How can you objectively evaluate a property when no two trips (or people) are the same?
My passion for travel has taken me all over the world - and has seen me end up in all kinds of accommodations. From campground to glamp-ground, from one star hostels to five star hotels - I've seen and slept in them all!
It's not always easy to objectively evaluate a property. No two trips are alike and all properties are so unique. So how do I rate what's good, what's great, and what's gross? Here are the three things that form the foundation for my every evaluation: The Story, The Sleep, and The Value.
For Every Sleep, There's A Story.
The Motherland Inn 2 in Yangon, Myanmar is a pleasant yet ordinary guesthouse but when I first set eyes on it after the 20 hour train ride from hell, it was suddenly the most beautiful building in the world! The clean, but worn, sheets felt like the finest linens; the warm shower was the fanciest spa in the world. I'm sure I would have found their accommodations acceptable no matter what, but it was important that I owned up to the circumstances behind my wild enthusiasm when I wrote my review.
Every trip and every sleep has a story and I always try to share mine. It's unfair (and a lot less interesting) if I don't share the story of how I came to be at a hotel or hostel and what my expectations and pre-conceived notions were. And sometimes that means owning up to my own bad behavior.
I was bitterly disappointed that a recent cottage rental came not with the promised WiFi I was so desperately counting on for my work - and instead featured a herd of goats. Yes, goats! In my frustrated state I was annoyed with every little thing, like the weeds in the garden. Had I written a review, I'm sure I would have unfairly torn the property apart. There's no way I could write a balanced report without acknowledging that I was part of the problem, not just the property.
A Sound Sleep Is A Sound Idea
All hotels, motels, hostels, inns, guesthouses, and campgrounds are designed for a single purpose - to give people a place to sleep. It doesn't matter how good the onsite restaurant is, how many lamps are in the room, what the view is like, what kind of soap is offered if you don't get a good night's sleep.
In Paris, I tossed and turned in our charming hotel in the trendy St Germain district as the radiator relentlessly pumped heat into the room. Opening the window let in both the fresh air and the sounds of late night revelers and early morning cleaning crews. The charm of the pink damask curtains rapidly dissipated as I lay sweating, and then shivering. Pretty room, spectacular location, horrible sleep. I'm not sure I'll be back.
Two weeks later, a private hostel room in Sydney ranked far lower on the decor scale but it came with excellent climate control, with options for both air conditioning and more natural measures like adjustable blinds. The room wasn't as cute but it was much more comfortable, leading to an excellent night's sleep. No frills, no fuss, but I slept like a rock.
Great Value Means Sweet Dreams
Finding a place to lay your head is often the most expensive part of any trip after transportation and when you're spending so much money it's important that you get a good deal. A gorgeous 5 star hotel will give you restless legs and bad dreams if overpay for it. And the cheapest hostel in town is a bad deal if you're replacing stolen goods and investing in anti-itch cream! Value isn't about saving money just for the sake of saving money.
In Death Valley National Park, we spent $150 for a basic park cabin. What it lacked in modern decor, it made up for in air conditioning - something the $50 motel down the road lacked. No amount of savings is worth being so miserable and uncomfortable that it ruins the trip!
But a $50 motel was an excellent deal in the moderate climate of Flagstaff - all we needed was a no-frills place to crash for 8 hours and it fit the bill perfectly. In both cases, the price we paid was the best possible value.
But What About Safety? Or Cleanliness?
You bet I care about safety and cleanliness. If a location isn't clean and safe, I won't sleep well - and neither will you. And it's not just about sleep quality - it's about value as well. A small carpet stain in a 2 star motel doesn't bother me at all - my expectations are modest, just like the price. But the identical stain in a 4 star hotel is different. I'm paying a premium here for attention to detail and there's an expectation that the property delivers great value proportional to the price by having a higher standard and going the extra mile.
Don't You Care About How The Staff Treat You?
A marvelous or mean staff directly influences how much value I think a property offers. There's never an excuse for rudeness but I don't expect the clerk at a $30 a night campground to become my best friend. You generally get what you pay for and low cost accommodations rarely come with staff who are instructed to fawn over your every word.
When the staff is warm, friendly, and helpful, that property's value factor increases tremendously. In San Francisco, the staff at Hostelling International's Fisherman's Wharf location were cheerful, patient, accommodating, and extremely knowledgeable. Their fantastic service easily made up for the property's minor problems, like drafty windows. And it's not just in budget situations where this matters - anytime a staff member makes my visit more memorable, it makes all the difference in the world.
Whenever I bring a review of any property, any where, to my readers, I always try to evaluate it in terms of the quality of sleep it provides, the value it offers, and frame that review in the proper context of why I went there and what my expectations were. I aim to make every review as fair, balanced, comprehensive, and helpful as I can and I would love to learn more about what you want from your travel properties and what you look for in your accommodations.
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