Hostels? Hotels? B&Bs? Our travels will include just about everything!
As many of you know, I'm a bit of an obsessive travel planner. Part of it is just who I am, and part of it is because planning is how I get the most enjoyment from my trips. I might only have a few days in a destination, but I can have several months of enjoying it. I love planning in advance, reading about a city's unique history, enjoying novels set there, and then have more fun playing with photos when we return.
With my list-y tendencies in full swing, I've already started looking at accommodations for our round the world trip that's scheduled to start in Novemeber. It's a short trip -under a month - and I want to make sure we enjoy every day of it. And, frankly, I want to get great value!
We've already accomplished that on our flights, as we cashed in our points and strategically staggered flights to minimize taxes and airport fees. And now I want to get the best possible value from inns, bed and breakfasts, hostels, hotels and more. And the more I look into this, the more I realize that there is more to accommodations than just the sticker price.
A great example of this is Bruges, Belgium. We'll be in Bruges for just 24 hours, which should suit us just fine. We've both been before and we are thrilled to have the chance to revisit this beautiful, historic city, without the pressure of needing to see every tourist attraction.
Our accommodations need to meet certain requirements. We have to be in the city centre - we want to drink in all the beautiful buildings and have the chance to enjoy the gorgeous architecture that Bruges is so famous for. We're there for just one night - it doesn't make sense for us to stay on the city outskirts to save a few euros.
That might be a sensible strategy for someone who is spending a week in the city - you would save a lot over time, and you wouldn't be as focused on getting as much city face time as possible. A long term guest might invest in a bus pass or car rental and explore further afield. We don't want to waste time and money on transportation.
The next choice - Bed and Breakfasts! In general, I'm more of a fan of B&Bs than my husband. He likes to come and go without having to make too much small talk. I'm actually more shy than him, but I'm used to the small talk thing from my solo travel days. We both love breakfast, but he loves greasy spoon bacon and eggs. I love the yogurt, granola, veggie omelettes and fancy things - the typical B&B breakfast! So he's not opposed to B&Bs - he just doesn't want to stay in them nonstop. So is Bruges a good place to hit up a rare B&B stop?
I think it is. There's a wide selection of B&Bs to choose from - all with excellent reviews, all with great locations, all under €100. This means good value - not only will things be affordable; there's also enough choice to find a spot that is really our style. After 3 days of running on caffeine and carbs, crashing on airplanes and cheapo-Parisian hotels, it will be a nice change to have some homey scenery and a hot, homemade, healthy breakfast. A lovely, turn of the century home would be the perfect compliment to our cozy visit.
A second reason for wanting to be in the heart of the city: we'll be in Bruges on day 4 of our trip. Once the excitement of arrival wears off, we'll be feeling the fatigue and jet lag. I know from past trips that we usually crash a little on day 3 or 4. Therefore, it makes the most sense to be in the city centre. If one person is exhausted, the other can still easily go out. You can both sit in a semi-coma at a sidewalk cafe and have a great afternoon without feeling like you "lost time" or "missed out". No matter the cost, we really need and want to be in the absolute heart of the city. Short walks only for us please!
But here's the downside: city centre hotels are expensive everywhere, and Bruges is no exception. There are many beautiful hotels, but space in this historic city is at a premium. It's not so easy to have a huge hotel. There are a few biggies, many medium sized hotels, and a lot of independent, boutique hotels. This often translates into both expensive AND tricky for online blind bidding - you don't have 10 downtown Best Westerns who are turning over their rooms to Priceline. We are hoping to spend under €100 (Euros). NO - We NEED to spend under €100.
I've been learning quickly that there are a few things to pay attention to when looking at European B&B prices and booking policies. Most require a two night stay over weekends. Not a concern for us, but something to keep in mind. During week nights, there is often a "one night stay" charge of an extra €15. Essentially, the price I see advertised is €15 (plus tax) less than I'll end up paying. So far, every B&B has this supplement. Definitely a "suck it up" situation, but I respect B&B owners and how hard they work. I've worked in B&B housekeeping before and it's tough. So the fee is warranted - just not so good for my budget.
I've also learned that some B&B's charge a rate with breakfast and without. I think this is a great option. Some people do not enjoy many breakfast foods, might prefer inexpensive fare on the road, are interested in having a special breakfast at a special restaurant, will be leaving early or sleeping late - or maybe they just don't like having to make polite conversation with strangers before they've had caffeine! So far, the difference between the two options seem to range from €5 per person to €15! It's well worth looking into what you get for breakfast and what you're willing to pay to get it.
One place we looked at had a very nice breakfast but the price difference was €27 for the two of us. A hot meal would be nice, but we could easily save €15 by grabbing muffins, lattes, and fruit at a cafe. But the second place we looked at offered a full breakfast for just an extra €5 per person. Sold! In pricey Europe, this is a deal. Even the aforementioned muffin, fruit, and coffee would cost this much, if not more were we to buy it elsewhere. It's kinda like getting juice, cereal, pastries, yogurt, and a hot daily dish for free! I think we've found a winner!
This research has taught me a couple of important lessons. You have to know what kind of accommodation will work best not only for your budget, but also your personality and the kind of visit you're hoping to have. You shouldn't despair if the accommodations you're looking at are unaffordable or unobtainable. There is always a good alternative if you keep your mind open. And you have to consider the overall price and amenities to determine if you're getting good value. Some people might find €50 Euros a night for a week a great value. Others might find €50 a night, plus a €15 supplement, plus a €10 breakfast fee to also be great value.
Value? It's not just about the price. It's about what you get and what you need!