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Category: Lodging

Where To Stay In Paro, Bhutan

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan isn’t the easiest to visit but if you’re flying in it will be through Paro. Home to the country’s only airport, Paro is the gateway into Bhutan. A historic city of just over 11,000 people it’s worth more that a stopover and one of the most unique places to stay is fit for royalty.

Hotel Olathang

Literally made for a king, Hotel Olathang was originally created for the guests of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s coronation in 1974, also making it Bhutan’s oldest hotel. Reservations aren’t possible online, you’ll have to call to make a reservation so don’t rely on last minute planning. Although Bhutan doesn’t get many tourists, around certain times of the year there are events (like March’s Paro Festival) and bookings can fill up fast.

paro bhutan

Royal Rooms With Variety

Because of its original purpose as royal accommodation, Hotel Olathang’s rooms are separate buildings on a large mountain property overlooking Paro. Many of the hotels in Paro are higher up but only a short 10 minute cab ride into town, with each way costing roughly $3-4 USD.

The design of each room is different with several options for larger groups and the newer tent rooms, ideal for summer stays. Walking is a must at Hotel Olathang as the stone walkways to the rooms may not accommodate wheelchair access. Reception is a separate building a few minutes walk from the furthest room and that’s where you’ll find the hotel’s restaurant as well.

paro bhutan

Bed And Breakfast

Hotel Olathang does offer a breakfast that’s not included with all of the rooms but you’re not missing much if you don’t pay for it. The breakfast is a mix of eggs, beans, tea, and bread plus or minus some miscellaneous additions. Where you’re short on time for an early morning to a place like Tiger’s Nest, it’s better than no food at all. Same goes for the dinner at their restaurant but if you have the time, you’ll certainly get a better meal in town. You can also order to the Hotel Olathang which reception will happily help you with.

Best Of Bhutan

Hotel Olathang has incredibly helpful staff that can arrange drivers, pickups, and provide you with a lot of local tourism expertise. Located in the mountains just outside of town gives you incredible views, a peaceful environment, and fresh air. Hotel Olathang is close enough to town where you don’t feel isolated and the wifi is surprisingly fast. Finally, when it comes to the prices the rates at Hotel Olathang are quite reasonable ($50-70 a night) when compared to other accommodation in Paro.

How To Avoid Airbnb’s Latest Fee

A few days ago Airbnb changed their Terms of Service to introduce a new fee that will come into effect on April 1st 2024. That fee will add 2% to you next booking but there’s an easy way to avoid it and actually save even more money.

Conversion Fee

The new guest service fee of 2%, before taxes, will be added on the total rate if a booking is made where the local currency differs from the currency set in your Airbnb account. That means if your Airbnb account has a currency set in US dollars but the villa in Spain you’re booking is listed in Euros, there will be an additional 2% fee added at check out.

airbnb settings

Airbnb hasn’t made it clear if this fee will be shown separately or just added under the generic “fees” you see at checkout, but know that it will be in there where there’s a currency conversion.

Avoiding The Fee

To get around the new 2% fee, all you have to do is change the default currency your Airbnb account is set to so that it matches the local currency of your next destination. Log into Airbnb, click the globe icon, then currency, and then change the currency. For example, if you’re looking for an Airbnb in Bulgaria you would change the currency into Bulgarian lev and if the place is in Spain, that would be Euros. Airbnb doesn’t make it clear what currency the host listing is in so you just have to look up the local currency in a given country if you’re not familiar and adjust it accordingly.

airbnb currency setting

Why This Saves More Than 2%

After April 1, 2024 this trick will save you 2% in fees but changing the currency to match the local money will save you double or more because of another clause in the Airbnb terms – one that’s been there for a long time. When you book an Airbnb in a currency that differs from the currency a host as set, Airbnb converts the listing price from local to your currency, using rates they determine. In many cases this rate is not in your favor and hardly the best conversion and can add 3% or more to a booking where the currencies differ.

You should always change your Airbnb account currency to the local one when booking internationally to save at the 2% conversion fee and then another 2-4% in conversion rates. While you’re at it, make sure you keep an eye on Airbnb cleaning fees as well.

