My first time booking a hotel abroad, I allowed my automobile club agent to recommend and reserve my hotel. The agent had never been to Europe before and knew no more about European hotel booking than what was listed on the tour agency’s website. Consequently, I ended up paying quite a lot for a merely adequate hotel. I’m a lot savvier now and know a lot of tricks to help ensure that I stay in a hotel that is right for me in every way—price, location, and amenities. Perhaps my tips for picking and booking a European hotel will help you pick your perfect holiday accommodations.
Make a list of amenities that are important to you. European hotels have different “standard” amenities than those in the States. Expecting certain accommodations without clarifying if those amenities are available can turn an otherwise great stay into a disappointing one. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. If something is important to you—hair dyer, air conditioning, closet, in-room safe—you should check to make sure it’s available. I make a list of things that are important to me. Here are some things I look for: central location, air conditioning, front desk staff (if first time in a city), hair dryer, wi-fi, toiletries, in-room coffee/tea kettle, en suite bathroom, décor, price, view, balcony, wardrobe, breakfast included in charge, in-room fridge, and ranking. I create an Excel spreadsheet with columns for each of the aforementioned items and then pick the one that meets the most requirements at the lowest price in the most central/lively location.
- Note bene: Air-conditioning. Not every European hotel room offers air conditioning. Additionally, regardless of whether air conditioning is available or not, there may be an ordinance in place restricting usage to certain months of the year. Many European governments have instituted rules regarding when hoteliers can turn on air conditioning and when it must be turned off. The hotel has no control over this.
- Although the shared bath as glorified in cinematic splendor in National Lampoon’s European Vacation is pretty much a thing of the past, there are still hotels where not all rooms have bathrooms en suite. Since sharing a bathroom with a stranger is a deal breaker for me, I check and double-check this amenity.
Location is key. I look for a room that is close to the sights that I want to see most. If there is a certain landmark that you just adore (Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, etc.), then book a hotel near it. You’re traveling all the way to Paris, Rome, London, wherever, make sure you stay in the heart of the city where you can gaze upon a landmark that makes you smile. It may cost a little more to stay in the heart, but you may make up for it because of decreased transportation costs. I find that I spend no more to stay in a city’s center than I would to stay on its outskirts—it just takes a little more work to find a good deal. Another location consideration is to think about the number/quality/price of restaurants in the area. You will likely eat at places near your hotel more than any other area, so make sure your hotel is in a good “food” neighborhood.
Reserve your room off of the hotel’s website. I check both a hotel booking site and each hotel’s individual site to see who has the better price. I find that frequently the hotel’s site is better. If they are the same, I still reserve from the hotel’s website. When the middle man is removed, the hotel may want to reward you by giving you the best room in your price range or by providing a free breakfast, drink, or snack. If you like to book several hotels while you shop around, make sure that there is no fee for cancelling your reservation. We are seeing more and more hoteliers in Europe and the States charging a cancellation fee.
Check the ranking. Unlike in the States, the amount of stars dictate the minimum level of amenities provided. That being said, you can find good one-star hotels and over-priced four-star ones. I also look at crowd-sourced review sites, like TripAdvisor. I read the negative reviews first. I like to see what bothered other guests. If the worst thing someone has to say about the place is that it was on a noisy street, to me that isn’t a big deal. To someone else? Maybe. If the negative reviews state some of your non-negotiables, think twice. Also, I like to see how hoteliers respond to complaints. I tend to think more favorably of hoteliers who respond to complaints by taking accountability for the problem (if needed). Conversely, those hoteliers who take to TripAdvisor to refute every complaint about their establishment come off as combative to me and I tend not to book those hotels.
Prices will vary based upon view and size, but rooms can vary greatly at the same price. I’ve found that European hotels don’t have the same level of standardization as U.S. ones. If you don’t like the room you’ve been offered, ask to see if another is available.
Check out the hotel’s common areas. European hotel rooms tend to be smaller than American ones. Since you’ll likely be out painting the town red, this probably won’t be that big of a deal, but it does come as a shock the first time you see one. Because I know that rooms are small (plus there are few English television channels), I book hotels with pleasing public areas, especially ones with a terrace.
Accessibility is not the same abroad. Even if a hotel has an elevator (lift), you may have to climb stairs to access it. Also, European lifts can be very tiny—think one person and a bag or two people joined in an embrace. People with wheelchairs or families with many young children should check the lift’s size and ease of access before booking a stay.
If this list seems overwhelming, please don’t let it be. You will find that accommodations in Europe are very comfortable and can be as affordable, if not less expensive, as hotel rooms in the States. With a little planning, an affordable and centrally-located, European hotel room can be yours, so get to know your hotel before your plane lands. Knowledge is key to a good trip. By thoroughly researching my accommodations, I very rarely have any complaints. Plus, I think of planning as part of the vacation—it gets me in the mood and transports me mentally to the city I’m visiting. Have fun planning until your heart (and wallet) are content—you’ll be happy that you did. Happy travels!
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