Category: Lodging

A Review Of HotelsCombined: A Hotel Search Engine For Hotel Booking Sites

hotelscombined review

Hotel booking sites are generally a cluster of links, rates, and options that are often more overwhelming than useful. Eventually you stumble on to a hotel with a decent rating and low rate, simply to end the laborious search process. Although sites like Airbnb have really optimized the user search experience, there are many trips where renting an apartment or getting a hostel dorm over a hotel doesn’t make sense.

HotelsCombined recently partnered with me to get my thoughts on using their site and what benefits it might have for travelers.

What Is It?

HotelsCombined is a hotel booking site. Basically, as you’re probably familiar with already, they comb other hotel booking sites to offer you a wide variety of deals. Something of a hotel search engine of search engines, with the goal being to provide you with the lowest hotel rates by casting the net wider than its competitors.

hotelscombined search results

Clearly they’ve focused on finding you the best variety of rates over having the best user interface – but as painful as it can be to search for hotels online, HotelsCombined does a good job of reducing the amount of time you need to find a good place to stay at a low rate.

Strong Search

I spent a few hours going through comparisons with HotelsCombined and other major booking sites, many of which are part of HotelsCombined search results. (HotelsCombined also doesn’t have any annoying popups so common with similar aggregators.) In nearly all cases, they had comparable rates. So, for example, the same hotel room for the same dates turned up practically the same price on as it did on HotelsCombined’s search result.

The benefit to HotelsCombined is it’s able to save you time in finding the lowest rate for a particular room by looking at hundreds of providers, including these 20 popular sites. Ideally, HotelsCombined wants to be the only place you need to go to find the right hotel room for your next trip. Throughout the time I was using HotelsCombined, I couldn’t find a good reason why it shouldn’t be.

Features For The Frugal

HotelsCombined also offers a “Price Alert” feature where you’ll be sent an email notification when the price of a specific hotel booking you’re interested in falls below 10%. You need to register for the feature; probably something travelers who plan more in advance will want to consider. On the other hand, if you’re like me and a little more last minute, downloading their free app might be an even bigger time saver.

A smoother interface with a more simple design (dare I say less options) that just shows your the lowest price, amenities, and ratings, would be my personal preference but until that’s the norm, HotelsCombined at least reduces the amount of time you need to spend searching for the right hotel room for your personal needs and budget.

How To Visit The Star Wars Set Locations In Tunisia

star wars sets tunisia

Parts of original Star Wars trilogy and prequels were filmed across parts of Tunisia. Once production of the movies was done, George Lucas and his production staff decided to leave the sets as they were, in the southern deserts of the country. They’ve sat there ever since, threatened occasionally by the surrounding sands but still accessible to tourists.

Here’s how you can visit the sets yourself, where they are, and the ad-hoc methods needed to plan a trip to the Star Wars sets in Tunisia.

The Set Locations Are Spread Out

There are two major Star Wars set areas, all in the southern half of Tunisia. They are separated by large deserts so you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to see any or all of them. Starting in the west near the city of Tozeur is Mos Espa (shown above) and the Lars Homestead, where Luke Skywalker was raised. Roughly 800 kilometers to the east is Matmata, where the interior of the Lars Homestead was shot. It’s actually a hotel now (called Sidi Driss) where you can spend the night in Luke Skywalkers’ bedroom.

ghorfa complex medenine

Around 40 km from there is Medenine, the Tunisian city whose Ghorfa Complex (shown above courtesy Wikipedia) will be immediately familiar if you recall Liam Neeson testing Anakin Skywalker for midi-chlorians.

There are several other background shot locations like Toshi Station and Sith infiltration landing site, only the most hardcore Star Wars fans might be interested in.

What Was Shot Where

Whether you’re interested in a particular Star Wars prop or simply want to scroll the movies to points where you can yell, “I’ve been there!” here’s a breakdown of where these Tunisian sites appear:

star wars sagaStar Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) [Blu-ray]

amazon buy now

How To Plan Your Trip (Depending On What You Want To See)

Starting in Tunisia’s capital Tunis, you need to decide whether you’re more interested in Tozeur’s sites or those of Matmata or Medenine, since they’re in different parts of the country and not directly connected by rail or road.

tozeur oasis

Getting to Tozeur is fairly straightforward and you’ve got two basic options of either a low-cost direct flight or a 6 hour train ride that’s even less expensive. Once there, I recommend booking your accommodation at Residence Tozeur Almadina. Talk to the owner Tayeb (let him know I sent you) to arrange a ride to Mos Espa and the Lars Homestead. You’ll have to negotiate the price of the 40 minute car ride but it shouldn’t cost more than $40.

tunisia car hire

Getting to Medenine from Tozeur is tricky because there aren’t roads between the two. You can either take a bus to Gafsa, then arrange another bus to Medenine from there. (Car hires can also be arranged but are much more expensive.) Going by road is will take a day, so plan accordingly. Getting to Medenine from Tunis is a little easier: from Tunis Central Station, you’ll book to the last stop on the line, Gabes. Once there, you can take a bus to Medenine or through a hotel in Medenine, hire a car to Matmata (if you’ll be spending the night there). Organized tours from all of these cities are another option.

