BerndtCanada Travels

Travel smart...Travel frugally...Travel often!

This is the personal website of Erich and Carol Berndt, two avid travelers from Calgary, Canada. We have created this travel information site to offer our insights and ideas to fellow travelers who wish to travel frequently; exploring, learning, and appreciating the geography, culture and history of the places being visited.  We hope you will find this website useful in imagining and planning your travels.


 
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North America

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Mexico

Austro-Hungary

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Hawaii

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Caribbean Collection

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European Excursions

Australia & New Zealand

Asia Collection

 

 

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Accommodations


In our travel philosophy of “living like locals” and travelling frugally, we tend to avoid staying in chain hotels or resort properties. Hotels have a good purpose for short stays, especially when awaiting early morning flights, or transitioning from one location to another. Generally we prefer alternative lodgings. We have stayed in YMCAs, hostels, family-run inns, B&Bs, private beach cottages, suites in historical heritage homes, stylish apartments in the center of major cities, converted barns, convents, miners’ cabins and artists’ studios.


Using Online Lodging and Travel Aggregator Sites

Booking.com is a travel fare aggregator website and travel metasearch engine for lodging reservations. It is our preferred site for booking vacation rentals as we find the information and guest reviews to be detailed and accurate and the communication interface to be helpful. We receive a "genius" discount for frequently booking on this site.

 

         The booking.com display of two of our recent apartment rentals in Edinburgh and Vienna


Agoda has access to 2 million properties. It is an affiliate of Booking.com.

Tripadvisor Holiday Rentals has thousands of properties in 200 countries. They offer payment protection.

VRBO (formerly Home Away) is a vacation rental marketplace with more than 2,000,000 vacation rentals in 190 countries listed on its website. It operates through 50 websites in 23 languages.

Hotels.com  has 85 websites in 34 languages, and lists over 325,000 hotels in approximately 19,000 locations. Its inventory includes hotels and B&Bs, and some condos and other types of commercial lodging. Guides to local attractions are often included with bookings.

AirBnB is an online marketplace accessible via its website and mobile apps. Members use its services to arrange or offer lodging, homestays or travel experiences.

 

                       Sample Search function for VRBO


There are some concerns about the customer service of the large third-party providers when something goes wrong with a reservation. That is why we prefer the ones that have a direct interface with the property so we can confirm our reservation and arrival details.
One issue is that many jurisdictions are restricting private short-term rentals so it is important to be aware of laws and regulations regarding these rentals. Other concerns are about the reliability of customer reviews, of cancellation policies, and of the significant fees paid to the accommodation aggregator.

For comparisons of the holiday accommodation booking sites as well as some smaller, more local alternatives see:

The 10 Best Hotel Booking Sites of 2021

Airbnb, Vrbo and More: Comparing Popular Vacation Home-Booking Sites
 

Staying Local

Our favorite stays have been the private rentals of small regional lodgings that allow us to meet local people, to prepare meals using ingredients from the local markets, and to learn the quirks of unique appliances and plumbing. Besides being a more authentic and intimate experience, this type of accommodation is also generally more spacious and less expensive than staying in a hotel. The ability to have breakfast onsite, to prepare a picnic lunch and to relax in the evening over a home-made meal not only saves money, but also time (and sometimes, alas, the digestive system).

Holiday Rentals may also be known by various names such as Ferienwohnung, Gîtes, Baches, or Self-Catered/Self-Contained Apartments. They come with kitchens or kitchenettes, private bathrooms, indoor and/or outdoor seating areas, and increasingly, with WiFi, satellite TV, nespresso machines, washers/dryers, and other luxuries. Sometimes we were met by the owners; other times we got lock-box information to let ourselves in. Email, cell phone and WhatsApp messenger contacts were maintained.
 

 

           Staying local in Alfama                                                           Shopping local in São Miguel


Although less private and independent, another good option is a Pension, Chambre d’Hôte, a bed and breakfast (B&B), or a guesthouse. The advantage of these is that the hosts are nearby, often sharing their homes, so cleanliness and security are assured. The host knows the area well and can provide information on what to see and where to go. During breakfast, chatting with other guests provides tips and insights. Travel guidebooks often make recommendations about these small and family-run guesthouses. We have been delighted by the  proprietors who have provided exceptional services, such as picking us up and dropping us off at the train station, driving us on a tour of the city, providing transit passes, exchanging currency, providing wine from their own vineyards, bringing us fresh baking, and getting us hard-to-get tickets. There used to be many separate lodging-based booking sites in individual countries but most have now been absorbed by the mega-sites. There are some locations where small firms and local realtors still book and manage properties. There are some sites that offer unique properties like canal boats, caravans, or campsites.


Finding Budget Accommodations

Besides the improved chance of interacting with locals and meeting like-minded travellers, seeking alternatives to hotels is also budget-friendly. Increasingly, around the world, hostels can also be a surprisingly good choice for pleasant accommodations. These are not just shared dorms for hard-partying, back-packing youth; hostels also cater to families with private suites, meal services and travel advisors on site.

The following sites provide tips for finding budget accommodations as well as offering general budget-friendly trip planning information:

18 killer tips on how to find cheap accommodation

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

20 Tricks You Can Use to Score a Cheap Hotel Room

Hostel World

 

Our two-bedroom apartment in Kuala Lumpur with easy access to a shopping center and metro station cost $75 per night.


Considering Other Factors

We highly recommend always reading the travelers’ reviews and ratings and viewing their candid photos posted on the main travel advice sites. Drill down in the reviews. The sites often display only the positive comments, and the full reviews are posted elsewhere. Sometimes the comments are spurious, but usually very helpful.

There are times that we find more "mainstream" tourist accommodations to be good value. We do take cruises when the itinerary takes us to destinations that are unique and challenging to get to in other ways. When we calculate the costs of transportation, accommodation, meals and entertainment, cruises can be quite cost-effective. We also have a membership in an international timeshare exchange program which we have used very successfully to book week-long stays in vacation properties all over the world for very reasonable prices. 

There are some additional considerations when trying to save money on accommodations. The booking sites take a commission, often up to 30%. Some lodgings match or better the online booking site, and often throw in upgrades if you book directly. Once you’ve identified the place of interest, contact the lodging directly by finding the website, or looking for email or phone contact information. Other money saving measures are to: stay for a few days; stay over a Sunday; check for family deals; use accommodation rewards programs or credit card rewards program; and take advantage of e-newsletter deals.


          

    Watching families in the Gracia district of Barcelona                         Enjoying the view in Cinque Terre        


Living among everyday people, watching local children play in plazas, asking the grandmas how to cook an unknown food, and experiencing the hospitality of our hosts have enriched our travel experiences and provided our fondest memories. An added bonus was that the money we saved by avoiding “big box” tourist accommodations allowed us to take our next trip even sooner!

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