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Should I Publish Prices of Hotels

OAXACA, Mexico- A certain onerous kink in my standard publishing procedure has reared its head: I openly publish the prices I pay to stay in hotels on this travelogue, but what if the travelers who follow do not get the same price? It occasionally happens that I stay in a hotel, barter myself a good price, write [...]

OAXACA, Mexico- A certain onerous kink in my standard publishing procedure has reared its head: I openly publish the prices I pay to stay in hotels on this travelogue, but what if the travelers who follow do not get the same price?

It occasionally happens that I stay in a hotel, barter myself a good price, write about it, then another traveler reads this and attempts to stay in the same hotel — but they are charged a different rate. These people seem too feel as if they have been ripped off. To these readers, I need to make a disclaimer about hotel pricing and how I tend to be able to receive lower rates.

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I have been traveling for 11 years — my entire adult life — somehow, someway I have learned how to land good prices for good hotel rooms. I am not a salesman, I could not sell a shark fin to a Japanese dude frothing at the mouth for one, but I do have strategies that I follow when it comes to getting good prices on hotel rooms. I try to share these tactics with readers here on the travelogue. Though I fear that something often gets lost in publication, there is some attribute that seems to work in my favor that I cannot readily share with readers:

I look like a poor mutha’f###ker.

Every hotelier who knows that all white dudes are not super rich seem to know right off that I am not willing to pay as much as some of my brethren, and they seem to try to take less.

In point, if you go into a hotel decked out in Gore Tex,  have salon styled hair, pricey looking jackets, clothes purchased from the USA, Canada, or Europe, arrive in a rental car, carry a nice looking suitcase, are 35+ years old and give off the impression that you have a stable career, home, and assets, are from the capital city of whatever country you are in (especially), look like you are on vacation,  there is absolutely no way that you are going to be able to land the same prices for a hotel room that I publish here.

I just received a comment from a new reader who let me know that he is staying in a hotel that I set up camp in a little over a month ago. I stated the price I paid to stay at this hotel on the travelogue, this reader informed me that he is paying more than double this rate. Though it is not my impression that I got a fair price and he is being ripped off, it just means that we agreed to pay different prices.

In another hotel that I recently stayed at I observed a thirty something year old, blond haired, French couple with two kids walk in and talk to the manager about the price of accommodation. This family had expensive luggage, wore nice clothes, were scrubbed clean, and were obviously on vacation (albeit a long one as I saw them a couple of months ago in San Cristobal de las Casas). They reeked of having money, all the surface signs were clear that they could easily PAY their way around the world, and they were quoted a price way beyond what my family was paying. I listened as they tried to make a deal for a lower price, the manager said no way and shooed them off to another hotel.

There was a chance that this family were poor travelers on a $30 a day budget, but they did not show these signs, and they were processed in accordance to how they appeared. The way your present yourself is one of the only indications a hotel owner has to work off of when adjusting a price.

The price of a hotel room is an agreement between the hotel and the guest — the price you get is the price you agree to pay, you can never be ripped off: hotel rates are a two way street.

If you do find yourself receiving a different rate for a hotel room than someone else, do not take this as an indication that the hoteliers are bad, are scamming you, or are cheats — it is just that hotel prices are often tailored to meet the individual guest. There is nothing you or I can do about this. A good hotel manager seems to know what they are dealing with –– how much money they should charge — as soon as a guest walks through the door. If you look like you have money, you will be charged more. It is as simple as this.

This is not fair, this is business.

hotel in flores guatemala

Hotel in Flores - this is where I stayed

People consciously choose the clothing that they wear and the things they carry, and all too often these choices reflect their social class. As with most other elements of a person’s acculturation, it is my impression that this happens inherently, unconsciously — you dress your class as a simple reaction, often not to intentionally give away your status, but because this is just what you do. Do you shop at the mall or at department stores or at thrift stores? It is easy to tell which just by looking at you, and this is a sure fire indication of how much money you are willing to spend for various goods and services.