Safety On The Streets

All of the Star Wars sets, for the most part, are only accessible with a car driven by someone who knows exactly where they are. (In case you were thinking of renting a vehicle yourself.) You may be wondering if it’s safe to travel to Tunisia – despite some click-bait headlines, no, ISIS didn’t invade the Star Wars sets. For those of you traveling with people who aren’t Star Wars fans, you might convince them to come along as there’s a lot else to see in this region of Tunisia, like the oasis surrounding Tozeur.

Find Better Deals On Airbnb Rentals Using A Reverse Image Search

pristina apartments

Airbnb rentals are a great alternative to hotels both in terms of offerings and location but the convenience of using the site can often make it a pricey option. For both hosts and renters, there are advantages to making accommodation arrangements outside of the site. Using a simple reverse image search you can find the same rental if it’s listed on other local sites to avoid the “tourist” tax to save on your next stay.

How To Use Reverse Image Search

There are a few variations of this depending on the browser (below is the process for Firefox) you’re using but essentially you begin a regular Airbnb search. Once you’ve found a place or two that’s to your liking, click one of the photos posted with the listing. Right click the image, select “View Background Image”. Then, right click the image that appears, choose “Copy image location” and paste it either into TinEye or

copy image location

You’ll see anywhere else those photos are posted online, which is a good way to find local listing directories, as well as gauge what rental rates might be if you went directly to the host. Many hosts will be open to negotiating rates since they can avoid Airbnb fees and pocket more money, but be aware you’ll both be forgoing Airbnb’s protections for both parties.

More Ratings To Rely On

Aside from potentially finding you lower rates on rentals, particularly in places where Airbnb isn’t as popular, a reverse image search can also uncover ratings for an apartment or house on other listing sites. Some listings on Airbnb look too good to be true or simply don’t have enough ratings for you to make a confident decision. A reverse image search can easily lead you to other sites where the same apartment or home is being offered for short-term rent so you can hopefully find out more about it.

agness book

Scam Protection As Well

Although most of us have had overall good experiences with Airbnb, a reverse image search can alert you to shady listings, especially if the photos on Airbnb aren’t of the actual place. I keep an active list of all the hotels and hostels I’ve stayed at to help you out and several of you have shared your favorite Airbnb rentals. It’s probably not worth going through the trouble before every rental but for those hosts with few or no reviews on newer listings, a reverse image search can help you decide if you want to book or keep looking.

The Hostel In Tallinn, Estonia To Book Whether You’re Looking For A Dorm Or Private Room

feelgood hostel tallinn

Normally I write a review of every hostel or hotel I stay at along my travels but some, like FeelGood Hostel in Tallinn, Estonia, have such a chemistry of everything a traveler wants, highlighting them is irresistible. In general, adding an “s” in the middle of the word hotel gives it a slightly diminished reputation in many people’s minds, but if you don’t know here’s what a good hostel is really like.

Affordable but maintained like a place that should cost more in a great location, the staff embody what makes FeelGood Hostel a great place in Estonia’s capital city.

Reflective Design

FeelGood Hostel is roughly a year old and designed like a fresher version of an IKEA showroom. There are a lot of small artistic designs added to break up the sterility of its cleanliness, giving it a homely ambiance. A home where you can both relax but hang out with your favorite siblings who make you laugh.

feelgood hostel tallinn

And it is clean. Very clean. Both combined with the individually painted walls, the attentive staff all show the effort FeelGood Hostel is putting into being Tallinn’s best. The mattresses are soft, lockers provided, plus there’s a basic breakfast in a kitchen that welcomes your cooking.

Privacy For Longer Stays

The private rooms at FeelGood Hostel can be harder to come by since many of them are filled with young professionals from abroad. I met one American who was working as a computer security engineer (we had a lot of tech to talk about); not too surprising as Internet is everywhere in Estonia, one of the world’s most connected nations. He was just one example of those in Tallinn sent for short work or school projects. Many others use FeelGood Hostel as a temporary apartment for stays of a month to three, since it’s relatively inexpensive with most of the same features.

feelgood hostel tallinn kitchen

Heterogeneous Mixture For Extroverted Introverts

A lot of people who like a quiet place to sleep worry that staying in a hostel means trying to drown out the noise of drunken conversations in the early hours of the morning. While party hostels do exists, the smart ones separate hangout areas from sleeping ones, strictly maintaining their segregation. FeelGood Hostel’s atmosphere cleverly meets at the intersection of silent slumber above, with plenty of activity for you to drop into on the main floor when you’re feeling social.

