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14 Things a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You (And 6 Things They Can’t)

Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]

That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.

What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You

Save You Money

The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.

Recommend Fitness Facilities

If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.

Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available

If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.

Get Tickets for You

Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.

Keep You Safe

A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.

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Help You Celebrate

Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.

Help You Do Your Job

A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.

Help You Look Good

A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.

Fix Sticky Travel Problems

A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.

Get You a Table

Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.

Recommend Local Service Folks

Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.

Create a Custom Itinerary

If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.

Help with Special Needs

If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.

Provide Assistance Before You Arrive

The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.

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What Your Hotel Concierge Can’t Do for You


Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.

Illegal or Immoral Activities

You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.


A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.

Float You a Loan

They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.

Sell Stuff for You

Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.

Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows

Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.

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Tips for Using a Hotel Concierge

Don’t Be Shy

You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.

Give Them Some Time

Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.

Present the Concierge’s Card

When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.

Not All Concierges Are the Same

Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.

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33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

Rattling ice machines. Dinging elevators. Bachelorette parties down the hall. The sleep gods have their work cut out for them if you’re expecting to snooze well while staying at a hotel.

We’ve compiled one of the most comprehensive guides available to sleeping in a hotel, covering everything from what you should ask when you’re booking the room to how you can swiftly take care of noisemakers so you can get back to sleep.

When Making Your Reservation

1. Ensure that you get a quiet room. Two requests that are absolutely vital and pretty widely known when selecting your hotel room: a room on an upper floor and away from the elevators.

2. Book a room midway down a hallway. This is generally the quietest part of the floor, as it’s away from the ice and vending machines, guest laundry facilities, exits, housekeeping closets, and other places where noise can be made.

3. Ask for a room on the concierge or suite level, if the hotel has one. Sometimes those rooms have taller ceilings, giving you a little more air space from the people above you.

4. Avoid rooms facing a pool. While the view might be pretty, pools can be late-night gathering places—despite posted closing times—and noise echoes off water.

5. Ask what time the trash is collected if there are dumpsters or recycling bins outside your windows. If the time is too early for your liking, get a different room.

6. Request a room at the back of a low-rise hotel. They are generally quieter (especially if they’re away from the parking lot). Even if the view is poor, the peace is worth it.

7. Get a room at least two or three levels above banquet rooms, bars, or other public spaces if the hotel has them. You’d be surprised how many floors a pulsating and thumping bass beat can penetrate.

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8. Ask if the hotel is undergoing or has recently completed renovations. Usually these are done in segments—a floor or section at a time. You want to avoid floors that are adjacent to those currently being updated. But you do want to be on a floor that has finished being renovated—which will usually be cleaner, smell better, and have newer beds and linens.

9. Inquire whether guestrooms have blackout shades. These are the heavy, thick curtains that keep the light out, and you want to have them.

10. Make sure yours is a non-smoking room. If you’re not a smoker, the scent of old cigarette smoke will keep you from feeling at ease (awake or asleep).

11. Ask about pillow options. If you’re vulnerable to neck or back pain from using the wrong pillow, find out if pillows with different levels of firmness are available. Some hotels stock firmer ones in guestroom closets, or have a secret stash at the front desk. If the hotel doesn’t offer what you need, consider bringing yours from home.

12. Request two beds if you’re traveling with a friend. You’ll get a more peaceful night’s sleep if you snooze alone than you will if you bunk with someone you’re not accustomed to being next to.

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Packing for Your Stay

13. Pack earplugs. Uncomfortable as they can be, wadding little bits of foam in your ears is far less annoying than being kept up all night by noise. Better yet, invest in Bose’s Noise Masking Sleepbuds which play soothing sounds to cancel out noise and let you sleep. You can also bring your own travel-size white noise machine, download a white noise app onto your smartphone, or stream white noise from your laptop on a free website like

14. Bring an eye mask. They are for your eyes what earplugs are for your ears—and they’re especially important if your room doesn’t have blackout curtains. Look for ones that are contoured so they don’t restrict your eye movements during deep sleep.

15. Pack a sleep sack if you tend to worry about the cleanliness or comfort of your hotel linens. They also are helpful for folks with skin sensitivities who are worried about the detergents or bleach used to clean hotel linens.

16. Spray your room. The chemicals used to clean hotel rooms or launder sheets can be a little overpowering. Add your own scent with a spritz or two of a gentle linen spray you bring from home. (Consider one with a lavender scent, which is known to be soothing; here’s one travel-size option from Amazon.)

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Preparing to Hit the Hay

17. Don’t read, eat, or work in bed. Admittedly, this is not always possible, as seating can be limited in a hotel room. But try not to use your bed to do anything but sleep.

18. Don’t eat a large or overly rich dinner late at night. A belly that’s churning away digesting a big meal interferes with your ability to sleep soundly.

19. Abstain from alcohol. Although alcoholic beverages can help you fall asleep faster, even a moderate dose of alcohol right before bed can cause your sleep quality to suffer.

20. Sip tea. A small cup of chamomile tea or other warm, non-caffeinated beverage can induce sleep. Don’t drink too much though, or else you’ll need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

21. Silence your cell phone notifications, especially if you’re in a different time zone than your friends and family. People could be trying to contact you when you’re trying to sleep. Turn off notification sounds for texts, emails, and calls before you go to bed so you’re not disturbed.

22. Take a melatonin. This supplement mimics the natural hormone that your body produces to go to sleep. According to Dr. Aleksandar Videnovic, Principal Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Sleep Center, “Melatonin helps our body recognize when it’s time to sleep, and it can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms of jet lag.”

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Just Before Bed

23. Hang the “do not disturb” sign on the outside doorknob. This is especially important if you’re planning to sleep in. Some housekeepers start their service at 8 a.m. or earlier. If your room doesn’t have a “do not disturb” sign, request one from the front desk.

24. Set backup wakeup calls. How many times have you set an unfamiliar alarm clock, only to wake up the next morning in a rush because it never went off (or awakened in the middle of the night worrying it wouldn’t work)? For greater peace of mind, use two alarms—such as the hotel’s wakeup call service, your cell phone, a wristwatch, or a travel-sized alarm clock. Even if you’re not using the hotel’s alarm clock, check it to make sure the previous occupant of the room didn’t set it to go off at an early time.

25. Take a warm bath. The relaxation can help you sleep better.

26. Adjust the room temperature. According to, most people sleep best in temperatures between 60-70 degrees.

27. Read a non-suspenseful paper book or magazine. Avoid the TV, smartphones, and laptops, as they emit an artificial blue light that can have a stimulating rather than soporific effect. An e-ink e-reader, like the Kindle Paperwhite is a travel-friendly way to read without blue light.

28. Try a meditation exercise that’s designed to induce sleep. There are plenty of apps out there (such as headspace)  that will guide you through nighttime meditations to help you relax.

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Once in Bed

30. Breathe deeply. Being out of your element can be stressful. Take some deep, slow breaths before bed to help you relax and unwind tense muscles.

31. Don’t wait to report noise. Hotel rooms have notoriously thin walls, and your neighbors may not realize their conversations are crystal clear to you. Sometimes a quick pound on the wall will do the trick to quiet down a noisy neighbor. (See: When the Hotel Guest Next Door Won’t Shut Up.) If you’re not comfortable doing so, just ring the hotel front desk. They’ll phone the guest or send security personnel to the room with a warning. Excessive noise or repeated warnings could result in the guest being asked to leave.

32. Ask to move rooms. All hotels should give a guest the option of relocating to a quieter room if uncontrollable noise—such as traffic, a humming ice machine, or the elevator—is persistent. Of course, it’s not exactly peaceful to have to pack up your belongings and relocate in the middle of the night, and the hotel might be sold out. But if you’re staying in a hotel for multiple nights, this could be an ideal solution.

33. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. This is a good all-around rule, for traveling or at home. Rather than tossing and turning, get out of bed, turn on a low light, and read a mindless magazine until you’re ready to try again.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Booking Strategy Budget Travel

Where to Stay in Germany: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

With so many tempting possibilities, deciding where to stay in Germany can turn into a dilemma. Should you choose ultra-modern hotels or charm-filled historic properties? Should you dream away your nights at country inns, fairytale castles, or pampering spa resorts? Even if you’re on a budget, Germany’s lodging options include hotels, B&Bs, and hostels that are among Europe’s very best. Or, for a change of pace, you can spend a few days on a farm or a countryside vineyard. Can’t choose? The best plan may be to mix and match as you travel through the country, sampling some of Germany’s best accommodations.

Traditional Hotels in Germany

Germany uses the international rating system of stars for hotels, from modest one-stars to five-star luxury. In one- and two-star hotels, you’ll find smaller rooms and perhaps shared bathrooms. From three stars up, hotels will have an on-site restaurant, luggage service, private bathrooms, and a reception desk that stays open at least 12 hours of each day. At four- and five-star hotels, you’ll enjoy room service and plenty of amenities, including robes and washcloths.

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German lodging standards are very high, and you can generally expect clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included. Better hotels may serve a lavish morning buffet that includes eggs, meats, yogurt, fruits, and cheese. Many hotels in all price ranges have Wi-Fi, though sometimes for a fee.

Europeans still tend to smoke more cigarettes than Americans do, so if you’re sensitive to smoke, it’s worth requesting a nonsmoking room or floor when you make your reservation. Be aware that in a climate where air-conditioning is seldom necessary, many older hotels may not have it. If you are planning a summer trip, be sure to check.

Keep a copy of your reservation confirmation with you to make sure the promised rate is honored. Always check hotel sites directly for specials and deals, such as low weekend rates in cities when business travelers go home. During major events like Munich’s Oktoberfest or the Frankfurt Book Fair, rooms are scarce and rates can double or even triple. You can also find great deals on Germany hotels via TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) and

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Germany’s Romantik Hotels

While star ratings tell you about amenities, they do not measure charm, and many older European hotels have great appeal. Among the most enjoyable places to stay in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels, found in Germany’s major cities as well as in its smaller towns. The hotels in this group are all in historic buildings and owner-managed.