If you want to game this system, then dress down when traveling. The best way to do this is go to a local market in a country, find the place where the poor people shop, and buy the same clothes they wear. Though, I must admit, this may be as easy to see through as a peasant trying to dress up.

I have been traveling for a long time, most of my clothes have been bought in cheap-o markets and thrift stores around the world, I dress like a peasant because I am a peasant. These are just the clothes that I naturally choose to wear, there is no act. Throughout this year in Latin America, I have found myself wearing farm worker button up plaid shirts, ranchero jeans, cowboy boots, and I have a nice big, cheap, and shiny belt buckle. Various reasons have lead me to choosing these clothes: from necessity to quality to price to a simple notion of askance style.

But the clothing that I choose can be readily be identified as being worn by someone without much money in any country. Everyone in almost any country knows the price of various types of clothing. Think back to grade school: it was easy to tell who got their sneakers at Wal-Mart and who got theirs at Footlocker, everyone knew who wore shirts from the Salvation Army and who shopped at Old Navy. People are pack animals, we are programed to identify the various tribes — now often referred to social classes — around us. This is just one way we learn to navigate our world, and this is no different in the USA than it is in China, India, Patagonia, or the Middle East.

I don’t mean to say that wearing the clothes that I do confuse people to take me for a local — no way, the very notion of this is ludicrous — but I do mean that clothing is one of the biggest status and class signals in any society.  In most cultures, identifying such class indicators is an automatic action that does not require thought — it just happens. So when I walk into a hotel it is my impression that an experienced manager knows that they are dealing with someone from a much different social class than my crispy clean Gore Tex wielding brethren.

The clothing that my wife wears was also purchased from various markets and thrift stores around the world — so she does not give me away hehe.

It is also my observation that the upper classes of a given country are often charged more money in hotels than even the average foreigner — perhaps because their class symbols are easier for the managers to interpret.

Our luggage cart, well worn bags, and amount of gear perhaps also attest to the fact that we are long term traveling hobos, that we are not vacationers with a cargo of money to unload as soon as possible, so it is ultimately easier for us to negotiate a price.

Another attribute that seems to work in my favor is that very few people in this world would mistake me for having a well paying job or a stable career. Just look at me: who would hire this guy? This is the first thing that many people say upon looking at me, and the implication of my physical appearance extend directly to how much income they assume I bring in. Simply put, I look 100% unemployable in the Fortune 500 capacity.  Perhaps I am. I have tattoos that extend over the back of my neck, hands, arms, and fingers; I have a bull ring shoved through my nose; a long shaggy beard; shaved bald head; big friggin’ holes torn into my ear lobes. Readers of this travelogue know that I do not often have trouble finding work, but I stick to work representing the social class I give off affiliation with — it is clear that I am working class.

In point, few people are going to mistake me for someone who makes a lot of money.

This is just a theory, a suggestion, an idea. I honestly do not know why I can often easily get things cheaper than some other travelers. I would actually like to say that I have mad skills, though I acknowledge that this may only be one side of the coin. It is true that when I go into a hotel I go in with the strategy that I am probably not going to take the first price offered, that I am going to jive and barter my way into a better price. Everything that I do leading up to this negotiation is calculated. I am also not afraid to be upfront about offering to pay a lower than stated price, and I know how and when to do this.

Though it is also clear to me — and should be to you — that if a person with a three hundred dollar jacket, designer sun glasses, stylish jeans, crisp hair cut, and high priced luggage shows up to a hotel in a rental car they are often not going to get the same rate as a couple of vagabonds in local rags pulling a peasant cart full of grotty gear who obviously arrived on foot.

Hotel prices are often tailored in regards to how much money a manager thinks they can get from certain clients. The rates they ask for often fluctuate in the attempt to bring in maximum profit. Never take those little signs which publicly state a hotel’s rates positioned by law visibly near reception desks as being the actual prices — they are not. Hotel room rates are tailored to the guest. An empty hotel room brings in no money, and the overhead cost of running a hotel is often the same if it is full or empty. To quote a couple of vagabonds the same rate as a group of richies from the capital is going to send them out the door, to give the richies the same price as the vagabonds is to lose money.

