Two tourists visiting New York were staying on the fiftieth floor of a hotel. They come back one day after sightseeing and were ‘regretfuily1 informed at the reception that the elevator was out of order and they had to ctfmb the stairs. So they decided, what the heck…lets just tell jokes and funny stores to make the climbing easier. At the 49th floor they were so damn tired and had run out of funny stories. One of the guys said Lets try telling stories that are not funny and the other said! Know one story that is not funny at all – we forgot our room key at the reception.
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We can laugh all we want at this joke and the funny hotel ads on TV. But, we certainly will get bugged (that’s an understatement) if the hotel facilities are not as advertised on the glossy brochure or the website – or even worse when you realized that you have been suckered into actually paying a lot more than if you had chosen another much better hotel. This (double-dealing) happens when you are lured by unscrupulous travel agents and websites with promises of that great deal. That is when the glossy brochures come out and one falls for the charms of the ‘snake-oil’ salesman. In this day and age of information democratization, you do not have the excuse of being conned by tour operators and agents. You need to do your own research or pay a travel concierge for the time and effort.
Without any more delay, let’s dive in and see how we can make our stay at the destination comfortable. Without paying a bomb.
Types of Accommodations Available.
You thought that this meant only 5-Star, 4-Star and so on? Short answer – no. Long answer – read on. The various types of accommodation are.
Hotels. They range from the run-down ‘hole-in-wall’ ones to magnificent landmarks like the Burj Al Arab. While the smaller ones will not have any star rating, it is the larger ones which have star ratings depending on the facilities they offer. In touristy places, you will obviously find a large number of them and therefore maybe expensive too which is again obvious. But that does not mean that one cannot get deals for these places. At certain places like Dubai, Singapore they have built more hotels as compared to the number of tourists arriving there and so we see that the hotel costs there are much affordable. They cost even lesser than those in India. These cities follow the concept of build-and-they-will-come wherein tourist infrastructures like resorts, theme parks, shopping malls etc. Are built which are further complemented by sports events (Singapore Grand Prix and Dubai World Cup for horse racing), Cultural events (Film Festivals) and Shopping festivals (Great Singapore Sale or Dubai Shopping Festival). Later in the chapter, I will tell you how to snag different hotel deals. You will obviously book into a hotel if you are on an official or business visit like seminar or conference or for some social event like a wedding. However, it also makes sense to check-in to a hotel at a tourist destination since you will be out most of the time enjoying the sights and attractions and will utilize the hotel for room and board. But, what if you are on a vacation and will not be sightseeing (what!! ) This is where the next type comes in.
Resorts. Many hotels nowadays have started naming themselves as resorts since they offer almost that many facilities as the resorts do. But there are differences between hotels and resorts. Essentially resort is a place of recourse whereas a hotel is a temporary or in-transit place of stay away from your home. A resort includes a hotel (or multiple hotels) which offers stay and dine facilities as well as a variety of recreational facilities like sports (golf, tennis, watersports etc. ), adventure (trekking, sea diving, safaris etc. ), entertainment (casinos, theme-parks, gaming arcades and more), relaxation (sun bathing, spa & beauty) and shopping. It is thus implicit that hotels are best for short stay whereas resorts are for longer stays. Another important difference between a resort and a hotel is their location. Hotels are normally located at central business districts, in or near airports / seaports / railway stations or near tourist attractions. Resorts on the other hand are located in the midst of natural and scenic environs like beaches (hence called beach resort), islands, deserts (yes, with air conditioned tents), wildlife sanctuaries or forests and mountain resorts.
Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, Mexico.