An Upgraded Hotel Experience: Sonder Apartments Review

Sonder is a short term apartment rental service for people who want amenities most hotels don’t have but want the consistency in experience Airbnb lacks. I recently rented a Sonder apartment in New York City and found they take some of the best from Airbnb and hotels but the end results aren’t as good as they could be. You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

Sonder Rising

Sonder was founded in 2014 and now operates in 40 cities around the world with the aim to be a the homestay of hotels. They basically buy up apartments in cities where Sonder operates, then registers them as hotels. Most Sonder listings look a lot like traditional temporary accommodation from the outside but when you walk in you find mailboxes for individual units, like you would an apartment while there are services like complimentary toilet paper and housekeeping, hotel style.

sonder apartment

Many Sonder rentals have kitchens, refrigerators, and laundry machines but that’s not always the case, so you’ll want to review the specific rental amenities before booking.

Online Experience Excels

One thing that Sonder does well is the booking experience. You can search for apartments on their site or mobile app and rentals can be booked for days, weeks, or months. Trying to figure out what’s available isn’t always clear though as Sonder likes to show you a lot of choices in a given location without automatically removing options that are already booked.

Once you do find a place though Sonder lists out the total price you’ll end up paying, including taxes, fees, and any discounts. Having the final price listed makes for a much better experience when booking with Sonder. In contrast, Airbnb tacks on cleaning fees can be as much as the rental rate and hotels too can throw some hidden fees at you in the last minute. With Sonder you know how much things cost throughout the apartment search.

Checking In Sonder Style

Check in and check out times are similar to hotels and you can adjust them by a few hours for a small fee if you’re arriving early or need a late check out. Once you’ve booked the Sonder app is the best way to manage your stay. You’ll get the access code to the building and your room, as well as the option to use your phone as a mobile key to get inside. The address is listed as are requests for services like cleaning or to report any issues. You can also get in touch with support who are quick to respond and everything else you need like wifi passwords are all in the app as well. (The wifi is also very fast, around 350 Mbps download.)

sonder new york city

Sonder isn’t like The Blueground, a premium long term apartment rental service I’ve previously reviewed, where the furniture, kitchen, and appliances are all better quality and the shortest rental term is one month. So although you can rent a Sonder for over 30 days and you get discounts the longer your stay – especially past 45 days, I’m not sure in every location Sonder has a presence it’s the best long term accommodation option for travelers.

When To Sonder

Sonder is a good option for more expensive cities, like New York City, where you’re going to be staying for more than a few days. If you’re staying for a day or two, having a kitchen and fridge you can stock up probably won’t save you much money versus eating out, you should do some pricing comparisons with nearby hotels and and Airbnb.

But for stays of a few days or a week or two, where a trip to the grocery store is going to save you money on food over time, particularly if you want to cook or save money on laundry fees, than a Sonder might be a better choice in those circumstances. Their rates are pretty competitive with hotels and they’re usually in or very close to popular touristic parts of the cities they operate in.

Sonder is an option to check out if you want the hotel experience plus the perks that might save you money where it’s available. For longer stays though, especially over a few weeks, you might want to expand your search to some other booking sites.

Use This Trick To Get 10% Or More Off Every Booking.com Reservation

booking.com

Making reservations for hotel accommodations can often seem like a budgetary afterthought since you’ve already spent so much time trying to find the best deals on flights. You then get to the hotel part of the equation and well, it’s often last minute so you have fewer options and with less obvious money saving hacks, you end up paying more than you should.

Within 24 hours to spare however you can use this trick to save 10% or more through Booking.com.

Look Don’t Book

First, start searching for accommodation on Booking.com. Set your actual travel dates, look through the reviews, and find a place to stay like you normally would. In case you have a Booking account you can login but it’s not a requirement for this to work. Once you’ve settled in on a hotel or other type of rental, click the “I’ll reserve” button and let it take you to the next page.

Add your name in the fields provided and importantly, make sure to give a valid email address.

