The Secret to Great Hotel Deals

I have a little secret for finding great deals on hotels that I’ve used over the years, and the good news is that in this economy, it’s only getting better.

Many people will probably be angry with this post, including a large number of our followers on Twitter.  Why? Because they’re constantly advertising deals for their own benefit through affiliate travel programs or their own business.  I have nothing against them doing so, but I have to warn that just because somebody says it is a deal, doesn’t always  make it a deal.  I receive hundreds of messages daily about amazing prices on hotels in Hawaii or New York.  Since I recently visited Maui, I looked into a few of them.  I never found any of these advertisements to be less than $250 per night.  I would hardly call that a deal.  Maybe that hotel used to charge $1,000 per night.  Even so, why am I going to pay that much for a place to sleep when I’m there to see the island, not sit around in a beautiful hotel?

So if that’s your business, I apologize in advance but let’s be honest, Have Pack, Will Travel is all about saving money and making the most of your trip, so we never really saw eye-to-eye anyway.

How to find deals on hotels

Some of the best deals are to be found at the last minute.  But how last minute should you look?  If you’re adventurous, the very last minute.  I rarely book accommodations for my entire trip unless I know it’ll be extremely difficult to secure a bed in a hostel or a cheap room in a hotel.  I like to book the first night if I am arriving in the afternoon or evening just to be sure I have somewhere to sleep, but beyond that, I play it by ear.  Sure, this has backfired and created a headache or two, but I’ve never slept out in the cold and I’ve never had to pay anything unreasonable for a place to sleep.

More times than naught, I’ve landed some incredible deals on hotel rooms by walking up late in the afternoon and simply inquiring about a price.  Yes, you run the risk of not finding someplace, but use your judgment on the time of year and the popularity of the city you are in.

The first time this worked out for me was in Florence, Italy back in 2004.  I was traveling with three Americans I met and our train arrived late in the afternoon.  We walked to a couple of hostels that ended up being completely booked.  This was pretty stressful and we weren’t sure where we were going to find somewhere to sleep.  Before we knew it, day became night and there were no more hostels to check.  On a small budget we weren’t looking forward to finding out how much a hotel room would cost.

By 8pm we entered a small two-star hotel to inquire about the price.  Right there on the wall was a sign that said without a bathroom was €50, or €60 with a bathroom.  We asked anyway and didn’t act desperate for a place to stay.  The desk clerk (probably the owner) knew it was late and the chances of them filling any of the open rooms was unlikely.  They offered us two rooms for €25 each.  That worked out to about €12 per person for a very clean and authentic Italian hotel.  Not bad since in Paris & Venice each hostel dorm bed cost €25 each.

I’ve had a few experiences like this over the years, but what I have been noticing lately is that, given the economy, there are even better deals to be had.  Back in February I went to Costa Rica (for the second time in one year) with two friends.  It was the high season and all common sense given the area were in said that booking a room was a wise idea.  We reserved a private room at a hostel in Quepos as it was considerably cheaper than the hostel and hotels in Manuel Antonio (the national park area that everybody travels to the area to visit).  In the guidebook and on their individual websites, all the small hotels on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio advertised rates of $99 or higher.  You can imagine our surprise when we were driving down the beautiful road taking in beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean when we noticed signs in front of several of the same hotels we looked at online advertising $25-50 rooms!  Not only could we have saved money, but we would have had beautiful ocean views and seclusion.

Sure, playing everything by ear can be stressful if you’re limited on time or easily stressed, but the upside is pretty nice.

Have you fallen into any great hotel deals?  Talk about it in the comments if you have any experience or tips on the matter!

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following @HavePack on Twitter.

Five Exotic Places in the World (that you can still afford to visit)

Budget travelers are constantly looking for the best possible places they can visit on the cheap.  Here are five exotic places around the world that are still affordable for the budget traveler.  Read on!

Panama

2235524340_aa8034b4d9_oEverybody knows it for the Panama Canal, a must see engineering marvel, but Panama offers much more for budget travelers seeking an exotic trip.  Plenty of great beaches in places like Bocas del Torro or for the more adventurous, explore the Darién Gap (with a guide of course, this is one extremely dangerous place).  It’s easy to spend several weeks in this exotic country without ever staying in one place for too long.

