I went on my first proper holiday when I was seven. It was the 1970s but it feels like yesterday. Arriving at a motel, rolling by a courtyard pool swarming with sun-kissed and pruney people, and pulling up right in front of the door to our room.
Fish and chips from the kids menu for me and, to wash it down – marvel of marvels – a pink lemonade. I’d never seen anything like it. I’ve travelled lots since then, staying in places fancy (when work’s paying) and frugal (when I am). Fancy can be nice. Nice but occasionally weird and I regularly feel like a 5-star fraud. What I like about hotels towards the other end of the scale, is that I feel right at home.
Cheap accommodation doesn’t have to be nasty. I’ve stayed at plenty with pools, spas, gyms, playgrounds, poolside bars, quality restaurants, even free daily newspapers. But finding them can be tricky so here are 5 tips for booking budget accommodation.
1. Location, location, location
It applies to all kinds of things, doesn’t it?
The table nearest the buffet, the best house in the street, the New Years Eve crackers. Same when you’re travelling. In Coffs Harbour, you’ll want your hotel to be near the Big Banana or the Porpoise Pool. In Dubbo, near the Old Dubbo Gaol or the Western Plains Zoo. You’d want easy access to the wineries of Margaret River, and in the cities – yes, there’s quality budget accommodation in our big cities, too – look for a reputable hotel brand around central public transport hubs. And if you end up paying a few dollars more, just think of it as a convenience fee.
2. Connectivity – Accommodation with Cheap or Free Wi-Fi
For many travellers, maintaining a digital connection to the world is as basic an expectation as pillows, a TV and loo paper folded into a pointy end. High-end hotels charge a king’s ransom for internet access, yet budget properties regularly provide a perfectly good service for next to nothing or even free. Perfect for checking your emails or, more likely, teasing your friends with a pic or two on Facebook.
3. Hotel Reputation & Reviews
Pick up a brochure or click around the internet and you’ll see hotels all dressed up and looking gorgeous. But looks can be deceiving. A great way to get a sense of what they’re really like is to look for guest reviews online. My tip: Pick a property, read 10 reviews and, like judging Olympic gymnastics, disregard a couple of the best and worst of them. What you’ll be left with is a fair sample of typical experiences right there in the middle.
4. Accommodation with Parking
There’s parking and then there’s parking. The best is, of course, where you pull up literally right outside the door to your room. So great! Then there’s the first-in, best-dressed car park where you take what you can get. But parking can also be off-site, and at a cost. The lesson? If you’re not sure, call and ask – it can make a big difference.
5. Activities for Kids
Kids can be demanding. Not matter how you’re travelling, tempers can flare in no time at all. I’m bored…are we there yet? But if you’ve factored things like playgrounds, pools, water slides into your hotel selection, your kids will vanish the minute you arrive, leaving you to exhale and ease into your holiday. Toss in a neat pink lemonade with dinner, and you may rightly ask, “Who needs fancy?”
About Ben Alcock
Ever since reading Tintin books as a kid, and going an overseas family holiday to Fiji in 1980 Ben has been travelling. Having worked for Richard Branson’s airlines, international tourism boards, as well as retail and wholesale travel businesses, Ben knows the industry from the inside out. He knows the dark art of the perfectly-packed suitcase, and swears by a single, immutable law of travel: Short-haul; window; Long-haul, aisle. Visit Ben’s blog or follow Ben on Twitter @DisarmDoors.