Another romantic experience is to choose a schlosshotel, or castle converted into a hotel. Germany has more of these special accommodations than anywhere else in Europe. You can find many of them listed at TripAdvisor, and at a site called Castle and Palace Hotels.

Note that some of Germany’s older hotels do not have elevators, so if stairs are a problem for you, make sure to request a room on the ground floor.

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Germany’s Country Hotels

The German countryside has so much beauty and so many attractions that it is well worth your time to plan part of your itinerary in Germany away from the cities. This will give you the chance to experience delightful places to stay such as gasthofs and gasthauses, atmospheric country inns that also serve good local food.

For a different experience, spend time at a countryside bauernhof, a farm that offers rooms for travelers. These are great fun for families, especially for city dwellers. You can also stay amid scenic vineyards at a winzerhof, a winery guesthouse. A site called LandReise is an excellent source for these types of lodgings (though it’s only in German; use the Chrome browser for translation). Bavaria alone boasts more than 1,000 farmstay listings, along with its own association and website to help find them:

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Germany’s Spa Hotels

Ever since Roman times, visitors have been coming to Germany to “take the waters” in health spas surrounded by hot mineral springs said to have healing properties. “Bad” means bath, and hotels in cities such as Bad Reichenhall, Wiesbaden, and chic Baden-Baden share access to the coveted spa waters. Many of these cities also have diversions like casinos and fine eateries. Hotels vary from modest to super-luxurious. Check listings in each town to make your choice, as well as

Germany’s Budget Hotels, B&Bs, and Homestays

For those who are looking for a well-priced hotel in Germany, booking services like Expedia and offer good values in all price categories. Another good source is Best Western. The chain’s listings in Europe are not motels as they are in some parts of the U.S., but rather small hotels that have been inspected and are reliable. If you’re willing to stay outside the city center and take public transportation to get around, you can often find lower rates in better hotels. Just be sure that quick connections are near the hotel.

Germany has its full share of economical bed and breakfast choices, as well. B&Bs, also known as pensions, may be small hotels, but most often, they’re private homes with live-in hosts. They are a far more personal experience than staying in a hotel. The best way to find listings is by contacting the local tourist offices in the areas you plan to visit. You can also find listings at international online services such as BBOnline, or, of course, Airbnb.

At the lower end of the lodgings scale in Germany are zimmer, meaning simply “rooms,” in private houses, offered by families that have a spare bedroom or two. These can be especially handy if you’re looking for an overnight while touring the country by car. Watch for signs that say “Zimmerfrei” (room available), check with the local tourist office for locations, or try

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Germany Vacation Rentals

Apartment and home rentals provide more spacious quarters and can be less expensive than booking multiple hotel rooms when traveling with family or a group of friends. The agencies and websites that specialize in offering these types of properties have listings ranging from studios in the city to villas in the country. Among the sources to try are AirbnbHomeAway, and TripAdvisor’s vacation rentals page.

Ask for references or read reviews from people who have previously rented the property that you’re considering. Be sure that someone will be on call to help in case of emergency, like a lost key or a plumbing problem. If you’re hungry for more information before making your reservation, read up about what you need to know about booking a vacation rental.

If you’re planning to stay in Germany for a week or longer, you could consider a house swap. A German family might be delighted to trade their home or apartment for yours, saving each of you a lot of money. Specialized agencies such as HomeExchange or Intervac have listings all over the world, including many in Germany. As with rentals, references from others who have stayed in the property are invaluable. Not quite sure how to arrange this type of accommodation? Read more about how to set up a home exchange.

Hostels in Germany

Germany helped pioneer the idea of youth hostels, and today has more than 500 hostel properties that are among Europe’s most modern. While they still offer the bunk rooms that are popular with thrifty students, many hostels also offer private double rooms and family-style rooms that appeal to budget-conscious older travelers. Rates are modest and often include breakfast.

The best hostels book up fast, so reserve well in advance. Find listings at the German Youth Hostel Association or via Hostelling International, an organization that covers countries around the world. You may also want to consider investing in a Hostelling International membership, as this will allow you to stay worldwide at deeply discounted rates.

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–original research and reporting by Eleanor Berman

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in South Korea: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

Considering a trip to South Korea? Set aside that spicy bowl of kimchi for a moment and settle in for a crash course about where to stay in South Korea. As a major East Asian tourist destination and convention hub, South Korea is home to an array of accommodation options that includes everything from the luxurious and modern to the cozy and conventional to the downright bizarre. Indeed, South Korea lodging options will suit every budget, and virtually every fancy.

Hotels in South Korea

The most obvious place to begin your time in South Korea is at a hotel. Hotels in South Korea are largely the same as you’ll find at home, and just like those, vary in standards and service. An average room can be quite inexpensive outside of major tourist destinations like Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island, but prices may skyrocket depending on the time of year or local events.

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You can browse hotel listings throughout South Korea on review sites like TripAdvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent site. Avoid hotels branded as “tourist” or “business”; quality is often subpar at best. Agoda is also an excellent website for hotel booking in South Korea.

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South Korea Luxury Hotels

You’ll find plenty of luxury hotel options in South Korea, operated by many of the same global hospitality chains that you’re familiar with back home. If you’re willing to splurge, you’ll have an opportunity to experience legendary Korean hospitality, a king-sized bed, swimming pools, and all the other modern amenities you could ever want. Standouts include the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul, where the impeccable rooms include marble bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows; the Conrad Seoul, known for world-class service and hospitality; and the Lotte Hotel Busan, the most luxurious place to stay in the southern part of the country.

South Korea Resorts

The resort experience in South Korea can be incredibly unique. For example, you can cruise (but not really) aboard the Sun Cruise Resort, a giant ship firmly affixed to solid ground in Donghae, offering a faux deep-sea adventure for the consummate land lover. South Korea is home to myriad quirky resort properties such as these.

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South Korea Jjimjilbangs

On the other end of the spectrum from the luxury brands are Korea’s ubiquitous saunas, also known as jjimjilbangs. For about the cost of a fast food meal at home, you can sleep on the (heated) floor in a community bathhouse.

Hang on—this is not nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, jjimjilbangs, almost always open 24 hours, are an excellent option for weary travelers who are simply looking for a place to rest awhile. These social gathering places include access to steam baths and saunas, so despite sleeping on the floor, you may actually come away feeling rejuvenated.

Listings are difficult to find online and typically only in Korean. The Visit Korea site, however, does supply a good listing of Seoul’s jjimjilbangs, as does TripAdvisor.

South Korea Motels

Travelers beware: Not all motels are created equal. More often than not, South Korean motels double as houses of ill repute. “Love motels,” as many of them are known, are usually rented by the hour—your first clue that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

That said, if you’re in a pinch or you arrive late to a destination that is otherwise sold out, motels actually aren’t a bad option in South Korea. Beds are usually large (surprise, surprise), and most rooms are clean and well appointed. If you don’t mind sleeping next to a condom dispenser or walking across a floor of velvet, a love motel could suit you.

Love motels aren’t usually listed on sites like TripAdvisor, and rarely advertise; the easiest way to find one is to learn to recognize the Korean symbol for love motel, and then inquire within. Don’t worry, they’re easy to spot; most marquees and logos include a heart shape somewhere.

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South Korea Guesthouses and B&Bs

Koreans are famously hospitable. Staying at a family-run guesthouse is a great way to peek inside Koreans’ everyday lives; a night at a guesthouse often includes a community breakfast, tea time, and more socializing than you’re probably used to when traveling. Guesthouses are similar to Western bed and breakfasts, though the term “B&B” is relatively new to South Korea. A property advertised as a B&B is probably recently opened and more expensive than a guesthouse.  To find these types of accommodations in South Korea, try Agoda or TripAdvisor.

South Korea Hanok Lodging

A hanok is a traditional Korean building; think clay-tiled roofs, massive wooden support beams, overhanging eaves, and plenty of peace and quiet. Sparsely styled, a hanok will usually feature ondol (traditional home) standards, beautiful paper doors, and manicured gardens. More expensive than a guesthouse, a hanok stay is a uniquely Korean experience, and worth the inflated price.

Some of the best hanok experiences include Rakkojae Andong, at the Hahoe Folk Village; Rakkojae in Seoul; and the stunning Hyangdan Hanok Guesthouse in charming Gyeongju. For many guests, the best part about staying in a traditional hanok is the blissful disconnect from the everyday. No TV, no Wi-Fi, no distractions—not something you can say often about visiting South Korea.

South Korea Temple Stays

The only type of accommodation more unique than the hanok is the temple. A Korean temple stay is a charming experience; imagine waking up at dawn each day and watching monks in saffron-tinted robes wander about a perfectly manicured garden while lost in thought. Join them in prayer, enjoy simple meals, meditate, and reconnect with your spiritual self at any one of South Korea’s many overnight temples.

Tapsa Temple is an outstanding option for first-time visitors looking for an experience that won’t overwhelm. Originally built by a Buddhist hermit in a valley near Maisan Mountain, Tapsa features dozens of stone pagodas (some more than 30 feet tall), each constructed by hand over a period of years. The temple has an almost ethereal air about it, especially at night. For more information and to book temple overnights in South Korea, check a website called Templestay.

South Korea Yeogwans

Yeogwans were once the most common type of accommodation in Korea. These simple rooms are notable for their ondol stylings; instead of a bed, you sleep on a mattress on the floor, which is sometimes heated, sometimes not. The supposed explanation? Koreans like to travel in groups. By removing the bed, you can get more people into a room.

Whether this is truth or myth doesn’t matter much: Yeogwans were the standard in Korean travel for generations, though they’re far less popular these days. A night in a yeogwan is pretty cheap, but be prepared to share restroom and dining facilities. The cozy minbak (see below) is a step up from the yeogwan. Want to try staying in one? Yeogwans are frequently listed alongside hostels on major lodging websites, including TripAdvisor.

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South Korea Minbaks

Cheaper than hotels, a minbak is a family-run outfit that offers modest accommodations. Expect a simple room that may or may not feature a bed. If your room does not come with a bed, make sure that the floor is heated. Restroom facilities may be shared, and kitchens are often provided. Minbaks vary wildly in comfort and size, so it pays to have a look at your room prior to booking. Looking to book one? Minbaks are often listed alongside hostels on sites like TripAdvisor.