Panama is served by many North American carriers at reasonable prices.  The roads are much easier than Costa Rica but the main means of transport over large distances is by small plane.  You can fly to most places in the country on Air Panama or AeroPerlas for $50-100.

Hawaii

DSCN1302Thought by many to be an expensive tourist trap five hours off the coast of California, Hawaii is actually a great trip for budget travelers who enjoy doing their own thing.  Amazing beaches with the best surf in North America, scuba and snorkeling opportunities everywhere and plenty of diversity with rain forest and volcanoes for nature lovers.

Read more about Hawaii becoming a budget traveler’s dream.

Bali

124680557_1549fb2b10_oThe most visitor friendly island in Indonesia, Bali may be small in size but not in stature, despite not being the cheapest place in the world to fly to.  Flights can cost up to around $1,000 but amenities once you are there can be had at very reasonable prices.  Don’t worry, big hotels are available for those who need pampering, but for travelers that require less your dollar can go a long way in Bali.

Costa Rica

3491606318_38338e7ff4_bApparently in order to be considered “exotic” you need ocean and rain forest so close to each other in the same country that you can literally feel as if you are in another world in the same day.  Not only does Costa Rica allow you to do that, you can literally walk from a gorgeous beach where you might not see another person all day, to forest where you will be surrounded by monkeys and sloths.  Costa Rica has to be the ecotourism capital of the world and luckily for budget travelers, prices are still reasonable.  A bus ride across the country costs less than $5 and there are many hostels for around $10 per night.  Tourism is huge though and there are plenty of resorts and tourists traps but you can still easily get by spending $3 for dinner eating with the locals at a small soda.

Morocco

2389557556_2b8698f6dd_oMorocco stands out on this list because it’s not known for its nature although it does have plenty of that to go around.  Fancy a camel ride across the Sahara? No problem.  The majority of travelers are here for Morocco’s immense culture though.  It’s a taste of the middle east in North Africa.  Imperial cities like Fez are home to life in the medinas and souks that has been relatively unchanged for a thousand years.  Food lovers will be in heaven enjoying chicken or lamb tagines meticulously steamed for several hours.

1,000 Places to See Before You Die

Inspired by the roaring #1 New York Times bestseller with more than 1 million copies in print, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal is perfect for giving–it’s specially designed for people who love to travel and want an elegant place to record their experiences. Scattered throughout the journal are traveler’s lists (“Unforgettable Destinations for the ‘Been There, Done That’ Crowd”and “10 Experiences Guaranteed to Give You the Shivers”) and quotes that will spark insight and provide writerly inspiration. At the back of the diary is helpful nuts-and-bolts info: time zones, conversion charts, telephone codes, mini-translation guides, and more.

Has Hawaii Become a Budget Traveler’s Dream?

Highway 30 - North/North West Maui
Highway 30 - North/North West Maui

I’ve been traveling as much as possible for nearly a decade and to be completely honest, Hawaii was never really on my mind as a place to visit.

I pictured big high-rise hotels and resorts, families, and overweight German tourists wearing speedos.  And let’s not even bring up how expensive it all must have been.

I can admit that my ignorance clouded my judgment, but one thing I’m sure I had right was about how expensive Hawaii was.   Then this little thing called an economic crisis came in to play.  A year ago I briefly flirted with the idea and a round trip ticket from Los Angeles was $700.  Today it is $235 round trip to Honolulu, or about $330 to Maui.

So we have our first requirement for a good budget destination; cheap airfare.

Next, we’ll need someplace to stay.  The $200+ hotels on the beach in Lahaina probably won’t be feasible.  Don’t worry too much though because Maui has three hostels that I was able to track down online.

There is Patey’s Place in Lahaina which had pretty poor reviews so I chose not to stay there.  In Wailuku there is the Northshore Hostel and Banana Bungalows.  Based off of Hostelworld’s reviews, I opted for Northshore but Banana Bungalows looked decent enough from the outside when I walked past.  I had just read too many horror stories online about them which is why I continued to skip it.  All three places cost about $25 per night which isn’t cheap, but affordable enough given that we are in Hawaii after all.

