In recent years, Greedy Girl has been fortunate enough to enjoy some long trips overseas. On her last European jaunt, which lasted for two months, she decided to explore different accommodation options – hotels, serviced apartments and a private apartment, sourced through airbnb. Each has pluses and minuses, but here are some tips and tricks to get the most out of whichever option you choose.

If you’re travelling for a prolonged period, spending every night in a hotel room can be a bit of a grind. Basically, you can get whatever services you like – but at a price point. Star ratings can be misleading – they certainly don’t guarantee a minimum level of comfort or amenity. Big chains don’t necessarily offer a uniform level of quality.
Greedy Girl has a basic checklist for a successful hotel stay:

  1. a room that is quiet and dark enough to get a decent sleep
  2. a bar fridge (that runs quietly)
  3. enough hot water (with decent water pressure)
  4. room equipment in working order
  5. free wi-fi

Let’s go through each of those points.

1. There’s no substitute for a quiet room to get a good sleep. If you’re staying in a large city, or even in a rural spot but near a major highway, noise insulation is imperative. Greedy Girl once booked a room in a midtown Manhattan hotel because it offered a king-sized bed. It was, unfortunately, right on an incredibly busy street in the theatre district. Trucks loaded and unloaded through the night and not a wink of sleep was had. The next morning she moved to a room at the back of the hotel with a smaller bed. Trading space for relative silence was a great move. Also, you need curtains/blinds that shut out the light. In Stockholm, for example, summer nights are very short – it doesn’t get really dark until after 11pm and dawn is around 3am.
When you make your hotel booking, request a quiet room and/or a high floor. If you don’t need a connecting door, ask for a room without one – the noise insulation is impaired and you run the risk of being kept awake by your neighbour’s phone conversations/television/alarm/snoring or, er, worse. If there’s a problem with blinds or curtains not closing, bring it to the management’s attention straight away.

2. One of Greedy Girl’s favourite tricks is to pack small plastic bowls in her luggage, pinch the disposable cutlery from the plane and head for a local supermarket at her destination for a box of cereal and carton of milk and prepare breakfast in the room, where it’s not offered as part of the rate. Travelling with gluttonous husband means it’s easy to go through your supplies in a week, but if you have to throw a little away at the end of your stay, it’s still cheaper and quite possibly healthier than the hotel’s breakfast options. But, you need a fridge to store the milk.
Some hotels make sure the fridge is full of expensive mini-bar supplies, not leaving any room. You can request the mini-bar goods be removed but, if the hotel won’t do that, take out what you need to make room and stack somewhere obvious to the staff. Let the check-in staff know this is what you’re doing to avoid some robot from just assuming you’ve used the five bottles of coke and adding them to your tab.

3. You deserve a decent shower. This means plentiful hot water and enough water pressure to be able to get the shampoo out of your eyes.
Check the water situation when you arrive in the room. Some shower controls need a degree from MIT to operate them successfully. If you can’t work it out, ring housekeeping and get them to show you. Don’t wait until you’re standing there, buck naked late at night or the next morning, fuming that you can’t figure out how to either turn the water on or get it to your desired temperature.

4. Ensuring the equipment in your room works properly is also handy to check up front.
In Paris last year, the television only picked up French channels. The only remedy to get to watch Al-Jazeera in English (beats CNN hands down!) was to shift rooms and given that Greedy Girl had already unpacked, this was an aggravation. Make sure your heating/cooling works. In Singapore last year, the air-conditioning dripped constantly, resulting in a maintenance person visiting our room at two in the morning vacuuming out the ducts. Not a highlight.

5. An iPad or smartphone is an essential travel tool. What did we do before Google maps? Paying for wi-fi though is an utter pain. Rage against the fees – they’re ridiculously high.
Ask about access. Some hotels are a bit sneaky. For example, in London last year, gluttonous husband spied a tiny sign on a table in the foyer advertising free wi-fi in public areas. This was also available in the executive lounge but you had to ask to find out. It’s not information that was volunteered. Even where wi-fi in rooms is a paid service, many hotels now have free (if time-limited) wi-fi in their foyers/cafes etc.

Most hotels with a four star (and above) rating have an executive floor which offers a range of benefits. These can include breakfast, all-day coffee, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and canapes and wi-fi access. If you can’t score a late check out and have an evening flight, you can often perch there after you’ve given up your room and before you need to leave for the airport.

