Hotels in Europe are not quite like the ones in America. In the states, you basically choose between a variety big-name, hotel chains. In Europe, the options are a bit different.
For most people, hotels are somewhere you sleep, shower, dress. You’re spending like two waking hours (tops) in your hotel room. Folks with offspring see them a bit differently. Get comfortable in your accommodation, you’ll likely be watching Pixar movies there, nursing a cranky baby, and wrangling wild, vacation-high monsters. Face it: our hotel room needs changed drastically the minute we decided to start traveling with kids.
Luckily, there are a lot of options out there. Maybe too many. It can get overwhelming and time-consuming fast.
So, here is your European Hotel Choosing Guide.
1. Know Your Priorities
What’s more important to you? Quiet rooms for light-sleepers or city-center location? Is WiFi a must-have? It is for us. When did that happen? And believe it or not, free Wifi is not always a given. Some quaint, family-owned hotels won’t offer it. Free breakfast is also rare in Europe, unless you’re in a B&B or hostel. 24-hour Check-in. Yes, another amenity to check for. My mom and I once stayed in a hotel in France where they basically locked the doors at 10pm. No one worked behind the desk all night and while guests could use their room keys to enter the main doors, no one could check in after that hour.
So, my advice is to decide what is negotiable in your hotel search and what is not. For us, our no-question must-haves are free WiFi and a private bathroom. Again, not something you would have to ask for in the states. (I’ll get to that in a minute) Then, decide the amenities that you can be flexible on: kitchenette, breakfast, etc. Once you have your priorities set, start your search.
Don’t let your priorities take over though. It’s easy to start an obsession to find the perfect place. If you’re willing to bend, be ready to bend.
2. The Options Out There
The bigger cities will have a variety of hotel chains. They will likely be more expensive, but you can get a conventional hotel room like you are used to.
But likely, when you do your search, you will get a medley of results: hotel, guest house, hostel, B&B, private room, and so on. Many family and privately owned. A money-saving option is getting a room with a shared bathroom. Much like a B&B, it’s usually some sort of converted living space with hotel-like rooms and communal bathrooms. We’ve never tried this option, because as I said, it’s our non-negotiable. “Dear stranger, please hurry before my freaking-out 4-year-old doesn’t poop his only clean pants.” It has a ring to it.
And believe it or not, hostels are another option for families. You can rent private rooms in hostels, some even with en-suite bathrooms. They’ll likely be two or three sets of bunk beds in a room. Like summer camp. Few things to be aware of first: towels are not always provided for free. Communal kitchens are available and you will likely be around a younger crowd. They will make you feel old. Saving a few bucks makes up for that, because you’re old and have grownup bills to pay.
If you have kids that need to be in dreamland by 8pm to preserve the peace and sanity, then you’ll be glad to know that apartment options are available and usually priced at or less than hotel rooms. So, grownups can stay up and relax in a separate space rather than sit awkwardly silent in a dark room. The reasons these places are so frugal is because you’re sacrificing those services you might be used to. Breakfast, housekeeping, concierge, and whatnot. In fact, you will likely be asked to clean before you leave, meaning “leave it like you found it”. Still, worth it, if you ask us.
So, those are the basic options available out there. Staying in something other than a Holiday Inn can be a bit of a shock at first to some, but it’s time to put your adventure pants and roll with it. Not worse, just different.
3. The Sites
By now, you’ve done a hotel search of your own, I’m sure. I’m probably not blowing your mind by telling you to try Airbnb or booking.com, which are our two favorites. We also use Homeaway.com, which is much like its younger, hipper counterpart. Airbnb feels a tad more like you’re renting someone’s actual home or even a room in someone’s home, but like a young, hip person’s home. We’ve had one instance where we arrived at the apartment not fulling knowing if the owner would also be living at the apartment while we were there. She did not, and the apartment was huge and awesome. Even still, it may be awkward at first to walk into your apartment rental and see someone else’s shoes and clothes hanging in the closets. Go with it. As long as it’s clean, enjoy the space.
Remember, both of those sites are just the middle-man. They will not protect you against fraud. Always pay through the site and never give your credit card information directly to the homeowner. Do your homework. Check reviews, and ask for references if you’re nervous.
4. How European hotels are different
Okay, so I mentioned the front-desk hours, WiFi and breakfasts. Another quirk that threw us for a loop once was the electricity in our Paris hotel. For the entire first day of our stay, we thought the power didn’t work. We complained to the front desk and they promised to try and work it out. It wasn’t until later that night, after about three calls down, that the lady at the front desk decided to tell me that inserting your room key in a slot by the door made the electricity work. Oh, nice to know. Pretty sure she does that to all the Americans.
Jeremy and I once stayed at a hotel in Munich with a car elevator. It was pretty genius, and it was exactly as it sounds. That was pre-parenthood, and we drove a car small enough to fit in a car elevator. I don’t think the Honda Pilot would fare so well.
Am I forgetting anything? Have you had a bizarre European hotel experience?
So, those are my tips for choosing your European hotel. If you’re anything like me, you put a lot of thought, time and research in where you stay during your vacation. The time is always put to good use because we have yet to have a hotel disaster. I like to know ahead of time how far the hotel is, what amenities I can expect and what the sleeping arrangements will be like. When traveling abroad, the fewer hiccups the better. Good luck on your search and happy traveling!