lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hotels



The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.

Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.

There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.

I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?

If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!

How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options  (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.

Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.

When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings  (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.

Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.

I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in  Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.

What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.

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lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hostels



I feel like hostels are the classic travel option for backpackers around the world, particularly Europe. People that want to see the world but don’t necessary have a lot of money love this option. It is also the favorite option of people looking for new friends, solo travel, and trying to party their way around the globe.

My personal opinion is that hostels are not a great option in the US. I’ve heard of people paying $70/night to stay in a dirty hostel in San Francisco. I stayed in one hostel in Chicago that was full of families and people in their 70’s. Nothing wrong with them trying to save money, but it really messes up the hostel vibe. In any more expensive country (US, Norway, Iceland), you are often better off with another options ESPECIALLY if there are more than one of you.

However, eastern and southern Europe, Central and South American, and (from what I’ve heard) Southeast Asia, are all excellent hosteling choices. A bunk can often be obtained for as little as $10/night. Of course you can always pay a bit more and get a private room as I did with my girlfriend in Madrid. We got all the benefits of the social environment of a hostel, still paid a total of about $50/night, and got a clean, quiet, private room with a bathroom as well!

Hostels really are the prime social environment. Mix numerous young enthusiastic travelers, often solo, with an environment that forces you to be in close contact and gets you out of your comfort zone. Add in the frequent party atmosphere, planned or readily available events, and cheap alcohol, and you have a great recipe for new friends, adventure, and hopefully a few wild late night stories. All for a couple of dollars a night.

My last few hostel stays (at the age of 30) I’ve felt that I’m starting to out grow the full hostel scene. In  the future I’d see myself staying in a lot more hostels but focusing on smaller more intimate ones with private room options and perhaps a more mature crowd. I stayed in a wonderful hostel last year in Budapest, Hungary, that was full of happy young people cooking and mingling together and actually building relationships which is what travel is all about. Later that same trip I got wild at a famous party hostel in the same city. I don’t remember much of that but the intimate hostel will never be forgotten.

In the future, I hope to review some tips on hosteling and also to suggest some good ones that I’ve enjoyed.


Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

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Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

travel tips

How do I afford to travel so much?


Happy Holidays my dear readers and fellow adventurers. This seemed like an appropriate topic to cover on the holiday 🙂

Yes I know this article has been done a million times, by much better bloggers and more experienced travelers than myself. However, I never get tired of reading these articles and getting new ideas.

I also believe that travel and experience is exceptionally unique and should by tailored accordingly. Thus, the crazy safari jungle vacations of one might be a night mare to another and hostels may seem like a dream to some and a bad horror movie to others.

So let me tell you in brief how I afford to travel, some basics on how much I travel, how much it costs, and then in the future delve into the details of each item that I address quickly here. I’ve placed links throughout of things that help me with my travels. None are sponsored, but even if they were, I would only give you stuff I actually use!


The basics:

I travel cheap. Not sleep under a bridge cheap. Not even always staying in a $10/night hostel. And not always to the cheapest countries (Norway and Iceland twice). But far cheaper than most people I know. I don’t spend money going out to fancy restaurants, flying first class, staying in the Ritz Carlton, etc.

I live a lifestyle and that helps me save money. I drink occasionally but try for inexpensive drinks. I rarely spend more than than $30 on a night dinner. I don’t go to expensive events often. I wear inexpensive clothes and have inexpensive housing.

My job is one of the best jobs I can get in my field without sacrificing flexibility. And I work to maximize my income/time-spent-working ratio.



Skyscanner and Monodo are my favorite tools to find cheap flights. I try to plan ahead and constantly research flights to different places I am interested in so I know what a good deal is when I see one.

I play the credit card game inspired and popularized by The Points Guy. Basically, I open airline credit cards offering good bonuses for minimum spending amounts and use the card till I get the bonus, than I move on to the next one.

When it comes to booking a flight, I optimize my miles. Miles are best used for domestic flights. If the flight can be purchased for under $100, I won’t use miles. Between $100-200 I will consider miles. And if over $200, than I almost never pay for a flight.

I hardly ever check bags, use only a personal item when flying budget, and don’t pay for upgrades. Two years ago I went to Europe and took 7 more flights while there and spent less than $800 on all 8 flights including the one way flight to Europe (I used miles to return home).



I try to avoid dept. Unfortunately I bought a house and have a mortgage which I won’t be doing again. I also bought a car with a car payment and then worked hard to pay it off as quick as possible. Same with my school loans. I never keep credit card debt. My goal is to sell my house and be completely debt free by 2018.



Find a job that is conducive to your travel desires. Whether its something flexible, something that pays you to travel, something you can take with you when you travel, or something that just pays enough that you can afford to leave it to travel. What ever you have to do to make it work.

You can afford to travel while waiting tables. I’ve done it. Take a second waiting job if necessary.

And if you have career experience, a bachelors or higher education, and a decent middle class earning ability, you have no excuse not to travel more.


Family and relationships:

These are both important. Don’t give up on family or friends. However if traveling is your desire, you may have to do it without them. I remember the moment I realized that if forced to choose I’d pick travel over my now ex. Good choice.

It may also mean postponing or opting out of having your own family. I don’t have kids. I don’t want them. Probably ever. Not that you can’t travel with them. But I don’t really see the idea of having them as adding to my happiness, especially as much as unencumbered travel.

Good people who also want to travel and share your values usually aren’t found at home. I have some of the world’s best friends at one of my growing number of world home bases in the fine city of Washington DC. These are lovely, amazing, fun friends. Yet most don’t travel very much. So I’ve learned to make new friends and build new relationships on the fly wherever I am traveling to.


Living withing your means:

This is the hardest thing for most people I know who want to travel more. They simply can’t get into the habit of living withing their means. I think I had an unfair advantage as my parents were very much against debt, we were very poor, and we learned how to do a lot with very little.

Several steps I take to live within my means include:

1). Don’t eat out, when you do realize the law of diminishing returns: more expensive meals are generally lower return per dollar. In other words, if an $8 burger ranks a 7 and a $20 burger ranks a 9 the $8 burger returns almost double the value on the dollar.

2). Drive an economical older car that you can buy with cash. I recommend a 6-12 year old Honda, Acura, Toyota, Lexus, Hyundai, or similar (I drive a 2004 Acura TL with 160k miles…works great)

3). Use craigslist (with care) and social media to find cheaper living opportunities. I live in a small but completely adequate in-law suit for well below the market average in my area

4). Remember than memories, people, and experiences are almost always more gratifying in both the short term and the long term than possessions are. So spend accordingly.

5). Look at every bill you have and evaluate how you can save without negatively impacting your life. I have long desired to switch from Verizon’s top tier prices to something cheaper. However, consistently over the past 8 years, I have had better service than friends using other providers in the US to the point that I have yet to be convinced to switch. But if it was the only way I could afford to travel….you bet I would switch right now!

6). You don’t need new clothes that often. You don’t need to go to brunch. You can wait for that new movie to hit Netflix.

Thats it for now. Check back soon for more tips and tricks on how I travel so much. Leave a comment below if you have some of your own ideas!!

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Save money by traveling like I do

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