Wailuku is a sleepy little town with little to offer travelers other than good central point for exploring the island.  It’s easy to get to from the airport and both the Hana Highway (37) and the amazing scenic route 30 are easily accessible.

In fact, my favorite thing to do in Maui was to simply drive those roads.  Everybody has heard about the road to Hana, and it definitely lives up to the hype, but Highway 30 is an amazing drive along the north coast along a winding 1.5 lane road.

Both highways are literally littered with hikes.  So many that you will have a difficult time deciding which ones to do and which ones to skip.  You’ll want to consult your guidebook the night before so you don’t waste precious time that you could be using to be exploring this wonderful island.

Don’t forget the beaches.  Kihei and Lahaina have great beaches for snorkeling or just relaxing and catching some rays.  Both places have plenty of places to rent snorkel gear or surfboard and you’d be surprised how cheap it can be.  A complete snorkel package should run you less than $10 for a 24 hour rental.

So we have our second and third important items for a budget destination;  free or cheap things to do and beautiful nature.

Maui really surprised me by being so easily accessible for budget travel.  You’ll spend your time exploring rather than paying money for tours or other types of entertainment.  I heard horror stories about food and everything else being extremely overpriced but other than one overpriced breakfast wrap I had, everything was priced the same, or cheaper than back home in California.

I know what you are thinking: “there has to be a catch!” Right?

I suppose the only downside to visiting Hawaii is that you really need to have your own car.  I rented a car through Thrifty which cost $179 for 5 days.  I used DiscountHawaiiCarRental which saved me about 10% over using a larger travel search engine.  Add in about $50 in gas and you have a pretty major expense.  This is where it helps to have a friend traveling with you so you can split it.

Not counting food, I spent less than $30 on entertaining myself.  It cost $10 to drive into Haleakala National Park, $6 to enter the Waihe’e Valley Trail and $4 for snorkel gear.  One night I spent another $9.50 on going to see a movie.  Not bad for five full days of never being bored.

I try to keep a fair balance between staying frugal and enjoying myself but I never attempted to be cheap on this trip.  It just ended up that everything that I wanted to do was basically free.

I should thank my amazing guidebook, Maui Revealed.
I typically swear by Lonely Planet, but I picked up this book at the store and then read the reviews on Amazon.  It is packed full of information that other books don’t have and every time I visited one of the more secret places in it, I was either alone, or with only a couple of other readers of the book.  You can’t visit Maui without it.

There we have it.  I deem Hawaii, and Maui in particular, a great budget traveler’s destination.  Thanks to this economy for providing cheap airfare, you can now visit for less than half of what it would have cost last year.  Assuming you like the sun and outdoors, you’ll have a great time exploring the island.

If you would like to see more photos from Jeff’s trip to Maui please check out the photoset on Flickr.

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following @HavePack on Twitter.

Why You Should Travel RIGHT NOW in this Bad Economy

ANA B777 (y)Class

We all know that the economy sucks right now.  Our financial system is in shambles and many of us are losing our jobs and can’t pay mortgages.

The times are tough.

Unless you are a traveler.  If you aren’t being affected too much by the current economic situation, you might want to check out some travel deals that are being offered.

I’ve never been one to book a package deal with air and hotel bundled together, but if you’re traveling with somebody there have been quite a few good deals but they require a two-person minimum purchase.  Often that makes it not such a good deal when you factor in the hotel cost so be sure to pay attention to that.

But for the traveler who is just looking for great airfare deals, there are plenty at the moment.  Here are a few I’ve found recently (all prices include taxes and fees):

  • Los Angeles to Honolulu – $335 round trip on Hawaiian Air.  American Airlines, United and Delta are just slightly higher.
  • Los Angeles to Maui – $415 round trip on American Airlines.
  • Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane, Australia – $680 round trip all the way through October on United.
  • Los Angeles to Paris – $590 round trip on United or Air France (I really like Air France!) through May.
  • Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica – $350-$450 round trip all summer long.

I’m sure there are plenty of similar fares from most major airports.  I highly recommend Kayak to search for flights.

Find any good deals out there? Where are you off to next? Share in the comments!

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following us on Twitter.