South Korea Hostels

South Korea’s range of hostels is no different from what you might expect to find in other parts of the world. The best offer tidy dorm rooms, shared kitchen facilities, clean bathrooms, and community living spaces. Most of South Korea’s hostels are in Seoul; jjimjilbangs (see above) are far more popular in other parts of the country. Looking to book a hostel in South Korea? Try HostelWorld or

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–original research and reporting by Flash Parker

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Where to Stay in Belize: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

When deciding where to stay in Belize, many travelers choose to split their time in this beautiful country between the jungles of the interior and the sunny Caribbean coast. This means that you could spend the first half of your vacation staying at an ecolodge deep in the rainforest, and the second half overnighting at a laid-back beach resort. Other lodging alternatives in Belize include small hotels and guesthouses, spacious vacation homes, and affordable hostels. Which one is right for you? Read on.

Belize Jungle Lodges and Eco-Resorts

Staying in an ecolodge is the best way to immerse yourself in the lush Belize jungle. The best of the bunch offer upscale amenities such as spas, pools, fine dining restaurants, and air-conditioned guestrooms, while others are decidedly more rustic. Most jungle lodges can help you arrange a variety of nature activities including hikes, birding or wildlife excursions, canoe trips, and visits to nearby caves or Mayan ruins.

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Keep in mind that no matter how luxurious a property you choose, being in the heart of the rainforest means that nature might intrude on your stay, so expect to see a few bugs here and there. It might also take effort to get to some of the more remote lodges. Chan Chich Lodge, for example, is located on a private wildlife reserve in northwestern Belize, and can only be reached by charter plane or 4×4 vehicle.

Rates at jungle lodges can be high, but in many cases, they include at least some meals and activities. Double-check what’s included—and whether the rates are per person or per room—before booking. Note also that many lodges do not offer television or Wi-Fi. For some travelers, this is part of the charm; if that’s not the case for you, be sure to check ahead.

If sustainability is important to you, read up on the lodge’s conservation practices. Does it employ locals from the community, incorporate solar power, have a recycling program, minimize water consumption, or take other steps to reduce its impact on the environment? Lodges that do these things will often highlight these green practices on their websites. You can also check Green Globe, which has recognized several Belize properties for their eco-friendly practices, as well as Slickrock Adventures’ map of Belize jungle lodges.

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Belize Beach Resorts

Belize has numerous beach resorts catering to honeymooners, sun worshipers and those who simply want to switch gears after a few days in the jungle. Many of these resorts are on Ambergris Caye, the country’s largest island, which is popular with honeymooners and snorkelers; others are on southern Belize’s Placencia peninsula.

The beach resorts here are not the massive all-inclusive complexes you may have seen elsewhere in the Caribbean; most have fewer than 25 rooms. This intimate size lends itself to more personal service and a casual, laid-back vibe. Most resorts offer dive packages for those looking to explore Belize’s famous reefs.

Chabil Mar is one of the more luxurious options, located on a patch of private beachfront at the end of the Placencia peninsula. Accommodations include 19 villas and a honeymoon suite, all with sea views. Guests can relax in one of two infinity pools or dine alfresco anywhere on the property—including on their own personal veranda.

On Ambergris Caye, Xanadu Island Resort is a well-appointed and eco-friendly resort south of San Pedro. With 20 suites ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms, the property offers complimentary kayaks and bicycles for guest use, as well as a nature walk and waterfall.

Belize Hotels and Guesthouses

International chain hotels are extremely rare in Belize. Instead, many visitors will find themselves staying at one of the country’s numerous small hotels and guesthouses. Most are simply furnished and affordable by Western standards. Breakfast is sometimes included.

Wi-Fi is an increasingly common amenity at properties across Belize, though the connection can be iffy and you may have to pay an extra fee. Read reviews of the property ahead of time to learn more about the internet connectivity there, if that’s important to you.

Many less expensive hotels and guesthouses are not air-conditioned. While opening windows and turning on ceiling fans may be more than enough to keep you comfortable, it’s worth checking ahead, especially if the hotel is overlooking a road where traffic noise might be an issue. For more information about accommodations in Belize, you can check the Belize Tourism Board’s official website, as well as TripAdvisor’s Belize page. (TripAdvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)

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Belize Vacation Rentals

You’ll find the majority of Belize’s rental homes along the coast, particularly in the beach towns of Placencia and Hopkins and on the offshore islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. Websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO can help you find everything from a small spare room in someone’s home to an airy villa overlooking the sea.

Vacation rentals are most appropriate for families, groups, or anyone looking for a little more space than a typical hotel room. A rental could save you money over the cost of an equivalent local hotel, especially if you plan to use the kitchen to cook instead of eating out every night—but the most luxurious properties are priced accordingly.

Amenities can vary widely, so you’ll want to check the property listing for Wi-Fi, air conditioning, linens, television, dishwashers, and laundry machines. If your rental is part of a resort community, you might be able to use on-site facilities such as pools, fitness centers, or tennis courts.

Reach out to the host beforehand with any questions, such as, “Where is the nearest supermarket, restaurant, and bank?” and “How can I contact you if I have any problems during my stay?”

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Belize Hostels

Affordable hostels are scattered around Belize in the most popular tourist spots including Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, San Ignacio, Belize City, and Placencia. Travelers can choose between dorms and private rooms, and between shared and ensuite baths. In addition to saving you money, hostels often have communal kitchens and lounges where you can meet other travelers from around the world. Check ahead to see whether Wi-Fi, breakfast, linens, and towels are included in your nightly rate. Your bext bets for finding hostels in Belize are sites like HostelWorld and

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Budget Travel Cities Money

New York on a Budget: 25 Ways to Save on Travel

The Big Apple has a reputation as a pricey vacation destination, and that’s not entirely undeserved. The average rate at New York City hotels is a whopping $254 a night, according to a recent Statista report—America’s most expensive average nightly rate. With prices like that, visiting New York on a budget may seem impossible.

But pricey hotels aside, New York City is actually a surprisingly attractive destination for budget travelers, especially if you’re willing to do a little advance planning. Read on to learn how to save money in New York City, including tips for dining on the cheap, getting discount tickets to Broadway shows, saving on public transportation, and finding the city’s best free attractions and events.

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Planning a Trip to New York on a Budget

[st_content_ad]1. Get out the map. Group the sights that you want to see by neighborhood, so that you visit one area of the city each day (for example, visit the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street one day, and Central Park and Times Square another day). This will make the most of your time and save you money on the subway, and on Uber and taxi rides.

2. Expand your reach. Spend at least part of your trip exploring residential neighborhoods like NoHo, Tribeca, and Greenwich Village rather than sticking to the tourist traps. You’ll get to see the real New York without paying out the wazoo.

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How to Save Money on New York City Attractions

3. Purchase a tourist pass. If you know you’ll be packing in a lot of popular attractions into your stay, you may be able to save with a city pass. The New York Pass gives you entry into dozens of attractions over a set number of days for one fixed price. Another option is CityPass, which includes admission to either three or six museums and sights, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Empire State Building, over nine days. Passes such as these not only save you money, but also let you skip the lines.

4. Look for reduced admission. Check the websites of museums you plan to visit to find out whether they offer any free or reduced-price admission days. For example, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is free every Friday between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. Some museums also offer coupons or discounts on their websites, so make sure to check before going.

5. Take advantage of freebies. Some attractions are free all the time—including Central Park, where there are almost always street performers and musicians roaming around, and the High Line, a public park recently created from an old elevated rail line. The Downtown Boathouse offers free public kayaking programs.

6. Stock up on coupons. For discounts on food, shopping, spas, and attraction admissions, search discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Those who know they’ll be traveling to New York City can stock up on some good deals prior to visiting.

7. Take the ferry. Skip the touristy (and pricey) harbor cruises and take the Staten Island Ferry instead for fantastic views of New York Harbor—it’s free!

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How to Save on NYC Shows and Entertainment

8. Find low-cost events. Travelers visiting New York on a budget should take advantage of the many free or inexpensive concerts, readings, art exhibits, and other events happening all over the city on any given day. The only challenge is finding them. For a start, try the “Free in NYC” page of New York’s official tourist board.

9. Save on Broadway tickets. The popular TKTS booths are great places to check for discounted Broadway tickets, but they’re not your only option. There are often even better deals to be had on discount ticket websites like

10. Go to the source. Theaters will often sell leftover tickets (for as little as $25) a couple of hours before shows at their respective box offices—but sometimes it’s standing room only, or seats may not be together if you’ve got a group. Some theaters may give discounts to seniors or students with ID; it never hurts to ask.

11. Get a subscription. Theater lovers who visit New York regularly or are planning a lengthy trip should consider an Audience Extras membership. For a yearly fee, you get access to last-minute tickets for local shows and concerts that have empty seats to fill. Tickets are free, other than a small ticket service charge. The membership pays for itself after just a few shows.

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How to Save on New York Transportation

12. Buy a subway pass. If you’re planning a longer trip to the city, it’s often cost-efficient to buy subway passes that give you unlimited rides for a week or longer (depending, obviously, on how long you’ll be in town). This is especially true if you don’t know where you’re going because if you make a mistake and have to redirect, it may involve swiping your card several times more than you anticipated.

13. Consider driving. If you’re coming into the city with a group of people, it might actually be cheaper to take a car (though also more annoying). Say you pay $40 for parking, $15 for tolls and $10 for gas—it might be less than $30 x 4 for train tickets into the city. But be sure to weigh that against the convenience of taking the train.

14. Plan your parking. If you do decide to drive into the city, print out coupons or a parking pass ahead of time that will allow you to park all day for a flat rate, rather than paying horrendous hourly fees. One good option is Icon Parking, which is well known throughout the city and has several locations. On its website, you can enter the dates and times of your arrival and departure—give yourself a buffer of a couple of hours each way, in case you arrive early or get tied up and leave late—and choose your parking garage location using the map. It’ll then give you a printable confirmation that guarantees your flat rate for that time frame. You can either pay in advance online or get a coupon to bring to the site.

