Thursday, May 31, 2012

Accommodation when traveling overseas

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Please VIST OUR NEW WEB-SITE: http://exploramumourworldtrip.comstock photo : Bed and Breakfast sign board in an English village

What to consider

If you are travelling with a child, or alone, I would recommend having a good think about the following.
I have popped them in alphabetic order ...

Air BnB accommodation
I ran into a friend last week who has just travelled with her partner for two years overseas.
They found some great places using this site.
She has fond memories of an historic apartment in Italy, right by the town square.
I am amazed at the prices, which range from outrageous to economical.
I have not used them as yet, but she says it is the way to go.

Backpackers Facilities as accommodation
Backpacker places are great to meat other travellers.
Som stake children - ask ahead.
Book a private room for your child's safety.

Backpacker Tenting as accommodation
Backpacker places also charge a low fee if you want to set up a tent in their yard and use their facilities.  
(See also camping grounds).

Bed and Breakfast accommodation
Not the cheapest for long term travel.
But are quaint and have home comforts.
If you blog, you may find you can do a room trade for a free rave review on their premises.  
This will depend on the number of subscribers you have.
Sometimes a nice stop in between camping or low budget accommodation.
Also no point paying for breakfast if it is bacon and eggs and you are vegetarian, so ask.

Staircase signboard

Book your first two nights accommodation
I suggest booking ahead your first TWO nights in any new country, or big move - with option to stay longer.
If you book one night and arrive late, you may have to vacate by 10 am - and carry your luggage all day, or leave in dubious places. 
By booking two nights, you have a chance to look around the first day and find a place to stay longer that is cheaper, cleaner and / or better location.
This Wigwam hotel in USA might be worth the first nights stay.  Then check around for other places.

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, AZ

Campervans and RV’s to buy and use as accommodation
Now this is worth considering.
Be careful if you are thinking of buy one.  
Your insurance and registration in a foreign land may be nigh on impossible, or ‘super spendy’.
However I have know people to buy, register through a friend or family member's address, and use 3 months of the year, and fly back each year and see a different part of Europe.
Others I know have purchased in the USA and driven right down to the tip of South America. 
The possibilities are there.
You have cooking and sleeping facilities on board.
Your child has long-term stability.
Consider breakdown costs; safety with breakdowns in remote or seedy areas; accessing parts; and fuel to name a few things.
Here are a few places to look if considering purchasing a camper van or RV.
There are also places in England that will buy back your van at the end of the trip.

Campervans and RV’s to hire and use as accommodation 
Can be a bit costly, but budget options are available too.
Check on the web as there are too many to list.

Campervans and RV’s to drive for free or with low cost as accommodation
You can register on web-sites to re-locate RV’s. 
Select your destination and you must be able to pick up the vehicle on the day and deliver it within their allocated time.
Sometimes you are given a week to arrive, and sometimes only a few days - but it enables you to travel vast distances for almost nothing.
It is a much better way to see the country-side than flying over it, or zooming past in a train.
It enables you to stop and take breaks and photographs and play tourist a bit more, but not always giving you complete leisurely time.
Pricing and mileage rates vary widely around the world for relocation so you must check this out first.
Please keep in mind the age a child is allowed to travel in the front of a van, or if a child seat is required.
Of course you need a full driving license; an international drivers permit; and a credit card to provide a refundable deposit.
A very popular site is

Camping Grounds
In some places camping grounds also have cheap huts or dorms you can stay in. 
Book in advance. 
Great ways to meet people, but check out how safe your items are.
Make sure you share a tent with your child.
You can often buy cheap camping gear and make this as an adventure on a particular part of your trip.
Tents, and camp mattresses - not sleeping bags (unless new), are sometimes sold by other travellers. 
So keep your eyes open for this too.
You can always use for a few days or weeks and sell on when finished.
If you do want to purchase before you leave here are a couple of great second-hand sites.
You can Google some more yourself too.
Also look on-line

