Where you sleep at night and where you bathe is the one question that plagues most travelers. I remember taking my daughter, Becca, to Belize when she was around 12 years old. We were heading towards the Guatemalan border so we could visit the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and we didn’t have a place to stay. I had heard there was a notice board in a cafe in San Ignacio where all the off-beat hostels/hotels/B&B were posted and I knew we would find something. Becca wasn’t so sure this was a good idea and I just remember that young, worried face looking up at me as she was saying “Mummy where are we going to sleep tonight?” We found a fabulous little place from that notice board –The Trek Stop in the Cayo District – it’s now listed in all the travel guides and has won many well-deserved eco-lodge awards but back then well, it was our secret place.
As independent travelers we do search out those special gems and stay well clear of the tourist areas and all inclusive holiday packages. We also tend to stay put in one place for a week or more, and we need not only a bed but also a place to decompress in comfortable surroundings. Having a comfortable couch or a hammock, a place to make an afternoon cup of tea, and a relaxing atmosphere are essentials when you are on the road. Here are just a few pointers:
- Always, always have your first 2 nights booked after long-haul flights. Make a reservation for a small local hotel, or posada rather than a chain hotel. You can hunt around for a more suitable place to stay once you arrive.
- Word of Mouth. Talk to fellow travelers you meet at cafes, markets and small non-tourist bars. Almost all your recommendations will come from these sources both in your current city and further afield.
- Chat with taxi drivers and other locals. They have the inside scoop, and gossip, and can steer you towards off-the-beaten path guesthouses, B&B and lodges at different budget levels. Just a note of warning though, some of the locals you come across are real hustlers and they almost always get kick-backs from bringing tourists to their friends businesses. Politely say thank-you or another kind greeting and walk away.
- Hostels are a great favorite for travelers and are no longer limited to the young backpack crowd on a ‘gap’ year. I have met couples in their 70’s, families, professionals and all sorts of exciting people staying at hostels all over the world. There are the ubiquitous dorm rooms and shared bathrooms (gender segregated and mixed) but there is an increasing availability of individual rooms with and without private bathrooms. Breakfast is often included, varying from coffee/tea/toast and jam to a full blown large meal, enough food to let you skip lunch. Sometimes the hosts will do the cooking and sometimes the guests will take turns cooking and serving each other. A kitchen is also available for your use so you can cruise through the wonderful markets for local delectable fruits and treats. The one thing you can’t be at a hostel is a loner. Many places offer evening classes, entertainment, guided tours and get-togethers. Almost all have Wi-Fi.
- Some hostels are perpetually full so if they suggest reservations take heed. You can make a reservation on the internet or over the phone.
- CouchSurfing has grown up from a place young people can crash on couch for free while they trek around the world to an international network of people and places with a mission “to create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding”, www.couchsurfing.org. Go to the website to get all your questions answered on this exciting new way to travel.
- Homestays, farmstays, hospitality club exchanges, home and apartment exchanges, guesthouses – there are many, many interesting alternatives when looking for accommodation so get on-line to see what’s available in your chosen destination and don’t forget to look at notice boards and chat with the locals.
- Keep a detailed notebook of places you have stayed, recommendations from others plus any other pertinent information. You’ll be surprised how often you refer to these notes during your travels. If you think you will remember this information, you won’t, believe me.
Note: If you are reading reviews on the internet be aware that people with a small (or large) gripe are more likely to post a comment than people who had positive experiences. In other words take the reviews with a grain of salt.
Have fun and here’s to meeting lots of interesting people.