Finding Affordable City Hotels

Hotel Isabela, Mexico City

Hotel Isabela, Mexico City

At least a dozen times I’ve showed friends pictures of places I stayed on vacation and then when I told them it was say, $45 a night they go, “What?! How did you find a deal like that?”

It must be unfathonable to a lot of people that there are plenty of inexpensive hotels out there because at least once a quarter I get quoted in some article about this subject. Here’s a new one from Travel + Leisure no less, called Great Affordable City Hotels. They spelled my name right and mentioned one of my books (where there’s a whole chapter on this subject), so I was a happy camper. It got picked up by as well.

You don’t have to be a camper to find a great deal on a lodging though. You just have to step away from the usual booking sites. Most of these interesting hotels are not listed on Expedia and sometimes you’ll have to do a bit of digging to find the good ones. The quickest shortcut is to start using a device that runs without electricity and does not require booting up: a guidebook. Not only will one give some good hotel options that aren’t so well known (if you avoid Lonely Planet that is), but the good ones will also list country or city-specific websites where you can go to find a whole long rundown of options.

I found the Mexico City hotel pictured here in a guidebook and it was around $20 a night for a single. Maid service, an elevator, purified water, and plenty of steaming hot water, in a great area near the main plaza and a metro stop. The two places we stayed at in Antigua, Guatemala we found one in a guidebook and one on some random website I can’t even remember. A suite in one of them is $60. For my recent trip to Peru, I used Andean Travel Web exclusively. For an upcoming trip to Belize I’ll use guidebooks and the Toucan Trail site. There’s usually at least one good clued-in site like this for each location, even El Salvador.

Of course much of the time you score by just walking around the right area. The idea that you need to travel with a laptop to reserve cheap backpacker hotel rooms is preposterous, especially when there’s a worldwide recession going on and it’s a buyer’s market. The time and place you really need to book ahead is when there’s a festival going on, it’s family vacation time in Latin America, or you’re in Europe in the summer. In the latter case I would line up things in advance using EuroCheapo or Hostelbookers.

Don’t forget that the destination itself still makes a huge difference. In this article from Budget Travel, The New Boutique Hostel, the funky hipster place in Paris has “private singles from $100.” For the one in Bangkok, doubles with a king bed and a plasma TV are half that amount. For what you spend to get two cheapo hostel beds in Copenhagen, you can get a really nice room or even a suite in Quito.

  1. Austin

    Tim, thanks for the tips and the great links. I hadn’t heard of some of the sites you mentioned, so I’ll be checking them out. What guidebooks do you find the most useful for finding good city-specific hotel sites?

  2. alaska fishing

    Tourism in mexico is a very large industry. Mexico is the number one destination for foreign tourists.
    The most notable tourist attractions are the ancient Meso-American ruins,colonial cities, and popular beach resorts.
    travelling and staying make expenses more.but here in this post it is good see ‘Hotels’ with affordable the pay.
    Thank you for the post and information.

  3. gary

    Tim, I regularly use Hostelbookers, BookingDE, or just show up at a town and start looking at rooms. Especially off-season, rooms/studios in gorgeous towns like Piran, Rüdeslsheim, Verona can be had for 20 to 60 USD per night (Verona ain’t cheap)…

    Funny, but I noted that the T&L article had nice properties, but man, the ‘affordable’ moniker was just a little stretched.

    Thanks for a great article. Again.


  4. tim

    Austin, I don’t rely on one single guidebook series because there’s a lot of variation in quality from place to place. I’m not disparaging the LP guides–they’re always at least adequate and they frequently have the best maps–but their popularity means every guesthouse mentioned gets packed. Same with the Rick Steves guides in Europe during the summer for mid-range travelers. They’re good, but you get kind of a herd mentality going.

    In Latin America the Moon guides are usually best in my experience as they tend to use more experienced authors who really know the area and have been covering it for a decade. Many of the other guidebook companies are using inexperienced writers and paying them wages that guarantee shortcuts. It’s not cut and dry though. Sometimes I’ll find a surprisingly good Fodor’s guide, like the Belize one I’m using right now to research a trip this summer. Written by Lan Sluder, who again, has spent a long time there. To me that’s key—the knowledge of the author. DK Eyewitness Guides are good for sightseers and museum lovers, Time Out guides are really annoying but are the best for restaurants, nightlife, and hotels.

  5. Palacio De Leonor

    Hi, as a hotel owner sometimes there is some hidden gems that get missed by the guide books, My recommendation is wherever you are planning on visiting, have a quick search on the web for a local portal or forum. Local people can often recommend quality accomodation that can get overlooked by larger guidebooks.

  6. John

    Sad, but true! Here we are promoting travel through internet marketing and yet we don’t trust or believe in what we read on line, yet we do in a book. Why is this so? I desperately want to trust the information or rather the reviews at least. Even the reviews, i hear, without proof, that they are often doctored and not entirely true. Surely with our technology and response or review could be restricted and proof of visit required. Something to increase its integrity is need, otherwise the whole travel industry will suffer. We don’t want that, do we?

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