How to Choose a Hotel when Traveling

Planning a trip can be a bit overwhelming – especially when you get into the nitty-gritty details of planning. If you’re lucky, you have someone who loves planning trips (like me), but for the majority of travelers (like Spencer), it’s daunting. One of my least favorite things to do is picking out a hotel. It’s also the hardest question to answer when people say ‘where do you recommend I stay?’ Where I think is great may not be where you think is great and it might not fit your travel style. 

You can always book a time with me to consult on your travel needs and send you a selection of hotels that fit your budget, style, and location. (I can also help you with destination choices, route planning, and anything else you might need to plan your perfect trip!)  

Before you even think about accommodation though, you should have figured out your budget for the trip, length of staying during your trip, and your travel style (luxury vs. budget). 

However, if you’re in the process of planning a trip, and don’t want to hire out, here are my top tips for choosing your travel accommodations. 

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you purchase something from a link, I may make a small commission, at no cost to you. This helps me keep the site running and free.

What’s your travel style?

The types of hotels that I stay at vary greatly depending on the type of trip I’m taking. Whether it’s a quick budget trip to Panama or luxury camping in Kenya, there’s a trip for every type of hotel. The style of your trip is going to determine your hotel probably as much as your budget. Be sure to know the type of travel you want to go on before choosing a hotel.

Do you want to book third party?

There are a lot of pros and cons to booking on third-party sites. I typically book with as their customer service has never let me down. When I have had an issue with a hotel, they’ve advocated for me and even returned the money when the hotel wouldn’t. On the other hand, sometimes reservations get lost from 3rd party sites, or if the hotel is overbooked, the room may be lost. I always confirm with the hotel before I leave for my trip that they have my reservation. That way I can ensure I’m on their books, they know I’m planning on coming, and I have never run into an issue. Even if you don’t book with them, these sites can provide a lot of information for you to choose a hotel when traveling.

What even are our options for hotels?

If you start on google with an initial search, you may find fellow travel bloggers with posts that say “best places to say in _____”. While they have probably stayed in one of those hotels (not all of them) these posts can be really helpful. Personally, I put a lot of research into these posts – and I provide both the pros and cons of each hotel. They do the research for you – what’s not to like? (Shameless plug: if you find a post like this helpful, please book through their links. It’s often affiliate income and helps us keep sites like these running!)

When you go to a website like TripAdvisor or for the properties, the first properties on those sites might be paying for prime location. You might need to do a little scrolling to get through the sponsored hotels or advertisements. Either way, your initial search will help you get an idea of the options available.

What filters do you need or want?

Figuring out what you’re looking for will help you determine your filters. This will help narrow down your selection and help choose a hotel that fits your needs. 

The filters I often use include the distance from the city center, price range, free cancellation, and included breakfast. 

You might not be able to find all of the things you’re looking for – i.e. a budget hotel right next to the top tourist attraction – but that’s good to know! You might have to find a hotel a little outside the city center but with easy access to public transportation to get to that tourist attraction. There’s nothing wrong with being a 10-minute subway ride- especially in Europe where their public transportation is pretty reliable. Use “public transportation” in your filter to find them. 

Some filters depend on the traveler or even the location. I used to be perfectly fine without breakfast until our trip to Finland. It was pretty awesome to just go downstairs for breakfast instead of hunting for it. You can put this in the initial search if it’s really important to you, or use it as a deciding factor later.

What is your gut telling you?

At this point, you should have a decent amount of options available to you. It’s still overwhelming, but at least these hotels meet the bare minimum

You’ll start to notice that some of the hotel brands are familiar. Some people prefer to stick to a certain hotel chain for loyalty points and clear expectations of what you’re getting when you visit (for us, a Best Western is always a safe bet). That’s an easy way to limit hotel choices. Some travelers prefer to book more independent hotels. There are pros and cons to each of these. 

Take your time to look through any available pictures of the hotel. Some of them will resonate with you based on style or comfort. Trust your gut – if your gut is telling you no, then follow that. Hotels can make or break your vacation, so if you’re already worried about it, don’t do it. That’ll give you an idea of the type of hotel you’re looking for during the trip. (More on this below!)

What are the pictures saying?

A picture is worth a thousand words – or a booking! Please, please, please make sure you look at the pictures. There are key things that can be avoided with proper attention to detail. Some hotels just show the best room, but that might not be the room you’re booking. If there are less than five pictures, don’t book it. That’s a red flag for the quality of the hotel. This is also where third-party sites can help. What’s better than real travel photos that aren’t professional or edited?

If it looks old or dirty, I’m immediately turned off. I can tell this usually by the bedspread, carpet, or lighting. There is a difference between the style not matching mine and feeling like I stepped back to the 1980s. I know I sound superficial, but this is my standard for travel, which has changed over time and through experience. Pictures will help you figure out what you want/don’t want (and remember to trust your gut!). 

