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Deciding Where to Stay (Epic Road Trip Planning Part 4)

by Karen Ung

This story on deciding where to stay is part 4 in our Epic Road Trips series.

Once you have determined your epic road trip destination, it’s time to think about accommodation. For me, this is always the hardest, but most exciting part! My top five tips for deciding where to stay are 1) research the location, 2) know your options, 3) read reviews and trip reports, 4) use travel apps, and 5) visit a Visitor Information Centre.

1. Research the Location. Take the time before you make a reservation to see what is in the vicinity. Will you be able to hike/bike/swim/ski/paddle from your door? If you are staying in an urban centre, is your motel on skid row, near an industrial park, or backing onto railway tracks? Ensure the location is safe for children, not too noisy, and close to amenities/activities. When we camp, we camp in scenic areas off the highway, near water, with plenty of hiking trails suitable for
children within walking/biking distance. When it’s ski season, we try to stay as close to the hill as possible so we can spend more time on the slopes and less time in the car.
  • Key considerations: Safety, proximity to amenities/activities, noise (traffic, trains, planes), views
This beautiful waterfall was just minutes’ walk from our hostel.
2. Know Your Options. There are various accommodation types to suit every budget and traveller. Tent and trailer camping are not the only ways to get close to nature. Alternatives to traditional camping include yurts, oTENTiks (“Comfort Camping” in Canadian National Parks), wilderness hostels, or cabins. It is possible to stay in a prime location with minimal hardship! For more solitude, consider a walk-in campsite. As backpackers, we enjoy doing walk-in camping with our children and getting away from the RVs. If you need more creature comforts, hotels and resorts will serve you well. Depending on what you plan to do on vacation, or what amenities the properties offer, hotel/resort stays can offer good value. We look for the following perks:
  • Free breakfast
  • Free kids’ meals
  • Free wifi
  • Free parking
  • Swimming pool and hot tub for evening fun
  • In-room fridge, microwave, and coffeemaker so we can make our own beverage and meals.
  • Complimentary equipment rentals: bicycles, canoes, kayaks. Call to confirm that children’s life jackets are available.

Hostels are affordable options, but not all allow children and the family rate can often be more expensive than 3-star motels! Most hostels allow children if you book a private room; check before you book. We typically tent camp (front country, walk-in, and backcountry) in the summer and hotel it during the cold months. Our one experience in a yurt gave us bedbugs, and I find
cooking in a crowded hostel kitchen annoying. Do what works for you and your family.
Key considerations: Cost, desired experience, privacy, location
A charming, but bedbug infested yurt we stayed in.

3. Read
Reviews and Trip Reports. 
for a high number of positive reviews, especially pertaining to
cleanliness, service, and noise. If any reviews were negative, how
did the business owner respond? Apologetically or in a hostile
manner? Take note as that is how you could be treated.

detailed reviews, I usually turn to TripAdvisor (campgrounds, hostels, B&Bs, hotels),
Expedia (hotels), and Yelp 
(campgrounds, hostels, B&Bs, hotels). TripAdvisor’s forums offer a wealth of information on where and when to go or what to do in a given location. Take advantage of others’ expertise! 

I also look at reviews and recommendations from travel magazines, local newspapers, or independent writers (bloggers). Look for “Where to Stay” and “Trip Reports”.

  • Key
    service, family friendly, noise, handling of complaints. For me, 
    recommendations from friends or family trump any review.  
Luxury vacation rentals are about the same price as a 4-star hotel, but bigger and often have more perks.



4. Use
Travel Apps.

The best travel apps not only provide information, but booking
capabilities and itinerary management. Use the apps on the go to
pull up reservation numbers, or to find a deal and make a last
minute booking. Consider TripAdvisor,
Expedia, Kayak,
or Orbitz (all of these are free!). I use
the Expedia app on a regular basis and am extremely satisfied with
how well it works and how reliable the booking process has been.

Me is a useful app to have when you aren’t sure where you’re
going to stay for the night and need to know what’s nearby. Besides
providing accommodation information, Around Me will tell you where to
eat, shop, fill up, bank, or catch a movie (and more!).
trips within the U.S., Roadtrippers
is a powerful app that allows you plan out your route, read reviews,
and book accommodation; all on an easy to use platform. Although
there is some Canadian information, there is not enough at this time
for me to recommend it for road trips in Canada.
are several camping apps, but most have a fee or have conflicting
reviews. In BC and Alberta, the best free resources are the Discover
Camping Mobile Site and online Alberta
Campground Guide (the Alberta Campground app does not provide pricing
information), respectively.

  • Key

    Data usage, cell phone coverage/wifi availability
Expedia App
5. Visit
Visitor Information Centres.

We’re big fans of visitor information centres for the clean
washrooms, free wifi, interesting exhibits, and recommendations on where to stay,
eat, and hike. Be advised that most info centres keep business hours.

  • Key

    hours, location
There’s a lot to see and do at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.

To Reserve or Not to Reserve?

Once you’ve decided where to stay, book it before someone else does!First, be sure to check the cancellation policy to see what fees you will be responsible for in the event your plans change. Many hotels offer free cancellation up to 3 days before, or even the day before, but others require more notice. Campgrounds typically charge a reservation fee which is nonrefundable, but may be avoided by travelling midweek at a campground with a large number of first-come, first served sites. Keep in mind that during peak season, you may not get a spot even if you show up on mid-week. Campsite reservation season has just starter with most campgrounds allowing bookings up to 3 months in advance. Start checking now and save the dates!
The method to our madness is to book our favorite places and leave the rest of our itinerary open. A little flexibility makes for truly epic road trips.
Where is your favorite place to stay?
Wilderness Hostels are a great alternative to winter camping.


More Information on Booking Campsites, Comfort Camping, and Wilderness Hostelling

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