Introduction

Sometimes it simply isn't enough to ask a Hotel or B&B questions via email that are only in regards to their rates, or how to get to their location.  I have found that there are many other questions that should be asked if you want to ensure a successful stay.  I have broken the lists below into two categories:

  • Questions that should be answered before you even consider making reservations

  • Questions that can be asked once you arrive

You can book B&Bs, Guest Houses, apartment rooms, and/or Hotels via the Internet, or you can call and make reservations.  Personally, I use the Internet for designing and booking the entire trip.  However, there are some questions you will need to ask when you book your stay, preferably through email although I have found that folks don't always answer your email.  The good places I have stayed will answer the questions via email as long as you put each question on a separate line so they can directly (and easily) respond to each question.  If they are not interested in bothering to reply, I won't stay with them.  You may not need to ask each and every question I list below, but I would bet there are at least a few that interest you.  I usually construct one email full of questions and then copy and paste it in to other emails since I ask a variety of establishments the same questions when trying to book a room in the same area.
 

Questions That Should Be Asked and Answered Prior To Making A Reservation

  • Is the hotel or B&B willing to negotiate for a lower rate than what is listed on the Internet?  This leaves the door open for them to tell you they will knock off 20% if you pay them in cash rather than using a Credit Card.  I sometimes call the hotel directly and ask this question, but more and more you find the hotel giving a discount for using the Internet to book the reservations.
     

  • Will the room be located next to a busy street or highway?  I found this to really be a problem this last time we went to Europe.  I didn't ask the question and two of the B&Bs had rooms that overlooked a busy road.  We were constantly hearing cars and trucks zoom by and this was even with a white noise sound machine that couldn't drown out the noise.  I think that the owners thought they were doing us a favor with a view, but it was very hard to get any sleep since it seemed as though trucks were always driving by.  An even worse situation is when the room is close to an intersection or an area where the cars/trucks must slow down.  This means they will have to give the engine some gas to get going or you get to hear squealing brakes as they slow down.  Very annoying.
     

  • Does the B&B allow pets in the room or do the owners have pets that are in the establishment?  My kids are very allergic to cats and a stay in a place with cats would be most unpleasant.
     

  • Does the Hotel or B&B accept Credit Cards and if so, does it cost more (and if so, how much more)?  Never assume that because a B&B claims to require Credit Card info via the Internet to make a reservation that it also means they will take a Credit Card to pay the bill.  I found myself in France needing to pay an 800 Euro payment for our room plus dinner every night for four nights only to learn that although the Chateau took my Credit Card info when making the reservation, they had no means to accept payment via a Credit Card.  I had to take cash that I had put away for our next B&B's payment (they told us up front that they only took cash), plus a trip to the local ATM machine where my wife and I maxed out our daily withdrawal limit for receiving cash.  I barely had enough money to pay the tolls when driving from Amboise to Normandy much less stop and get something to eat.  Big surprise when I heard that they didn't take Credit Cards.  It also wasted some time since I was not actually staying in town, I was in the next small township that had no ATM machines at all.
     

  • Can we stay adjacent to each other (if booking multiple rooms)?  It isn't too big of a hassle if there are no adjoining rooms but can become annoying if you end up on different floors and you need to share toiletries.
     

  • Is the B&B simply a home where they rent rooms, or is it an actual business with rooms that are separate from each other and offer some privacy?  One place we stayed was a person's home where the "rooms" were nothing more than bedrooms down the hallway.  To me, this offers no privacy at all and is not something I am after.
     

  • Are there stairs and if so how many floors to my/our room?  I really don't mind hauling luggage up a few flights of stairs since I typically stay more than one night in a B&B and don't plan to be doing this on a daily basis.  However, if you are physically unable to make it up and down stairs very well, you may want to know where your room is located rather than find out when you arrive.
     

  • When is check-in time and what should I do if I see that I will be running late?  This is important since many times at a B&B the owners will want to go to dinner and will lock up the place.  Nothing worse than arriving late and no one is there to answer the doorbell for a few hours.
     

  • Are driving directions available to their place when originating from a variety of directions?  You may find a map on the Internet or you can use ViaMichelin or MapQuest, but I find the owners usually know the easiest way to get to their place from a variety of directions.
     

  • Does television reception consist of satellite or just off-air TV signals and if so, how many channels and how good is the reception?  We are usually in the U.K. when Soccer matches or Wimbledon is occurring.  It isn't fun when we find out upon arriving that there is no TV for late-night viewing, or that it's in a communal area where others are watching something we are not interested in viewing.  I don't think there's an excuse for not having a small TV in a B&B room.  We stayed in one place where they had a TV but only had off-air signals and none of the signals were viewable (all three of them).  This is like not having a television except that you do, but you can't see anything.
     

