27 May 2016

European Travel Skills: Sleeping

In this travel talk, Rick Steves covers the skills you'll need to find the ideal European hotel, B&B, or hostel, and offers advice for using hotel-review and booking ...

This video is an excerpt from a much longer European Travel Skills Talk.

To view other topics, or to watch my Travel Skills Talk in its entirety, visit ricksteves.com, or check out my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Thanks. When you travel in Europe, every night you gotta find a hotel. And the challenge for you is, "how do I find the right hotel for the right budget?" You don't need to stay in a slum, alright, there are lousy hotels in Europe, where for $20 you get a bed and a kitten tossed in for no extra, and I'm not talking about that. What I'm talking about is an alternative to this, this is the high-rise Intercontinental Hotel, and frankly, that's not what we're traveling for. When I go around the United States, I'm happy to stay in the Intercontinental, but when I'm halfway around the world, I want to know where I am. And an Intercontinental is designed for-- think about the name-- is designed for people who, deep down inside, wish they were not traveling. People who need a paper strap over the toilet promising that, "nobody has sat here yet." You can get that kind of American niceties, but you're gonna pay American prices plus shipping for them, and when I travel, I want to stay in a funky little hotel. Walter's hotel. It's been a fire trap for a hundred years, I'll risk it one more night. I know I'm in Switzerland here, that peasants have been cutting hay up on the field, and they're downstairs in the bar playing the spoon, yodeling, and drinking beer. I'm part of the scene. The less you spend, in so many cases, the more experienced when it comes to accommodations, and I find accommodations an integral part of your travel experience. I want a two star hotel on a pedestrian-only street in Paris, on a village-- it's sort of village Paris, there's a market outside in the morning, it's just seven blocks from the Eiffel Tower. $150 for my double, so French when I step outside the morning I feel like I must've been a poodle in a previous life. This is a good hotel. It's not a fancy hotel, it's got an elevator, it's got a private toilet and shower. It's perfectly good for me, and it should be good for the people who are planning to go to Europe with my guidebooks. One of the joys for me is connecting with the people who run these hotels. I'm so passionate about getting people to people. These hotels are family-run. I've been doing this long enough where now I'm in the second generation. Mom and dad

have retired, and this is Nico, who runs one of my favorite hotels in Venice. I drop by and see Nico every time I'm in town, and we have a tradition where we hold up the latest book, and we hold up the picture from our last visit, and every time I visit we do this, we hold up the next picture, and you can see the previous visit, and then in the photograph a previous visit, and it goes way back. The point is, we've got a long experience with these hoteliers, and they really appreciate the people with our guidebooks. Its extended family. If you use the Rick Steves guidebook to any of these destinations in Europe, you will have a lot of friends, running a lot of great hotels, that would love to host you. They can be fancy hotels like this, with the Koch family, in a resort town in Austria. They can be elegant places with beautiful, characteristic rooms. That’s really nice to have, but most of them are going to be rather simple rooms, like this. A lot of times you get a twin-- two twin beds, and they can be made up as twins, or made up as a double, and that would be your situation. A lot of times a double room would have a small double bed and a little kinda single bed, and you can have two or three people in the room. I want to remind you, the more people you pack into the room, the cheaper it gets per person, and the fewer people, the more expensive, it is. A single is genuinely, or generally, a single occupancy of a double room, and it costs nearly as much as the double room for two people. The exception would be if you have a tiny single that physically does not fit a double bed. To find a cheap, single room it by definition is going to be cramped, because it can't fit a double bed. If there's two of you in a double room, much more economic. Rather than stay in the high-rise, international class, five star hotel outside of town, I like to spend about the same money, but stay right downtown in an elegant local style hotel. So this is not a purely budget thing, I got plenty of money to stay in a nice hotel if I want to, and I do choose to spend that splurge level, but when I do it, I don't want to be surrounded by American, noisy, international business people, and so on,

