Room for one

 

Booking that room for one when you travel solo, especially if on a tight budget, can present a minefield of potential disappointments – I’ve certainly had my fair share of unpleasant stays.

There was the time I arrived back to a hotel in Hanoi after a day out to discover a new couple happily settling into my room, my things relocated to a smaller, pokier one without my permission. Then there were the four very unhappy nights I endured at a below par hotel in San Francisco, a city I had a wonderful time in otherwise, where my hours tossing around on my bag-of-rocks mattress were only slightly less irritating than the accompanying shouts of the homeless neighbours in the alley below.

At times like that, travelling by yourself suddenly becomes what you hoped it wouldn’t – daunting. But you travel and you learn, and I like to think that I’m a little wiser, a little solo-traveller savvier after each trip, no matter how seemingly disastrous some experiences have been.

Avoiding a repeat of similar fiascos still makes for one of the slightly more difficult aspects of my solo-trip planning. In a pair or a group you can split the cost of a decent apartment or hotel room much more reasonably, but when you’re by yourself it can be tricky to find somewhere half acceptable with a solo budget. For me, hotel rooms are often out of my price bracket – even with a tiny single room, I find rates are still quite high for what you get, especially on a longer trip where you are trying to spread out an accommodation budget over your weeks away. Yet sometimes the alternatives are just as pricey leaving few options (that hotel in San Francisco was depressingly one of the few places out of everywhere I looked at that I could afford).

I wish I could say that I would happily still share an open dorm room at a cheap hostel somewhere, or couch-surf, but I have moved on to a different stage in my travelling life and the memories of a year where sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our unfurnished, non-air-conditioned house in Bangkok was acceptable, are now distant. I’ve had my years of backpacking simplicity so I’m not ashamed to say that these days I crave a little more comfort! Of course I also wish that I could afford to stay in a nice hotel everywhere I go, but realistically this is just too expensive by myself, not to mention the fact that even not particularly nice hotels can also be painfully overpriced for what you get.

I hope that I can at some point perfect the balance of having a nice, comfortable and safe place to stay with a decent solo rate, but in the meantime I still spend quite a bit of time researching my options so I can pay the best rate for decent quality. Just because you are solo doesn’t mean you should have to settle for substandard anything, or always be shut out from staying in nice places. As the popularity of solo travel continually grows I hope more hotels and rentals will become more accommodating to the notion of a room for one and improve their offers without unfair single-occupancy supplements (a charge sometimes added to your bill for booking a room just for yourself).

So whether you are happy to stay in a cheaper hostel unlike me, or craving a little more privacy and perhaps comfort like me, here are some things to consider before you book that room for one.

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Cliff House Hotel, Co. Waterford Ireland

Airbnb it

Google Airbnb and you’ll be sure to find a mixture of negative press and equally interesting opinion pieces on how the San Francisco start-up is conquering the accommodation sector (this piece by Racontuer for example, offers an intriguing analysis raconteur.net/infographics/airbnbs-impact-on-the-hotel-industry). Ironically, that uncomfortable stay in San Francisco I mentioned earlier happened because the Airbnb rentals across the city were horribly expensive at that time for what appeared to be not particularly nice rooms. But I have to admit, to date that’s the only time I’ve been disappointed by what it didn’t offer on that occasion.

Since then I have become a convert to their phenomenal success. Last year I stayed in three incredible apartments on trips to Paris, Berlin and Vienna, rentals that I would happily return to if I were to go back. My hosts were all exceptionally welcoming and helpful and as a solo guest it was nice to know that someone was expecting me back in the evenings.

With an Airbnb rental I like the fact that I can stay in diverse neighbourhoods that have a welcoming local atmosphere, away from the more central locations that are crowded with visitors and often expensive. I usually can’t afford to rent an entire apartment to myself so I tend to take just a room within someone’s house or apartment and I like how I can find the opportunity to stay in some beautifully decorated but lived-in places and meet some very interesting hosts.

Travelling solo does admittedly get a tad lonely sometimes and I’ve enjoyed having the odd chat with my Airbnb host when I come back in the evenings or before I leave in the mornings. They usually have great tips for places to visit or restaurants to try that aren’t always in the guidebook (equally they are often delighted to hear some of my tips for things I’ve done that they have never in all the time they’ve lived there been to). I’ve been lucky so far with my hosts, some of who have gone above and beyond just offering a room for a few nights (one my lovely hosts while in California even picked me up from LAX the night I landed).

For solo travellers I think Airbnb is incredible. You’ll often find a room at a very decent price compared to other hotels and B&Bs and you’ll be afforded the opportunity to stay in locales you might not otherwise have visited during your stay. Do be cautious when you are booking because there are plenty of scams happening. I always go by the reviews and profile of the host and I avoid anywhere that seems to rent out several rooms in the same apartment or house – this is not what the Airbnb experience should be about so always make sure you trust your judgement before you book. And as you would for any trip away by yourself, make sure to share the details of your rental with a friend or family member, just in case.

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Neighbourhood art in Vienna

Time it

I’m fortunate that I can take time away pretty much whenever I fancy it during the year and avoid travelling at peak times. If I have a destination on my radar, I’ll do a little research to find out whether my hypothetical dates are expensive in comparison to another time of the year and book accordingly. Even if you are more tied to travelling at certain times of the year it’s still a good idea to check and compare dates to find out when is the cheapest time to visit your destination before you book – if you can be a little flexible with dates or travel on random days and times during the week, it could mean a big difference in terms of cost.

Personally I tend to take shorter weekend breaks sporadically earlier in the year and avoid travelling on bank holiday weekends, Easter and peak summer times if possible. Escaping later in the year around October/November is always a great time to travel long haul before the Christmas and New Year rush. I also keep an eye out for events taking place in particular cities or countries that can drive up accommodation costs at certain times (St Patricks weekend in Ireland, major sporting events or religious holidays for example).