  • Are the beds soft or hard?  It seems like everyone uses hard beds in B&Bs and Hotels and I end up with a stiff back in the morning.  I have found that in some B&Bs they had a softer mattress at one time, but when it seemed to wear out, they slid a sheet of plywood under it which made it hard as a rock.  There probably won't be much you can do about this but sometimes they may have a room with softer beds and can place you in the room with beds that you like.
     

  • What are the sizes and types of beds (tell them the ages, sex, and size of the people that will be sleeping in the beds)?  This one is important if you plan to stay with multiple people.  It is probably the number one area where we run in to problems on our stays.  The bed is much narrower than the pictures on the Internet led us to believe.
     

  • Can the hotel or B&B wash clothes (if your stay will coincide with washing clothes) and if so, how much will they charge and when will the clothes be returned?  This is often an area of concern since you don't want to spend your valuable time hanging around a laundromat.  Then again, we use this as a means to take a break from the action sometimes so it isn't too much of a problem.  You would be surprised at how cheap a clothes washing service can be although we have paid way too much by not asking what the total charge would be up front.
     

  • Are dinner reservations required if the B&B will also cook a dinner at a very good price?  We stayed in the Amboise area and the Chateau where we stayed had an excellent French multi-course dinner they would make for the guests.  Problem was that we didn't know we had to actually make a dinner reservation in advance and only discovered it on the day of arrival which was too late.
     

  • When is breakfast served?  B&Bs often serve breakfast for about an hour (from 8AM to 9AM) and you need to specify a time when arriving.  They can't handle everyone at the same time, so you may want to specify your time when you make the reservation.
     

  • What constitutes a "full English breakfast" or a "continental" breakfast meal?  A continental breakfast in France was quite expensive and it turned out that a pastry shop was right around the corner for half the price.  One place in England claimed to give a "full English breakfast" but it consisted of very small quantities of food and no real selection.
     

  • Is breakfast served at individual tables (if a B&B) or is it a communal dining room table?  If you like to eat in private you may not like sitting at a common table with others that you don't know or folks that have poor eating habits.
     

  • Is everyone required to eat at the same time and if not, what do I have to do to ensure I eat at a time I want?
     

  • Is there a special order on breakfast or is it only one breakfast that everyone eats (for example, they only serve scrambled eggs, not fried)?
     

  • If staying in a foreign country (for example, France), do the owners have directions and recommendations in your language?  We stayed at an excellent place in France but the owners didn't speak a word of English.  That meant we could not get any recommendations about anything from them.
     

  • How far to the nearest set of restaurants/pubs they would recommend for dinner and  how many restaurants/pubs serve good food?  I always ask this question since it can give an idea of the location of the B&B.  If it's 5 miles to the nearest pub, you will need to have a designated driver if consuming a couple of pints of beer or drinking wine.  It may also may indicate that you must drive to eat or to go to the pub rather than walking.
     

  • How late do restaurants/pubs serve food in their area?  Some places in France don't begin serving dinner until after 7:30PM.  If you get back by 6PM you will have to wait before eating.  This isn't a big deal to Europeans, but most Americans eat rather early compared to Europeans.
     

  • Do they have a list of good restaurants nearby and do they know when the restaurants are open?  This turned in to a big deal in Bayeaux, France since all the recommended restaurants were closed the days we were there (3 night stay).  This meant we needed to eat somewhere else before returning to the B&B.
     

  • Is there a grocery store nearby and if so, how far away?  This is good to know if you expect to be loading up on supplies.
     

  • Is a taxi required to go in to town, and if so - how much will it cost each way?  This may affect whether you choose one B&B over another.  We stayed outside of downtown Bath at a B&B that required a 5 Pound taxi ride each way since the distance couldn't be easily walked after a long day of being on our feet.  That meant we needed to add 10 Pounds to the cost of the B&B for each day.  I ended up finding another B&B that was downtown and saved me the money.
     

  • If I can walk to town, how long a walk is it and is there a sidewalk with street lights?  Nothing worse than arriving and finding out that a 40 minute walk along the side of a busy highway is required in the evening with no street lights for the return trip.
     

  • How late can I return to the room (if a B&B or Guest House)?  Some places don't like you returning after 11PM and will lock the doors during the night.
     

  • Are there parking fees or any other potential problems with parking that I should be aware of?  We stayed at a hotel in the Cotswolds that said they had parking but it was public pay parking and although free if parking after 7PM, we had to have our car moved by 7AM or we would get a parking ticket.
     

