1. Always, always reserve a room for your first nights stay.

  • You don’t want to land in a city dazed and confused by jet lag and culture shock and be stuck wandering around looking for a place to stay while carrying all your luggage.

2. Choose location of hotel

  • When looking for a hotel room you can go with your guidebook recommendations but these tend to book quickly.
  • You can choose hotels based on location first. Study your guidebook and look for hotels that are centrally located to most of the sights.
  • Hotels by the train station and away from the major sites are usually cheaper but you have to factor in transportation and time costs in getting to the major sites
  • Hotels located close to the major sights sometimes charge a premium for the proximity.
  • Hotels only slightly removed from major sites and in interesting neighborhoods are a happy medium.

3. Other ways to choose hotels

  • Look up the city on TripAdvisor and then look up the top rated hotels, granted some of these will be the most expensive 5 star hotels but in the mix you will find hidden gems, affordable places with great service that consistently garner top ratings.
  • Utilize Google Maps. If you look up any location on Google Maps you then have the option of “Search Nearby”, you can enter “hotels” and all the nearby hotels show up. If you click on the markers for the hotels more information including reviews about the hotel shows up. These can then be saved using the My Maps Feature. Check out my example.

4. Check hotel reservation websites and compare with reviews on Tripadvisor

  • Once you narrow down the part of the city you’re nterested in then check European hotel reservation websites and look for quaint rooms with the best prices.
  • Reservation websites are easy to use and some are automated so you can see if there are vacancies during the dates you are looking for. Also you can get a response back within 24 hours.
  • Note hotels of interest and then read the reviews on Tripadvisor for that particular accommodation to see if reality matches the hotels self-description. It is useful to hear from folks who have just stayed there and can comment to the cleanliness, location, value, and staff of the hotel.
  • Tripadvisor reviews tend to be fairly accurate if you take an “average”, so to speak, of everyone’s comments. On any review site you will always find the outliers that are unusually harsh probably because of unrealistic expectations or overly enthusiastic because of really low expectations.
  • If you use a reservation website to book your room, retain confirmation numbers in case you need to correspond with the hotel regarding changes or questions about your reservation.
  • Also note cancellation policies of each particular hotel.

5. Book directly with the hotel

  • If the hotel you are interested in has a website, you can check that for any specials and contact them directly if for a better deal.
  • You can phone hotels directly, most will have English speaking staff to help you. Emailing or faxing reservation requests is another option.
  • If you book directly with a hotel, it is always best to fax confirmation details such as your credit card number. Hotels accept this information via email but it is NOT secure, it is always better to fax this information. Hotels do not charge the credit card, this is just necessary to hold the room.
  • When corresponding with Europeans the date needs to be written with the date first, then month, then year. For example if you want to reserve a room for 5/9/08 (May 9, 2008) that would be written as 9/5/08 or 9 May 2007 –it might be best to spell out the month to avoid any confusion.
  • Also specify how many nights you will be staying, how many people, how many rooms and any other special needs. Find out about the cancellation policy as well.

Reservations on the Fly

The spontaneous approach requires a little bit of hustle.  However, it does afford you the ability to stay awhile if you’ve fallen in love with a city or let’s you check out cities that other travelers have told you about.  Traveling in the high season without hostel/hotel reservations is more difficult but still doable it just requires persistence and luck.  I recommend this approach for longer trips where you have the luxury of time and don’t have to adhere to a strict itinerary.  Sometimes you have no choice and a particular hotel/hostel won’t accept advance reservations and when you arrive in town they are already booked so you have to scramble for alternate accommodations.

Once you arrive in town if you haven’t already purchased a phone card get one at a newsstand in the train station.  Next make sure you have your guidebook hostel/hotel recommendations or some other list that you can work off of.  Then start dialing.  Depending on the season this will usually suffice and you’ll be able to find a room.  If rooms are booked at your hotel of choice ask the receptionist if there are any other similarly priced hotels you can check.  If not you’re next option is to check out the tourist office or hotel booking service (some are at the train station).  They may or may not have the cheapest options available.  At this point you can pay for the convenience or hit the pavement and look for hotels by foot and check for availability.  If you do happen to find a room available always ask to see it first before paying, you don’t want to be stuck with a dud.

Don’t be shy about asking hostel/hotel staff to help you book your next accomodation.  They can call ahead for you to make your next reservation.  This is particularly helpful if they speak the language, this saves you the trouble and embarassment of asking for a room in broken Italian.

Sometimes people will approach you while you’re in line for hotel booking or near the tourist office offering you a room.  Don’t worry this is not unusual, these are just entrepreneurial sorts who need to drum up business for a very small hotel, room, or apartment.  They should have a map and be able to show you where the room is located and should tell you the price upfront, never pay in advance.  Only after you’ve seen the room and find it acceptable should you pay.  I’ve lucked out with the rooms I’ve booked this way.  Always use your best judgment though if the person is too aggressive or if you’re just not comfortable politely decline their offer.