A friend and I traveled within England, France and Italy for just over four weeks in 2014. We organised most of our European sojourn ourselves and sough the help of a travel agent only for our flights and concluding tour of Turkey with Intrepid. We were "independant travellers"! .
I saved an enormous amount of money, as well as having secured central, quality accomodation for each destination by researching and booking accomodation online, using reources such as Trip Advisor, bookings.com and venere.com. As a result our itenary ran smoothly and without any major hitches.
My travel partner and I had a clear plan of places and attractions we wished to visit and agreed to a budget. Our personal interests included a passion for art, architecture, gardens, history and archeologica sights.
We booked our flights via a travel agent, along with a 2 week tour of Turkey, with Intrepid/Peregrine. The rest we did ourselves.
The criteria we set ourselves for accomodation within Europe were simple, but challenging and thankfully, all our hotels and an apartment lived up to the expectations that had been set by reading the experiences of other travellers, along with the hotels own websites, which we also accessed via the internet, prior to booking most often through bookings.com, but backed up with Venere.
Our criteria for wonderful accomodation at budget prices in major cities was:
- Central enough to make walking to key attractions easy and minimise use of public transport, which can prove expensive, time consuming and add considerably to your budget.
- Small boutique hotels rather than large chains
- Accomodation of between 2-3 stars, so within our price range and offering private facilities
- Good views, preferably of the cities we were staying in, or at least of a street, not back alleyways or garbage bins
- Free wifi (not always the best or most reliable of connections)
- A lift, even if a one person antique one, such as those we had in Paris and Florence
However, one deal in Florence had to be paid in full at the time of booking and was not ammendable, nor refundable. Given it was directly opposite the iconic Diormo, it was too good to miss at a truly bargain price. We even had a view from our bathroom onto the Duormo itself and along a side street from our bedroom!
In Rome, close to the Spanish steps, we overlooked the city as well as a magnificent internal courtyard, whilst the ultimate view was from our balcony to shores of the Adriatic and across the town and up the vineyard filled mountainsides in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy.
London saw us with a view across Kensington Square Gardens, in Bayswater, around the corner from Hyde Park and a short stroll to the Portobello Road Market.
In Paris we were some three minutes walk from the Louvre and an easy walk to most art galleries. In fact the only time we really needed public transport, was to get to the Eiffel Tower and beyond Paris, to Versaille and Giverny.
Now, some people did complain the rooms were small in these hotels. But from our point of view they were large enough to comfortably accomodate us, and provided adequate space for our luggage.
Do not expect electric jugs in rooms in Europe. If this is an issue, pack a two cup model to make your own tea and coffee. Some will have bar fridges, but not all.
All our accomodation was clean, comfortable and had spotlessly clean bathrooms. Air conditioning worked, but better still, we were able to open windows for fresh air.
Staff in all our accomodation spoke excellent English and in most cases, offered us excellent and obliging service, in some instances going beyond their call of duty to ensure our comfort and access to attractions.
One word of warning is the level of research and time needed to secure your own accomodation in Europe is considerable. If you are time poor, or easily frustrated by computers, then perhaps securing bookings is best left in the hands of your travel agent. I would estimate we spent at least 5 full days undertaking the research and then booking the 8 hotels we stayed in over those 7 weeks. But the rewards for this investment of time were enormous. We were never disappointed!
For guests staying for a week or more, many hotels allocate the biggest rooms, with the best views on the top floors away from the noise of the street or kitchens. From my experience, in cities like London, Paris or Rome, a week is barely scratching the surface of these great destinations!
Finally, one way of developing, honing and testing your skills and confidence in selecting and securing fabulous accomodation online, is to use the same process for short breaks away within your own country. We did just that, for anything from a few days to a week or more a number of times within Australia, before we decided to do the same for travelling within Europe.
Look up reviews of individual hotels on TripAdvisor by Fional943