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Choosing Accommodations: Consider Out of Town

How do you choose your accommodations when you travel? You probably take several things into consideration: cost, quality of the hotel, and location probably top the list.

If you’re like me, you try to balance the three. I want the best quality possible within the amount I can spend. Often, though, I find that a “good” location means a higher cost, which means lower quality, given my limited budget.

Victorians in the Haight-Ashbury
Some pretty Victorians in San Francisco: these are in the Haight-Ashbury

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Why stay out of town?

Sometimes, when I travel, I do the counter-intuitive thing and book accommodations outside of town. I say counter-intuitive because, generally speaking, the sights I’d most want to see are in town. In San Francisco, I’d want to see the pretty Victorians, the cable cars, and Golden Gate Bridge. In Washington, DC, I’d want to see the Washington Monument, the Capital Building, and visit some Smithsonian museums.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC at cherry blossom time. Photo courtesy of Jamie Italiane of The Daily Adventures of Me.

You might think that staying further away is less convenient. To some extent that’s true. So why do it? Here are three main reasons:

1. The cost

It’s a general rule that the closer to the tourist sights you stay, the more expensive it’ll be. Looking at San Francisco hotels, you could stay at a four-star hotel in Oakland or Berkeley for the same price as a two-star in the middle of the city. Staying in Brooklyn, NY or across the bridge in New Jersey will be cheaper than staying nearer to the sights in Manhattan.

2. The noise level

If you’re not a night owl and don’t like clubbing, the middle of town is wasted on you. It’ll be noisier in general. Late-night revelers or loud music are more likely to keep you awake. Instead, outside of town, go to a local bar, have a quiet drink and go to bed. In the morning, a stroll or jog around the neighborhood will likely be much more pleasant than downtown.

3. The sights

When I visited San Francisco, I stayed at a friend’s place across the bay in Oakland. It was less convenient than staying in San Francisco itself, but if I hadn’t stayed there, I never would have tasted some stellar Ethiopian food or seen Oakland’s Paramount Theater, an art deco treasure. And it was easy to take the BART train from Oakland over to San Francisco.

daytime view of the Paramount
daytime view of the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA

There are so many fascinating neighborhoods in towns near San Francisco with good hotels to choose from! Oakland and Berkeley, in particular, are well-connected by public transportation to San Francisco. While you’re in Oakland, have a drink at Jack London’s old haunt, the First and Last Chance Saloon. In Berkeley, soak up the hippie vibe on Telegraph Avenue.

As for Washington, visitors generally go there to see the monuments and government buildings on the Mall and visit Smithsonian museums. But if you stayed in one of the hotels in McLean, Virginia, you could escape the city madness by exploring some more off-the-beaten-track sights, like the little-known Great Falls National Park. You’d experience something different from what the run-of-the-mill Washington tourist would see.

waterfall at Great Falls National Park
at Great Falls National Park (photo by Mehul Antani via Flickr)

So next time you’re planning a city trip, consider neighboring towns. To narrow your options, research things to do outside the city. If you find something that interests you, search for hotels nearby.

Because being in the middle of things isn’t always the best option.

How do you choose accommodations when you travel?

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