Check it out before you arrive - Being wise re accommodation
You can often email ahead and get rates and bookings if you know or find a place.
Ok - time to share a little personal experience I had.
I stayed in a lovely out of the way boutique hotel in Bali. 
Double wood doors led to our thatched cottage with sunken bed, and huts that surrounded the swim up bar / pool, and was only a few doors down from the beach. 
I remembered the name.
So next time I was due to go there, I booked again; this time for a two-week treat.
Got there – this is not the place??
No - the original place had burnt down; so another ‘two bit hotel’ of some 100+ huts took their name.  
This is the same place that I hosted a mouse in my room, got Bali belly, and spent a lonely miserable week in my very average room.

Checking out; and Problems with accommodation
Have a credit card with a low limit ($200 should suffice) that you only use for checking into accommodation.
Make sure your credit card carbon slip is destroyed (or card imprint) when you sign out at the end, and get copies. 
Make a file in your luggage and keep all documentation for 3 months.
Many a traveller has been charged on their credit card after they have left.
Don’t check-out when you are tired, it is peak time, or you are rushed.
Try to settle as much of your bill the day before, or ask for a running tally, so you can dispute any wrong charges at your leisure. 
Make sure this doesn’t wreck the end to a nice time to a great stay some-where.
Be calm and see the manager if some-thing appears wrong.
Also if things go wrong early in the stay, you will often find a free upgrade, free kids club, bottle of wine, or dinner voucher awaits you, if you follow through correctly and politely.
Please be nice.  The manager is often not the person who cleaned the room, or who took your booking.  But they are the one who can offer you compensation.
If your room is not up to standard, or the view is a brick wall and not the ocean, please go and speak to them.
Feel free to haggle over an upgrade.
Do make sure you have the right standard of accommodation you paid for. 
(I have been down-graded once, and asked to pay an upgrade – only to find that was what I had originally booked at the Travel Agency and paid for!  But by the end, I had many a freebee thrown in to compensate the error).
Don’t be afraid to ask for a complimentary drink or two if there is a royal stuff-up that takes up your time, especially if it is with the account of the last evening.  You will then feel happy about the end result, and finishing memories.  Best to leave on a good note.
Do not be afraid to threaten or to actually call the police if you are getting ripped off.  But be aware in some countries the police are even more corrupt.
Also if you booked through a Travel Agent, do say they will be reported and struck off.  If need be call your Agent.  Another reason to check your account the day before you leave, if you have had a few days there.
Shoot your Travel Agent an email outlining the problems. 
They may be able to obtain a part or full refund.
Make sure you are getting what you paid for.  Print out all the features, benefits and inclusions you have been shown or offered by your Travel Agent or on-line – check it has kids club operating, restaurants and café’s open, that promised dinner voucher is valid etc.

Church Groups & organisations for accommodation
If you are part of a church, ask around.  
People know people, or your pastor might put you in touch with a church in the country you are going to.
We made friends with people quickly from one church we visited, and now would easily be able to stay in their village.
You may find this the same with sporting associations.

Cleanliness with your accommodation
Last time I travelled, I unpacked - and then checked the room – bad mistake at midnight!
It was a case of the three little bears – someone had been sleeping in MY bed!
The room had not been cleaned, and the sheets were soiled, towels used etc. 
There was no room service at midnight.
The phone was broken.
We were 10 minutes walk to reception - in the rain.
We then had to pack up, and trolley our stuff to a new room, with cranky child in tow.
There is no compensation in 3rd world countries for stuff ups.
If you lose your temper the first night, it shows your lack of self-control, and you can get bad service for the remainder of your stay.
Better to stay calm and see the manager the next day.
(See notes on checking out and problems)
So examine it all out first.
Check the toilet flushes – it may be a different style to what you are used to, but it should be working, and not putrid.
Check the lights work, (and the power, fridge, safe etc. if they are options).
Check the water is working including the hot water (if there should be some).