Bed & Breakfasts (B & B). A bed and breakfast (or B&B) is a small lodging place (having usually less 10 rooms) that offers accommodation and breakfast. A B&B may or may not offer other meals. Typically, most B&Bs are private homes, sometimes even with the owner staying in one section of the establishment. In India, Kerala tourism department has popularised the concept of Home Stays and the New Delhi government tried to capitalize on the Commonwealth Games to jumpstart B&Bs in Delhi. B&Bs at some places like the UK are even categorised into Deluxe, En-Suite (attached bath) and Standard (shared bath), whereas in the US, some B&Bs offer up-market facilities like Wi-Fi, antique furniture, spa etc. There are many websites where you can compare the B&Bs to your liking -the most popular being www.airbnb. Com. Not to be left behind, some hotel booking websites have also started offering B&B booking, perhaps sensing opportunity during the economic downturn. At AirBnB, you can view the house or apartment pictures and so verify as to how the owner has maintained it. You can also see its location on the map to get an idea of how far is it from your intended places of touring. While you are at the location view, why not see the street view – is the apartment or house in a seedy area? Then read the facilities and description to check on what are the owner offerings – sometimes the description will also give out the owners’ friendliness or lack of it. The most important feature on AirBnB is ratings – social proof from guests like you who have stayed there earlier. This verifies or confirms if the place is perfect for you.
Since people offer multiple rooms or maybe even entire apartment / house, it is a good alternative for families or group of friends. It is seen that many properties nowadays do not offer meals, but simply a place to stay with facilities like bed & linen, bathroom facilities and (I feel) one of the most important facility is washer and dryer for laundry – this alone will save you money and stress. There may be a kitchen with a refrigerator, oven, stove, utensils and cutlery if you are in a mood for cooking. The best way to utilize the kitchen is to dash across to a super-market and get some ready to eat foods, heat them and serve. Hypermarts abroad like Carrefour, Tesco and Walmart offer salads, pre-cooked meals and more. This way you will not only save costs, but also be assured of hygienic food.
A Side Note on Laundromats. Most tourist places abroad have these self-service Laundromats. Dump your clothes in the washer along with the detergent (which will be available for a small amount). After the wash cycle (say, 45 minutes or so), put them in the dryer and you are done. You can catch up on your reading or emails (if they have Wi-Fi) in the meantime. Or, put it for the wash cycle and go grab some lunch. This way, you will save on laundry costs in your hotel or save on extra baggage if you decide to take lot of clothes.
WWOOF. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an exchange that facilitates placement of volunteers on organic farms. WWOOF hosts (typically farm owners) are spread across in more than 100 countries around the world. WWOOFing provides volunteers with first-hand experience in organic and eco-friendly farming and also experience life in a rural area. When you volunteer as a WWOOFer you will work or assist the host in their farm / garden. You will generally not be paid money, but the host will put you up in a room of his house and also provide you food and of course the farm experience all in exchange for your work. Your visit can be for as many days as allowed by the host and work averages about 6 hours per day. So you can help out in a vineyard in New Zealand or harvest honey in Australia all the while enjoying free lodging and boarding as also see the sights around. Be aware of visa requirements for this, since it may qualify for a work visa. Each country chapter has a WWOOF website on which the listings from hosts can be searched for and applied to. India also has a WWOOF chapter.
House Sitting. House Sitting is more of a Western concept and is yet to catch up in India. It essentially means that I, as an owner of a house allow you to take care of my house in my absence for few days. Trust is the most vital aspect in house sitting. One must also be a responsible house sitter by cleaning the place, taking care of the pets, mending the garden etc. There are many websites that connect house sitters with hosts. Some of them are www. Mindmyhouse. Com. Www.luxnryhousesitting.com.www.TrustedHousesitters. Com etc. These websites charge a small amount to the house sitters and host list their properties for free. As with other such services, your chances of getting a house increase in direct proportion to the trust index – so you should put as much details about you as possible, keeping in mind the security aspect as well.
Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing began as a non-profit exchange to connect travellers in search of a place to stay with hosts who have extra room, bed or a couch to share with the travellers…of course at no cost! As of this writing, www.Couchsurfing. Org is a global community of 7 million people in more than 100, 000 cities. When you sign up, your profile should include as much information (personal information, hobbies, passions, beliefs etc. ) and photos of you all aiming to build up your trustworthiness and therefore the chances of you getting a couch as a guest or someone requesting for a couch from you when you play the host. Security or trust is a function of various factors like member references, verification and the ratings or feedback. For more information, read up on www. Couchsurfingorg.
I have given the tips and website addresses on stay options other than hotels and resorts. But, I understand that not many would be so adventurous as to explore these options unless you are a youngster and / or bachelor on a budget in which case I will definitely encourage you to couchsurf or WWOOF around the globe. For others let us focus on hotels and resorts.