“What’s your hidden talent?”
It’s an ice breaker question that’s been used (based on experience) time and again. On first dates, the first day of school, team building activities… You name it, they’ve used it. Growing up, I was your average girl, one that can easily disappear into the shadows of a crowd. I didn’t have a sport. I could attempt to dance—but I have two left feet. I could sing—but you might want to cover one ear as I might sound a little off-tune. So having heard this question for as long as I can remember was something I dreaded answering.
That is until, finally, after 20 plus long years, I had one. One that most people would envy.
Well, here it is: I can always find a gorgeous, Instagram-worthy hotel, with a great location that suited my budget, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, for my travel companions at my first few tries, It didn’t happen overnight, as I developed it over time with many many errors along the way. My sister had the front seat to my journey of self-discovery for this hidden talent of mine. And now, she would always tease me that I could run my travel agency because of all these hidden gems I would find around the world.
To date, we have gone to 32 countries and about 80 cities—so that makes about 80 beautiful hotels I’ve discovered in the last 5 years. Whenever I would document and post our travels on our social media accounts, I would always get asked, “How do you get to afford it?” Today, I am finally going to share some of my secrets on how you can do this, too!
1. Decide your budget before booking anything. Have two numbers prepared—your dream amount and your tipping point. Personally, whenever I travel, the decision would depend on what country I’m going to. I also research what the average cost of most hotels are per night then decide from there. I usually spend 1/8 to 1/4 of what we’ve earned or projected to earn that month. For your dream amount, it’s what you hope to stick to and as for the tipping point, it means that it’s the most you’ll spend given all the extras that might come your way.
2. Become a member of a hotel website. Loyalty will always get you somewhere, even when booking the best hotel within your budget. There are several websites online that you can choose from, you’ve got hotels.com, agoda.com, and booking.com to name a few. I’ve been a member of one of them for 3 years now and the advantage of becoming loyal to one website is that it gives you access to rates that non-members can’t see. Usually, I get about 15-20% off the rate everybody gets, depending on what hotel or country I’m looking at.
3. Browse on Incognito mode. Whether you’re booking a hotel, tour, or flight, make sure to look through sites in this manner because when you’ve inquired or looked at prices more than twice, the flight fluctuates and gives you a higher price. This is the reason why suddenly all the ads you see are hotels in the city you just looked at!
4. Research on the area you want to stay in. Do you wanna be near a shopping area? Near the airport? Near a certain landmark? Decide first. That way, you can narrow down what hotels you want to find. Also, do you plan to commute the whole time? If yes, get a hotel that’s within walking distance to the train or bus station.
5. Pick two main things you’re looking for in a hotel. Is it the interiors? The area? One with a gym? With a pool? My sister and I always look for two things: A very comfortable, clean, and well-designed restroom and a location situated in the nicer area of the city—as most of the time, it is just the two of us who travel together. With these priorities in mind, it will be easier to narrow down the list of hotels you want to stay from the countless hotels available everywhere.
6. From there, you can fix the filters on the website you’re looking at. You can even narrow it down to your price range and how nice you want your hotel to be. Then compare prices on all websites then check again a day or two later. Remember, do all of these on Incognito mode!
7. Research on new boutique hotels in the city you’re going to. If money wasn’t an issue, I would stay in big chain hotels like The Ritz or Shangri-La every single time. But because we are sticking to our budget, this serves as my favorite advice. What I love about them is that it’s small enough for the staff to give quality and personalized service, the rates are usually reasonable, the location may be a little bit offbeat by like a street or two away from preferred areas, but the hotels are gorgeously designed, beds are comfortable and they’re mostly new. New means less than a thousand people have slept and walked on those hotels and that’s always great news for germaphobes! What I do is I usually google “New boutique hotels in _____.” Then from there, I just compare prices.
8. Travel on off-peak season. Just save your leaves and opt to travel on these months as everything’s cheaper and the city’s usually less crowded! Plus when you stay home in Manila on long weekends or holidays, the city becomes a new place to discover! There’s no traffic so it’s easier to explore.
9. When booking a hotel in the Philippines, call the hotel directly and ask for a local rate. Not all hotels offer this, but the prices you see online are usually meant for foreigners and tourists. And sometimes, they give cheaper rates for Filipinos. Similarly, this works too even for hotels abroad. They even give extra perks, like a free room upgrade or breakfast vouchers when you book directly with them through the phone. Always remember that. You won’t know until you ask!
10. Before booking, make sure to be sure on your travel dates because most deals that come cheaper don’t come with cancellation fees.