Cost of accommodation
Firstly, consider what you can afford.
Stick close to your budget.
Unless it is an emergency; or late at night, and there is little option.
Go take a sticky beak at the room prior to paying.
Be careful of hotels that want to take your passport as security. 
Especially in a 3rd world country, where they can make forgery copies and sell on the black market. You may lose your identity!
Also beware of leaving your credit card imprint. 
Destroy all copies at check-out.

Couch-surfing as accommodation
Register for couch Surfing
Try to include a picture of yourself.
You should get a personal email from someone in CS.
Read up on all they have to say, before you embark.
If you can have a few couch-surfers to stay before you go.
Adds to your contacts, and references.
Definitely saves you $$.

Ebay and Buy on-line accommodation
Check on-line for bargain holidays people have purchased and can’t use.
Make sure the dates work for you. 
If not – don’t be afraid to find out the name of the Hotel or Resort and email or ring them. 
I did this with one package for Fiji very successfully and saved $800. 
They said I could change the voucher date. 
I made sure they then sent me a confirmation email.
It can backfire when you present the voucher if you do not have in ink.
People sell tickets on ebay etc for holiday accommodation they book and can’t use.   
Remember to check the local country ebay address as some do not show up on Australian searches.
I also booked a nice resort as our treat early in the piece and saved $1000 there too.   
Her girlfriend decided not to go once she had already bought it, and she did not wish to travel alone.  Actually this has been the case a couple of times. 
You can score a real bargain.  
You can also make an offer below their cost by messaging them. 
At the end of the day, some money in their hand is better than none, and the seller has a limited buying market.
And YES – I need a rest and re-charging my batteries before I hit the lower socio-economic scene!
So occasionally we have booked a nice place on the cheap.

GOLD COAST ACCOMMODATION NEW Boulevard Towers Oceanside Cavill 2bed/2bath

Farm-stays and Work-stays as accommodation
Often your labour is free in exchange for a room.
This can also be the case in some hotels if you ask.
I worked in England for one and also got a free breakfast.
This would only work if you can bring your child or they can go to the local school.
(See wwoofing)

Guide-books recommending accommodation
Up to date guide books can assist here.
Little changes from year to year in poorer places.
We bought several off 
I also got a few good ones from Secondhand stores, and two at a garage sale.
Another was a going away gift.

Home-stay accommodation
Home-stay is sometimes cheap and you get to meet the locals too.
A great way to learn languages too!
And try fabulous home cooking.
This one is in Vanuatu.

Ronevie Guesthouse, Malekula, Vanuatu

Ronevie Guesthouse inside, Malekula, Vanuatu

Hostel and Youth Hostel accommodation
Check if they accept children.
You need to bring a sheet – they do not allow sleeping bags.
Also I recommend you use a private room for your child’s sleeping safety.
Here are a few, but suggest you Google for the countries you are visiting.

Melbourne Central YHA

Hawkers offering accommodation
Some hawkers are ‘legit’; some are robbers and ‘shonky boys’.
Some wear sandwich boards, or carry slips of paper.
Be careful! 
Do NOT get in their car, or let them get in your taxi.
Do not let them call a taxi for you.
Foreign country – use the taxi rank.
Take the paper and check it out yourself.  
They will get a cut if you use their name.
It is their job but don't let them hassle you.

David Levesley

Home-Care / House-Sitting for accommodation
You can register at various ones before you go.
I suggest not paying the membership fee until just before you want to leave or you are paying for wasted time.
Can I suggest you Google this as there are quite a few.
Get yourself a written Police Clearance Certificate.
Have 4 to 6 written PDF references. 
Make sure you are neat and clean. Read the ads carefully.
Make sure it is a safe option. 
You don’t want to be accepting a farm stay out in whoop-whoop, and get off the bus to find some sleazy old guy waiting for you. 
Make sure there is public transport nearby, or use of a vehicle, or hire a vehicle. 
I also recommend a friendly phone call prior to the police station.
Most are happy to jot down your name and forthcoming address if you are worried. 
Tell a friend the details too.
Make sure you are not isolated. 
You will often need to care for their pets, so ensure the pets are safe with children – and you! 
Once a fellow insisted the dog under the covers in the king size bed with the person house-caring; no thanks!  So see what they are after. 
Check pets against your allergies. 
Be introduced to the neighbours if you can, before the owner leaves. 
And ask the owner to be there on your arrival so they can show you were things are.  
Make sure they buy the pet food and have enough there. 
Leave it neat and clean and ask for a written reference each time you have finished.
End on a happy note so you can make a new friend!

