Planning a trip? Choosing the best location for your hotel or vacation rental is an important part of planning a great trip.
I used to think that a less-convenient location was a good way to save money on lodging. It's true that you might pay less, but lodging will probably be one of the biggest expenses of your trip anyway. What kind of memories will you get from a cheap hotel in a bland or inconvenient location?
I've learned from dozens of trips that a good location is worth the splurge. It can take a trip from meh to memorable.
A “good location” could mean a lot of different things, including:
- a safe, walkable neighborhood, close to activities, restaurants, and transportation
- a national park lodge or campground
- a vacation rental at the beach or lake
The good news is that there usually isn't just one perfect location. There are probably several options that will work well for your trip.
Choosing the “best” location for your hotel or vacation rental is worth some time and thought – especially when you are staying for more than 1-2 nights. Here are a few ways to pick a great location when you plan your next trip.
Do a Search
Search for “Where to Stay in…” if you don't know where to start. Big cities like New York City, Tokyo, and Paris have dozens of neighborhoods – each with a unique personality and advantages. Some neighborhoods will be a better fit for you than others.
A search will give you other travelers' opinions and experiences, which can help you narrow your search for lodging. You might follow their lead, or you might do something different. Either way, make an informed decision and then make the most of your location.
My family has visited New York City twice. We stayed in Queens on our first trip and in Midtown Manhattan on the second trip – and we loved both locations.
Long Island City, Queens was less expensive and it was only 15 minutes from Manhattan by subway. It was convenient enough for all the famous NYC activities. But what I loved most about this location were the less-touristy gems like the Museum of the Moving Image, Noguchi Museum, and Louis Armstrong's home.
On the next trip, we walked everywhere from our Midtown Manhattan hotel. It was close to the Museum of Modern Art, Central Park, Intrepid Museum, Empire State Building, Broadway, Times Square, Fifth Avenue shopping… We only had three days, so we planned this trip around the location of our hotel. We only used the subway twice.
Close to Activities
Choose a hotel with easy access to your top activities whenever you can. It's so much nicer to take a short walk to the beach than to pack up your stuff, drive to the beach, hunt for parking…
You probably know a few of your top activities as soon as you start planning the trip. Here are a couple of strategies for finding a great hotel nearby.
- Use Google Maps to find your top activities, then use the Nearby feature to look for hotels. Add your dates to see the most accurate prices.
- Use the location filters on hotel booking websites to narrow your options. When you've found some hotels you like, use Google Maps to get directions from your hotels to your activities. Change your transportation type to walking or transit, if needed.
Book early for the best locations and the most options. Popular beach houses and national park lodges can sell out more than a year in advance. It's possible to get a last-minute deal on a great place, but it's best to book as early as you can for the best locations.
We were lucky to get a room at Yosemite Valley Lodge on our trip to Yosemite National Park. The room was so-so, but the location was special. It saved us at least an hour of driving and parking every day, and more importantly, there was a feeling from staying inside the park that I still get every time I think about this trip.
We made the most of that location with twilight strolls to Yosemite Falls and visiting popular viewpoints and trailheads in the morning before most visitors entered the park.
Related: My Favorite Hotel Booking Websites
Close to Transportation
In big cities with good public transportation, we look for hotels close to a subway station.
On a road trip, staying close to the highway might be the best location, giving you access to lots of activities. However, this might keep you away from the city and walkable, unique neighborhoods.
When we visited Paris, we wanted an apartment with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a washer/dryer in a great location with easy access to public transportation. Our budget was limited, so it was tricky to find everything we wanted in a prime, walkable location.
After hours of searching, we picked an Airbnb apartment in the 13th Arrondissement. None of the travel blogs recommend that neighborhood. It isn't close to top tourist attractions. BUT…
Our apartment had everything we wanted and it got good reviews on Airbnb. It was located in a high-rise building on top of a mall, grocery store, and subway station. It was in a fun neighborhood that felt like “real Paris.” And it was only a couple of miles from our activities, so we bought a Paris Visite travel pass and took the bus or subway everywhere we wanted to go.
Feeling safe on your vacation is a MUST. Fortunately, most neighborhoods that are popular with visitors are also fairly safe.
Read recent reviews to get an idea of whether or not a hotel or rental feels safe. Past guests will mention it if they did not feel safe. If several recent reviewers mention safety, look elsewhere.
You can get general safety information about a country from travel.state.gov. You can get general city information by following the news.
When in doubt, stay where the people are. Look for neighborhoods that will probably be brightly lit and busy into the evening. Stay in or near luxury hotels and resorts, which will probably be located in safer neighborhoods. Choose a hotel that is surrounded by other hotels and restaurants.
After many trips to Disneyland, I won't book a hotel that isn't on-property or across the street from the parks. Convenience is the biggest reason, but safety matters here too.
There are at least 5-10 hotels within an easy walk of the park entrance, and that makes it a lot easier to arrive early, split up, or take breaks during the day. On our last Disney trip, I headed back to the hotel early while my teens stayed in the park until midnight with extended family. I felt totally comfortable with their safety because the hotel was so close to the park.
Make the Most of It
Once you commit to a hotel or rental, make the most of it! Enjoy all the advantages of the lodging and neighborhood you chose. This will make your trip better.
Build your itinerary around your location. I usually choose a hotel before I have my whole itinerary figured out. That gives me an opportunity to add interesting activities near the hotel or rental.
Learn about free and cheap activities nearby. They are great options if you find yourself with a little extra time and energy.
Use Google Maps to look for restaurants, grocery stores, shopping, laundromats, and other services nearby.
We stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Garden when we visited London. It's a budget hotel and the room was nothing special. But it was within easy walking distance of almost EVERYTHING – West End theatre, British Museum, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Oxford Street shopping…
We didn't use the subway at all, and we felt like we saw SO MANY “London” things while we walked around the neighborhood of our hotel.
Related: My #1 Rule for Planning Activities
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a hotel or vacation rental. Location is an important factor – and a great location is worth paying for.
A great location makes it easy to get to your activities, explore your destination, and feel safe. After you choose a hotel or vacation rental, make the most of it by building your itinerary around that location.
I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great vacation! If you have a story or tip to share, please use the Comments below.