Hotel/Accommodation, Prep, Travel

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Picking your Accommodation on a Solo Trip

May 27, 2016

Picking Your Accommodation on a Solo Trip Picking where to stay on your trip is probably the most daunting task when booking travel outside of deciding where to go. This is not just a solo traveler issue either, but it becomes more pronounced when you are traveling alone. There are many things you may want to consider when picking a place. Hotels are not your only option! Here are my tips for picking the type of accommodation you want and what other factors you should consider when booking.

What Kind Of Accommodation?

What is most important to you when picking the kind of place you stay in? This sometimes varies depending on your location and the time of year you are traveling.

Hotels –  Good for shorter trips when you don’t have lots of time and need to be close to the attractions or public transportation. Hotels are also great since you can ask staff for advice or the maybe even the concierge to book things for you. Also, they are good if you have mobility issues as most will have an elevator and or have ground floor rooms. Don’t think you can’t book a hotel because it will be expensive! Not all hotels are expensive.

Hostels – Hostels are good if you are watching your budget, which doesn’t always mean they are cheap and uncomfortable! Hostels are slowly changing their image and many have private rooms at a fraction of what a hotel would be. It just may mean you have a communal bathroom or a small room, but who cares you aren’t living there forever right! Hostels are also great if you want to meet people as they usually have communal areas and sometimes free tours or happy hours. Several other travel bloggers I follow on Snapchat have been staying at hostels and I have been amazed at how nice they are and they have some amazing art on the walls! The Hostel Girl reviews hostels all over the world and is a great resource if you are looking for a hostel.

Apartment or Airbnb – If you want to live like a local, then I highly recommend that you stay in an apartment or Airbnb rental. The apartment gives you a feel for what living in that city is truly like. If you stay with someone in an Airbnb then they can give you the local’s insight into the city. In many cities, Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel. The other advantage is that you may have access to a kitchen allowing you to cook for yourself and save money. If you are traveling for a longer period of time then cooking for yourself is very helpful to the budget. Also, you may have access to laundry facilities in an apartment or Airbnb.

House sitting –   Another great option if you are staying longer in a location. If you are not familiar with house sitting, basically you look after someone’s home for an extended length of time. Usually, there are chores involved, such as taking care of pets or garden. The upside is that this is usually an exchange of services and you don’t pay any money to stay at their house. You will also get to experience living like a local and have access to a kitchen.

Couchsurfing – While Couchsurfing sounds similar to Airbnb, it differs in a huge way in that you are not paying to stay at the person’s apartment or house. However, you may actually be sleeping on a couch! This is definitely not for everyone and you need to check other’s reviews for safety factors.

How Do I Chose Where I Want to Be?

Once you have decided what kind of accommodation you want to stay in, then you can research where you want to stay. Here is what I look for in a place to lay my head.

Reviews! – My first stop is TripAdvisor for hotel reviews. I know lots of people discount them since some people have claimed that negative reviews have been deleted, but not all of them are and I have found it is a good place to start. I especially like that they tell you the most popular places in town and the map view. Keep in mind that one negative review does not outweigh all the positive reviews or vice versa. One person could be incredibly picky or have unrealistic expectations of a place. Pay attention to what negative things people are talking about because it could be about things that don’t bother you. I frequently see complaints about small rooms in Europe and I know that small hotel rooms in Europe are normal and I don’t care! Some people complain about outside noise, but I know that some people like outside noise as it helps them sleep. Airbnb and Couchsurfing also have reviews.

Location, Location, Location – Next to finding out the scoop on the places on reviews, is to look at their location. Do you want to be close to the attractions or do you want to be away from them? The convenience of being near them may mean higher prices and more noise. If I am only going somewhere for a short period of time then, I tend to stay near the sights so I don’t waste time getting there and that is worth paying more to me. You also want to consider safety along with the location. Reviews may have information regarding safety, but you may have to dig deeper into blog reviews or other sites to find this out. Also, is the hotel safe itself? Are there deadbolts and key cards? If after the first night, you don’t feel safe, change accommodation. This may cost you money, but your safety is worth more!

