Expedia Releases 2012’s Best Reviewed Hotels List

This week, Expedia released their findings for their 2012 Insiders’ Select rankings, an annual list put out based on more than 500,000 customer hotel reviews. Only 650 of the 150,000 Expedia properties are designated as Insiders’ Select hotels. Likewise, selected hotels are the ones that consistently offer competitive pricing, immaculate amenities and distinguished customer service.

Of the hotels found across 74 countries, there are 28% in North America, 25% in Europe, 3% in South America, 19% in Asia and 25% elsewhere. Moreover, there is an array of star ratings and accommodation styles. For example, 35% are luxury, 17% are sustainable, 11 are ski-friendly, 87 are for families and 116 provide beach settings.

The top 10 properties chosen for this year’s list include:

1. Marrol’s Boutique Hotel (5 Stars, Bratislava, Slovakia)
2. Hotel Al Codega (4 Stars, Venice, Italy)
3. Hotel Royal Corin (4 Stars, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica)
4. Hilton Garden Inn Aberdeen (4 Stars, Aberdeen, Scotland)
5. Four Seasons Miami (5 Stars, Miami, Florida)
6. Madison Hotel Hamburg (4.5 Stars, Hamburg/Hanover, Germany)
7. Element Omaha Midtown Crossing (3 Stars, Omaha, Nebraska)
8. Sonnenalp Resort Of Vail (4.5 Stars, Vail-Beaven Creek, Colorado)
9. Taj Lands’ End (5 Stars, Mumbai, India)
10. Mr. C Beverly Hills (5 Stars, Los Angeles, California)

Click here to see the full list.

10 luxury hostels from around the world

While many people think of hostels as run down hotels with cramped rooms and few amenities, there are many properties that can actually make you feel as if you’re staying at a resort. For those who want comfort on a budget, here are 10 excellent luxury hostels from around the world.

Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel and Resort Cairns
Cairns, Australia

Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel and Resort in Cairns is without a doubt one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. And if you’re looking for something a little more luxurious than your average youth hostel, this is an excellent choice. Rooms offered include 4,6,8,10-bed dorms, 4 & 6-bed deluxe dorms, 6-bed all female dorms, and private rooms. The accommodation has a resort-type feel, with balconies, a lagoon-style pool with a waterfall and palm trees, a makeshift beach with volleyball nets, and even gym access. They also have swanky nightclub that often hosts theme parties and hot DJ’s.StayON Beverly
Los Angeles, California

The StayON Beverly is definitely a step up from your average hostel experience. While there are no chefs or personal butlers, the accommodation is lot more like a hotel stay at a hostel price ($50 per night). First of all, they only offer private rooms with full sized beds and memory foam mattresses, free Wi-Fi, a desk, mini fridge, iPod-compatible music player, and even a flat screen television. Free waterbottles and spacious and clean minimalist design will leave you comfortable on a budget.

Broadway Hotel and Hostel
New York, NY

As soon as you walk through the front doors of The Broadway Hotel and Hostel, you will be enveloped in a contemporary design. The ambiance in the lobby is created using rich browns, dim candle light, and a fireplace, with the atmosphere continuing into both the 2-bedroom dorms and private rooms with modern wall art, European bed linens, and polished dressers. There are no large dorms here, and single person bathrooms give guests the privacy they desire, while the massage and rain shower heads add a luxurious element to the stay.

The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre
Cape Town, South Africa

Not only has The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre been awarded a 5-star backpacker lodge rating, it’s also eco-friendly, as it’s been awarded a Fair Trade in Tourism trademark. The rooms are stylishly decorated in an “Afro-Chic” design, many with features like skylights, fire places, and wall art, and include in-room safes. Don’t expect the usual unmatched bedspread look as seen at most hostels, as The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre ensures that all the beds in the room not only look alike, but also go with the decor of the room as a whole. The best part about the hostel is actually outside, as it features an in-ground swimming pool that will literally put you in the center of nature as it is surrounded by unique flora and fauna and the breathtaking Table Mountain. Enjoy the outdoor tile mosaic designs around the pool while sipping a cocktail and soaking in the scenery.

The Seven Hostel
Sorrento, Italy

The Seven Hostel is a property that is nothing like a hostel, aside from the budget-friendly prices. Inside, the decor is modern and trendy infusing neutral and Earthy tones with unique textures and furnishings. The rooftop terrace and bar is similar to something you’d find in New York City, with plush white couches and breathtaking views of the city, Gulf of Naples, and nearby mountains. Other amenities of The Seven Hostel include a trendy bar, a 24-hour reception and concierge for tour booking, a library and game room, free internet and satellite TV, and an outdoor solarium on the top floor for sunbathing.

