April 24, 2014
Finding Travel Accommodation Online
I am just about to take a trip across four continents, with the aim of arriving in Brazil in time for the 2014 World Cup. I will go from Japan to China, then to Russia. From St. Petersburg I will travel to some of the Baltic States; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and after some time in England and Italy will check out Southern Africa and Brazil.
Obviously, a trip of this size took some considerable online research and not a small amount of financial outlay. I have traveled a fair amount before, as I am sure most people have, but I still found out some things that I thought were worth sharing, for anyone planning a big trip or indeed booking any kind of trip online.
I booked almost all of my hotels and hostels through Booking.com. Their site is easy to use and they have a very wide selection of hotels. I also like the filters you can use, where you can choose to sort by location, price, rating and others (some other sites didn’t have all of these options). Booking.com has free cancellation on the majority of their rooms, up to a certain date, which is usually pretty close to your arrival date. This is very useful, but check the terms and conditions of it (usually not too complex, just a paragraph). One thing to look out for on the site, though, is that the prices advertised don’t always include taxes, so check the final price before paying. Also check whether any money will be taken now, or if it will all be paid at the time of the stay (sometimes the credit card details are just to secure the booking, sometimes they take 50 percent immediately).
I had intended to do couchsurfing for this trip, being on a bit of a budget. Couchsurfing, if anybody doesn’t know, is finding people who are willing to give up a bed or room in their house for free, in return for meeting different people. This is done through Couchsurfing.org. I think it is a great idea, and have heard good things about it from others. Friends have stayed with interesting and generous characters, or had likeable travelers come to stay with them. Personally, I found the site to be a bit of a disappointment. Almost every contact I have made has come back to say they are unavailable. Maybe I need to look at improving my profile. Some of them had almost a 100 percent acceptance rate before I asked! Admittedly, one of the main areas I was looking was Brazil during the World Cup. And one of the middle-aged guys I approached in Berlin did have a 100 percent acceptance rate, but absolutely all of his previous guests were hot women (he also explained that he was a naturist and that people should not be offended by him walking around his home naked). Overall, then, couchsurfing could swing either way.
Another option is Airbnb. Again, for those who don’t know, this is a site on which people rent out rooms or entire homes short-term. The difference from couchsurfing is that after giving you the keys, they will most likely keep out of the way; it is purely an accommodation arrangement, not a social one. That said, I have arranged to rent a room for a week in Lithuania through the site, and reviews said that previous guests had ended up drinking every night with the elderly couple who own the house (they live downstairs while the guests get the whole of the upstairs). Looking around the site, and a brief previous experience using it for a room in Kyoto, it seems that Airbnb is a good way to get cheap and potentially very spacious accommodation compared to hotels, as long as you don’t mind doing your own cooking and laundry.
There are some good alternatives to hotels out there, then. I never met anyone who stayed in a hotel that insisted that the porters and receptionists be naked, so untraditional options lead to untraditional considerations, but travel is all about new experiences, isn’t it?
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