Definition: I’ll use “hotels” to refer to hotels, motels, B&B, AirBnB, whatever. No tents, glamping, canal boats, hiking huts, …  I lean to the first three because there will be more TripAdvisor reviews.

You should plan your trip before choosing your hotel, unless the hotel itself is a destination. 

Do your map work first, to figure out where you want to go while you’re there. And get a feel for the transportation system and the general layout of the city. Then you can quickly tell if a hotel is reasonably positioned for what you want to do.  

Disclaimer: As mentioned in the Tools section, I use TripAdvisor and Google Maps because they work for me. Feel free to use other tools.

So you’ve got your general area sorted out, or maybe a couple of areas. Let’s short-list a few hotels.
Tip: This would be a good time to open a new temporary planning document.

Your criteria are: 

  • price
  • location – ease of access to sights and transportation
  • is it the kind of place you like? 
  • does it have the kind of room(s) you want? 
  • how’s the value for money? 
  • is the neighbourhood OK (whatever that means to you)?
  • are there places to eat nearby if you don’t feel like going far after a long day? 

So, you have two options. 

  • Go to TripAdvisor, specify a city, and click Hotels. You can specify distance from a landmark or area, but you have to know the areas by name.
  • Go to Google maps, pick a point, and ask for Nearby > Hotels. Again, you need to know what point to pick. 

This is why I advise doing your sightseeing plan first. When it’s done, you’ll know the areas and highlights. if you’ve mapped them you’ll have an idea what will be central. if you’ve added a transit layer to your map, you’ll know what transportation hub you want to be near.

Key reminder: You don’t have to find the BEST hotel, only a good one that suits your style. Most tourist cities have LOTS of hotels that can do that for you.

Here we go.

The first quick list

  • Get familiar with your cluster of sites you want to see, and see how it matches up with the transit system. 
  • Look for something central that is reasonably close to a transit station that serves more than one line, This is the key to an efficient visit.  
  • Pick one such station. 
  • On regular Google Maps, click on that station, then ask Google for Nearby > Hotels.

Below, we have Venice. I have used the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari as my reference point. By the time you’ve mapped the sights you want to see, you’ll have an idea what to use as a starting point for this search.

Currency tip: In Google, you can change the currency shown in search results. In a map, click the hamburger icon (3 stacked lines) at the top left; in the resulting window scroll WAY down to “Search settings” where one of the options is Region; for Euros pick any European country. It doesn’t matter where you are, only where you are looking. At the bottom of the page, click Save. Your map will be reset, but thereafter you will show the desired currency throughout Google until you change it again. 

NOTE: Venice is a great example of the need to check travel time. You will be walking or taking the vaporetto boats.There are no other options unless you’re rich. The vaporetti are cool, but not fast. If you walk, you WILL get lost (it’s wonderful!). So choose your hotel location carefully, ESPECIALLY if you have a late arrival at the airport. If you’re going to Venice, check out Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, our favourite. 

Now for each one on that short preliminary list: 

  • click on its flag to see its details
  • scroll down the left side to find its website address and its actual address; copy them into your planning document (or a separate one called something like hotel-shortlist.docx)

Don’t do too many just yet. You may be playing in the wrong league.

There are only three questions that matter at first:

  • Does it look like your kind of place?
  • Does it have roughly the kind of room you need?
  • Can you afford it?

And we’ll answer them thus for each one you listed:  

  • Open the website in one browser window. In another browser window, find the hotel in TripAdvisor

Start with the hotel site to see photos and get a general feel, and see if they have something suitable for your dates. Ignore the fancy words and look for room size and number of beds. We’ll hit the details later. 

Check the rate for a room you like, to see how it matches what the map showed you. You might need to tell yourself something like “our room will be 15% more than the map figure.”