Home exchanges for accommodation
You can register to do house swapping.
you can do several whilst you are away if you co-ordinate your trip right.  Plan ahead.
There are stacks of web-sites for these.
Best to Google 'house swapping' or 'home exchanges'

Lakeview Homestay

Hotels and Country Pub accommodation
We have had some really great stays at country pubs.
You get a basic room – usually single beds, or one double, plus a sink in your room if you are lucky.  Rarely an en-suite bathroom is included.
There is usually a shared bathroom down the hall.
Depending on the size there may be separate male and female facilities.
You often get a shared community room with TV, and it often has basic cereals or tea, coffee and toast making facilities.
You get to meet the locals over a pint and a comfort meal.
They all know you are a visitor as you stick out like a wart on the end of a nose, but most are friendly and chatty.

 i - Check the ( i ) as in Information when looking for accommodation
When arriving in a new town, you can often find and accommodation listings on the Tourist Information Board, or at the Information Centre. 
These are frequent in the western world but no so in 3rd world countries.
These tend to be safe and mainstream, not always offering the cheapest accommodation, but a good option if it is getting late in the day.
They often do have a board at bus & train stations and airports.

Location, Location, Location of your accommodation
OK folks: use your wisdom here.
Little villa’s down little lanes maybe cute in the day, and not so cute when you have a child in tow coming back in the dark after a meal and a drink .. or two.
Consider noise – New York with a train running every two minutes shaking up your building is NOT a good night’s sleep.
I have stayed in a lovely country return veranda two story hotel in Mudgee NSW.  
Little did we know the mining trucks, with their trailers, rattle past ALL night long!
No wonder the room was not expensive.
In Fiji, we stayed at a resort – the only one the sugar train runs right through; all 100 carriages - 3 times a night, novel for the first train only!   Also, it was not so safe for young children who have to cross the track to get to the pool, beach and restaurant.  It was directly in front of our veranda, with no protection, and they do not sound their horns in the day, but seem to at night!
Trains, trams, trucks, motorways, zoos and anything noisy is best avoided.
Avoid rooms with the glare of bright lights of an oval, or a flashing neon sign outside your window.
However a few streets away from an early train, or an airport motel for a 4 am flight might be useful.
The serenity of a Balinese tropical rainforest, or the tranquillity of a distant surf beach may be great for the main part of your trip, but not for departure. 
My last trip we shared a mini bus 3-hour ride around winding hills in the dark.  A few very ill travellers were in the back of the seat.  Mind you I think that final cocktail, pushed one over the edge of intoxication, and alas we all suffered.  Sound and smells - disgusting!
Try to sit at the front if this is you!
And on that note - a short note on child safety 
Please keep your child away from drunks and druggies where possible.  Your child does not need to see, or smell the results of their partying.
Kids need safety and protection – try to book a private room, not shared dorms.
Also make sure if it is a toilet block or bathroom they must walk to, no matter how tired you are, you go with them.
Do NOT leave them alone in foreign accommodation (or vehicles – even with a taxi driver) – anywhere or anytime.  (Children’s safety will be addressed in my blog).

Missions and religious groups for accommodation
Some missions will have you stay for a donation. 
You maybe be asked to do a small amount of work, or even a small talk.
Make sure this group is safe, and known to you.
Make sure your faith is aligned with theirs.
Not al missions can assist, so please check first.