it's just bad for my traveling soul. I wanna be right there, immersed in the local culture, with people who know a good value, in a beautiful hotel that has a long heritage heritage of serving guests. A place that has the same people working at the desk year after year, who really are part of the family. A lot of times when you get a characteristic hotel, it's right downtown and it physically cannot fit an elevator in that thing. That's okay. I like a few stairs, you know, and in fact, when you choose a room, I'd rather be a few stairs up. Europe is noisy, a lot of Europeans prefer to be down low and on the street. I don't want to have a street view, I want to be up three floors and with a view out the back, 'cause I want it quiet tonight, there's a lot of night noise. A lot of people insist on an elevator, they're all upset if there's no elevator, they'd rather travel all the way outside of town to get an elevator, than stay right downtown and climb a few steps. And it's kind of silly, because they do a lot more steps to get to their elevator, than if they were right downtown. There's something great about being in an old building that can't have an elevator, you're right where the action is. Do concern yourself with night noise, very important. The night noise, you can minimize that, but you can't always avoid it, and if you're choosing a hotel on a train track, above a disco, you know, right downtown, a lot of times you gonna have night noise. That goes with European travel, and that something you want to be aware of. Hotels provide WiFi these days. Big, stoney walls oftentimes don't let the WiFi go through, so much as you want WiFi in your room, it'll advertise WiFi, but you'll find all the tourists are down in the lobby getting online every night. They'll have WiFi, but you have to scramble to get added a lot of times. I love this photograph, because it shows the old-fashioned reservation sheet with pencil and eraser, and that's Tuesday on the 14th, you want two double rooms, okay, and they write you down. Look at that, you don't know how they keep track of it. It's a reminder to me to remind you, that many people's trips are filled with fiascoes, everybody is screwing them up. If everybody's screwing you up, you're at fault. Nobody screws me up because I don’t give them the opportunity to screw me up. I

call a day before to reconfirm. As a good tour guide for your own family, you need to be reconfirming, double-checking, "what could go wrong," head it off at the pass so you don't show up and say, "hey, I emailed you a week ago." Don't let that be a problem, because it's complicated for them. Another development in the hotel world is what's called dynamic pricing, and this is very frustrating to me, because I built my whole program, in my guidebooks, on being able to rely on a price from a hotel for a room, and now they have these computer programs that let them charge more or less, depending on what the market will bear, and they predict that a year in advance. It's very tough for me to say what the price is gonna be at a hotel. The result of that is, as consumers, they're gonna perfect price discriminate against us. We need to just defend ourselves. We need to send an email to five different hotels that looked like a good value, and find out who's charging what on any particular day, and then go with the best value. It's unfortunate, but I think that's how we have to handle that. There are a lot of booking services. Booking services are brutal on hotels. They take a 20% commission, and they require that hotels bump up their price and not discount and offer a net price to people that go around the booking service. I find a lot of hoteliers are just really extorted by booking companies but there's no way around it. You are invisible if you're not on booking.com, or whatever, so it's just a new way of doing business. You can go direct, and when you go direct you'll be a preferred customer, because the hotel then is keeping all the money, instead of losing twenty percent of it, and exactly how it all shakes out is up to you, but I like to go direct, and I prefer having my hotels make all the money, instead of having that needless middleman in the way. TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is crowd-sourcing. TripAdvisor is, for me the main problem with TripAdvisor is you don't know the veracity, or the honesty of the information. There are companies in India that make their living writing up nice reviews for people in TripAdvisor, and other crowd-sourcing sites. There are hotels, that I know, in Edinburgh that give you a free breakfast if you will write a

report to TripAdvisor. And there are a lot of people who are angry with another company, a competing company, that will send dishonest misinformation through TripAdvisor to scare people away from that hotel, and one disgruntled customer feels like they're very powerful by extorting a hotel with the threat of a bad thing on Tripadvisor. So, you just gotta-- TripAdvisor has valuable information, but as consumers, you need to understand, it needs to be sorted through. It is uncurated, and that presents us with a challenge. The hotels in Europe are a good source of information. we need to take advantage of that friendly person at the desk who really knows what play is the most popular, "what are the pitfalls of getting out to the airport," and "where do I rent a bicycle." They are really a good source of information that way. I make a point, when I get to hotel, of making that room my own. I take a few minutes, especially if I'm there for three or four days, I stock the pantry, I go to the market and get a pantry so I've get healthy food to eat, I get rid of all the little advertisement, I set things up comfortably, I make sure I got the right pillow. In a lot of traditional French hotels you got this Lincoln Log pillow. Americans don't like it generally, hey, there's an American-style pillow in the closet, or you can get one if you ask, You're not a problem, you're not an ugly American if you expect the hotel to fit your needs. You just gotta politely let them know what your needs are. There are hotels in Europe that have rubber mats on the mattresses to protect people from, you know, peeing on the mattress. I don’t wanna sweat all night because they're worried about their mattresses, I'll physically take that rubber mat off of the thing, in order to have a comfortable night's sleep. The point is, exercise your own proactive concerns to make that room fit your needs. It can be done, and it makes a huge difference. The more people you pack into a room, the cheaper it gets per person. If you're traveling with a family, rent a triple and figure out a clever way to add that fourth person to the room. It's a lot cheaper, and hoteliers will work with you. When you have a hotel these days, you don't have the toilet and shower down the hall any longer, it is