15. Use your feet. Manhattan is very walkable and you’ll see a lot more on foot than you would by public transport or taxi. Plus, it’s free.

16. Hop on a bike. Biking is a fun and inexpensive way to get around the city—just be sure to wear a helmet and stick to bike lanes for safety. There are some wonderful cycle routes around Manhattan, especially along the Hudson and East Rivers. New York has a bike-share program called Citi Bike; for a very small fee, you can borrow a bike for anywhere from 30 minutes to three days.

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How to Save on Meals in New York City

17. Follow the young folks. If upscale lounges and fancy restaurants aren’t your thing, skip the touristy Times Square area and eat where the students eat. Neighborhoods with colleges and universities—such as the East Village near New York University—often have unique local eats at fantastic prices.

18. Hit the streets. In a city renowned for its street food, you’re missing out if you eat all your meals in restaurants. From familiar hot dog carts to trucks bearing every kind of ethnic fare you can imagine, you can eat your way around the globe without ever leaving the Big Apple—or paying more than a few bucks at a time. A thorough site called New York Street Food highlights some of the best options.

19. Explore ethnic neighborhoods. Areas like Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India are a great bet for authentic meals at affordable prices. One of my favorite dining experiences is to get up early on a Sunday and head to Chinatown for dim sum. Locals far outnumber tourists in the busy restaurants there, which offer small tapas-style plates for just a few dollars each.

20. Don’t worry, be happy. To save money at the bar, go out early and take advantage of happy hour prices and less crowded venues.

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Where to Stay in New York on a Budget

21. Stay outside Manhattan. Thanks to New York’s comprehensive public transportation system, there’s no need to pay through the nose for a Midtown hotel when you can stay in one of the other boroughs—or in New Jersey—and take the train wherever you want to go. Even after factoring in the cost of extra transportation, the savings can be significant.

22. Consider alternatives. There are plenty of other options besides hotels, including apartment rentals, home exchanges, couch surfing, and hostels, many of which offer private rooms in addition to shared dorms. For more ideas, see Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay. (Note that rentals through Airbnb and other vacation rental sites are not always legal in New York City; to protect yourself, read Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals.)

23. Share a bathroom. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a better location, consider staying in a hotel or an inn with a shared bath—it’s often one of the best ways to find a truly budget rate in the most popular Manhattan neighborhoods.

Shopping in New York on a Budget

24. Hit the flea markets. Spend your Saturday or Sunday shopping (and haggling) at one of the city’s flea markets, where you’ll always find something unique. Consider GreenFlea in Manhattan or Brooklyn Flea in Brooklyn.

25. Shop in the right spot. If you’re looking for great deals on purses or jewelry, skip the street corner vendors and head to Canal Street, where you’ll find bargain basement prices.

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Carrie Gonzalez, Ashley Kosciolek, Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Dan Askin, Carolyn Spencer Brown, John Deiner, and Erica Silverstein contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Budget Travel Business Travel Cities Family Travel Luxury Travel Romantic Travel Weekend Getaways

12 Best Hotels in Vancouver for Every Type of Traveler

Vancouver makes for a great family vacation or long-weekend getaway, but with over 12,000 rooms in the downtown area alone, knowing where to stay can be tricky. Here are the best hotels in Vancouver for every type of traveler and budget. (Not only did I look at dozens of reviews for this list, three SmarterTravel writers personally visited three of these properties, so you can trust us.)

Best Hotels in Vancouver: Luxury

Whether it’s rooftop views or entertainment options, these luxury hotels in Vancouver don’t disappoint. With the downtown Four Seasons closing in 2020, look to book one of these three properties instead.

The Fairmont Waterfront

[st_content_ad]Fantastic harbor views, the downtown location, and a rooftop pool and terrace make this an ideal option for spring, summer, and fall stays in Vancouver. It’s also within walking distance to the main cruise port.

Book it: Get prices for The Fairmont Waterfront

Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver

Reviewers rave about the exceptional service and attention to detail at the Shangri-La. The property also has a spa, and a location close to restaurants and shopping.

Book it: Get prices for Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver

PARQ Vancouver: DOUGLAS and the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

PARQ Vancouver is a new entertainment center next to BC Place Stadium complete with two luxury hotels here—the DOUGLAS, Autograph Collection and the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver—as well as a casino and eight restaurants and lounges. The rooftop views from the complex are out of this world.

Best Hotels in Vancouver: Downtown

Vancouver is a popular cruise port come spring, summer, and fall. These hotels are all centrally located to make the most of a short trip to the city.

Rosewood Hotel Georgia

Any traveler will appreciate the historical details and decor of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. From the prohibition-style bar in the lower level to perhaps one of the best restaurants in the city—Hawksworth—you don’t have to go far for entertainment or fantastic food. Some rooms have views of the Vancouver Art Gallery across the street.

Book it: Get prices for Rosewood Hotel Georgia

Sutton Place Hotel

With a central location near popular sights, and spacious rooms with downtown views, Sutton Place is a good option for those looking for a mid-range hotel. SmarterTravel’s Christine Sarkis notes the property carries “unusually robust Gilchrist & Soames bath products … including lip balm.” There’s also an onsite wine merchant, large fitness center, spa, indoor pool, and restaurant with a raw bar.

Book it: Get prices for Sutton Place Hotel

L’Hermitage Hotel

If you’re staying in Vancouver for an extended period, or with a group of friends or family, the suites at L’Hermitage are an economical option. Travelers rave about the exceptional service, and the outdoor saltwater pool is an added bonus.

Book it: Get prices for L’Hermitage Hotel

Best Hotels in Vancouver: Boutique

Boutique hotels are on the rise in Vancouver, and a stay at one of these more intimate properties complements the local feel of Vancouver’s neighborhoods.

OPUS Hotel

With its own personalized wellness program, onsite restaurant, a popular bar, and convenient Yaletown location, OPUS is a place you stay for the experience. Partnerships with local brands and artists make your stay here feel like you’re living like a local for a few days, as opposed to just visiting.

Book it: Get prices for OPUS Hotel

Blue Horizon Hotel

For a boutique hotel experience with a view, book a stay at Blue Horizon; all rooms are corner rooms with balconies. The hotel is located in the West End on Robson Street, near shops and restaurants. It’s larger than most boutique hotels, but reviewers still comment on the hotel’s personal service. Note that the aquatic center is undergoing renovations. While this hotel is of good value, rates drop dramatically in the fall and winter.

Book it: Get prices for Blue Horizon Hotel

The Burrard

This renovated motel has modern design details, an outdoor courtyard, and is really an urban oasis … I mean, do you see the palm trees? Reviewers note that The Burrard is less expensive than many other hotels in the area, and that it’s within walking distance to many tourist attractions, like Granville Island and local restaurants in trendy neighborhoods, like Yaletown. Insider tip: Ask for a non-street-facing room to avoid traffic noise.

Book it: Get prices for The Burrard

Best Hotels in Vancouver: Budget

If saving on accommodations is the name of your travel game, then book one of these more affordable hotels in Vancouver.

White House Bed and Breakfast

If you’re in favor of saving money over modern design and amenities, then this budget hotel is fit for your trip. Located near the airport, the White House Bed and Breakfast is an economical choice for travelers headed to Vancouver. Reviewers love the friendly and thoughtful hosts, as well as diverse breakfast selection and comfortable rooms and beds.

Book it: Get prices for White House Bed and Breakfast

Samesun Vancouver

For backpackers or hostel lovers, the Samesun Vancouver is the hostel in town. With a fully functional bar, restaurant, and ticket desk for hockey games, you’ll be fully immersed in the community. Private rooms are available. Other hostel amenities include free Wi-Fi, a movie room, kitchen and dining area, complimentary breakfast, a launderette, and lockers. Tourists sights, like Stanley Park and Granville Island, are under a 30-minute walk away.

Book it: Get prices for Samesun Vancouver

YWCA Hotel Vancouver

For a budget hotel in a convenient location, book the YWCA Hotel Vancouver—it’s located right next to the BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena, and is about a 10-minute walk to the beach. You can choose to upgrade to a private bathroom if the shared style isn’t for you. All rooms are air-conditioned and there is a coffee shop, three kitchens, and a launderette on site.

Book it: Get prices for YWCA Hotel Vancouver

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Ashley traveled to Vancouver courtesy of Hello BC and OPUS Vancouver. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on @ashley_stravel.

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7 Unique Hostels Worth Planning a Trip To

Hostels are a great, social way to travel and often a cheaper alternative to hotels (and even vacation rentals). They’re a great place to meet likeminded people, share travel experiences, and even find a new travel companion. And while most hostels aren’t known for luxury details, they can offer unique experiences.

Unique Hostels Worth Planning a Trip To

If you want part of your travel experience to involve meeting other travelers and staying somewhere off-the-beaten path, check out these seven unique hostels worth planning a trip to.

Chili Kiwi Lakefront, Chile

unique hostels

Voted the number one hostel in Latin America for two years running by Hostelworld, the Chili Kiwi Lakefront is a perfect stop if you’re planning a trip to Chile. With several hobbit-themed cylinder rooms and two treehouse rooms, your stay here will be anything but ordinary.

The hostel’s amenities include free parking, free Wi-Fi, plus multiple kitchens and bathrooms, central heating, and even an on-site bar.

The hostel is located directly on Villarrica Lake, which is a great spot for kayaking or paddle boarding. But there are plenty of other activities, like hiking a volcano, visiting a hot spring, and skiing and snowboarding.

Book it: Get prices for Chili Kiwi Lakefront

Mountain Hostel Tarter, Andorra

unique hostels

If hiking through the Pyrenees is on your to-do list, consider a trip to the small but beautiful Principality of Andorra where you’ll find Mountain Hostel Tarter. It’s the perfect home base for the active adventurer, with a mountain location. Whether you’re planning your trip for the summer or the winter, there are plenty of activities to keep yourself occupied.

With panoramic mountain views, a year-round hot tub, and even a small grocery store on-site, your stay here will be nothing but comfortable.