Relatives, and Friends, and Friends of Friends for accommodation
A great way to save on accommodation costs.
Offer to help with cooking, chores, dishes etc.
Let them know your budget so they don’t take you to a five-star restaurant for dinner that blows a months travel money.
Contact the person prior, and try to stick to dates of arrival – they have lives and plans to work around.
Be aware of your personal values, and valuables. 
You may trust them, but you do not know if their teenager is on drugs and needs to steal for their habit. Don’t tempt fate – keep your good stuff hidden.
Ask them how long they would like you to stay.  Don’t outstay your welcome.
Always leave a nice little thank you card.  Try to leave a small gift.  It need not cost much; it is the thought.

School exchanges for family stay accommodation
If your child attends private schooling, Google and find schools around the world with the same name.
Talk to your child’s principal about your trip. 
Tell them you are planning to link up with other schools of the same name.
Email the principals of these schools (Google should do) and ask if your child can attend to link the schools together.  
The two schools then can Skype whilst your child is there, have pen-pals set up for the two classes and all sorts of sister school activities.
You can also ask if a family can host you for the week and the principal will put this in their newsletter prior to your arrival.
Have some scanned pictures of your child’s school, class and classroom on hand.
Be aware I found one school that was not appropriate to swap as it was in the Bronx and all Afro-American.  Consider your child’s safety and comfort. 

Security in your accommodation
This is of paramount importance.
Make sure the doors lock.
Pack a padlock, and a door jam for the door base, or sling a chair on an angle under the knob like they do in the movies.
Make sure the windows or shutters lock.
you may need to sleep with your pocket or kitchen knife under your pillow.
Check the phone works – if there is one.
Check any inter-connecting doors to the facility on the other side of your wall are locked and have no possible access.
Check (especially if you are in a high rise building) there is a fire escape.

SERVAS for accommodation
This is an international, non-profit group.
Again read up on the web

Subletting accommodation
I discovered this by accident.
I worldwide web page where you can rent a room or a whole house.
Fantastic for a week, even cheaper for a month.

outside view

Transportation to your accommodation if pre-booked
Just off a long bus, train or plane ride?

IMPORTANT – STOP FOR REST & RELAXATION (R&R) before hopping into the next transport – no matter how tired you are.

Take 15 minutes to walk around, wash your face and back of neck, get some fresh air, do a few exercises, swap your money, visit the ‘loo’ (if you didn’t go on the plane etc). 

Buy a drink if you need to take with you. But don’t drink too much (or you could have an unexpected ‘loo’ stop in the middle of no-where later – leaving child, or luggage unattended).

Take in your surroundings, and the culture.

Talk to your child if they are old enough about the currency. (Maths lesson).

Take note of the conversion rate.

If you are going to a dodgy place, email or ring ahead if you can to the accommodation to organise a taxi for you, and to hold a sign with your surname on.

Most will do this, and you then hope you can trust the ride.

It might be a private car and not the cheapest - so also ask at the airport, or station how much it should cost to get from there to your accommodation as a ball-park figure. Then ask the driver how much he is going to charge you.

Not happy. Don’t get in – easy!

Also try to remember to book centrally located accommodation for the first night – if you get taken to a remote location, and it is a filthy dive, or fire trap, you then have to pay to get a ride back, wasting time and money, and by then you are tired, and hungry and your child is lacking patience.

Travel booking web-sites for accommodation
Here are a few that might assist you with bookings.

Trip Advisor and other websites recommending accommodation
This is a great place if you click on cities to get a list of places to see, things to do, and places to eat.
Take reviews on these websites with a pinch of salt.
Some of the reviews can be written by the owners themselves?
Some are out of date.
Some are whingey travellers, wanting five star accommodations - in a two star facility.
Interesting how you can go from a 1/5 to a 5/5 star rating about the same place, but I am sure you can get a general feel if you can be bothered to read them all.
Meet up with locals & join great activities
Connect with members in 2000+ cities around the world

Universities for accommodation
Some universities offer cheap rooms – though some will not allow children.
I stayed in Oxford. Met a professor on the bus who said I was a friend.
A most memorable budget room, overlooking the dome centre library!