Once you’ve done that, scroll all the way down to “Final details”.

Almost, Not Quite

After you’ve clicked the “Final details” button, you’re going to not do anything else. Yet. The trick to getting the incentive bonus from Booking is to not do anything for 24 hours. Since you’ve entered a valid email address, Booking knows how to get in touch with you. Their system seems to track near-bookings, that is, reservations that got very close to completion but for some reason you left.

With that in mind to try and get your business in about 24 hours Booking.com will send you a discount code for around 10% off.

One Time Use

It’s not a huge discount but 10% off is better than nothing and for more expensive stays that can really add up. The discount code is one-time use only and usually comes with an expiration date, so don’t let it sit in your inbox too long. To continue looking for discounts though make sure you compare prices with other rental platforms and check for conference discount codes.

How To Spend 3 Days In Guyana

Located in the north part of South America, Guyana is a country that isn’t the easiest place to plan. There isn’t a lot of current information online, things change on the ground rapidly, and tourism is barely an industry here. You might be interested in visiting the rain forest, 85% of Guyana is blessed by it, wanting to travel to unique destinations, or coming on a business trip as part of the ongoing oil boom.

No matter what your objectives, here is your introduction to Guyana.

Accommodation Expectation

Lodging in Guyana is relatively expensive, especially in the capital city of Georgetown. Rates hover around $100, often regardless of the quality, though there are good places to stay if you book early. In general, the few big chains in Guyana, like Marriott, overcharge obscenely. Your better off looking at local accommodation like the El Dorado, which has large rooms, classic design, and is centrally located. Also in Georgetown is Fireside Suites, more of an apartment style rental, with some of the best staff and service you’ll find anywhere.

accommodation hotels georgetown guyana

Outside of Georgetown, accommodation in the jungle is less prevalent but there are good options at reasonable rates with more being built in expectation of more tourists.

Starting In Georgetown

Small but bustling Georgetown is a city you can efficiently get a feel for in a couple of days. Start by eating at Shanta’s Puri Shop for the classic any-time-of-the-day snack, roti. That flattened and fried lentil patty filled with curried chickpeas and optional meats is a Guyanese classic and Shanta’s is considered one of the best places to enjoy local dishes. You can then head to the Bourda Market (a guide is recommended) to catch a flavor of daily life, then grab a meal at Bettencourt. Known for its creole home foods, Bettencourt is an excellent spot for a large lunch of cookup – flavored rice with meat or fish, washed down with a coconut water.

Additionally you can head to the National Park and hand feed wild manatees (free) and visit Aagman for some of the best Indian food in the Americas. Oasis is an option for breakfast as well if you’re in the mood for a more European vibe but if you’re heading to Guyana, don’t get stuck in the cities.

manatee guyana

 

Kaieteur Falls

A short 45 minute small plane ride from Georgetown, Kaieteur Falls are the world’s single largest waterfall drop. The journey will take you over the rain forest, where the pilot will take a few strategic turns to get you aerial views before you land. Once on the ground you’ll be taken by a guide to hike through the jungle (about 2 hours total) and learn about the plants, medicines, and nature of the area. Along the way you’ll stop at several lookout points and get amazing views of Kaieteur Falls as you hear about the local legends that give them their name.

kaieteur falls

Guyana is a country full of things to eat, see, and do but not the most porous when it comes to travel information. This guide is just a start to your trip that can take you to many places, often unplanned.

The Problem With Airbnb

Airbnb has some major problems and it’s not one fix or leaky faucet they can just plug up. It’s a widespread set of issues that affect the foundation of the company. But there are some potential solutions, so here are some recommendations on how Airbnb can fix itself.

Some Of The Problems

From discrimination against people of color, who statistically have a harder time successfully booking properties to price gouging in Mexico City, prompting residents to protest, to users being banned from the site for incorrect background check results. It’s gotten pretty bad in general and using Airbnb is a really hit or miss experience so much so that I try to avoid using it when I’m traveling now.

prague skyline

I’m sure a lot of you too are looking at hotels or other alternatives because they often have better service, competitive prices, and a lot less of the weird random trouble that can come from an Airbnb.

