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Do you have a default search browser you use when looking for family accommodations? Always end up at the same old places, regretting the same old decisions about what you’ve booked? Shaking your head in disbelief about how far off the mark reviews you read were?
Forget Trip Advisor reviews, come on people it is 2016! I don’t really care if the bedsheets weren’t folded in a way you liked, or the receptionist was rude to you on Thursday. It’s time to take control of your hotel research process.
When I’m traveling with my kids, choosing the right family accommodations is one of the key components for me; knowing that I have chosen the best possible place to stay, with the facilities I need and in a fabulous location removes so many layers of stress so we can actually sit back and enjoy our holiday time once we are there.
Here’s some of my top accommodation finding tips for modern family travelers – first shared with Epic Education Radio podcast, but handily in print here for you – on how you can use technology and search tools to pick out the best hotel accommodation for family travel.
Narrow down from all available options
So if I’m NOT relying on Trip Advisor, what am I doing? Ok, I tell a lie. Trip Advisor is not a bad starting point for hotels and serviced accommodation particularly. It tells me what hotels are available, and it comes up with a handy map view of the town I’m looking at staying in.
I can put filters on to see how many options are available in my planned budget; put a cut off on minimum star rating or customer satisfaction level. The more criteria you add, the quicker you can narrow things down (normally asking for a minimum of 4 beds wipes out 90% of options! – oh and a quick side tip – even if you have 3+ kids, start your search with 2 to get a wider range of first-round options).
Then what next? Dive into the written reviews, right? NO!
Hotel reviews, for me, are only relevant if they’ve been left by another family with exactly the same circumstances I have – needing to fit 3 children under 6 with a cot. The large majority are irrelevant waffle, and more frequently left when people have a negative experience than a positive one. Read in detail at your peril.
I will however from this point flick over to Google Earth, or “satellite view”. Take a look at the hotel from the outside, take a look down the street. Are those ocean views in fact blocked by a 30 story apartment building? Is that 5-minute walk to restaurants and shops actually after you navigate past a whopping big construct site and the local refuse depot?
Alright, so the map might not be 100% up to date, but it gives you a pretty good impression of your surroundings, keeping a particular eye out for deal-breakers like perhaps the fish market operating from 4 am, or that strip of very seedy looking night clubs…. Next up; the Instagram test.
Research your destination like an insider
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m utterly addicted to Instagram – thank you for public profiles and peoples’ profound need to share information about themselves! Being an entirely picture-based social media platform, it’s perfect for travel research. Searching either by location or by a particular hashtag, check out reviews from real hotel users, what do they have to say about the place? Where else are they visiting around town, go on, have a little snoop!
I like to look for the room itself, when it says “family size room” can it really fit a whole family? People are far, far more honest sharing on this platform than in a purpose written review. You may also see hotels or accommodation options that did not first appear on Trip Advisor – particularly the likes of private villa accommodation where people may be staying.
I’m shameless, I will ask them! Yes, complete strangers on Instagram – where did you stay? Did you like it? Where else would you recommend? It’s like walking into a room full of people you don’t know at the start but you’ll get used to it, I have made some wonderful travel connections this way. (Or maybe they’re all getting their restraining orders ready, who knows?!)
As an aside, when searching by location or hashtag on Instagram, you will also stumble across this new breed of professional we call the TRAVEL BLOGGER! Yes love them or hate them, finding a blogger who has covered the area or hotels you are looking at is like finding the holy grail! You’ll pick them out as they have a website name that appears on their Instagram profile page – go on, click it!
The other way to find travel bloggers and more personal reviews is by simply Googling the hotel name – but as unfortunately bloggers can get shunted well down to page three in the search results versus the big search engine companies, try this; “Hotel name” + “all opinions are my own”. Whether the blogger has been paid or not, they normally include this disclaimer at the bottom of all their articles for clarity, leading you directly to pages written by real travelers who review hotels for a living.
Still not having any joy?
If Trip Advisor or similar hotel search engines are not bringing up the results you want – which is highly possible when looking for larger groups – this might be the time to switch tact, using the knowledge you have garnered from elsewhere and try a site like Airbnb that may better cater to groups rather than a couple/solo travelers.
The ‘other search engine’ that people may forget too, is Pinterest. Again a popular haunt for travel & lifestyle bloggers looking to sell you (free!) their stories and reviews. There are loads of really comprehensive, honest reviews on this platform. Same suggested boards to start with:
Now let’s touch back on that side note now of having more than 2 children. Once you have done your own research and can see if the accommodation is large enough or has some flexible options, go back and ask the hotel direct how many a room can fit. Many will put a max room capacity on their third party agent sites, even their own as 4, but when you push them further, ask only for a crib or an extra wheel in bed, they may be far more flexible. Unless the rooms are full of other furnishings my rule of thumb is rooms over 40sqm, we can fit 5 easily!
The booking stage
Ok you’ve scoped it out, like the look and feel of the place, it can fit all your family and it’s in the right place. Now before you actually book your family accommodations, shop around for best rates.
Open up a brand new INCOGNITO window in your web browser. Computers are clever little things, they know what you’ve been researching and they know when you’re honing in on your target, then voila, the price goes up! Opening a fresh window with no cookies saved from previous searches will prevent this from happening.
We even go so far as to search from websites from different countries, if exchange rates are working in your favor you might find significant price variations depending on the currency you use. Visit multiple price comparison websites, and the hotel’s website itself.
Keep your eye out for the fine print and make sure you’re comparing like with like. Options on one site may include things like free breakfast, wifi, parking, hotel transfers but not on another. Do you really need these? Pop back to your Google Earth maps, maybe there’s a bakery next door perfect for breakfast? Is the street packed full of cars? Paying extra for that parking spot might be well worth it!
Even if we have already requested a bassinet or extra bed for the room, always make contact DIRECTLY with the hotel or accommodation before your arrival to let them know your arrival time and any extras you require in the room. There’s about a 50% chance your request will get dealt with correctly!
Keri is a traveling mom of 3 living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She blogs at Baby Globetrotters.Net – a website dedicated to their travels with small children and giving parents the confidence that you can keep seeing the world, even after kids come along. You can snoop along with their adventures at Instagram.com/babyglobetrotters
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