I love to travel. Europe, Asia, the Pacific- you name it and I’ve been there, or else I want to go! And I’ve stayed in some great places.
I’ve also slept in one or two pretty awful establishments. Hard beds, poor food, noise. But to counterbalance the bad experiences there was the 400-year-old mansion in the mountains of central Portugal, where nothing was too much trouble, and where the breakfast was both a feast and a social occasion. And the lovely small hotel in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, with its peace, tranquillity and super staff.
Five-star hotels are great, so long as you don’t have to pay five-star prices. Sometimes you get really lucky, and spot a genuine bargain in an upmarket hotel that would generally be right out of your price-range. Then you need to grab it with both hands, but stay out of the mini-bar! I recall a wonderful riverside hotel in Bangkok where clearly they had a shortage of bookings at the time my wife and I were travelling through. We absolutely loved our room, and the breakfast on their terrace was to die for. But if we’d emptied the mini-bar we’d have been broke in a week! Fortunately there was a convenience store within walking distance; problem solved.
Finding somewhere to stay in a new place can be tricky. You stagger off the bus (or train, or plane- however you travel the problem’s the same) after a long tiring journey, with a 2-year old copy of the Lonely Planet and not a lot of cash. Where to go to look for accommodation? Of course, if you can book in advance you’ll lower the stress level a lot, particularly if you have Internet access and can check out sites like TripAdvisor, or book through sites that have on-line access to available rooms. Travellers’ tales are by far the best way of finding places to stay. Talking to people who’ve been there already.
Availability isn’t usually a major issue, but finding a decent room at a reasonable price can sometimes be a challenge. Early this year I noticed some really cheap flights from our local airport to Venice. My wife and I had been wanting to go there for many years, but never made it, so I booked. I never thought that in March there would be a problem with rooms. But when I got online and started looking I found out that Venice was pretty nearly full! It turned out to be the week of Carnival, and the whole world seemed to be there. The reason the flights were cheap was that people without rooms were not about to fly to Venice.
Eventually, on the outlying island of Lido, we found a B&B, and had a wonderful week. Carnival was a fabulous experience, but the town was packed with people until halfway through our week, when they all went home. The B&B was one of the best places we have stayed, and being on the island meant we got to know the boat system really well. There really is no finer boat journey than the trip from Lido Island to mainland Venice, then up the Grand Canal on Boat No 1.
Some cities pose difficult problems for the traveller. Language, layout and culture seem to combine to make the ordinary process of finding a room unduly difficult. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is one of them. It’s a fun place to stay for a few days, and is the hub you need to use to get to some of the really amazing experiences that the country has on offer, but problems start at the airport. There’s a perfectly simple system for foreign visitors getting a visa on arrival, but the signage and directions are lamentable. Then there’s only poor public transport into the city, so where do you tell the taxi driver to go? And how well will he speak English?
The city itself doesn’t have a centre, and it’s not easy to find your way around. And finally, the accommodation scene is dominated by 5-star hotels. Not ideal for budget travellers! There are some “home-stays” (what the west would call B&Bs), but they are few and far away from the interesting parts of the city.
Fortunately a couple of enterprising guys from England and Ireland are on the way to offering a solution to the budget traveller’s problems in Jakarta. Opening in September 2011 their new budget hotel in Cikini will feature comfort, security, decent beer and loads of advice on getting the best out of Indonesia. It won’t be on TripAdvisor until it gets reviewed, and it won’t be in the Lonely Planet for a while, so pass the word around! Get the travellers’ tales flowing!