retrofitted into the room. It's a tight, little, pre-fab, yacht kinda toilet and shower unit, and a lot of times it's not a lot of surface. I like to be able to hang my toiletries kit there. It's kind of nice because a lot of times there's strange hairs and stuff in the sink, and I know when I've got my toiletries there, those are my hairs, that's all my stuff. So it's a little cleaner that way, and it's just a reality. With climate change, you'll find air conditioning wherever you need it these days. In Europe Northern, countries often don't have air conditioning and now they're realizing they need it. I would suffer through the odd times when it's too hot in the north, but in the south I would insist on air conditioning, and know how to use it. As far as smoking goes, smoking is no longer allowed in hotels. You will not have any problem with smoky rooms, and that's great news. Usually included in your hotel, is a big breakfast. And it's a buffet breakfast, it's usually a healthy breakfast, and I just love the breakfasts in Europe these days, they used to be just a croissant breakfast, but now they are quite sizable. In Britain, and in Scandinavia, and Ireland, you've got a lot of bed and breakfasts. I like a bed and breakfast. You're staying in somebody's home, they've got a few extra rooms they're renting out. Traditionally, you'd find a street with a lot of B&Bs hanging out their shingle. These days you go with, you know, web searches, and booking agencies, and so on, to get your B&Bs, we list a lot of them in our hotels. In the classic sense, a bed-and-breakfast comes with a big hearty breakfast, enough for a farmer to go out and work all the way until dinnertime. A lot of Americans call this a heart attack on a plate, You will have that traditional fry up when you are in Britain, but you always have a healthy alternative to that as well. The key for B&Bs is just to know the local word for bed and breakfast. "Hus rum" is Norwegian for "zimmer," which is German for "chambre d'hôte," which is French for "bed and breakfast." You're a guest of this woman's. Here we are, Casa Rabatti, Mama Rabatti, it's four blocks from David in downtown Florence, and its $100 for the double and it's a beautiful experience. This is Kathleen Farrell, an

example, on the west coast of Ireland, of how beautiful B&B is. A great thing to think about when you're affording your bed and breakfast, is to remember that, included in the price, is your own temporary local mother. And I love that, I love it when Kathleen runs out after me, "hey, where's your umbrella, here take mine, and be back by eight o'clock 'cause Sean and the band are playing Irish folk music in the pub tonight." Plenty of opportunities to be part of the scene when you're staying at a B&B. I will remind you, the big, giant, efficient cookie-cutter, kind of Motel six sort of places in Europe are providing very difficult competition for the cute little bit and breakfasts and guest houses. You will get rooms for the same price in a big hotel like this, but if you want the charm, you can remember the B&Bs. Remember, in the old days, the ladies used to sit on the curb and wave their signs when you drove into town, now people generally go with Airbnb. Airbnb is a powerful tool, and people love it. There's couch surfing which is cheaper, but Airbnb is everywhere. This would be an Airbnb apartment. My son actually rents Airbnb apartments where he lives in Prague, in the Czech Republic. This is one of his apartments. That's the kind of accommodations you can have, for half the price of a hotel when you use that service. All over Europe, you can stay in farmhouses. In Italy it's called agriturismo, and I find, when I do my research, these agriturismos are just a wonderful opportunity to have that salt of the earth experience. And I want to remind you, Europe as thousands of youth hostels.Youth hostels in traditional kinds of ways, and youth hostels all that are more modern and institutional. High-rise hostels offering $25 beds in downtown Copenhagen, industrial strength rooms, and a member's kitchen where you can cook for the price of groceries, that's the spirit of youth hosteling. If you've got a family, if you're on a tight budget, remembering youth hostel is a great way to go. They've actually taken the word "youth" out of the system, so now if you're over 55 you get a discount on the membership card. In other words, if you're alive, you are young enough to youth hostel. There are informal hostels, there are mountain huts, there are plenty of

creative ways where you can have simple, characteristic accommodations. And, all over Europe now, you've got artistic designer hostels that compete to be the best hostel in the world. I love mountain huts, you can hike across the Alps and every night sleep in a hut like this. And I want to remind you, where you need to go in Europe you've got plenty of options, some of them are gonna be expensive, some of them are gonna be cheap, some of them are gonna be filled with tourists, and some of them are gonna be filled with locals. The key for you in your travels, is to have good information and to remember, when you can connect with the culture and with the people, your accommodations become a beautiful part of the trip itself, okay. Thank you very much, and remember we got a lot more information. Happy travels, thank you, happy travels. If you've enjoyed this video, you'll find lots more at ricksteves.com, and on my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Happy travels, and thanks for joining us.