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Thoughts on budget hotels, vacation strategies and holiday satisfaction

I seldom let the availability of good accomodations dictate my travel plans but I do acknowledge that it has a huge impact in the travel experience taken as a whole. I am not presuming to prescribe a best way to do things, but in my case my considerations in planning for my next adventure in decending order is usually: availability of affordable discounted flights > recommendations on places of interest from friends or even online reviews from sites like Trip Advisor > availability of budget accomodations with reasonable reviews from sites like and Agoda.

Like what I mentioned in my previous post, I am a firm believer of the saying "You get what you paid for" so given my strategy in planning holidays you can imagine that I really do not have very high expectations on the accommodations to begin with. So if you take "You get what you paid for", combine it with the choosing-accomodations-as-an-afterthought strategy I previously described, coupled with the fact that accommodation does play a significant impact on your whole travel experience, then you might think "wow this person must have some very shitty experiences while traveling!" Well not really. I think that the secret to satisfaction and indeed to your happiness (wow that sounds so deep hehe)  has everything to do with managing expectations not only in your travels but to life in general. And when unexpected gems do come your way, then you can have the genuine pleasure of being delightfully surprised.

That's not to say that I never splurge on accomodations, who doesn't want to be pampered once in a while. For me personally,  it all depends on who I am traveling with, the budget (of course), the kind of experience you would like to have,  and other circumstances.

Just recently, I gave my mom a treat by spending the New Year holidays at Metro Manila away from our home town. We stayed at a fairly cheap 1 bedroom apartment unit on the upper most floor of the condominium building with a surprisingly very nice view of the fireworks displays in the Manila Bay area (the Mall of Asia, Solaire, City of Dreams firework display were all quite spectacular). We booked the place in AGODA and it was just a small company managing around 10 or so units scattered in different floors of the building (sort of like an AirBnB type of place). The "main office/reception" is just another unit in the building so we needed to go there first (we were directed there after asking the building security if we have come to the right place - realizing that the address that was indicated in the booking form was not exactly a conventional hotel). We had to call out several times before catching the attention of the staff (a startled person poked her head from the room who might have been sleeping and suddenly started exclaiming to another person out of sight "Oh we have guests, go out there and greet them!"). Somehow, this wasn't exactly the situation I thought we'd find ourselves in when I booked the property for a few days online. Definitely not the best first impression just when you are about to check in. The second staff then accompanied us to the apartment muttering something about not being on duty and that she was wondering where the other person has gone to. When we finally arrived the first thing I noticed was that the floor had puddles of water that seems to have originated from the mini refrigerator hidden behind one of the lower kitchen cabinets. She seemed shocked about it and promptly ducked outside and came back with a mop a few minutes later. She then gave us a briefing on where everything is, how things work and who to call in case we needed anything. She was still in the bathroom talking about how to turn on the water heater when my mom blurted out loudly "Oh my! What kind of hotel is this? Didn't you think the reception looked a bit seedy", while I was trying desperately trying to communicate using just my eyes that the lady is still inside the apartment. Then a "Oh you are still here! I was just saying that your reception office doesn't look all that presentable." The lady left soon after but not before apologizing profusely. I whispered to my mom that the accomodations were actually very affordable and that I don't think I could complain given the circumstances (it was one of the few places that didn't charge an arm and a leg for staying over the new year holiday weekend). In the early evening when we wanted to have a hot shower, we discovered that the water heater was actually not working. We called the office and they immediately sent somebody to check it out but they weren't able to resolve the problem. They called building maintenance but they too were busy troubleshooting something else. The maintenance guys did promise to come by as soon as they are able to. I was starting to lose hope that anybody will come over to look at the problem within the day and thought that I would just follow up first thing in the morning. Somebody did came over late in the night and the maintenance guy fixed it in a jiffy. 

OK, having just narrated what happened on the first day of our stay, it sounds like we had made a terrible mistake and had such a horrible time. Looking back on the overall experience (we stayed there for a total of 4 days), I can say that we actually had a very pleasant stay. We were pleasantly surprised that we had an excellent view of the fireworks show during New year's eve, the staff were all very friendly and owned up to their mistakes and kept on apologizing for the inconveniences we encountered, they were also quite receptive to suggestions and even actively asked for feedback on how to improve their services, the condominium maintenance staff although obviously up to their necks in repairs that day came by as promised and was also quite friendly, and even the building security was very helpful and friendly. So everything from that first day experience was all pointing to an eventual dissapointing overall stay but what eventually saved it from becoming a total disaster (and even made the stay pleasantly memorable)  are those seemingly insignificant personal interactions you have with the people.

My point is that booking a luxurious accommodation does not guarantee a pleasant stay and that it is all about managing expectations. Don't underestimate also the effect of the human element as it could easily be the ultimate deciding factor between having a great time or having the worst vacation ever. Also it doesn't hurt to always be nice, polite and respectful. Wishing you all a great year of traveling in 2018.

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