Wherever you lay your hat – A guide to room hunting

For the past week or so, I’ve been doing something really, really dumb. Instead of going to sleep at night, I’ve been laying in bed wondering where I’m going to live for this season in Goa. I’ve been mentally going through all the places I looked at last time (and there were a LOT) and putting them into piles of ‘definitely maybe’, ‘maybe’ and ‘heck no’. The reason why it’s pointless? There’s no point in me worrying about it until I get there. Absolutely none. Even if I looked online, the reality probably wouldn’t match up and anyway, room hunting is all part of the fun. So, not that I’m an expert or anything, but here are my tips:

1. Don’t plan ahead
If you’re used to going on a standard holiday and pre-booking your hotel, your instinct will be to try and find somewhere to stay for when you arrive. One of the things my friends and family said when I told them I didn’t have a clue where I’d be staying was ‘OMG, I could never do that’. Everything in you will want to pre-book a room but my advice is: don’t. The reasons are:

– As I mentioned already, things look a lot better on photos. Even with the likes of Trip Advisor, you still just don’t know and how many people end up booking into a place they have to stay in for ages that ends up being crap? I bet it’s more than a few. It’s always better to see the place and its location first.

– You might miss out on something great. Getting tips from fellow travellers is always a good hit. They’ll tell you where to avoid and where to go.

The only time I’d say this doesn’t apply is if you’re getting into a location in the dead of night.

2. Adjust your expectations
This definitely applied to me. Having only ever stayed in hotel rooms and one empty dorm beforehand, I was a bit miffed at the ‘state’ of the rooms I first looked at in India. But after a while, I just came to realise that I had to change my expectations, and so will you. You’re not staying at the Ritz, you’re backpacking. If you can find a room with your own bathroom, hell if you can find a place with hot water, you’re ahead of the game. As long as it’s clean, has a bed and is secure, then your bases are covered. That being said, it does depend where in the world your going. You might have to make do with a sleeping bag on the floor but, hey, whateves, it’s all part of the experience!

3. Location, location, location
There’s a reason this phrase is so well known. That’s because it’s true!! Your own personal preferences will come into play here, but for me personally, I can’t do dorms and I don’t like to be right in the middle of things. I like to be close enough to walk into the hustle and bustle but far away enough to be able to chill without constant noise. I moved A LOT in Goa, and I went from being right on the main road and being kept up at night by rumbling motorbikes outside my door to a room in a house backing out onto a field with cows roaming around. I way preferred the latter. On the subject of location, it goes without saying that you want to be safe. Finding somewhere that isn’t isolated and well lit is always a good bet, however hard that may be. This is the house I ended up living in – The Purple House.

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It was accessible via an alleyway (for want of a better word). What made this okay was that on the corner of the alleyway was The German Bakery, a place that’s open til all hours and where people usually stop off for a pizza or cake on the way home from a night out. Plus, there were plenty of other houses around and about where the people staying there would hang out on the balconies playing music so I always felt safe on the way home.

4. Take your time
If, like me, you’re going to be staying in one place for a while instead of hopping around, it makes sense to find somewhere you can stay long term. It usually works out cheaper and it’s nice to have somewhere that can feel a bit homely away from home. But that doesn’t mean you should take the first place you see. Shop around and haggle, and take something that feels right. On the flipside, don’t take too long. Finding a great place for a great price is like looking for gold-dust and if you dither too long, someone else will come and take it in your place.

5. Haggle
This is something I still struggle to get to grips with but accommodation can add up quickly. You might not want to barter down the price of a pair of trousers but you absolutely should when it comes to a place to stay. If you’re looking at somewhere to stay upwards of a month then you absolutely need to. Chances are you can negotiate a better rate for staying in longer – owners would rather have you there than have it empty.

6. Basic checks
Of course you’re going to want to check that the room is clean, but it’s a bonus if it’s clean to yours or your mum’s standards. I had to clean a place from top to bottom before I felt comfortable enough to stay in it (and then moved out two days later. Ho hum). So, check under the bed, the bed itself, toilet etc etc but don’t be afraid to put a bit of elbow grease in if needed. The simple fact is, some owners just don’t care about it being five star clean, as long as it will do. Other checks you should do are to look at security. How does the door lock? Is it with a key or do you need a padlock? Are windows lockable? Are there easy entry points for would-be burglars? If you’re sharing a house, how many keys will you get and is there a safe hiding place for the main door key?

7. Make it a home
Okay, so you’re backpacking. You’re away from home and experiencing crazy shit. But chances are you will still get a pang of homesickness at some point. So, do something to make it feel homely. I bought a couple of wall sheets and used them for bedsheets. Not only did it make me feel more comfortable than sleeping on the dubious sheets they’d provided, they brightened the place up. Ditto with some candles and other little nick nacks. They don’t cost much and while you might not want to take them home or would ever buy them usually, they can make you feel better on a down day.

Good luck (for me too!).

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