Amenities – Is there a pool? Do you want to have spa treatments? Think about what you want in a place. Some Airbnb places will rent you the room, but may not let you have access to the kitchen, which if you were planning on cooking then you’re in trouble. Last summer, I was looking for a place in Verona, Italy that had parking available for my rental car. Each type of accommodation will have different amenities available, so check out the place’s website and don’t rely on reviews for what is offered as they may be out of date. I have also emailed hotels and gotten great responses and most of them respond in less than 24 hours.

Comfort – Just because you are on vacation and not sleeping in your own bed does not mean you shouldn’t be comfortable. My biggest thing is to look for reviews stating that the bed was uncomfortable. I hate soft beds as they make my back hurt, but again you have to look at more than one review as each person has their own preferences. The next thing I look for is noise in my hotel. The worst experience I had in a hotel was because the walls were so thin and each night I could hear the people in them and each night was a new set of people, including a crying baby. I didn’t get much sleep that week and was attending a conference, not a good combination.

Most of this you may already know, but it can be hard to remember all these things when looking for a place to stay. Hopefully, you can use these tips will help you pick an excellent space on your next trip!

Need a place to stay in Venice, Verona, Bangkok, Doha or Goa. Click on the links to see my reviews of hotels I have stayed in. What do you look for in a hotel?

Hotel/Accommodation, Qatar, Travel

Staycation at the W Doha

May 23, 2016

Staycation at the W DohaSometimes you just need to get away from your normal, but you don’t have time to get on a plane and go to another place. If I was living the US, I might have considered a weekend road trip. However, I can’t go too far in Qatar and can’t cross the border. A staycation was in order. I had wanted to do a staycation for a while, but when I saw the weekend offer at the W Doha on their Snapchat, I was sold. Currently, they have a weekend rate of 777 Qatari Riyals that can be used Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The best part is that you can check-in at noon and check-out at 6 pm the next day! It is almost two days in the hotel, and it includes breakfast.

The W Doha was already one of my favorite places in Doha for food and drinks, so I wasn’t surprised by the excellent service I received right when I walked in the door. The service started before then even because I told their social media person on Snapchat that I was coming, and she said she would try to get me an upgrade. This stay was on me other than the upgrade. They were able to get me to a higher floor, which offered a nice view of the Arabian Gulf.

Staycation at the W Doha

Most W hotels are known for their modern interiors with bold colors, and the W Doha is no exception. The lobby is black and white with bursts of purple and hot pink. The hallways to the rooms are black and purple with black lacquer chandeliers. The bold colors extend into the room, but geared towards relaxation and sleep in shades of blue and gray.

Staycation at the W Doha

Staycation at the W Doha

Once inside the room, I hardly heard anything from the outside. There is a lush, heavy carpet to dampen noise and floor to ceiling blackout curtains to block the bright Middle Eastern sunrise. The modern chair by the window made me want to sit there for hours watch boats zip back and forth.

Staycation at the W Doha

The luxury extended into the crisp, white bathroom and had one of my favorite things with the separate shower and bathtub. The W Doha also knows me well, and the bathrobe wasn’t gigantic and actually fit me. All the towels were large, and there was an abundance of them. My favorite thing about the bathroom was the Bliss Spa products including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, face wash and mouthwash!

Staycation at the W Doha

Staycation at the W Doha

After a nap, I decided to get ready for dinner, which included a long soak in that amazing tub! It is deep enough to cover your whole body with water. The only issue for me was getting out, which was difficult due to the depth of the tub.