Book it: Get prices for Mountain Hostel Tarter

Skyewalker Hostel, Isle of Sky, Scotland

unique hostels

If spending time on an island in northern Scotland is on your bucket list, look no further than Skyewalker Hostel … and no, you don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate it (but it certainly wouldn’t hurt).

The hostel is 25-minutes from Portree, the capital city on the island, and there are buses for easy transport. The Skyewalker has a self-catering kitchen, regular Scottish folk music sessions (with instruments available for guests), as well as a glass dome on site for guests to relax in.

Book it: Get prices for Skyewalker Hostel

Zostel Ooty, India

unique hostels

Ooty is a popular summer destination in India famous for its rose-filled botanical gardens and the 65-acre Ooty Lake. Located only a few kilometers from the city, in a small town called Lovedale, is Zostel. If the name “Lovedale” wasn’t enough to convince you to take a romantic trip here, the scenic views will.

Zostel gives its guest the option to sleep in the classic hostel dorms, a private room, or if you’re feeling adventurous, wake up to the sunrise in a hillside tent.

Book it: Get prices for Zostel Ooty

Lucky Lake Hostel, Amsterdam

unique hostels

Located about 30-minutes outside of Amsterdam in the Dutch countryside is a collection of multi-colored caravans that makes up Lucky Lake Hostel. This hostel is far enough away from the city that guests can enjoy a short walk to a lake for kayaking or swimming, while still being close enough that a free shuttle to the metro will have you in the city in no time.

If you’ve been wanting to visit Amsterdam but don’t want to stay in the city, Lucky Lake is the perfect location to book. With all the right amenities (free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and a ping-pong table), you won’t have to worry about anything other than the best way to spend your adventure.

Book it: Get prices for Lucky Lake Hostel

Yudanaka Seifu-So, Japan

unique hostels

Hot springs in the mountains? Say no more.

But if you do want to know more, Yudanaka Seifu-So in Nagano, Japan will give you a truly unique experience. Japanese Macaques are a species of monkey that lives in the mountains of Japan. They’re famous for their unusual behavior of soaking in the natural hot springs found there. This hostel is a short trip away from their territory, aptly named Snow Monkey Park.

The Nagano Station is about two and a half hours from Tokyo by train, and another half hour to the hostel from there, so by the time you arrive you’ll be ready to relax in some hot water.

Besides the natural hot tubs, the hostel also offers free Wi-Fi and parking.

Book it: Get prices for Yudanaka Seifu-So

Celica Art Hostel, Slovenia

unique hostels

Located in the capital city of Ljubljana, the Celica Art Hostel is a beautifully converted historic building. Each room was once a jail cell and many still have bars on the doors, but the inside of each one is designed by a different artist.

Amenities at Celica include free Wi-Fi, a common kitchen, as well as bike and car rentals on-site. It’s safe to say that while it may look like a prison, it won’t feel anything like it.

Book it: Get prices for Hostel Celica

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Matt Buckley is a writer based out of Boston. Check out some of his personal travel experiences on his travel blog Matt Goes Exploring and follow his Instagram of the same name.

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Hostels vs. Hotels: Which Is Right for You?

What are the biggest differences between hostels and hotels? Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than taking away that “s.” There are a few important differences between hostels and hotels to consider when planning your trip—this guide will help you pinpoint key concerns and help you decide which option is best for you.

Hostels vs. Hotels

Here are five factors to consider when deciding what kind of lodging is right for your next trip.


[st_content_ad]One of the major differences between hostels and hotels is shared rooms. If you don’t mind roommates, then a hostel won’t be a problem for you. But if you don’t want to share a bathroom with five strangers—or more—then a hostel might not be for you. Before you write off the hostel option due to privacy concerns, however, check for hostels that offer private rooms and bathrooms.

At hotels, private rooms—and private bathrooms except in rare cases—are the standard. If privacy is an important part of your trip, a hotel will be a better choice for you.

But rooming with strangers isn’t all bad—after all, your roommates are travelers just like you. They may have helpful tips or entertaining stories to share. If your goal is to meet new people, a hostel will make a great home base.


Sharing a room with strangers does, of course, come with risks. Some hostels provide safety measures like a lockable cage that slides under your bed, but they don’t always offer locks. If you are traveling with valuables that you want to leave in your room, always pack a sturdy lock.

Most hotels, on the other hand, provide a locked private room and a safe. Some hotels also offer a front-desk safe deposit box for precious items.

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On average, a room that you have to share will cost less than a private room. But there are more factors that go into pricing accommodations.

A hostel right on the beach, for instance, might be more expensive than a hotel farther inland. Don’t assume that just because it’s a hostel it’s your cheapest option. Always make sure to do your research and explore your options for your particular dates.


Some of the things you may take for granted in a hotel, like a telephone or hair dryer, are the kinds of things you may have trouble finding in a hostel. If amenities are important, a hotel will likely be your best bet. But while hostels may lack many in-room extras, they often do have shared amenities such as televisions and kitchens. Common areas with shared amenities create a social environment that’s at the heart of the hostel experience.

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One of the largest differences between hostels and hotels is accessibility. Hostels are abundant in most major cities, particularly throughout Europe, but are less common in smaller towns and off-the-beaten-path locations. However, sites like Hostelworld and make it easier than ever to do a quick check to find out if there’s an affordable and appealing hostel option in your destination.

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Matt Buckley is a writer based out of Boston. Check out some of his personal travel experiences on his travel blog Matt Goes Exploring and follow his Instagram of the same name.

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Should You Take a Gap Year? Why You Should (Still) Consider It and How to Take One

There are so many reasons to consider a gap year: You’re not ready to start college, you have a passion for travel, or you want to learn more about yourself. But a gap year can mean so much more than just postponing college or university for a year in order to travel, work, or volunteer in another country. It can mean escaping a tough home, school, or work situation; traveling with a significant other; leaving a job before transitioning a new career path; or just straight up taking a break from reality.

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Statistically, young Americans don’t travel as much as young Europeans or Australians, and the concept of a gap year isn’t as common. But a gap year can come at any age, for any reason, and for any amount of time. And if it’s something you haven’t considered before, but the idea resonates with you, I encourage you to explore the possibility. I speak from experience: After graduating from college but before beginning my career, I left the United States and spent nine months living in Sydney.

What Might Stop You from Taking a Gap Year (and Why You Shouldn’t Let It)

You got into the college of your dreams.

[st_content_ad]According to EF Gap Year Head of Marketing Art Corriveau, “More and more U.S. colleges value gap year experiences. America’s most prestigious colleges now actively encourage accepted students to defer enrollment to take a gap year.”

Jesse Allen, the author of The Shadow Place, took a gap year to Jordan after completing her master’s degree and learned that you should “spend time getting to know yourself outside of the classroom. Take the time to listen to your own ideas about what you want to do before settling into a degree program.”

So defer your acceptance if you really want to travel now, or consider taking a year to travel after college, and plan accordingly.

Christine Miller of Carpe Diem Education says, “the long-term impact for gap year travelers/students can be astonishing: academic burnout becomes a distant memory and increased self-awareness leads to a more focused direction.”

You’re worried about delaying your education and being behind your peers. 

Gap years have become more popular in the past four years, according to a Google Trends history search. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, 90 percent of gap year students return to college within a year. So you may not be as far behind your peers as you fear.

You have the potential to gain maturity, insight, real-world experience, communication skills, leadership abilities, direction, and cultural awareness that just isn’t possible at most colleges. A BUNAC Working Adventures survey found that 96 percent of surveyed professionals in the education industry would recommend someone work and travel overseas to help them achieve professional goals. “In today’s competitive workplace, demonstrating that you have been able to navigate the world, new cultures, and new situations sets you apart,” says BUNAC USA Program Coordinator Lubka Jacobs. In the survey, 79 percent of those surveyed believed students who do so have stronger communicative skills, and 82 percent believed students who participate in gap year programs are more mature and culturally sensitive.

The benefits of learning outside a classroom can pertain to you even when you’re in school, as Catherine Tansey (a participant in Teachers for Thailand) found while in nursing school, “I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I was fearful of leaving school with no plan of action … taking a gap year was the best decision—and one of the most strategic, I’ve ever made. By selecting a structured way to take a year off from school, travel, and get to know myself better, I was able to feel confident in my decision to return to school when I was back stateside.”

Troy Stephens (a participant in BUNAC’s internship program) says, “It’s made me more flexible and open-minded towards different career fields.”

A traditional education isn’t for everyone, so your gap year could lead to professional experience and opportunities you may not have considered before.

You love your job.

Kirstie Jeffries of travel blog Venga, Vale, Vamos, had a steady job and comfortable life when she decided to take her gap year. “My biggest fear was having no clue what would happen after the year was over … throwing away a good life feels far riskier, but my gap year was completely worth that risk.”

These days, there are even sometimes opportunities to keep your job and do a gap year, for instance, by taking a sabbatical, joining a traveling working program like Remote Year, or simply asking your company if you can work remotely for a period of time.

You can’t afford it.

Unfortunately, travel is expensive. And organized gap year programs aren’t free. However, financially preparing for a gap year, whether on your own or with a program, teaches you how to budget (among other real-world skills) very quickly.

Ramsay Kerr, director of Asian tour company The Dragon Trip, took a gap year before university on his own and says, “I spent six months working in order to fund six months of travel. The process of having to save really made me better at managing money … I had learned and developed a lot as a person before I even started my travels.”

Saving money before traveling is a great approach to start funding a gap year—or if you’re currently working, to start setting aside part of your monthly budget for travel. Students can also look into scholarships or opportunities like volunteering or teaching English, which may provide a stipend. Another option is applying for a working holiday visa in a qualifying country. This is how I was able to take my gap year in Australia and work service-industry jobs.

You’re close with family and friends in your current hometown.

Leaving behind a life you know and love can be difficult. Jeffries shared this great advice: “If you’re hesitating due to the fear of the unknown, remember that, even if you take a more traditional path, life will still throw unexpected surprises at you. Whether you stay at home and continue studying or working, or you set out to explore the world, you’ll never be able to predict the future, so why not chose adventure?”