  • Is there public transportation nearby and if so, how far away?  You probably won't want to walk a couple of miles to catch a train or bus with a day of sight-seeing where you will be on your feet the whole time.  Your feet may feel dead by the time it's time to walk back to your hotel or B&B.
     

  • Do they have hair dryers?  Might save you from having to bring one if you require it.
     

  • Do they have fans (if during summer months)?  If the answer is no, this could be a bad sign unless sleeping in a hot room during the summer with no air circulation doesn't bother you.
     

  • Do they have electrical converters or 110V outlets?  Not absolutely necessary (I bring my own converter), but it's still interesting to know in case you need to charge your camera batteries.
     

  • How far to the nearest ATM?  This is more about convenience than anything.
     

  • How much should a taxi ride cost from the railroad station or the airport to the hotel or B&B when considering the number of passengers and number of bags?  This is a very important question since it is a key area where you can get ripped off.  In 2004 while in Paris I got nailed paying three times what I should have paid for a minivan taxi from Gare du Nord to near Musee D'Orsay.  That's because I hadn't been in Paris for 3 years and assuming the prices had gone up about three times what they used to be before the Euro, I jumped to the conclusion that the new price was reasonable.  It wasn't.  I paid way too much which didn't help start things off well for our Paris stay.  I paid enough extra money to buy a family of four a good dinner.  Seems like there's always some kind of rip-off scheme going on in Paris.
     

  • Are there pubs nearby and if so, how far away and do the owners know how late they stay open (typically 11PM or so in the U.K.)?  If you like pubs for eating/drinking, you probably want to know this answer before you arrive.

  • Are they close to a laundry and if so, how far away?  If you don't have a car or if parking is hard to find, you may find yourself dragging suitcases down the sidewalk or road. I've found at more than one B&B they would wash, dry, and fold my clothes for a very reasonable rate (this was for a family of four). Even if they won't wash your clothes, sometimes they offer a service to take your clothes to the local laundromat and then return and pick them up for you. I always give them a good tip for doing this for us since I don't like wasting time driving to laundromats and hanging around waiting for the clothes to finish their wash and dry cycles (especially the drying).
     

  • Does the Hotel or B&B provide Internet access, or do they know of Internet Cafes (also known as Cyber Cafes) that may be close?  If the Hotel or B&B provides a place to access the Internet, how much do they charge and how fast is the connection?  One place we stayed this year said they had it but when we got there we found that it was down (and had been down for some time) and we needed to drive to a local town for Internet access.  I could have chosen another B&B that provided access for only a couple of Pounds per day which would have been cheaper than driving in to town and paying a slightly higher fee.
     

  • Do they have discounted tickets to local attractions?  You may want to know this before you make reservations via the Internet for the attractions of interest, or travel to the attractions only to find out later that the B&B or hotel offered discounted tickets.  I found this to be true for both B&Bs and hotels.

Questions That Can Be Asked Once You Arrive

  • How long do they think it will take me to drive from XYZ to their location?  This can be good for determining plans where you will do some sight-seeing on the way to the B&B or hotel.
     

  • Any recommended sites nearby and if so what/where/how long will it take to see them?  B&Bs often hear about interesting sites from their customers and can quite easily tell you this information if you ask.  More and more B&Bs are adding this info to their websites as part of the pitch to stay with them.

  • Should you walk, drive, or take a taxi to a local site from their location? If they say that you can drive, where should you park and what should you watch out for regarding parking tickets? Is there a secret location where they always park that isn't commonly known or visible from the road? When they say you can just walk to a location, ask how far it is and then ask how long they think it will take you to get there. Europeans think nothing of walking long distances in all kinds of weather. Judge their distance measurement with their time estimate to walk and see if it sounds reasonable. Never accept "it's just up the road a bit" as an accurate answer. I've seen this estimate mean 5 miles of walking.
     

  • Is there traditional dancing/music nearby (if appropriate to the visit) and if so, when do they perform?  While in Ireland we went to several pubs expecting to see traditional Irish music and dancing and never saw anything.  The reason why?  They didn't start the dancing and music until after 8:30PM and we didn't know it nor did the pub advertise it.
     

  • Do people leave a tip in the room for the cleaning help and if so, how much is typically left?  This is handy to know since these folks work hard and often the people you see catering your breakfast or tracking down questions for you are the same ones that are cleaning your room (in a B&B). I ask other travellers that are European and staying at the same hotel or B&B what they leave as a tip since I don't want to be ripped off by a high estimate from the owners of the establishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Graphics & Text Steve Corley

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