The Hostel To Hop In Or Off From

Tallinn is a city perfect for a weekend trip or as part of a longer trip through the Baltic states. You can begin with a short trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, then take a 4 hour bus ride to visit Riga, Latvia on a budget, or do it the other way around from Tallinn. However you decide to make it to Tallinn’s coastal shores, remember to do some basic hostel planning so you’re not the most annoying person in the dorm.

If you do stay at FeelGood Hostel, I would appreciate you mentioning that you read about it here. I wasn’t paid at all for this review (in fact, they have no idea I’m writing it) but a small word about foXnoMad helps show your support. Now, I’m curious about you, what are some of your favorite hostels around the world?

How To Spend A Weekend In Riga, Latvia On A Budget

riga latvia monument

Sandwiched between Lithuania and Estonia, the Latvian capital city Riga retains a grittiness that’s been mostly polished in its two Baltic neighbors. Riga exists in the sweet spot of developed but edgy, leaving its hard history more exposed as the European Union’s fastest growing economy moves forward.

Despite Lativa’s switch to the Euro, it still retains a relatively low cost of living, even in Riga, the largest city in the country. That means you can see almost all of Riga on foot without blowing your entire travel budget. Whether you’re just passing through Riga or have plans for a longer trip, this is how the TL;DR version of visiting 2014’s European Capital of Culture cost effectively.

Where To Stay Without Spending Much

For a cozy spot that will cost you about $12 a night for a dorm or $24 for a private room, take a look at Central Hostel Riga. Located in a residential neighborhood a 7 minute walk from the city’s major sights, Central Hostel Riga is clean, has a full kitchen, helpful staff, plus offers free wireless.

riga latvia downtown

Central Hostel Riga is not the easiest place to find but easily accessible from Riga International Airport (the hub of Europe’s most punctual airline) by shuttle bus or walking distance from both the train and bus stations. You can read my full review of Central Hostel Riga here.

One Place You Have To Eat

There are a lot of good places to eat in Riga (a city which likes to bizarrely combine sushi with anything) though you can’t leave without visiting Lido. Yes, Lido is a chain of about 9 restaurants located mostly in Latvia, but its a la carte selection of local dishes is an inexpensive way to eat too much and only feel guilty about your waistline.

lido riga latvia

For a quiet drink, thoughtful ponder, or place to meet new friends, near Lido’s Vermanitis location is the little wine bar Burbulnica. They offer a good selection of locally produced wines in colors red, white, and slightly in between which might be hard to choose from – except that Burbulnica’s staff can tell you the right boozy flavors for your particular taste.

Munch At Central Market

Riga’s Central Market doesn’t really give a damn if you’re a tourist which made it refreshing to get yelled at every time I took a photo. (Officially, it’s allowed, snap at your own risk.) Though it’s probably not a good idea to climb scaffolding as I did to get the shot below:

riga latvia central market

Eye candy for market lovers plus real candy if you’re hungry, the Central Market is massive, something that makes sense when you learn it used to house non-musical zeppelins.

riga latvia central market

There’s an Uzbek bakery along the path joining two of the hangars where locals pick up brick oven breads. Along the left side of the left most hangar there are homemade plates Latvia’s over-50 crowd seem to especially enjoy. Hearty foods heavy on the stomach, light on a traveler’s wallet.

riga central market

Historically Interesting Museums

A lot of museums around the world have the archaic design of “let’s put a bunch of old stuff around” and expect you to be impressed. Seeing enough of these can turn you off to museums in general, which would be a shame in the case of Latvia’s Museum Of The Occupation. Latvia is a country which has spent most of the past 500 years under foreign occupation. The Museum Of The Occupation gives a glimpse into what setbacks the country has overcome, enlightening for any visitor. Entrance is free of charge with optional donations taken.

riga lativa monument to the riflemen

Right outside the museum, on the hour most working hours you can watch a guard change in front of the Monument To The Riflemen, free for all.

Public, Local Advice For Free

There are plenty of other things to see and do in Riga. Concentrated in the Old Town are your usual European sampling of impressive churches like Saint Peter’s. (entrance ~$8.10 USD). A bit north of there is the Art Nouveau district with free architecture for the eyes. Although all of the main sights in Riga are within walking distance, during winter average high temperatures don’t go above freezing.

st peters church riga latvia

In case chills aren’t your thing, plan a trip during the busier summer months or cut your transportation costs with a Riga Card. Personally, I don’t think 20 Euros (~$23) for the Riga Card is worth the discounts it offers; except the perk of 24 free hours of public transportation if your feet get tired.

You can get a lot of great local recommendations in the frequently updated Like A Local Map to be found just about everywhere remotely traveler-focused in Riga. (As well as at the Central Hostel Riga.) Even better, it comes in free, offline app form on both Android and iOS.

Finally, chances are if you’re in Riga, you’ve been to or are going to one of the other Baltic states. Here’s how to spend a short trip in Vilnius, Lithuania which is only a 4 hour, 20 Euro, border-less Lux Express bus ride away.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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