My two cents … it’s OK to be nervous about the experience and even somewhat hesitant. Leaving the security and support of a life you’re comfortable with is overwhelming; however, it’s all going to be there when you return, and you never know what opportunities you could create for yourself abroad.

Things You Should Consider Before Taking a Gap Year


If you’re going to take time off from school or work, make sure what you do can help you achieve both personal and professional goals. Are you taking a gap year to learn a new skill or language? Are you looking for a totally unique cultural experience, or are you trying to gain professional experience in a foreign country?

Travel has endless benefits, but make sure you’re taking this time for the right reasons and have clear intentions. Plan your destinations, type of trips, and programs with these goals in mind. When taking a gap year (or whatever amount of time), consider an action plan for when you return as well that takes into account housing and financial possibilities.

Your Education or Job

Can you afford—financially and logistically—to take time off from work or school? If not, look into ways you can potentially study or work while also traveling on a gap year.


One of the benefits of doing a gap year with a program is that housing and other logistics are paid for and dealt with up front. Budgeting and planning are some of the skills you’ll develop in a gap year, and while you’re abroad, it’s important to stick to a budget and manage realistic expectations. Jeffries suggests, “Find the balance that makes the most sense for you … budgeting isn’t only about spending as little as possible; it’s also about prioritizing your spending and figuring out where you can and should splurge a little.”

You want to enjoy this year, so plan and budget according to your goals.


Do you have the emotional support of friends and family? If you’re a high school student this is especially important, particularly if you’re relying on your family financially. It’s also important to have a backup plan if you need to return home from your gap year for any reason.

Length of Time

Obviously, you’ll want to enjoy the spontaneity of travel. But by deciding on the length of your gap, you’ll be able to stay on budget and plan for your return.

Finding the Right Gap Year Option for You

A gap year is more than just backpacking. You can choose to go solo, travel with a friend, or participate in a program. I recommend participating in a variety of experiences and types of travel to get the most of your time abroad.

Kerr recommends “a balance of the two [organized tours and planning on your own]; start on an organized tour for your first month, after which maybe you’ll be confident enough to go at it alone … maybe do a month of an organized program based in one location, then backpack for a month before basing yourself for a longer period of time again.”

Here are some useful programs for planning a gap year:

More from SmarterTravel:

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Ashley is forever grateful for the chance to take a gap year in Sydney, Australia and thinks you can only truly realize where home is until you leave it. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram.

Editor’s Note: Some quotes have been edited for clarity.

Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Miscellany

10 Best Cheap Hotels in Denver

Traveling anywhere can get expensive, but there are plenty of cheap hotels in Denver for those seeking an affordable place to lay their heads at night.

10 Best Cheap Hotels in Denver

If you’re traveling on a budget, check out these (relatively) cheap places to stay in Denver.

Hostel Fish

cheap hotels in denver

[st_content_ad]Hostel Fish is nothing like those European hostels everyone stays at in their twenties. The 11-room (private and shared options are available) “poshtel” in the Ballpark neighborhood is more like a series of cool apartments—if some of those apartments included bunk rooms that could sleep 10 people. Each room has its own theme (graffiti, Western, etc.), adjustable thermostats, lockers, and fold-down desks; there’s also a staffed bar and complimentary breakfast offerings. Housed in the historic Airedale building (a one-time brothel), Hostel Fish is a stone’s throw from Coors Field and some of downtown’s liveliest bars; it sits above Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, an eclectic restaurant, bar, and music venue.

Amenities: Privacy screens, locally designed duvet covers, staffed bar, communal kitchen, lockers, activities concierge, and breakfast bar.

Book It: Get prices for Hostel Fish and other Denver hotels

Moxy Denver Cherry Creek

cheap hotels in denver

Moxy Hotels is Marriott’s appeal to millennials. At Moxy Denver, the target audience is obvious in everything from the technology (guests check-in at the bar using their phones, and phones become room keys) to the hospitality—every guest receives a complimentary cocktail upon arrival. The 170 wood-and-gray rooms are smaller than usual but still inviting. Cherry Creek’s bevy of restaurant options means Moxy only provides grab-and-go options on-site, but there’s an adjacent outdoor beer garden and a lobby bar.

Amenities: Fitness center, rental bikes, dial-up bedroom stories, and communal spaces with plenty of outlets. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for Moxy Denver Cherry Creek and other Denver hotels

The Curtis

cheap hotels in denver

One of Denver’s quirkiest hotels, the Curtis is whimsical without being overwhelming. Art is at the forefront here, with pop pieces accenting the lobby, murals in the hallways, and 13 themed floors. There are 336 rooms and suites—themed (such as disco or video game) or standard (but still colorful). The central downtown location of this cheap hotel in Denver means guests should plan on doing a lot of walking or biking.

Amenities: Coffee makers, custom art, board games, fitness center, and concierge, room service. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for the Curtis and other Denver hotels

Nativ Hotel

cheap hotels in denver

It may be housed in a 100-year-old building, but Nativ Hotel is aimed at younger travelers. The LoDo venue has a downstairs nightclub and a self-serve Biergarten with 20 Colorado beers on tap. Street art covers Nativ’s west-facing exterior wall, while the interior is decorated with hand-painted murals. Rooms are sleek and simple, with frosted glass showers; the Champagne suite has a hot tub.

Amenities: Balcony, coffee maker, bar, café, and walk-in shower.

 Book It: Get prices for Nativ Hotel and other Denver hotels

SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown

cheap hotels in denver

Just a few blocks from the downtown core, SpringHill Suites’ 150 rooms are comfortable and ideal for business travelers or families looking for a cheap place to stay in Denver that has a central location. Walk to dozens of restaurants and bars, the Pepsi Center for a basketball game, or Elitch Gardens. A complimentary hot breakfast or buffet makes SpringHill Suites a great option for those on a budget. The hotel is operated collaboratively by Sage Hospitality and hospitality students at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, flexible work spaces, coffee maker, convenience store, and fitness center.

 Book It: Get prices for SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown and other Denver hotels

Basecamp Boulder Hotel

cheap hotels in denver

Calling all adventure travelers: Basecamp Boulder was built for you. Centrally located in the People’s Republic, Basecamp has a climbing wall in its lounge, coolers that double as ottomans, s’mores kits ready for roasting on the small outdoor patio, and Boulder beers on tap. Outdoorsy types will feel comfortable among the mountain- and camping-inspired décor in the 50 rooms and appreciate the eco-friendly products. A map of Boulder hangs behind every bed; and communal spaces, including a coffee and juice bar, are ideal spots for trading stories from the trail.

Amenities: LCD TVs, hot tub, dry sauna, workout room, coffee bar, complimentary bicycles, patio with fire pit, and climbing wall. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for Basecamp Boulder Hotel and other area hotels

Boulder Adventure Lodge

cheap hotels in denver

Adventure Lodge is ideally situated for visitors wanting to explore the outdoors. (It sits adjacent to Fourmile Creek and the Boulder Creek Path.) The staff can provide recommendations for hiking, biking, skiing, and anything else you want to get up to. Guest rooms have a log cabin feel and range from a shared four-bunk hostel to a romantic Jacuzzi room or a three-bedroom cabin for larger groups. The property also has campsites available; bring your own gear.

Amenities: Pangea Organic products, pool, hot tub, guided tours, scheduled shuttle service, slackline park, and free parking. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for Boulder Adventure Lodge and other area hotels

Hyatt Place Denver/Downtown

cheap hotels in denver

Hyatt Place hotels are popular with business travelers, and this downtown Denver location doesn’t disappoint with 248 rooms featuring separate living/work and sleeping areas plus convenient proximity to the Central Business District. At this cheap hotel in Denver, enjoy a complimentary breakfast every morning and grab your daily caffeine fix and a sandwich at the Coffee to Cocktails Bar.

Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, KenetMD products, fitness center, pool, and laundry. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for Hyatt Place Denver/Downtown and other Denver hotels

AC Hotel Denver Downtown

cheap hotels in denver

The sister property to Le Méridien Denver Downtown—though the hotels have separate entrances, their lobbies connect, and both have access to the 20th-floor bar and fitness center—AC Hotel is the slightly less luxe sibling. The 223 rooms display a European minimalist aesthetic, and large windows let the urban setting shine. Dining options include a breakfast café and the AC Lounge for cocktails and tapas. Convenience is the most obvious amenity here, with a location across the street from the Colorado Convention Center and close to Larimer Square, one of downtown’s most charming attractions.

Amenities: Coffee maker, fitness center, concierge, and room service. (Dog-friendly.)

 Book It: Get prices for AC Hotel Denver Downtown and other Denver hotels

Hampton Inn & Suites Denver–Speer Boulevard

cheap hotels in denver

Hampton Inn & Suites is a great choice as a cheap hotel in Denver because it straddles the divide between city center and the trendy Highland neighborhood; it’s also near the Denver Aquarium and three major sports venues. Choose between one king or two queen options in the 62 rooms and suites.

Amenities: Lap desks, complimentary breakfast, heated pool, free parking, and fitness center.

 Book It: Get prices for Hampton Inn & Suites Denver–Speer Boulevard and other Denver hotels

More from SmaterTravel:

– Original reporting by Daliah Singer

Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Group Travel Money Road Trip Student Travel

5 Ways to Stay Sane When Planning a Trip with Friends

You haven’t eaten because your friend didn’t wake up in time for breakfast. Now your train is delayed and you missed out on the one tourist destination you really wanted to see. This is not the vacation you wanted when you imagined planning a trip with friends.

For friends to stay friends before, during, and after a trip, it’s vital to have both complementary travel styles and clearly defined expectations. This checklist for planning a trip with friends will minimize headaches and maximize quality time.

