You and a friend would like to go on a trip. You know where you want to go, but have no idea where to stay. You don't want to spend a fortune, but you want to stay in a picturesque, quaint, immaculate, comfortable hotel in a safe area of the city, walking distance to the major sites.
You email everyone you know who has been to your destination. You ask them for hotel recommendations. You ask them why they liked or didn't like their hotel. You ask them for names of good tour guides and suggestions for fun things to do and great places to eat.
Your friends (and your friends' friends) send you tons of great recommendations for places to stay, places to avoid, and things to do.
You book a hotel based on these recommendations. You and your friend arrive to find the perfect hotel in the perfect location. The pillows are soft, the water pressure is hard, the breakfast is free, and the rate is in your price range.
Fantasy? Mais non, mon cheri.
Traveling is exciting. But what is not exciting is arriving at your hotel and being disappointed. When you think you are staying in an exquisite, elegant, spotless hotel and you find it is, well, not that--it can ruin your trip.
After a few bad experiences with accommodations that were either booked for me by a travel agent, or that I picked out of a travel book, I have finally found a way to increase my odds of staying in exactly my kind of place and within my budget.
Here are my secrets: Tripadvisor and Google Translate
Tripadvisor is like having hundreds of people give you detailed reviews of their experiences. Just enter your destination and up will pop the top rated hotels and B&B's. Read some of the reviews and get an idea about different hotels. Go to the hotel websites and see pictures and rates.
Now, this is the important part, click on any and all negative (less than 3*) reviews.
Some negative reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. One person says his hotel was nice, clean, with good service, but there were no English speaking channels on the television. That doesn't matter to me. Another says that their hotel didn't have room service or someone to carry their bags. I don't care.
But if the not-so-positive reviews say mildew, dirty, bad location, etc., etc., I know to cross that one off the list.
One "negative" review I read said the B&B wanted all guests to be quiet after 10pm. That was actually a positive for me. You decide how "negative" the review is, dependent on your preferences.
Here's where Google Translate comes in. Click on the link provided, or go to www.google.com/translate.
Some of the reviews may be written in a different language. Don't dismiss those just because you can't read the review. Highlight the review, right click, and select "copy." Then go to Google Translate and paste the review in the box. Let Google Translate figure out the language and translate it for you!
I read one review of a European hotel where all of the English speaking reviews were great, but the reviews from non-English speaking people gave me an entirely different perspective. One said a certain hotel "is filled with very loud Americans." Another said if you call the hotel directly, they will give you a better rate than what is quoted (in English) on the website. Hmmmm.
Once you decide on a few hotels, go directly to the hotel instead of using the booking service on the website if you can. (I booked one of my favorite hotels in Italy by calling the owner after the website responded "no vacancy.") Call or email them for their best rates. Be sure and ask if they offer free wi-fi, free breakfast, and the check in and check out times. And it doesn't hurt to ask if there is any kind of price break if you pay cash.
This system works just as well here in the "good ole' U.S. of A." as it does in other countries. Try it next time you would like to stay in a lesser known hotel or a B&B instead of a chain.
Now, let's pretend you have this great trip planned and you invite your good friend Annie to go with you......