Staying in small, independently run hotels and guesthouses is one of the great pleasures of traveling. From crazy decor to unusual stories to delicious breakfasts, it’s always enlightening to see how different people welcome travelers and show off their cities.
But every hotel is not created equal, and it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into when (and ideally before) you book a room. This is especially true for independent hotels where the services range considerably, but it’s also true anywhere; after all, there are plenty of American business hotels with bad wifi and overpriced parking.
To help with the booking process, here are a few questions I try to keep in mind when inquiring about a hotel room.
1. Is it quiet?
I made the mistake of not asking this question when I stayed on a busy street in São Paulo, and ended up suffering from jet lag far longer than needed. Another time, I stayed in the generally charming Hotel San Carlos in Phoenix, but ended up next to the elevator and didn’t sleep all night.
A helpful hotel will be able to tell you if you have a quiet room or not, but if you’re not getting a straight answer follow up with questions about how close the room is to the highway, the elevator and stairs, the breakfast room, etc.
2. Does the wifi actually work/how close is my room to the router?
Most hotels I stay in these days offer wifi, but it seems like at the majority it’s too slow and intermittent to actually do anything productive. So if I’m really going to need it, I ask how reliable it is, if my room is near a router, etc.
3. How much does it actually cost.
In many places, various governmental bodies — cities, states, etc. — impose different hospitality taxes, which can add up. However, advertised room prices often don’t take these fees into account. So if I’m on a tight budget while investigating different hotels, I’ll try to make sure to ask what the total cost is, with tax. If driving, it’s also important to ask how much parking costs.
4. What time is check in/check out?
Check in and out times vary widely, especially among U.S. hotels, and even more especially among independent hotels. It’s also worth asking if the hotel can hold your baggage for the day (they always can) and if that service costs anything.
5. Are there any discounts?
The effectiveness of this question varies by destination and culture (I used it in Brazil, for example), but it never hurts to ask if there’s a cheaper fare. For example, at the Rainbow Motel in Mackinaw, Michigan, last week, Laura mentioned that she is a flight attendant and asked if she could get a discount. And she did.
— Jim Dalrymple II