And of course, where possible, book your accommodation as far in advance as you can, keep an eye out for deals and be flexible – rates midweek sometimes reduce significantly, making that sometimes elusive hotel stay more affordable for the single occupant.

Area wise

With a little research you can find some great neighbourhoods to stay in that are generally cheaper than more central locations. As I said, Airbnb is great for this but you’ll also find decent hotels and B&Bs that are more reasonably priced a little away from the usual visitor hotspots – although some of these hotels may be more in the realm of conference appropriate and lack a touch of soul or character!

Be aware of how much effort and cost might be involved in travelling to and from your chosen base, you don’t want to be too isolated especially if you want to go out in the evenings. One of the many things I learned on a trip to LA (not least that I need to live somewhere where I can walk around easily from place to place – not the done thing there) is that some cities are quite difficult to navigate no matter where you are staying, but especially so there because of the fact I had no car. Anyone who has been to LA will understand this because without one, it’s a slightly frustrating city to explore with its limited public transport network.

This is something to be conscious of if you do stay somewhere off centre, but in general particularly in Europe, most cities are much more compact and easier to travel around quickly and easily.

The main lesson here though is that if you travel to LA, seriously consider hiring a car (although taking the bus is quite the experience if you dare!).

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Getting evening ready in my Airbnb room in Montmartre, Paris

Stay safe

Yes Airbnb is great, yes finding a cheap place to stay is a bonus when you can, but don’t compromise on your safety when you travel solo. Is the neighbourhood of your rental or hotel/hostel/B&B safe, particularly at night-time? Will your belongings be safe there when you are out and about and will you have the privacy you are entitled to?

As with many things in life, be wary of something that seems too good to be true – there is often a catch! I would never wish anyone to find themselves in the situation I did back in Hanoi, where it was late at night when I returned to find my belongings had been removed and placed elsewhere without my knowledge – when you are by yourself on the other side of the world, somewhere where you don’t speak the language, these can be scary moments.

So do your research, read trusted reviews and if you have to pay a little more than you wanted to, well then please do. Nothing is worth compromising on your personal security when you travel solo.

Ok that’s the motherly advice section done!

One night in heaven

Until I no longer have to worry about the high cost of London living outside of my travel time, I won’t for now be staying in expensive hotels very often when I go away, especially when I take a few trips a year. But nonetheless I quite like spending a little more for say one night in a nicer place, that way you get a little taste of luxury to balance out more budget-friendly stays.

Another treat of mine when travelling is that in the evening I quite like finding a beautiful hotel bar for a drink so I can experience the ambiance at some of the finest places where I wouldn’t be able to afford a room. That way it feels like I’ve had a little taster without breaking the bank. At the end of the day the room you book is where you want to have a comfortable, safe and relaxing place to rest in during your holidays, but not spending loads doesn’t mean you have to miss out on things that won’t usually be part of your average Airbnb experience.

Why not try visiting a hotel swimming pool or spa during the day, another nice way to experience the luxury of a hotel without spending your entire budget on one of their rooms!

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The Balthazar Champagne Bar in Copenhagen

 

Reviews matter

I usually approach reviews with caution, mainly because I sometimes think my tastes can be quite different to others and I’m also wary of people using such forums to, for lack of another word, whinge. I do recommend scanning through reviews though, but take what you read with a pinch of salt and use your better judgement.

Accommodation reviews do matter of course and more so if you are travelling solo. If you read comments that are mainly in the positive realm for the place who are considering then great, but any red flags should serve as a warning. And try if you can to write reviews yourself, it’s helpful for others (solo counterparts in particular) to read about specific experiences so take a few minutes to write about your stay, good or not so good.

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Ask or you won’t get

I mentioned solo occupancy supplements earlier and sometimes these are automatically added on to your bill (particularly common if booking through tour operators). Single rooms are cheaper of course but often still expensive for what you get, a supplement on top of that seems unfair, so when you are booking do your research and ask for any such supplement to be waived. This might not always be successful but if you don’t ask you won’t get! You have nothing to lose by taking a chance and asking the question – you might succeed the odd time. Let me know if you do!

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The Ampersand in London, birthday treat from my parents!

Useful websites:

Airbnb

Always my first stop now for my accommodation searches.

Secret Escapes

Join for free and you might be able to find some great deals for a little luxury.

Booking.com

This is a great search engine that boasts no booking fees and free cancellation up until certain dates before travelling. I also find their reviews very honest, useful and relevant.

Mr & Mrs Smith

There are some incredibly beautiful places listed on the Mr & Mrs Smith website and although they are usually out of my price bracket, they do have a range of budget boutique options that could be a real treat for a night or two if you find a good deal.

Doris and Dicky

Another beautiful website which I could happily browse through for hours, Doris and Dicky specialise in the best in budget boutique hotels. Their pages are great for travel inspiration and I like how they have cut through the overwhelming amount of choice one faces when trying to book accommodation, leaving you with less but more carefully selected, quality places for your stay.

Last minute

For those you are booking late this is a good search site to find the best deals before your trip. You will find a huge amount of choice on here so be as specific as possible with your search filters.

Book A B&B

If you are specifically looking for a B&B this portal has links to a huge range of places in locations around Europe.

Hostelworld

Although I’m not too keen on dorm room sharing any longer, there are many hostels which now also offer nice private rooms so I am very open to booking one if the price, location and standard is right. Hostelworld.com is a great website with places in over 170 countries worldwide and I have often searched here when I am finding other options quite pricey.

What about you, have you had nightmare stays anywhere or any great experiences, solo or not? Do share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Until next time. . .

Emma @theartoftravellingsolo.com

 

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