Oasis Palace Hostel Seville
Seville, Spain

I’ve actually stayed in both the Oasis Palace Hostel Seville as well as the Oasis Hostel Lisbon and found both to be both comfortable and luxurious. The Seville location gets extra points, however, as it has a rooftop terrace and pool. There are also a lot of free perks, like Wi-Fi, city and cultural tours, linens, luggage room, a welcome drink, and a delicious breakfast including pancakes, crepes, breads, spreads and cereals. At night for a small fee (about 5 Euros), the resident chef creates local dishes like paella and grilled meats.

The Green Saman
Cali, Colombia

The Green Saman
is more than just a hostel; it’s also a spa, yoga center, and “gastronomic sanctuary”. The venue is actually a renovated mansion that features a swimming pool, sauna, and gardens for outdoor relaxation, while clean and spacious dorms and private rooms are available inside. The hostel also offers unique and worthwhile experiences, like language immersion courses, salsa dancing lessons, cooking classes, molecular gastronomy workshops, and free multicourse breakfasts served with upscale presentation during the week. Guests will also enjoy the healthy cuisine found at the on-site restaurant, which was voted one of the best backpacker restaurants in South America.

Hostel International Point
Calafate, Argentina

When staying at a luxury property most people expect great views, and Hostel International Point provides some of the best I’ve ever seen. What’s great about this hilltop hostel is that you don’t have to go outside to see the lake and countryside, but instead have access to panoramic views from everywhere in the hostel, including dorm rooms. The accommmodation offers spacious 4-bed dorms as well as private rooms, all with bathrooms so clean you won’t be affraid to soak in the bathtub. And in the morning, a delicious breakfast is literally served to guests, allowing them to eat without having to clean up or move from the table.

Eco Resort Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Eco Resort Chiang Mai is one of the most upscale hostels I have ever seen. It’s immersed in the center of a massive, jungle-like garden in a quiet setting, giving guests access to a peaceful, majestic atmosphere right at their doorstep. An expansive cystral-clear in-ground pool set among dangling palm trees add to the ambiance, which takes on a romantic atmosphere at night when everything is all lit up. Inside, the spacious and immpecibly clean rooms are decorated in a contemporary Thai design, and guests can choose from private spaces or small dorms. Free Wi-Fi, cooking classes, tour bookings, outdoor art sculptures, a movie theater, gym, and library are also offered on premises. In fact, the place is so luxurious they even offer wedding packages.

Siem Reap Hostel
Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Siem Reap Hostel is more like like a resort than a hostel, as it offers both dorms and private rooms as well as an on-site spa that features massages, facials, mani/pedis, body wraps, and scrubs for $35 or less. There is also a poolside bar and restaurant so that guests can go for a swim or relax in the water with a fruity cocktail, Asian-style meal, or Western comfort food. Other amenities and facilities include outdoor gardens, free airport pickup, free Wi-Fi, a game room, tour desk, daily happy hours in the on-site bar, and a $2 all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast each morning in a beautiful setting.

5 reasons you should use AirBnB

I lived in New York City for over eight years. I spent many months out of those eight years traveling. With expensive rent due in each month I was away, I quickly mustered up the temerity necessary to regularly relinquish my apartment to a subletter from Craigslist. Craigslist did the trick well enough to keep me afloat and mobile all of those years in NYC, but Airbnb.com is better. At least for subletting arrangements. Here’s why:

1. Airbnb has profiles. Instead of opening up your house to, or crossing your fingers and staying with, total strangers, Airbnb has a profile system for users that allows you to take a closer look. You can read friends’ recommendations of users and you can check out reviews other folks they’ve worked with from the site have left. Granted, you’re still hosting or staying with complete strangers, but being able to scope their photos and interests will at least give you a better idea of who you’re going to stay with or host.

2. Airbnb pays you. If you read the above paragraph and thought, “Well, couchsurfing.com has profiles, too”, you’re right. Couch Surfing does have profiles. But with Airbnb, you can actually rake in some dough. List a room or two in your house, or the entire place, for whatever amount you want per night. And people pay to come stay with you–people who you get to look over and approve as guests first.
3. Airbnb allows you to be a guest. If you sublet through craigslist, you’re a subletter. If you travel using Couch Surfing, you’re a couch surfer. But if you accommodate yourself while traveling with Airbnb rooms, you’re a guest. Each host is different, but you can at least count on breakfast, clean sheets, and clean towels.

4. Airbnb is a good place to make real-life friends. You can also make friends using the popular sources I’ve been citing, like Craigslist and Couch Surfing, but why not make some more?

5. Airbnb backs you up. They might not be obligated to protect you when things go wrong, but they have practices in place that will help out along the way. From setting up a security deposit to having staff readily available to mediate any situation that goes sour, Airbnb just feels a little more reliable to me.

[photo by Elizabeth Seward]

No Wrong Turns: Accommodations and Restaurants in Todos Santos

Todos Santos, the little town I mentioned in my last post, offers a quiet escape from the typical vacation destination of Cabo San Lucas. This small town is home to a mix of Mexicans, artists, surfers and ex-pats and offers some of the best surfing in the Baja. Pair that with great places to eat, interesting galleries, beautiful beaches and cheap beer and you have a pretty perfect vacation spot.

