Overseas Travel – How to Find Good Accommodations at a Deep Discount

I have fine tuned the art of deep discount travel in overseas markets. There is a large industry out there that caters to travelers that want an accommodation as a secondary priority to the overall goals of an overseas trip. Not everyone needs nor will use ….. a concierge; a fancy lobby; a swimming pool; HD TV with 100s of channels; mini-bar in the room; etc. Many travelers spend as little time in their rooms as possible because the point of the trip is to get out, meet people, see the sights and experience the culture. Stephanie and I plan our day beforehand, get up early and explore all day before returning sometime that night. Who needs an expensive room when you use it sparingly?

There are minimum criteria that I like to have when I travel, however. Here are the main ones that I look for.

  1. A safe location
  2. A room that is within walking distance to where the action is or at least within a short distance of public transportation such as the subway, train, bus system, street car, etc. Taxis are fine but I don’t like to depend on a taxi for every day excursion. A rental car where it makes sense, is fantastic. I plan to publish an article on renting vehicles overseas.
  3. A clean room and clean overall establishment
  4. Some type of gathering room or dining area where fellow travelers can meet and share stories.
  5. A host that can communicate with you in your language and help with getting around
  6. WiFi preferably that can be accessed from your room.

If you plan to travel to a country whose primary language is foreign to you, #5 on the list is one of the most important. If you can find a translator or 2 at your accommodation that you can depend on and who is available during daylight hours into the early evening, this can make for a much more enjoyable and efficient trip.

Our trip to Cairo, Egypt is a great example of this. The language in Egypt is Arabic. Therefore, unless you can speak Arabic, you may find it difficult to find your way around as the taxi drivers will not understand you. One solution is to hire a guide to go with you everywhere you go. This is ok for us for a day or two but after a while; you may get tired of the guide hanging out with you.

Our preference is to find an accommodation that has staff that can translate and help you with planning your day, tours, taxis, etc. In Egypt, our host would write instructions in Arabic of where we wanted to go so that we could give it to the Taxi driver. Some of the drivers could read the instructions and immediately take us to where we wanted to go. If they did not know how to read it, they usually would call someone over to the cab to read it to them in Arabic. The point here is to make sure your accommodation can support you with translating the local language. This makes a tremendous amount of difference.

There seems to be fallacies floating around about what someone should pay to get reasonable accommodations. In Alexandria, Egypt, for example, we stayed in a really cool high-rise overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for about $15 a night. A photo taken from the room is currently shown on the carousel on the front page of this website. In the adjacent high-rise, there was a big American hotel chain with rooms going for $200+ a night. People were paying for the perceived safety and the comfort zone of the big chain. The trick is to do your research and find the hidden gems.

There are several web sites that I always check to find the best deep discount travel deals. I also look at high volume tourist sites just to get a baseline of what I am trying to beat and what the average tourist is paying. Some of the best places to stay never make it to the mainstream web sites due to the low number of rooms and the economics of the situation. Here are some sites that include many of the smaller mom and pop places along with some high traffic sites that I think could be a good resource.

Hostelworld.com – You will be amazed at the “bang for the buck” you can get through this site. Don’t pay attention to the common tales of a) hostels are for students only; b) your only option is a group dorm setting; and c) hostels are unsafe. We have personally stayed at many places advertised on hostelworld.com and found many of them just as nice and as safe as other rooms that cost three times as much. There are plenty of deals out there that include private room and bath. The trick is to review the traveler’s comments and ratings. If you find a highly rated site with over say twenty reviews, then you usually can count on it being a good buy.

HostelZ.com – This is another hostel type site that can show you less expensive hostels, small Inns and guest homes that may not be found on the large tourist web sites.

Priceline.com – I have not used Priceline in years but some people swear by it. If you want to hedge your bet and go with a more mainstream hotel chain at a discount price, try the priceline site. Be careful though. I have booked through this site and then found that the price at the hotel was cheaper.

Tripadvisor.com – The reason I like tripadvisor is that it has so many people who follow it and contribute. It is a main stream site but the sheer numbers of travelers who post can give you a very good idea of what a hotel is like and help you find bargains.

VRBO.com – If you can get a group of people together, then Vacation Rental by Owner is worth taking a look at. You can book fabulous multi-bedroom homes & condos for a deep discount off what you might otherwise pay for a resort or hotel. It is fun just to go on the site and look around at the variety that is available directly from owners. I had great success years ago booking a one week stay in the St. Germaine section of Paris and have heard of a lot of good stories over the years.

Bedandbreakfast.com – Bed and Breakfast Inns can offer excellent value and are usually not covered by the big travel agency web sites. This web site has enough traffic that often there are enough reviews by travelers to give you a good idea what to expect.

We use web sites like these to narrow down the possibilities. We then research further based on the six criteria I listed earlier to make a decision. We rely heavily on the reviews by previous travelers. Just make sure that there are enough reviews. Bogus reviews have been known to happen. If you see the majority of reviews done the same week, beware!

Blake Burgess
January 28, 2014

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