If a hotel looks promising, copy it into your planning document (or a separate temporary file), capturing it in this format: Hotel du Printemps  Picpus area near Nation Métro  TA 4.5  €140 {plus a few notes}
HOW TO: copy the URL from the browser; return to the planning doc, select the words to be linked; cmd-K (Mac) or ctrl-K (Windows) and paste in the URL, OR right-click and select Hyperlink > Add, and paste the URL. This saves a LOT of space and improves readability.

Reality check on pricing 

When you have a few possibilities with prices, pick one and dig into it for a room that meets all or most of your criteria.

  • Oops, Google showed $140 but the room you need is $250. 
  • Oops, you need two beds and hardly any of the rooms provide that.
  • Loop back and redo that shortlist! 

If it still looks OK, you’ve found your price range for this part of this city. 

You may find that you have to recalibrate what you thought was a good price for a room. Paris, Tokyo, London and the like are EXPENSIVE. You’ll have to decide whether to pay a little more, or give up one of your wants. Possible cheat: if you get in late, stay near the airport; or do that the night before you leave. Reduces hassle, saves $ — but you do have to move your luggage one more time.

Also, you now have an adjustment factor for the rest of your searches. A hotel that is listed at $200 is going to be $250 for the room YOU want.

Check another area

If you have other possible stations, repeat the above. You may find that another area is cheaper or more expensive, without much affecting your travel times.   For example, in Paris we didn’t like the prices in the central areas, but noticed that the Nation Métro station serves six subway lines and two fast trains, including the one to the airport. So we could get to our various destinations just as quickly as from somewhere more central. The restaurants were better and cheaper, too.

Repeat until you’ve found your price point and one or two likely areas.

Remember, at this stage you are selecting hotel candidates, not a winner.

Now work that list and gather data

Here you collect enough information about each hotel to see if it qualifies as a finalist.

I always use’s hotel reviews and the individual hotels’ websites. But don’t just trust me; look up some places you know on TripAdvisor and see if you agree with the reviews.  Note that TripAdvisor has a $ filter, and remember that the B&Bs are listed separately from the hotels. 

  • Look for overall rating, % recommended, number of reviews; read the Terrible and Poor ones for warnings, which are often about specific issues or rooms that you may be able to avoid. 
  • Skim the reviews, first looking for price range and then for a good rating.
    For the first pass don’t bother with anything rated below 3.5 stars, or 85% recommendation. 
    Look for TripAdvisor’s “Top Value” flag. 
  • If a place has only a few reviews, don’t rely on them too much. Try Google to see if you can find out more. 

When you find a hotel that qualifies for a deeper look, open its review in a new tab or page. 
Do NOT get too deeply into it yet; that comes later. But for now, you’re going to add some detail to your planning document entry for that hotel, as follows:

  • If it looks interesting, skim at least ten reviews. 
    Read all the ones from people who didn’t like the place; were their problems ones you don’t care about, or were they real deal-breakers for you?
  • Then look for why the high-rating people liked it. You’ll soon get a feel for whether this is your kind of hotel.
    You’ll understand what it’s good at, and decide whether those are the things you care about. 

Still OK? Check the hotel’s own site.

  • If there’s a website link, follow it. Get a feel for the place and see what’s included, what’s nearby, and how to get around if you stay there.
    Check rates & availability for your dates.  
  • No website link? Google search in a separate window to find a site. 
  • If you really can’t find a site for the hotel, use TA’s “Check Rates” button to see the price range and availability for your dates.  Use them only as a guideline, and always find a way to check directly with the hotel if you can.  

In comparing prices, even at this early stage: 

Make sure you notice which are flexible. Many of the aggregator sites lead off with low non-refundable prices. For now, pick any option but stay with that option until you have made a shortlist.  

On the hotel website, look for discounts. Are you a senior? AAA member? Staying more than two nights?

Check their cancellation policy. If it’s flexible for the rate you’ve chosen, you might as well book it now and make sure you have the room you want.

When your shortlist is OK, you can move on to Select Hotel. 

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