Choosing the executive option when you book often means a hefty lift in the room rate but, if you’re prepared to take the risk of an executive (or club) room not being available, you can request the upgrade on arrival for a fraction of the price. Provided you actually use the services, it can be money extremely well spent.
And like frequent flyer points, if you are a member of a hotel loyalty program, you can often use any accrued points to upgrade from a standard room to the club level – it’s often better value than trying to hoard points to cover your full stay.

Serviced apartments
These can be an excellent option, particularly if you’re on the road for a long time but the level of amenity varies widely – even if they’re part of the same ‘chain’. On her European jaunt, Greedy Girl stayed in Adina apartments in both Budapest and Berlin and booked an apartment option at the St Moritz hotel in Wadebridge on the north Cornish coast in England.

This was a large apartment, a real treat given that a great many hotel rooms in Europe are on the small side. There was free wi-fi in the rooms (although the service was a little sporadic), a full kitchen and a combination washer/dryer. It had a lovely balcony overlooking a lawn/swimming pool/cabana area down to the water.

We had a fairly full agenda of restaurants to try in the Padstow/Rock area so didn’t cook but there is a small neighbourhood shop for basic supplies and breakfast (such as it was) included in the rate. This is a very popular hotel for families so if you don’t want your breakfast eggs accompanied by a horde of tiny terrors, perhaps you should self-cater or choose a different hotel. This is not an area of England to access without a car, although the hotel offers a free shuttle to the ferry service at Rock to take you across the estuary to Padstow. The estuary is tidal, however, and this impacts on the availability of the service.

This apartment was a little out of the city’s hot areas, but near an incredible local market and a supermarket. It was also very easy to navigate the city through the train and tram network. No free wi-fi is available in public areas and expensive to purchase, but free public wi-fi is common throughout Budapest.

We made a point of accessing wi-fi over our morning coffee at the market. The apartment was very comfortable and easy to cook in, with basic utensils although the knives not exactly sharp. It’s a great place to shop and cook though with a wonderful array of produce that’s amazingly cheap. There was a washer but no dryer. We had washing strung up all over the apartment, leaving the balcony door open to help it dry. It was also the only apartment we stayed in that had no iPod connectivity. When we asked for the ability to play some music, we were provided a very old-fashioned hi-fi and the best we could do was try to find a decent local radio station – we failed.

We chose an apartment walking distance from the Hauptbahnhof in the old eastern part of the city. Again, the apartment was large and very comfortable but no free wi-fi – and finding a free connection in Berlin was hard. Intent on cooking a couple of meals, finding groceries was again tricky. Having arrived on a Saturday afternoon, all but a couple of very depressing-looking mini supermarkets were closed as was the fresh food market and this would remain the case for the entire weekend. What to do?

In major European cities, it’s common for supermarkets and other shops to close around midday on a Saturday, so head for the main railway station. Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof has an excellent supermarket, with a bakery and loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. Be prepared to queue though as it’s constantly busy.

We stay in apartments from time to time on a long trip mainly to be able to cook the odd meal and do some laundry. Usually one lot of laundry detergent is provided in the apartment but a handy tip is to save the small bottles of shower gel provided in hotels – this gives a reasonable result and is not harsh on your clothes.

Home stay
This trip was the first time we’d used Airbnb. We chose an apartment in the trendy Copenhagen suburb of Norrebro and while it was perfectly comfortable and a great neighbourhood, there were some elements we’d make sure to ask about before booking through this service again. One is the size of the bed – don’t make an assumption from the pictures on the website/app.

This bed was definitely on the cosy side for two adults and although we managed to sleep perfectly well for the week, we are used to more space. The second is confirming whether there is the ability to wash clothes (if that’s a key reason behind choosing an apartment). We ended up at the neighbourhood laundromat which was fine in Copenhagen as, amazingly, everyone spoke English and were happy to help translate the instructions for us – this is not the case elsewhere in Europe! Greedy Girl also took for granted there would be a hairdryer available – again, something you shouldn’t just assume. Remember, this is someone’s home (or a place they rent out on a regular basis) and not a hotel. You might also find there’s not a lot of space to hang up your clothes or unpack your suitcase. If that’s important to you, ask in advance.

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