Planning your Lodging: Deciding and Booking

Booking lodging on your own can be a bit overwhelming the first time you do it.  In the States, I tend to look at my favorite chain of hotels, but in Europe, this chain has only a few hotels.  Besides, I like to stay at a place that is more, well, European.  I’ll walk you through my process of deciding and booking.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I am planning a trip where I will split my time between Paris and Amsterdam, spending three nights in each city.  I need to find lodging in these two areas. The best place to start is by using the internet or travel guide books – I will consult both.  In addition, I’ll look at some review sites to see what other travelers say about the properties that I am considering.

Searching
Breakfast Buffet in a B&B
Breakfast Buffet in a B&B

First, I need to determine what I am looking for – there are several factors that influence my choice.  I will be traveling alone this time, so I need to pay the entire amount myself.  I won’t be able to split the cost with someone else.  I will be working and researching on this trip, so having WiFi available is important. Since I will be busy with work, I am less interested in visiting with a host family, so a B&B is probably not my first choice.


(For more information on choosing the type of accommodation that best fits your needs, see Planning Your Itinerary – Inexpensive Lodging or Planning Your Itinerary – More Lodging Options).


I started my search by looking on the internet for hotels or apartments, and the name of the city – “Paris hotels” or “Amsterdam apartments,” for example.  There are many places to choose from.  At first glance, it looks like Paris will probably be more expensive than Amsterdam, so I will have to choose carefully.

The Eiffel Tower is in the Seventh Arrondissement, Paris, France
The Eiffel Tower is in the Seventh Arrondissement,
Paris, France

My initial internet search for a hotel in Paris showed that many of the hotels in my favorite area – the seventh arrondissement – were beyond my budget.  If I am going to keep my budget under 100€ per night as I hoped, I might have to stay further from the center of town.  I was mainly using the aggregator, hotels.com, but also checked booking.com.

Still focusing on the seventh arrondissement, I looked at Airbnb.  I found several small studio apartments that were available for the dates I needed. None were perfect – an apartment on the fourth floor with no elevator or sleeping on a pullout couch or a unit with non-stellar reviews – but I found a couple that I thought might work.

Deciding

After reading a lot of reviews, I decided on one of the studios.

Small Apartment Kitchen - We Found this Apartment Through Airbnb
Small Apartment Kitchen – We Found this Apartment Through Airbnb

I submitted my request and breathed a sigh of relief – until I received an email a couple hours later that said the apartment wasn’t available after all.  Now I could start over. I emailed a different apartment owner who confirmed that, indeed, they did not have WiFi, as one of the reviews stated.

When I found a third apartment and submitted my request, I was less hopeful. I was not surprised, then to get an email saying that the owner does not yet know her plans for the dates I am interested in.  We’ve had great stays in apartments in the past, but this time I was striking out.

Changing My Mind

I looked at a few hotels again, but was frustrated by the prices.  Then, I picked up my guidebook.  I had quickly skimmed the entries when I first started looking, but now I looked more closely.  There was a hotel in the seventh arrondissement that I had missed the first time – one that wasn’t listed on hotels.com.

Café near the Hotel in the Seventh Arrondissement, Paris, France
Café near the Hotel in the Seventh Arrondissement,
Paris, France

I looked up the hotel on the internet. The website seemed out-dated, with gaudy colors and highlighting.  The reviews for the hotel were mixed, but I didn’t find anything horrible. The biggest complaint was that the place was small – something I could easily deal with.

In order to book – or even just to find out if there was a room available – I would have to email the hotel.  The website said the single rooms were available from 82€ to 97€, so I emailed and hoped for the best.  I didn’t expect an immediate response, because it was now the middle of the night in Paris. The next morning, I had an email from the hotel – the room would cost 85€ per night. Not too bad!  I think it’s worth taking a chance on it.

Booking

Most hotels, large or small, can be booked either on their corporate websites or on an aggregate site like Expedia or Hotels.com.  Smaller hotels, especially, prefer that you book directly through their website – the aggregators take too large of a cut.

If the website does not have a secure booking option, email or call them.  If you call, you can book by giving your credit card number directly to them.  If you want to email your booking information but are concerned about security, you can split your credit card number and send it in a couple different emails.

The Champ de Mars Park, Paris, is also in the Seventh Arrondissement
The Champ de Mars Park, Paris, is also in the Seventh Arrondissement

The hotel that I decided to book had requested that I reserve my room by returning the email they had sent.  They asked me to repeat the dates and choose a room type (they had also given me the price of a double room) and then give my credit card information.  I responded and reserved the room.

My credit card won’t be charged until I arrive at the hotel and they may even give a discount if I choose to pay with cash instead.  I’ll ask, and then decide how to pay.

Note:  If you are using a credit card, be sure it does not charge a foreign transaction fee.  Capital One is known for not charging this fee on any of its cards, but they are not the only one.  Citibank, Chase and American Express and other banks each offer some cards with no foreign transaction fee.  Check with your bank or credit card company before you book.

B&B in Amsterdam, Netherlands
B&B in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’ve researched, decided and booked my room in Paris; now I have to do the same for Amsterdam.  I’d love to stay in the nice B&B that I’ve stayed in before, but I’m afraid it will be a bit above my budget.  Instead, I’ll use the same search process I used for Paris.

With patience and perseverance, you can find the accommodations you are looking for at a reasonable price – even in an expensive city like Paris.  Do you have experience booking a room in Europe?  What advice can you add?  Leave your comment below.

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