To get here you will need to fly into the San Jose Del Cabo Airport and either rent a car or hire a taxi. It is more cost efficient to rent a car and the SJD airport has numerous car rental agencies to choose from. The highway from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos is apparently the most dangerous road in Mexico, so make sure you are prepared to focus on the journey ahead. If you are tired after your flight, spend a night in Cabo San Lucas and head out the next day refreshed and ready to enter the madness that is Mexican driving.

Once you arrive in Todos Santos, you will find that there are numerous places to stay as well as some truly great places to eat. Be advised that most of Baja California Sur has been affected by the influx of foreign money, so prices are higher than those found in mainland Mexico but they are less expensive that Cabo. That being said, depending on the time of year you travel, here you might be able to negotiate lower room costs, especially if you are planning on a longer-term stay.

Where to Stay: Short -Term
Don’t be surprised to find the hotels in Todos Santos starting at about $45US a night for pretty basic accommodations. The Maria Bonita Hotel, located at the corner of Colegio Militar and Hidalgo, offers clean rooms with hot showers for around $50US per night. The couple who manage the hotel are very friendly and will happily encourage all of your Spanish speaking attempts. Be warned this hotel is located on a main street so it can be quite loud at night. There also happens to be a laundromat below the hotel which also contributes to the noise by running at all hours of the day and night.

Hotel California….nope it’s not the one from the Eagles song though the rumors about it have run rampant in the past few years. This hotel, found on Calle Juarez, was one of the first hotels in Todos Santos and is now, after upgrades, renovations and an ownership change, one of the busiest hotels here with a full restaurant, bar and its own souvenir shop. This hotel tends to be full of people just off of tourist buses and the staff expects to be tipped well.

Sole Caliente is located near La Pastora beach and provides a quiet and relaxing atmosphere for those looking to get away. Run by a very amicable Italian guy named Alberto, you can expect a warm welcome and a very peaceful stay. It is worth knowing that the beach this accommodation is located by is not safe to swim in, but it is the perfect spot to whale watch during the months of March and April. Getting here is a little bit tricky to explain as there are not too many road signs out this way — email the management for detailed instructions.

Where to Stay: Long -Term
If you are looking for a mellow place to spend anywhere from a few weeks to maybe even a few months, you should definitely look into the local vacation rentals. This little town is full of them! Fully-furnished homes complete with kitchens are a great way to save money when you are traveling. Cooking for yourself lets you try your hand at creating local dishes, and with all the cheap produce around you can’t go wrong. Alternatively, if you have a bit of time, it is worth coming into to town and asking around. There is usually someone looking to rent their place out while they go home for a visit. If you are reliable and trustworthy, you’ll most likely be able to negotiate a good price. Good places to start looking or asking around are El Tecolote bookstore or Cafe Felix which are both located on Calle Juarez, the main street.

Where to Eat
Main Street Taco Stand
Please tell me you love tacos! If you do, head to the main street to the large taco stand beside the El Tecolote bookstore and dig into tacos de carne asada, burritos and the cholesterol increaser papas rellenas (Mexican stuffed potatoes). This place can feed two people for less than $8US. Unfortunately of you want to drink you will have to pick up your own beer elsewhere as they don’t serve alcohol. Be careful what you say when you eat here, the owner is fluent in English though he chooses not to speak it.

Café Todos Santos
Delicious dishes, both American and Mexican, are served at this long-standing eating establishment. Meals are a bit pricier compared to other places but the large portions make up for this. Coffee aficionados will be more than pleased to walk into this café and find a strong espresso awaiting them. They also have an amazing selection of baked goods — the banana bread is my personal favorite. To get a good cup of coffee or stop in for a mea,l take a left on Topete and then a right onto Calle Centenario to find this cafe. One thing to note: the servers at this restaurant are notoriously bad. That’s just the way it is according to the locals — you get great food but poor service. To be honest the food at the Café Todos Santos is worth it, if you can deal with the lackluster service.

Il Giardino
Ok, so it is not Mexican cuisine but if you love pizza then you will love this little restaurant. Run by an Italian family, you can enjoy oven-fired pizzas, pastas, salads and other entrees all of which can be paired with a wine from their wine list. Pizzas cost about $12 US but they can easily feed two people or, if you are starving, add an appetizer and call it an even $25 US for the both of you. This Italian eatery is located on Calle Degollado about three blocks past the Pemex station.

There are many more great hotels and restaurants to experience in Todos Santos — this is a mere sampling of what this pueblo has to offer. It is pretty amazing when such a small town has so many great hotels and restaurants….maybe that is why some people come here and never ever leave.

Next Up: What to do in Todos Santos

“No Wrong Turns”
es Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.