When it comes time to pick a hotel in a city I’ve never visited, I start with my gut and end with my brain.
Sometimes you can tell, just by looking at photos of a hotel, whether or not you would be comfortable staying there. This often comes down to a matter of trusting fellow travelers Sites like TripAdvisor allow the posting of user-submitted photos for hotels and destinations. I like to click through those, rather than the official promotional pictures. I feel that even though the photography may be of poorer quality, that can actually work to your advantage.
When I was a kid, we got to look through the big book of timeshares every year to pick the vacation for the following year. Each place would have one or two photos, along with a list of site and local amenities. Until I got older and the timeshare place posted more photos on their website, those pictures in the book were really all we had to form our impressions of the hotel.
Most of the time that worked out well – we were kids, after all, and all we really cared about was how cool the pool area was. But other times, the book did not provide enough information. For example – there was a place that advertised both an outdoor chlorinated swimming pool, and an indoor pool with some other chemical. That sounded awesome! But when we arrived, we found out we were near the indoor pool (where the chemicals stung my eyes) while the outdoor pool was a 20-30 minute walk or a short drive away.
That said, even the official promotional photos are pretty representative, and can provide a lot of information about a hotel. Cleanliness (while they might give it a nice vacuum before taking photos, you can always observe long-term dirtiness – like when you go to the dentist and they know whether you floss as often as you say you do!).
- When I first start looking around for hotels, I like to use the “open tab” method. I open a website like TripAdvisor or Expedia, and VRBO or HomeAway. I search through the list of hotels in that city, and as any one of them catch my eye, I right click and open it in a new tab. Once I go through the list, I’m left with 10-15 open tabs, with a different hotel on each tab.
- Then I click on the first hotel, scroll through a few pictures, and see if it passes the ‘gut check’. If it looks clean, safe, attractive, and like an inviting place to stay, the tab stays open. If it looks dingy, slightly depressing, or anything that feels ‘off’, I close the tab. That process normally leaves me with around 5 hotels that pass the ‘gut check’.
Holiday Inn Krakow City Center / Radisson Blu Hotel, Krakow / Hotel Copernicus / Hotel Kosciuszko / Hotel Senacki / The Bonerowski Palace
These are the hotels that passed my initial ‘gut check’ for Krakow on TripAdviser – All photos courtesy of TripAdviser.
These are the places that caught my eye on AirBnB.
Quite a few people have recently recommended Couch Surfing to me, so I’ll also be looking into that. However for an initial measure of what a city offers in terms of lodgings, I decided to start with the options with which I was more familiar.
Once I have some hotels that pass the gut check, I start to look into details for the sites. I’m an engineer at heart and by trade, so the most natural thing for me to do is drop a bunch of information into Microsoft Excel. Here’s the type of information I gather:
- Address – If I have this, I can compare the distances to train stations or major landmarks
- Price – This is pretty important, so I’ll keep this as one of the top decision criteria, with an asterisk (*) for hotels where I might be able to use points to reduce the cost.
- Amenities – My needs vary based on trip type. In the US I normally need parking, but I don’t need it in Europe – a shuttle bus would be helpful though! In the US I need wi-fi for my laptop, but I might prefer a business center in Europe so I can print boarding passes or booking confirmations.
- Official website – I link to this if available, because it tends to have the most up-to-date and accurate information. It also provides contact details for the hotel.
- Other notes – This may include any reviews that catch my eye or notes about interesting amenities (like the cavernous pool room at Hotel Copernicus).
Here’s the spreadsheet I use:
And here’s the map I produced using batchgeo.com. Check back soon for a full review on batchgeo.com!