Our 2013 trip (which will likely be our last big road trip), is much easier due to all we learned on our first go around. One of the things that make this possibly is our choice in lodging. Last year we tried to go as cheap as we could–think Motel 6, Days Inn, etc. We tried living solely off a hot plate, mini-fridge and microwave (if we were lucky) One room, generally no seating, which made any down time watching movies or just talking a bit tricky ~ bed are comfortable enough for sleeping, but not so much for lounging around. At times our internet was spotty at best, the rooms’ cleanliness and existence of roommates in the form of critters was always a gamble.
This made for a lot of moving sooner than expected, which increased our costs greatly. And since we travel with our dog, the shorter the stay, the less the pet fee would get spread out. I’ll make another post soon about which hotel chains give you the most value for your pet fee.
In our second round, we’ve discovered a few very helpful tips that have made our work and personal lives much more productive and enjoyable. Here is a list of our more helpful suggestions:
1 – Try and find one hotel chain and stick with them. This gives you the ability to collect ‘points’ using their reward system (all big chains have them), and most include multiple brands under one umbrella. While we try and seek out Mom & Pop motels in smaller towns, in any larger cities, it’s much more reliable to go with your favorite. Our number one pick is the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). They have nearly 5,000 hotels in 1,000 countries (even though we’re focused on just one at the moment). Their hotels include: Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza to name a few. Candlewood Suites are generally on the ‘budget’ end of the spectrum, but they have all the comforts of home. With a kitchen, optional bedrooms, and free (yes, FREE!) laundry. Their Internet access is always spot on, and if it’s not, they’ll generally work to resolve the situation.
2 – Don’t always go for the cheapest solution. As mentioned above, brand loyalty has its perks. If you earn a free night for every X nights that you stay, you can count that into your budget. Also, for longer term stays, you can usually negotiate the room tax. A $33 budget room quickly becomes a $50+ once you add in taxes. In most states, if you stay 30 days or longer, you can get the state and city taxes waived. Add in being able to cook for yourself and being comfortable staying in or on property, free internet, cable, sitting areas and free laundry – and suddenly you find a lot more money in your budget to spend on the lodging itself.
3 – Try before you buy! A lot of our unplanned moves from one location to another could have been prevented if we had simply looked at the room and checked the internet speed before checking in! All motels and hotels should allow you to do this, and if they don’t, that’s a big red flag in my book. Just because you’ve reserved the room doesn’t mean you need to take it. If it’s not what expected or as advertised, stand your ground. Ask to see another room or even cancel your reservation altogether. Again – any reputable company will not hold you to the 24-hour cancellation notice if they’re at fault for not providing what they represented. A simple & free speed test app on your smart phone can give you the details of Wi-Fi in the room.
4 – Location, location, location! Do some research and think before you commit to a certain area. On our second cross country trip, we knew exactly what we wanted to see in the places we had already been, so it was easy for us to plan that way. If you know you want to visit DisneyWorld, but simply search for Orlando hotels, you can end up miles and miles away. For some, that might be OK. For others, especially if you are visiting multiple days, you may want to pay the extra money to be closer. It’s a little game in pros and cons we always work out. We ask ourselves a couple important questions: ‘How many times will we be visiting ‘Location X per week?’ and ‘How much time/gas will we pay being further away?’ – These two answers along can make a great mathematical equation to decide on being across the street or half an hour away from ‘Location X’.