From the outset we knew that
covering this amount of distance over land in three months would - for us - be a
rushed trip. There were a lot of miles to cover and we wanted to make the stops
worthwhile. Our travel style is to meander; to find the out-of-the-way
restaurants, the unusual hill tribe, the hidden story in a city or town. We are
travelers, not tourists, and there is a
world of difference in approach.
Readers often ask us how we
schedule our trips, and what methods we use to find hotel rooms along our
journey. Our practical answers to these excellent questions are below.
Make a skeleton plan
Billy and I sat down with maps opened to the vast area of land we wanted to
explore. Each of us pointed to areas that held significance or allure, and while
Billy had been to Guatemala previously, I had never been to these other foreign
countries or states within
Mexico before. Everything would be new and exciting.
Cities that enticed,
stretches of beaches that lured us, and places along
country borders where it was wisest to cross to get visas and our passports
stamped were noted.
This was the skeleton plan.
If a place didnít meet
expectations or if we hit an unpleasant weather pattern, our tried-and-tested
system meant that we would move on. Visas in general didnít seem to be a problem
with these destinations as Guatemala offers a 90 day visa and Belize, 30 days
Tunibamba, Ecuador with Vulcan Imbambura in background
Filling in the blanks
Now that we had the framework for our trip, we researched the in-between places
looking for exotic, exciting, new, out-of-the-way, not very touristy
places to fill in the gaps. It is our practice
to travel during the week instead of the weekend, which generally
finds hotels booked, and to arrive early in the day. We like to be
settled in at a particular location, staying put through any
holidays, both a day before and after. To be on the road, looking
for hotels during these busy tourist-traveled times puts us at a
By dividing up the bus trips into manageable distances, usually no more than six
hours, allows us to arrive at our destination early and to be fresh so we can
explore enough of the unfamiliar area to get our bearings. Arriving late in the
evening, tired, hungry and disoriented is not our style. It happens from time to
time but we do try to avoid this circumstance.
The Hotel Hunt
Depending on the time of year, the size of the city or town we are visiting, or
if there are holidays being celebrated during our travel periods, we utilize any
of the following methods to find a respectable hotel room.
Rendez-Vous, Vilcabamba, Ecuador
1. Use guide books and guide book sites.
The Lonely Planet and
The Rough Guides are two book series we have utilized for years.
Because each has different approaches to countries and emphasizes
different points, we like to use them in tandem when we travel.
These books are published by topic of country and they, along with their respective
websites, give lots of information about local customs,
visa requirements, bus routes, city maps and hotel room suggestions.
From these books and sites we make a of list hotel names and street numbers before we arrive in
a new location, with notes of an area and several listed suggestions
all close by. Upon arriving to our destination, at the bus terminal
we decide to either walk to this chosen area or take a taxi
depending on the distance involved.
These days we also utilize Uber.
If we use a taxi, we take advantage of the information that he can provide to
us. We ask him: How is business? Are there a lot of tourists in town now? If he
says it has been slow, or that this hasnít been a very tourist-trafficked time,
we then use this information to our advantage when
bargaining for the
our hotel room. Conversely, if he says business has been brisk, we realize that
our bargain power might be diminished.
2. Go immediately to the Central Plaza.
Guide books - especially when you are traveling to several countries on one trip
- can tend to add serious weight and takke up lots of space in your backpack. Now
you can download these books to your device so as not to carry the weight.
way to find hotel rooms in most Latin American cities or towns is to immediately go to the Central Plaza. Ninety percent of the time there are hotels situated
all around the Plaza or on the nearby streets. Do not be afraid to ask locals
whom you may encounter for a suggestion. Most people are pleased to help you to
enjoy their town.
Normally Billy stays at the Plaza with the luggage while I go scouting around
looking for hotel rooms. If I do not come in to the hotel loaded down with all
our gear, the hotel staff wonít know that we might be tired or needy, and it's
easier to negotiate a good price. Over the years we have learned that if I pick
out the room, Billy is generally pleased with it, and
between us is minimized.
spectacular Caleta de Campos, Mexico
Upon entering a possible hotel option, I like to take one of their business
cards right away to make notes on the back. I let them know I want to see a
double room and ask what the prices are. While the desk clerk is taking me to
the room I also inquire if there is a promotion running to obtain a better
price, if internet service, drinking water or breakfast is included, if cable TV
is available and of course, if they have hot water for the showers. I always
check the beds for firmness, the bathrooms for cleanliness, and ask to see a
room with a view. I try to see more than one room whenever possible.
If I am interested in a particular room, after returning to the desk I will
inquire if they give discounts for 2 or 3 nightsí stay. Sometimes I will request
what they charge for a week or
a month, and I take all these notes on the back of the business
card. I then let the clerk know that I must speak with my husband first
before we decide.
When I meet with Billy at the Plaza after seeing several rooms at different
hotels, I no longer have to remember so much about them because the address is
on the front of the business card and all my information is on the back -
everything we need to make our decision. If we ever return to this town again,
we then have these notes as a starting point for future stays.
3. Other travelers are in the know.
It is inevitable when journeying to meet up with other travelers who just might
have pertinent information for you and vice versa. This exchange is invaluable
on many points as the guide books can be outdated or wrong. Fellow adventurers
can tell you about restaurants,
ruins, museums, trekking, and of course, hotels.
The best part of this sharing is that it is first-hand information from someone
who has been there themselves and who are not making a commission on what they
share. They can tell you what to avoid, what to be sure not to miss, and the
prices and addresses of places to stay.
In turn, the inside scoop that you have on your previous locations could be just
what they are looking for. Generosity between travelers is legendary.
4. Internet search
These days the internet is a treasure for those on the road. You can research
current weather patterns, get recent maps of a location, obtain bus schedules,
verify hotel addresses and, if necessary, make reservations.
One of our
favorites, Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Generally speaking, if the hotel has enough wherewithal to have a website and
goes through an agent for reservations, they will be charging you more to cover
these fees and for the convenience they are offering. If you are expecting to
arrive late in the evening, during a holiday period, or even on a weekend,
sometimes it is helpful to utilize these internet reservation sites. You can
arrange to be picked up at the airport, or bus station,
find out if breakfast is included in the price of the room, or take
advantage of package deals ahead of time.
However, one cannot negotiate room price via email. More than likely you will
need to use a credit card and this choice will leave you open to be dinged with
the not-very-favorable currency exchange rate. Sometimes there are fees applied
for credit card usage by the hotels in foreign countries and that will affect
the price as well. Always be sure that the website is secured if you use your
credit card to purchase reservations; look for the little lock at the top of the
page. When you choose a room online, you are making the assumption
that you will enjoy your room and location via the photographs posted on the
hotelís website. If you arrive and happen to not like your room and choose to
move to another hotel after a day or two, many times you will have to pay a
charge to cancel your reservation.
Computer placed reservations have their place and can be most convenient, however you
might never know about the quiet, gem-of-a-place just a few doors down because
they donít advertise on the internet.
our hotel room, Cuenca, Ecuador
I cannot tell you how many times we have walked into a hotel, bargained for a
terrific price due to several nightsí stay and found posted on our bedroom door
that the internet asking price was almost double of what we were paying. Our
advice is to be aware of the financial exchange you are making for the emotional
comfort of having a reservation. Sometimes that exchange isnít important and if
you are comfortable with that, then there is no problem.
In general, travel encourages us
to grow personally. It develops self-reliance,
flexibility and boosts a sense of adventure to an otherwise ordinary lifestyle.
As we demonstrated in our piece
Travel on $53 a Day travel does not have to cost you any more than staying at home.