Staycation at the W Doha

W Doha is home to my favorite restaurant in Doha, Spice Market. Spice Market is an Asian restaurant with an ever-evolving menu. Not only is the food excellent, but the service is also spotless. I decided to order something different than my usual and got the Miso Glazed Black Cod and a side of Steamed Edamame with Yuzu Butter. The other thing I appreciate about Spice Market and all the restaurants at W Doha is that they are willing to alter the food to your needs. As you may remember from a few months back that I am trying to lose weight, and I asked the Edamame to have the butter on the side. It was still excellent, though, and the fish was spicy and had a great crispy skin.

Staycation at the W Doha

Dinner wasn’t my only meal at W Doha, of course. I had breakfast and lunch at Market by Jean-Georges. Breakfast was a buffet, and you could order as well. I was disappointed by the breakfast buffet as there wasn’t much I could eat besides oatmeal and the fruit. I didn’t want to pay extra to order from the menu. However, lunch was fresh and light! I had the express lunch as it offered the best value for your money. I ordered the Steamed Shrimp Salad, the Roasted Hammour and the Fruit Salad sans ice cream. Yes, I ate a ton of fish, but I loved it all! Both meals were just enough to keep me full without leaving me feeling heavy and sleepy after eating, which can be difficult eating at a hotel.

Staycation at the W Doha

Staycation at the W Doha

After lunch, I enjoyed working at the desk in the room. Although, my one complaint was the only universal plug was inside the in-room safe, which meant I couldn’t work in the amazing chair next to the window. There was another nap in the extremely comfortable bed. Since I didn’t have to check out till 6, I strolled around the hotel later just to get some exercise. I did have access to the gym and the pool, but I decide not to try them out as the pool isn’t large and there were kids in the pool. As for the gym, I was just lazy!

Even though I was still in Doha, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my stay at the W Doha and would happily have another staycation there in the future. Every staff person I spoke with offered excellent service, the food was outstanding, as always, and the rooms comfortable and relaxing!

Have you taken a staycation? Tell us about your best staycation experience in the comments!

This is not a sponsored post.

Expat, Qatar

Expat Life, The Reality

May 16, 2016

Expat Life, The RealityThis week I heard two things that prompted me to write this post. Two of my blogging friends, Two Fat Expats, here in Doha were talking about an article on a popular Australian website; that will remain nameless. The article was talking about that expats have this amazing life and we get everything done for us by our companies and that we are stars in the foreign countries we live in. While there is some truth to the statement, most of it is far from the truth. Another thing I heard this week was that someone asked my Mom if I actually worked! I was slightly embarrassed by this question, and I have no idea of the tone the question was asked in, so I can’t judge. I can see why this person asked this because if you look at my personal Facebook account or the one for my blog, I am usually posting pictures from vacation or a work trip. It can seem very glamorous, but I am going to talk abou the reality of expat life. Some other Qatar blogger friends also said that they would like to see more of my personal life on the blog. This is an attempt to show you what expat life in Qatar is actually like for me. Not sure how much I will do, but here we go!

Work!

Yes, I work! This makes me laugh a little because I wouldn’t be able to be here otherwise. Qatar has strict resident requirements that you have to meet to be here. For most, this means working. Some are here under the sponsorship of someone who is working. Qatar or my employer, depending on how you look at it, controls my leaving the country. We all have to have exit permits to leave. I have a yearly exit permit, but some people have to ask for it every time. This can make it difficult to go as you have to ask for the exit permit a few days before you go and hope that your employer agrees for your already paid for trip. The exit permit is supposed to be going to a different system, but I am not sure when or if it will happen.

But you are always traveling!

It may seem that way, but I am really not. Because I work at a university, I have more vacation that most Americans do. I get the equivalent of about a calendar month off a year. I manage to combine those with holidays and university closings to travel several times a year and go home for Christmas. Some trips are also working trips. Like last month’s trip to Slovenia. I even mentioned that in my post. Research is a part of my job requirement and so is presenting my research. Keep in mind that I space out blog posts about trip specifically because of this reason of not traveling all the time.

Okay, but that’s expensive!