Questions to Ask Before Planning a Trip with Friends

Ask yourself these questions before committing to a trip with friends: 

  • Do your travel styles align? Figure out if you’ll be happy doing the same activities, staying in the same type of accommodations, and generally moving at the same speed. Comparing travel styles also means considering transportation preferences; for instance, are you OK with taking a connecting flight to save some money, or do you only travel nonstop?
  • What is the most important thing you want to get out of the trip? When planning a trip with friends, think about what you most want to get out of the trip. Are you longing for plenty of low-key beach time, or do you want to see every museum on your route? Figure out what your goals are before you agree to a trip with another person or group.
  • Do you have the same budget? Money is a big deal when it comes to travel. Don’t book a trip with someone if you know they’ll want to spend significantly more (or less) than you overall.
  • Do you have the same budget for different things? Your budget also encompasses what you’re willing to spend money on, like splurging on a hotel room vs. staying in a hostel, or going out to a nice restaurant vs. saving money on food by cooking in your vacation rental.
  • Who will take charge of booking and reservations? There’s a lot of leg work that goes into planning a trip with friends. If you don’t have the time, patience, or organization to take charge of these details, don’t volunteer to plan the whole trip.
  • How many vacation days are you willing to use? Before you book a trip, make sure you know how many days people are willing to take off from work so you know how flexible you can be with dates.
  • Do you want to book everything in advance? Some people like to travel with flexibility, while others prefer to have a set plan, so discuss this beforehand.
  • Do you have the same level of physical fitness? Many trips include long days on your feet or some sort of physical activity. If your friend is notorious for lagging behind, you might not want to go on a walking tour or volcano hike with them. Make sure you’re on the same page about just how much activity you want to do on your trip.

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Things to Consider When Planning a Trip with Friends

Here’s what to discuss when you’re planning a trip with friends:

  • Type of accommodations. Don’t book a five-star hotel if you’re trying to save on accommodations. But also keep in mind that hostels and budget hotels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Make sure you agree on what type of place you’ll stay at and a rough budget.
  • Type of transportation. Decide if you’ll fly, drive, or take a train ahead of time. It’s important to weigh the cost benefits of each option, i.e. saving money by taking a long train ride or spending more to get to a destination quicker.
  • What you can’t miss at the destination. Make a list of what you each want to do at the destination and allow time for everyone’s top activities.
  • On a road trip, who will be driving? Driving for hours on end is tiring. If you’re taking a road trip with a group, plan on switching off and taking breaks. If you’re renting a car, make sure everyone who is driving will be on the contract.
  • Eating schedules. Some people need to eat first thing in the morning while others can go hours before needing a meal. Discuss this ahead of time to avoid any hunger-induced arguments.
  • Sleep schedules. Jet lag and fatigue will vary by person. Make sure you don’t plan a bunch of activities right when you land if people want to rest or nap during the first few days of your trip.
  • How you’ll split up costs. Decide ahead of time what you’ll split expenses for, including meals, accommodations, and transportation.
  • What you’ll pay for individually. Decide ahead of time what you’ll pay for individually, such as flights, tickets, alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi, travel insurance, etc.
  • Tipping habits. Read this handy tipping guide together before you travel so you’re on the same page about tipping expectations in your destination.

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Tips for Splitting Expenses

Splitting expenses is one of the biggest problems you’ll encounter when planning a trip with friends. Use these tips to help alleviate money tension:

  • Book on Airbnb. You can now split the booking costs on Airbnb. This is a great way to split expenses on accommodations without anyone fronting the whole reservation.
  • Use rideshares. One of the reasons people love Uber is because of the built-in split cost feature. No more keeping track of who paid for which cab.
  • There’s an app for that. There are countless expense apps out there, but tricount is a great tool when planning a trip with friends.
  • Jar fund. Another alternative to tracking expenses is to create a “jar fund.” All members of the group contribute a set amount of money that goes onto a credit gift card. You can then use the card for meals, drinks, and other agreed-upon expenses.
  • Book accommodations or trips where you can pay in installments. This way if one person has to front the costs for accommodations, you can either divide the payment with installments or book with no deposit down so the other members of the group can pay the person back ahead of time.
  • Take out cash. It can get annoying if one person is always borrowing cash for tips or not exchanging enough money, so visit the bank before your trip.

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Important Tips for Traveling with Friends

Following these tips can help keep everyone on the same page and prevent offense:

  • Know what annoys them, and tell them what annoys you. When I travel with friends, I let them know that I always need to have something small to eat in the morning before we go out and do anything. The sooner they know that something will bother you, the better.
  • Raise issues before anything builds up. You’re more likely to reach a breaking point or get angry if you let little annoyances build up.
  • Be flexible and have patience. This helps you realistically manage expectations. Group trips are all about give and take. And hopefully if you go out of your way to go to a restaurant someone really wants to go to, then you’ll get your moment, too.
  • Don’t say “we’ll figure it out later” when paying. Keep track of expenses when they occur by using an expense app.
  • Pack well. Make sure you both pack things like chargers, adapters, proper footwear, and outerwear. It can get annoying when your friend asks to borrow your phone charger for the 10th time when you’re also trying to use it.
  • Have your alone time. Take some time every day to separate yourself from the group if you need to. It can be as simple as walking to a coffee shop or going to a museum by yourself.
  • Take turns. It can be exhausting if you’re always the one in charge of navigating or choosing a restaurant. Switch off being the group leader.
  • Limit phone time. Take time to be with your friends rather than on your phone. This also goes for taking photos: While it’s great to have your friends as photographers, it’s annoying to take 40 photos at every single monument.

[st_related]8 Simple Rules for Being a Good Traveler[/st_related]

Trip Planning Help for Traveling with Friends 

If planning a trip with friends is too overwhelming for your group, look to these alternatives.

  • Go on a cruise. Cruising is a great way to travel with friends. There’s no planning involved once you’re on the trip, and everything is priced per person. Plus, you’ll have plenty of time to do your own thing.
  • Go on an organized tour. If you don’t want to do a cruise but want something preplanned, look at a guided tour. Intrepid Travel and G Adventures have great options for younger people, as do Contiki, STA Travel, and EF Ultimate Break.
  • Look into all-inclusives. If you want some flexibility with your trip, book an all-inclusive resort so your drinks, meals, and some activities are included in the up-front price.
  • Use a travel agent. This isn’t the cheapest option, but a travel agent will be able to plan and book a great itinerary for your group travel while keeping in mind everyone’s budget and must-do activities.

View the checklist:

More from SmarterTravel:

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel Travel Trends

Think Millennials Prefer Airbnb? Think Again

Millennials—those in the 20- to 36-year-old age group—seem to be the primary focus, sometimes the exclusive focus, of all manner of consumer product and service companies. Sure, that’s partly because they’re expected to spend $200 billion in 2018. But it’s also because they have a lifetime of spending ahead of them.

They are the future. And what they want, the rest of us will get.

So what do they want? A new report by Resonance Consultancy, an advisor in real estate, tourism, and economic development, surveyed more than 1,500 U.S. millennials to find out. And some of its findings are surprising.

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According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report, although 52 percent of millennials use home-share services like Airbnb at least occasionally, it was actually among their least favored lodging options. Here’s how their preferences broke down:

  • Full-service hotel (53%)
  • Stay with friends/family (42%)
  • All-inclusive resort (41%)
  • Upscale luxury hotel (35%)
  • Camping (33%)
  • House/villa rental (32%)
  • Cruise ship (29%)
  • B&B/small inn (23%)
  • Apartment/condo rental (23%)
  • Limited service/economy hotel (21%)
  • Boutique hotel (20%)
  • Own vacation home (20%)
  • Timeshare condo/home (17%)
  • Hostel (15%)

According to those findings, reports of the imminent death of traditional hotels are premature if not downright false. And the widely held assumption that millennials prefer Airbnb-type accommodations looks to be laughably off-base. They’d rather sleep in a tent than book Airbnb.

To be sure, Airbnb is relatively new compared to other lodging options. There’s still time to increase its share of the millennial market, and reason to believe it will do so.

But at this point, millennials have expressed a strong preference for the luxury and comfort provided by full-service hotels (their first choice), all-inclusive resorts (third choice), and upscale hotels (fourth choice). This is in spite of the fact that a recent Federal Reserve survey determined that the net worth of U.S. millennials was between $2,093 and negative $38,915. That’s low, and as they gain firmer financial footing, they should be even more disposed toward higher-cost traditional hotel stays.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your prediction for Airbnb: dominant player or niche service?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in South Africa: Lodging Tips

Imagine waking up not to the buzzing of your alarm clock but to the sound of a thousand chirping birds, or falling asleep to a lion’s roar instead of the distant hum of traffic. In South Africa, you don’t have to imagine. The country has some of the most well-situated wildlife lodges on the continent, and no visit to South Africa is complete without a stay in one. They can be pricey, however, so if you’re on a budget, balance a night or two in a lodge with stays in South Africa’s many hotels, bed and breakfasts or guesthouses. For more adventure, consider camping or caravanning.

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa assists travelers by rating many of the country’s properties on a one- to five-star scale. However, don’t let a lower star count necessarily discourage you — a charming hotel may have a lower rating due to simpler amenities.

Many accommodations overlap in what they offer. Hostels, for example, sometimes provide camping grounds while many B&Bs also offer self-catering options. If the price of lodging seems too good to be true, check that it’s not listed per person instead of per room.

Those traveling during peak season (approximately November to March) will pay higher prices and would be wise to book well in advance. Many locals travel domestically during December and January’s school holidays, so accommodations of all varieties sell out. For the most exclusive and sought-after properties, booking a year in advance isn’t unheard of.

Wildlife Lodges

There’s no standard wildlife lodge — they range from basic self-catering options known as rest camps to luxurious properties that rival the highest-end hotel. At some you’ll stay in simple safari tents while at others you’ll retire to an extravagant lodge with a gym, private plunge pools, gourmet meals and safari guides with master’s degrees. Certain properties require guards and fences to keep you safe from wildlife; at others these precautions aren’t needed. The only constant is that all wildlife lodges are found in the bush and offer safari drives at least twice a day.

If you’re looking to splurge, it doesn’t get much more luxurious than the Royal Malewane, which offers spacious suites on a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. The lodge boasts its own watering hole, four-poster beds, open fireplaces, freestanding tubs and an award-winning spa.

nThambo Tree Camp is a less expensive option at another nearby reserve. Guests enjoy stellar views from five private chalets raised on stilts; you can often see wildlife without leaving the verandah.

