of this when you're using the room!
Critical Things to Check (That May not be on a Hotel Website):
  • 24-hour reception and check-in: It's always reassuring to know that someone is available to let you in or help you out at all hours of the day or night, but this is especially important if you have a flight that lands in the wee hours of the morning.
  • Locks: There should be locks or at least a deadbolt on the hotel room door, as well as locks on all of the windows, exits to balconies, and optionally a locked safe for your valuables.
  • Exterior security: If you are in a potentially dangerous city, it's especially important to have a doorman or security guard that keeps people who aren't guests out of the property. Also check for security cameras outside the building and in any parking structures.
  • Wifi: Even if you are "unplugging" while travelling, it's nice to be able to keep touch with friends and family and post photos without paying extravagant fees or having to go to the lobby.
  • Friendly and helpful staff: Check out reviews from previous visitors for this. Bear in mind that staff can change positions regularly, so one individual experience may not be the same as yours. However a slew of positive or negative reviews can be a good indicator on what the staff interactions will be like.
  • Cleanliness: Again, it isn't really possible to get information on cleanliness from the hotel directly, but you can look up reviews and photos from previous visitors and make a judgement for yourself.

Luxury Amenities: What's Important to You?
Just like when you're shopping for a TV, a computer, or any other somewhat expensive item, it's important to have a list of features that you absolutely require in mind before you start browsing online. Do you need to work out in a gym every day? Do you require a pool or a seaside location to keep your kids occupied? Or do you just need a bed and a comfortable, quiet room to sleep?
The more time you plan on spending at your hotel, the more likely you'll require some extra amenities and the more likely that you'll have to pay a little extra to accommodate your needs. If your hotel is only a place to crash in between your adventures, though, there's no point in paying extra for these luxuries.

Hotels will usually have a checklist of amenities upfront on their webpage, but you may have to dig a little deeper to figure out what is for free and what will incur additional fees. For example, a hotel might have a breakfast buffet and an in-house spa, but it could cost quite a lot extra. Make sure that you are informed about all of the additional potential expenses; a low base price with extra costs tagged on for wifi, food, room service, laundry, and more can be just as expensive if not more so than a (often nicer) hotel that has everything all-inclusive. Here are the top most common amenities to consider that can save you some money and/or headache in the long run:

Breakfast: It's always great to take advantage of free or cheap breakfast at the hotel, even if it's just simple coffee, toast and and fruit, as it can seriously cut your costs on eating out later in the day. All of those cups of joe, smoothies and sandwiches on the go can seriously add up. A bit of breakfast before you begin your daily adventures will kickstart your metabolism and give you more energy throughout the day.

That being said, breakfasts can vary widely. Do you have to start your day with a full omelette, bacon and hashbrowns every day? Or can you get by on grabbing a pastry or bagel before running out the door? Some luxury hotels will even offer you a menu of options from their in-house restaurant or buffet - but these services may come with a hefty price tag.
Pool and Gym: Having a pool at your hotel seems like a no-brainer - there's just something about sipping a drink poolside while basking in the sun that is appealing to every vacationer. You also may have the good intentions to get your daily workout done, even while on vacation. But if you are planning to see and do a lot every day, you may have less time and energy for swimming and exercising than you think. The last thing that you want is to pay extra for a luxury hotel with a gorgeous pool or gym and only use it once.
Another thing to consider is that not all pools are created equally. Is it indoor or outdoor? Heated or not? Does it look clean and well maintained? Is it constantly busy and full of people? A lot of pictures on hotel websites can be manipulated with tricky angles and fisheye lenses to make a poolside look a lot bigger and nicer than it actually is. The same can be said of a gym: Mirrors and camera angles can make a tiny floor space and a few machines look like a fully stocked fitness centre. If either of these features are important to you, make sure to thoroughly check previous guests' reviews and photos.

Kitchen Features: Kitchen features include a fridge (full-sized or mini), kettle, coffee maker, electric stovetop, microwave, a sink, a fully stocked kitchenette, or any combination of these. Some hotels might not have any at all and have a restaurant or common kitchen near the lobby area. The most useful feature by far (in my opinion) is a fridge, even just a small one to store some fruits or other healthy snacks and cold drinks or water bottles. This will save you some money in the long run so that you don't have to order room service every time you're feeling a bit peckish.

If you're travelling with children, however, a kitchenette with a stove top is absolutely a lifesaver. The ability to prepare a few quick meals from home is so much easier than eating out with kids multiple times a day, plus it'll save you money in the long run. Buying a few groceries is always cheaper than eating out with a group every day, even in a foreign country.

My personal preference is for rooms with an electric kettle or coffee maker, because I like to have my morning coffee when I first wake up before anything else happens. I also like to take a few packets of herbal tea with me and have a hot drink right before bed in the evenings.

Personal Items: It's quite handy to have a hotel that provides some little personal toiletries for free, in case you forgot your own. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer shaving cream, mouthwash toothpaste and other liquids can't be taken in any large quantity in carry-on luggage, so unless you checked your suitcase, you'll probably be grateful to have access to a few of these extras when you arrive at the hotel.
Other items, like ironing boards, irons, and hair dryers, are bulky to pack, or can be pretty fragile, so they're better left at home.
At the same time, if you're the kind of person that requires particular toiletry items and are meticulous about packing them in travel-safe containers, you probably won't even use the hotel provided items, so there's no point in paying extra. For example, I always travel with a checked suitcase and I have a meticulous, multi-step skin and hair care routine - I can't touch hotel moisturizer or face wash for fear of breaking out.

View: "A room with a view" is always a luxury item, but this desirable feature can hugely vary in accuracy from hotel to hotel. An "ocean view" can mean anything from a panoramic view of the beach from a private patio to a patch of blue glimpsed between two buildings. Note that if there is a good view of a specific feature, it is generally pretty far away from that feature - e.g. you may be able to see the seaside or park from your window, but the building would be located way up on a hill and you have to trek pretty far to actually get there.

Again, this is one of those things that is totally dependent on your own personal preference and how much time you will be spending in your room. While having windows and lots of natural light is good for increasing your energy levels, waking up earlier, and overall cheerfulness, what is outside of those windows is a lot less crucial (and can drastically change the price tag).
Luxury Amenities to Consider:
  • Breakfast: Is breakfast free, and if so, when? Is it buffet style or a la carte? Will it be a hot meal or some fruit, grains, and pastries?
  • Restaurant: What are the hours of operation? Is there room service?
  • Pool: Is it indoor or outdoor? Is it heated? How big is it?
  • Gym: How many machines are there? How big is the space? Is there an attached changing area?
  • Spa / Sauna / Whirlpool bath
  • Kitchenette: Is there a stove top? A kitchen sink? A fridge?
  • Kettle or coffeemaker
  • Is water included? (This is especially important in countries that do not have potable water that come from the taps)
  • Toiletries: toothpaste and toothbrush, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, soap, moisturizer
  • Iron and ironing board, hair dryer, other electrical items
  • View: On what floor is your room? Would you have a balcony? Is a nice view important to you, or are you content as long as there is a lot of natural light?

The considerations that go into selecting a hotel room vary from person to person, but the facilities mentioned here are the most important ones that would apply to virtually everybody. Remember that while many choices may seem obvious, your experience in a hotel will not be the same as other travelers and it's important to keep this in mind when you are doing your research. Some reviews might not be significant because one person's priorities are different from yours. Good luck with your search, and have a wonderful vacation!

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