This is the tricky part to talk about. Yes, I do make more money here than I did at home and we are given a travel allowance that is supposed to be used to go home once a year. Because I am single, I am able to use that money to go home and to travel. I still look for airfare sales and good hotel deals, though. I am not living it up at the Four Seasons when I travel! The hotel I stayed in for my last night in Slovenia, which was on my dime, was $34 a night!

That all sounds amazing!

There is a downside that many expats don’t talk about because people are always saying how great our lives are. It is also because we don’t want to be seen as complainers since we should have nothing to complain about. So here are a few things that can make living in Qatar difficult for me. I say me because these may not annoy everyone. Keep in mind these are all minor things and not reasons to leave. We all have issues with places we live.

Not picking out my own furniture – I live in furnished accommodation, which sounds great and to some degree it is. The apartment is large and has four toilets! However, I wasn’t able to pick the furniture, mattress included and it was used.  My mattress was so bad; it gave me shoulder bursitis. Also, everyone’s furniture is the same in the whole building!

Gas stations are few and far between – And you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. Since the stations are so far apart, there are lines at almost every station and the one near my house blocks my way to work. Recently it has gotten so bad; I started going a different way. This also takes me past a gas station but seems to be less crazy than the other one.

No self-car washing – In what I assume is an effort to control water waste; there are no self-service car washes. Again lots of lines ensue! I have waited over two hours to get my car washed and I could have done it in 30 minutes.

Produce doesn’t last – Eat the berries before you leave the store! Okay so maybe within a day or two. It took them forever to get here and in the summer that sat in the sun for a while before they made it to the store. You do not want to eat moldy berries, trust me!

No Benedryl or Alka Seltzer – Medication is heavily regulated so for some reason we don’t have these at all! And pharmacies are not located inside grocery stores, so there is another trip to you have to make. Most grocery stores are in malls! I hated grocery shopping and malls before I got here, so even more UGH!

No left turns – Okay not no left turns, but very few. This means it takes longer than it should to get most places and lots of u-turns. Like when I go to the pharmacy!

No petite sized clothes – This perplexes me to no end! Many Qatari women are short and most everyone else is Asian, so not tall either and yet, we have no petites anywhere! Last night, I went on a long mission to a tailor to get pants hemmed and ended when I discovered the building had been torn down at some point.

Last, but not least and probably #1, No Street Signs – Well none that anyone actually uses! Lots of streets have names, but none of us has addresses! When I tell people where I live, I tell them by the closest hotel and mall! We do not get mail delivery in the traditional sense either. I really wanted to title this post, Where Streets Have No Name! Anyone who gets that song reference and has made it far into this long post gets a prize from Qatar!

I could go on, but then I would be complaining! There are definitely things about my life here that are easier as well. I have a housekeeper that comes every two weeks to clean the title floors, which I hate doing, but so do many of my friends and family back home. As a woman, you are sometimes allowed to go first in line at places and many salons and areas of restaurants are women only. Qatar is incredibly safe and I feel comfortable going out alone at any time of the day or night. Best of all, Rome is a 6-hour flight away!

Is there anything about my expat life you want to know about, but are afraid to ask! Go ahead, I don’t bite. Ask me anything you like in the comments.

 

Qatar, Travel

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat: Photo Essay

May 13, 2016

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Dhow Boats are the traditional fishing boats in Qatar. While not much fishing is happening on them now, you can rent them to sail the harbour and go swimming. Usually, you cruise for about 30 minutes, swim for a while, then eat and slowly head back for a total time of four hours. Depending on who you go with, it can be a party boat and can get crazy! When the boats anchor for you to swim you have to watch out for all the guys on jet skis. Fortunately for me, I was on a non-party boat, and it was a relaxing day with friends and good food.

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into a fun Qatar tradition! If you are in Qatar and looking for a dhow boat cruise, I recommend the company we went with, which was Qatar International Adventures.

This is not a sponsored post.

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