A Situation

I needed to book a few days in Istanbul as a stop gap between apartments and ended up paying around very overpriced $1300 for a week’s stay. But when I got to the apartment it was unbelievably dirty, there was hair all over the bathroom, rotting food in the kitchen, and black mold on the walls. As soon as I was able to book alternative accommodation – I notified Airbnb and the owner I would be leaving, why I was leaving, with photos, and requested a refund.

I had stayed a night there I didn’t request a full refund, even though the apartment was so falsely advertised I should have, I didn’t. And you might be wondering why I waited to book alternative accommodation? Because with almost any Airbnb booking, you don’t know the reaction you’re going to get if you try to cancel early. The owner might have gotten pissed off and thrown me out or locked me out or who knows?

Airbnb, because of how their refunding system works, basically forces you into a negotiation with the owner, mediated by them, for refunds. This process is usually over email, through their support center, since many countries don’t have a local office number you can all.

In the end, my $1100 refund was rejected and the owner offered $800.

Let’s Work On Aircover

Since then, Airbnb has tried to counter these instant regret situations with what they call Aircover. It basically gives you a refund for reservations canceled by owners within 30 days of your stay, and if the place is dirty, you can report it within 72 hours.

hotel

So, it’s a tiny start but in practice to make Aircover actually useful, Airbnb needs to do the following:

1. Offer full refunds or alternative accommodation if owners cancel within 90 days of a booking. Right now, it’s only 30 days out. Some cities during peak tourism season are hard to find Airbnbs or there might be an event like the World Cup where 30 days out finding alternative accommodation might not be possible. A refund for an Airbnb isn’t going to do you much good if you can’t go to the event but have already paid for flights, and event tickets, taken time off work, and so on.

2. Give you the option to get a full refund within 24 hours if the apartment isn’t as advertised or is significantly dirty or not adequately prepared for a guest.

Obviously you’ll still have to collect the evidence, photos, and videos for Airbnb to review but if there legitimately is an issue, it shouldn’t require a fight with Airbnb over it. And a simple refund of the cleaning fee just won’t cut it. While we’re talking about cleaning fees, those need to be fixed as well.

Strike System

Another thing Airbnb can do to discourage dirty or improperly prepared Airbnbs, is to fine the owners. See, right now as it is, if you arrive at a dirty Airbnb, you’ll get a partial refund, maybe even a full refund. Assuming you can find alternative accommodation. But Airbnb still gets their fees, the homeowner at worst breaks even, but there’s not monetary penalty to a host. In fact, that same nightmare Airbnb I was in is still listed on the site.

home restaurant

Maybe they cleaned up their act – maybe it was just a really bad day? In any even there should be a penalty as well as a strike system.

Anytime there’s a valid complaint against a host or listing, there should be a strike assigned. And those strikes should be listed in the reviews. That way you would have the reviews but also see if and how many times disciplinary action was taken against a particular place by Airbnb. Right now, the review sections are usually a few good short reviews and maybe the occasional long 300 word horror story. It’s hard to know what to make out of those reviews because the others, the majority, of people were positive so perhaps you discount that one bad one.

But an Airbnb strike, that would show that disciplinary action was taken against the host, and protect you the consumer from giving business to a bad host and also incentivize hosts to maintain high standards of cleanliness and quality.

Hotels Caught Up

When Airbnb was first gaining traction it had some real perks. First, there was the novelty of various places, a more home-like feel, and prices were often lower than hotels. Now, hotels have adapted – they’re pricing more competitively, offering unique perks and touches to make rooms feel more inviting, and in many places are better regulated.

Airbnb has gone from an agile individual-based startup to a big lumbering corporation but without any of the sensible services the legacy competition can offer, big or small.

Does Airbnb survive? Probably, but for travelers like you and me, there are a lot of competing apartment services for longer term rentals out there and hotels around the world that are looking like a very good alternative to Airbnb – until (and if) Airbnb decides to fix their broken system.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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