Mara Bush Camp tent during our Kenya safari.

Are you ready for the details?

Now that you have a style, and a general idea of the hotels, it’s time to get more specific in your hotel desires. Hopefully by now you’ve narrowed down some hotels and can get into more of the details.

Star Rating – I generally won’t stay anywhere under 3 stars. There was a time in my life when 1 star and just a place to sleep was fine, but that time has passed. I acknowledge this. Of course, there are exceptions. We stayed at a few two-star hotels in Japan, but they were perfect. No complaints! 

Additional amenities  – Are you a traveler who needs to get a workout in the morning? Find a hotel with a gym. Do you know you’re arriving late? Check for late-check in. Do they have somewhere to store your bags if you get in early? Do you want breakfast included? Distance to major must-see attractions? Access to public transportation? Sustainability practices? Decide what you want your hotel to include and that will lower your search results. These amenities may not be the most important thing, but they will help you choose a hotel that is perfect for your vacation.

What is the view like?

Recently, there was a Tik Tok about someone booking a hotel that didn’t exist. This is easily avoided by confirming with the hotel beforehand but also checking the hotel on a map. Knowing where the hotel is in a city like Dublin is important – are you around the major attractions? Or in like a city like Las Vegas – if you book a hotel near the airport, you’re nowhere near the strip (this was an expensive lesson to learn in my teens). It’ll help you familiarize yourself with your destination too. 

View of San Marino Castle and Countryside. 
How to Choose a Hotel
Map views can help you see the hotel, and any particularly special views like this one in San Marino.

What are people saying?

Star rating is important, but honestly, reviews are more important. Don’t get sucked into reading reviews until you’ve narrowed down your search a bit (and by a bit, I mean a lot) – they can be overwhelming and get confusing after you’ve read a lot of them. Reviews are subjective – people either realllllyyyy like the hotel, or reallllllyyyyy hate them. However, it is easy to see a pattern in them over time. Generally good, puts me at ease, and generally bad, it’s a pass. A bad hotel can ruin a vacation, I don’t gamble on it anymore. If there are reviews that include safety concerns, bed bugs, or cleanliness – I’m immediately out. If somewhere seems promising, I’ll head to TripAdvisor for traveler pictures and more reviews – nothing like an unedited photo to solidify your decision! 

Ready to Make the Final Decision?

When all the factors come into play, you should have around 5 hotels that meet your criteria. At this point, you should be happy if you numbered them 1-5 and pulled one out of a hat. However, the decision lies in the best bang for your buck. It’s not always the cheapest. The cheapest might save you money, but doesn’t offer breakfast like another one. That means every morning you’ll have to figure out breakfast on your own. On the other hand, if you decide that the amount of money to spend on a hotel isn’t worth it, and you’d rather spend that money on activities instead – that’s fine too!

Final Thoughts When Choosing a Hotel

This may sound like a lot of things to consider when you book a hotel, but you’ll figure out what is important to you quickly on your travels. A good hotel can make or break a vacation. Having an organized way of looking at hotels and narrowing them down can help make the process of choosing a hotel a bit less daunting. Over time, it becomes a habit and now we can usually pick a great hotel in about 30 minutes. (Don’t worry, I do still actually dread this part of travel planning even though it’s a habit!)

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What are your tips or concerns for booking a hotel?

12 thoughts on “How to Choose a Hotel when Traveling: 10 Questions”

  1. Thanks for these tips! I usually take extra care to choose a hotel and I totally agree with everything you say! Choosing the wrong accommodation can affect negatively your trip! So it’s good to find the right fit for you!

  2. Great post! I always look at the travellers pictures as the pictures posted by the hotel can be very deceiving. The older we get, the pickier we get lol.

  3. I love these tips and completely agree–this is more or less my process, too! I’d add that I always check what the reviews say about the speed and strength of the wifi if I’ll be doing any work while I’m there.

  4. These tips are great! I always look at their photos and reviews, plus check if those hotels have the commodities I’m looking for (free wifi, breakfast included, etc) and if they’re near the attractions I’m planning on visiting! 🙂

  5. Your comment only staying in 3 stars now cracks me up. We are the same way now. A few years ago we didn’t care if it was a 1 star on the ground where we stayed but now we’re like ehhhh do we want to camp??

    1. Right?! There is a place for camping and I will do it, but not on every trip! It’s just not me anymore 🙂

  6. I’m delighted you mentioned that it might be good to use filters when booking a hotel because they can help you limit your options. My sister has been trying to reserve a hotel room for their trip. I’ll make sure to let her know about this so that she can keep it in mind and pick a hotel more quickly.

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