Many lodges are off the grid and require either a shuttle service to the property or a chartered airplane to a private airstrip. Needless to say, you’ll want to book your accommodation and transportation in advance.

South African Wildlife Lodge Resources:

[st_related]Planning an African Safari[/st_related]


You can expect to find the same variety of hotels — and subsequent range of price points — in South Africa as you would in most developed nations. Several worldwide chains are represented, including Holiday Inn, Radisson and Marriott, which acquired Protea Hotels in 2014. South African chains include Three Cities and Tsogo Sun.

While there are plenty of budget hotels, the quality is usually low. You’d often be better off staying at a well-reviewed hostel that offers private rooms.

Many hotels catering to business travelers offer reasonable prices, but if character is what you’re after, opt instead for a boutique hotel. The Kurland Hotel near Plettenberg Bay is a five-star, 12-suite, colonial-style hotel set on a 1,700-acre private estate. The Concierge Boutique Bungalows in Durban is a more wallet-friendly choice with contemporary, funky decor.

For travelers seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience, try the Breakwater Lodge in Cape Town. The building was originally a 19th-century prison, though fortunately you wouldn’t know it once you step inside. Rooms are modern and spacious, and amenities include a spa and restaurant.

South Africa Hotel Resources:

Guesthouses and Bed and Breakfasts

Though they technically are different — primarily based on whether the owner lives on site — in practice the terms “bed and breakfast” and “guesthouse” are used interchangeably in South Africa. This type of accommodation is popular in the countryside, and whether you prefer a simple room in a family home or a purpose-built building with a separate entrance and private bathroom, you’ll find it here. Greenwood Guides offers a fantastic website of handpicked recommendations and detailed property descriptions.

Many B&Bs and guesthouses can be as memorable as the sightseeing that brought you there. Happy Jackel Guesthouse near the Addo Elephant National Park is one such example. The property’s buildings have thatched roofs and five of the six rooms overlook the Sundays River. You can book activities, including safari drive and boat trips, directly through your hosts. If quiet and relaxation are what you’re after, consider the economical Hoekie B&B in the fishing village of Paternoster. The small cottage offers just five rooms and is situated right on the beach.

South Africa B&B and Guesthouse Resources:

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Self-Catering Lodging

Self-catering accommodations provide a fully equipped kitchen, enabling guests to cook for themselves. It can be an inexpensive and flexible way to go, and you can find some lovely choices throughout the country. The owners often live elsewhere; if they do live on site, it will be in a private area. Before arriving, check whether linens and towels are provided and be prepared to pay a small deposit for potential damage to any of the items.

If you’re traveling to smaller towns outside of peak season, consider asking a local shop owner or the tourism office for nearby options that may not be easily found online.

South Africa Self-Catering Lodging Resources:

Camping and Caravan Parks

There’s arguably no better place to camp or caravan than South Africa. This is how many local families spend their holidays, so you’ll find parks virtually everywhere. Note that municipal campsites can be rundown and unsafe; opt for a privately owned campground instead.

Many campsites offer surprisingly nice amenities, including communal kitchens, pools, restaurants, convenience stores and onsite laundry facilities. Some rent tents and many, but not all, have electricity. Margate Caravan Park on the South Coast even has its own mini-golf course. Other sites, like Driehoek Farm in the Cedersberg region, offer upgrades to simple huts or cottages — a nice option on a rainy day.

Communal shower and restroom facilities, known as “ablutions,” vary by park, but are often clean and modern. If you’re camping in the summer months, shade can be a serious consideration — opt for a site with ample tree cover. Don’t miss an opportunity to socialize with other campers over the “braai,” the local name for a barbeque. The website of CampSA provides a helpful rating system, classifying sites by the amenities they offer.

South Africa Camping and Caravan Resources:


South Africa’s hostels are a great deal for those who want to travel on the cheap but would prefer a bed rather than a tent.

Popular tourist areas are rife with options, and the competition has resulted in some first-rate hostels. Many offer communal kitchens, TV rooms and staff who can book local tours. Private rooms, some with their own baths, are still inexpensive but provide more privacy than dormitories.

While some hostels are geared toward young backpackers, at others you’ll find families and travelers of all ages. One such hostel is Inkosana Lodge in the Drakensberg Mountains, which attracts hikers and includes accommodation in “rondavels,” round huts with thatched roofs.

South Africa Hostel Resources:

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–written by Marsea Nelson

Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in Malaysia: Lodging Tips

Malaysia offers everything from luxurious, big-city accommodations to humble village homestays. You’ll find international chains, hostels and small boutique hotels; colonial grand dames and cheap backpacker joints. But while high-end and low-end lodgings are plentiful, you might have more difficulty finding a range of choices in the mid-priced category.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind when deciding where to stay in Malaysia:

– Be prepared for touts in some areas, particularly those popular with backpackers.

– If you see “++” or “plus-plus,” that means tax and a service charge will be added to the quoted price, typically 6 percent for tax and 10 percent for service.

– During holiday periods or festivals, rates rise and availability gets tight (be sure to check for Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu celebrations, depending on where you’re going).

– Proprietors will most likely want to see your passport, and some may want to keep it until you check out — so it’s always good to have a photocopied backup to carry with you.

Take a look at the following Malaysia lodging options to get you started on your adventure.


There’s been a hotel boom in Malaysia over the past few years, with more and more international chains staking claims — most particularly in Kuala Lumpur.

The Accor hotel group is well represented, with brands in multiple price ranges, including Pullman, Novotel and Ibis. The IHG group is represented by InterContinental and Crown Plaza properties, while Sheraton, Best Western and Marriott also have a presence. Luxury brands like Four Seasons and Shangri-La have opened resorts in Malaysia too; Langkawi is particularly popular for high-end resorts.

You’ll also find plenty of local operators, including the budget chain My Home Hotel, the mid-priced Hotel Seri Malaysia chain and the reasonable Vistana group. There are many small operators and family-run hotels as well, so you’ll have lots of choices, particularly on the budget end.

There is a country-wide hotel rating system that ranges from one to five stars, based on criteria that include facilities, cleanliness, ambience, service and safety. A one-star hotel will be very basic, without air conditioning, and may share a bathroom. Two stars get you air conditioning and Wi-Fi, but you still may have a shared bath. Three stars add a guaranteed private bath, basic cable TV, a phone and other amenities, as well as a slightly larger minimum room size. Four-star properties up the size again and add more services and amenities. Five-star hotels are as good as it gets, with more space, 24-hour room service, expanded facilities (including a spa) and perks such as limo service.

Note that standard rooms at some hotels are referred to as “superior,” so don’t be misled; this is the hotel’s basic offering.

Malaysia Hotel Resources:

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Historical Lodging

From gracious old colonial hotels to boutique mansions or shophouse lodgings in George Town and Melaka, you have some interesting historical options in Malaysia. (A word about shophouses: These are older buildings that typically had storefronts on the ground floor and family quarters upstairs. They’re found in many locations around Southeast Asia, typically where Chinese traders settled. Some hotels combine multiple shophouses.)

Particularly worth noting are the lovely colonial-era Eastern & Oriental Hotel, the landmark Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (also known as the Blue Mansion), Campbell House, and the shophouse Straits Collection Residences — all in George Town, Penang. In other cities, consider KL’s beautifully refurbished 1932 Majestic Hotel (some rooms in a modern wing), as well as the Majestic Malacca, with its public spaces located in a 1920s mansion and rooms in a modern building.

Malaysia Historical Lodging Resources:

Vacation Rentals and Serviced Apartments

If you’re more independent or spending an extended amount of time in one location, you might decide to go with a vacation rental. TripAdvisor, Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway have listings in Malaysia, ranging from basic rooms to condos and beach villas. iBilik is a Malaysian listing service with a database of rooms and short-term rentals.

There are also local resources, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, home to the E&O Residences. But you’ll find serviced apartments in Penang, Melaka and other locations too, like those operated by Sekeping.

Be sure to check out reviews before booking — but remember, previous guests may have had different needs or expectations than you do.

Before committing, question the rental agent or host about street noise and safety. Ask about restaurants and shops in the neighborhood, transportation and where the nearest market can be found. Check availability of air conditioning, hot water, continuous electricity, Wi-Fi and phone service. If there’s no phone, consider how you will contact the agency or host, since your own cell phone may not work in Malaysia. Carry the emergency number with you at all times in case you lose your keys.

Malaysia Vacation Rental Resources:

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B&Bs, Guesthouses and Homestays

The terms “B&B,” “guesthouse” and “homestay” are sometimes used interchangeably in Malaysia, so be sure to clarify what the situation is. One of the most interesting Malaysian experiences is to stay in a longhouse, a single structure that can house an entire village’s residents. You’ll find these in rural Borneo, particularly near rivers.

Accommodations in this category vary widely, so be sure to determine what type of bathroom facilities exist (they may be Asian-style squat toilets or even out back at longhouses) and what services are available.

Always get a clear idea of what your lodgings will actually be like before committing, and consider working with a tour company such as Adventure Alternative Borneo if remote trekking and homestays are on your wishlist. For other homestay options around the country, check out Cari Homestay listings and government-endorsed Go2Homestay.

Malaysia B&B and Homestay Resources:

Hostels and Dormitories

Malaysia offers plenty of budget accommodations, which can range from bare-bones hotels and dorms to hostels accredited by Hostelling International’s Malaysian branch. There are also hostels in some of Malaysia’s national parks.

Check for options like fans, Wi-Fi and availability of hot water if those are necessities for you. And, as always, put safety first and keep an eye on your belongings. Unless you’re staying at an accredited hostel, always check out where you’ll be sleeping before committing.

Malaysia Hostel Resources:

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Park Lodgings and Camping

Many state and national parks offer accommodations, including campsites, dorms, hostels, huts, chalets and lodges. At some, you may even be able to rent a tent. It’s generally best to reserve in advance, particularly in Kinabalu National Park. You can book lodging for Kinabalu National Park through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, which are part of the Sutera Harbour development.

There isn’t much camping available elsewhere in Malaysia, and it’s rarely allowed on beaches.

Malaysia Park Resources:

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–written by Gayle Keck