File:Radcliffe Camera, Oxford - Oct 2006.jpg

Visitors in the day and night - of the four-legged variety to your accommodation
Make sure there are no holes in the roof or walls – stray animals are not your friend when they land on you in the night.
I had a cat jump on me, because a love panel was missing in the window.  I was dead to the world, and it was a creepy fright, and I then ran around chasing it out of the room like a mad woman!
Gecko’s love food, and make quite a racquet when they devour your packet of lollies.  
And exactly how do you get it out of the room?  
Well I managed on my last trip, but I was not too kind; because there is no way those sticky paws were landing on me, or my child! 
I have had a mouse crawl inside my top when I was asleep, and I had to grab it and shake it out - and boy did I scream as its little feet dug into my skin.
I have had a mouse eat food in my room, and another nest in my bra cup in the wardrobe in Bali.
Well it was a big mouse, as I refuse to think it was a rat!
Possums, and other stray animals love food, so clean up (including on veranda's and patios), and use the fridge if you have one.

Volunteering for aid and accommodation
Many countries are desperate for help in famine, or post natural disasters.
You can help build the world, save lives and care for your fellow human man.
Some do cost, some will feed and give you basic accommodation.
Check out what you are signing up for.
This is not playing tourist time, this is really giving of yourself.
May not be so practical with a child, so please do ask first, and keep in mind disease and cleanliness.
Here are a couple to start you off.

Web-sites and Google to find accommodation
This will work for more major hotels, and backpackers, but very little is gained in out of the way places, that do not have access to so much as a calculator, let alone a computer.
Prepare for the mainstream if you are looking for hotels and accommodation.

Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W)
There is a joining fee.
Read up first to see if it suits you.
It is designed so you meet and stay with other women.

Wwoofing for accommodation

Farm stays in exchange for work.
Some allow children, and the children learn skills

WWOOF logo - copyright

Word of Mouth re accommodation
This is often the best way to go. 
Try to keep in mind the general facilities, versus the experience.
Try to get a name of a staff member they dealt with, and the name of who recommended it to you.
Tell the staff when you arrive who recommended you – it often means you get better service.
Last time we went overseas, we stayed at two resorts. 
At the first resort, a couple (who had the ‘All you can eat and drink option’ – and used it to the max – and looked like two aged sun-burnt beached whales) called us to tell us the second resort was ‘dead’, there was no children’s facility, and one restaurant was shut.  They advised us to cancel and stay elsewhere.  Thus, I worked myself into a ‘right lather’.
I called the Travel Agent, and wasted about ½ hour and call costs trying to change resorts.
Well, we got there and I expressed my concerns. 
They bent over backwards to help us. 
They promised activities to occupy my son – and guess what???
It was a day-cruise to an island, glass bottom boat, fish and turtle feeding, free kayaking, village tour, and one on one staff to care for him at meal times so I could sit and chat - to name a few extras.
We had THE BEST time!
We made new friends – as it was so quiet, all the guests mingled and talked, we went out on day trips, hired cars together, went on walks, rode local buses, went out to dinner, and all became friends who now keep in touch. 
Two couples we will stay with on this trip.
The moral of the story – everyone is an individual. Your experience may not be that of another’s. 
People have good days and bad days, weather can be sunny or rainy.  
Food, and your health, and who you meet, all play a big part in your own experience.

YMCA (the Y) and YWCA for accommodation
Check if they accept children.
You need to bring a sheet – they do not allow sleeping bags.
Also I recommend you use a private room for your child’s sleeping safety.
Here are a few, but suggest you Google for the countries you are visiting.

If I have missed any you can think of, please let me know.
I am happy to add links, and will add to this as I travel.
If you know any great ones that I don't know about, please do share.