This is not fair, this is good business.

So I ask readers, given this, should I publish hotel prices? Is doing so being honest, upfront, and telling the whole story or is it, perhaps, misleading?

Filed under: Accommodation, Budget Travel, Mexico, North America, Travel Strategy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

29 comments… add one

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  • Oddsocks January 20, 2011, 3:27 pm

    Good article!

    What if you were to state the advertised prices of the hotel, explain how much you paid and why you think there was a difference between the two? Maybe you stayed five times as long as the average guest and didn’t need fresh towels daily, maybe you offered work in exchange, maybe it was the way you dressed or maybe you just asked nicely…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 20, 2011, 7:49 pm

      Thanks Greg!

      This is a good idea. Then I can always snicker and write “hehehe” after explanations of how I managed to get a lower rate haha. Very true, you would know as well as anyone about the factors that come into play when facing the possibility of giving a guest a discount. You gave me a big one (hehehe)!

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  • craig | travelvice.com January 20, 2011, 4:56 pm

    Not only should you continue to do so, but I expect it. Hell, I’ve even started taking notes on what room number I stayed in, and what other rooms numbers would be suggestible. (It takes some of the guessing out of people following your writings or searching for a room.)

    There’s nothing new for guidebook readers who show up at a hotel and find a different price — so too should they take your price versus their price with a grain of salt. It’s about establishing general baselines. Besides, no one is forcing them to stay at a hotel and pay twice your (or their guidebook’s) rate.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 20, 2011, 7:52 pm

      Right on, Craig. There is no such thing as non-immediately ephemeral travel information. What is written one day could be the opposite the next. It is a good thing our travelogues have comment forms — so various other people can record what they paid.

      Yes, travel writing that is removed from costs is worthless as far as I am concerned. I need to keep recording what I pay, though should perhaps get more in-depth about the hows and whys of the operation.

      Thanks.

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  • Bob L January 20, 2011, 10:13 pm

    I would think, Wade, that the initial look of you (not including your family), would not make the average hoteler be cautious. Tatoos, etc. Add your personality, and they would be disarmed and maybe confused, as you don’t fit the as a stoner, and you don’t fit as a flash packer and you, well, just don’t fit in any particular cubby hole. Then, after you spend some time talking to them, a good hotelier would realize you were going to get the best price no matter what and that you would be an easy customer as long as they treated you well enough. Add in your family, and any decent hotelier would realize that you would be a great choice for a guest. Easy to deal with, not likely to stay unless given a good price. If it was my hotel, I would give you the best price I could. Well, actually, if it was my hotel, I would be out of business as I have no ability to read people and suck at business.

    A bad hotelier would try to squeeze every penny out of you, or just not really give a crap. You would leave and find a decent place.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 20, 2011, 11:53 pm

      Thanks Bob,

      We would love to stay at your hotel if you had one. Maybe not a bad idea, a hotel for bikers in Colorado or somewhere.

      It is a funny game trying to figure out what other people think of you — especially in countries that are not your own. I usually don’t try to bother haha. But it has been mention at various times a lot of times that the tattoos may make various businesses in travel not want to deal with me, but this has not really been my experience. If it were so, I would suspect that many more hotels would say that they are full when I approach them. I have seen this happen many times, someone comes into a hotel that I know is not full but the manager says it is just because they do not want to rent to them. It is my impression — and one that I cannot fully validate — is that I am seen as a gringo first, and then as a whatever second. Again, it is a matter of class — or, in this instance, class within class. I am of the foreigner class but of the poorer rungs haha.

      I agree fully that basic demeanor has perhaps the largest impact on how a hotel will receive you, and what price you are offered. But the baby helps out a whole lot with this. Petra can be pretty charming, and has a way of making people like us with far more expedience. I suppose the kid has worked out, to a certain extent, to have been a good budget travel move.

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      • Bob L January 21, 2011, 8:25 pm

        I’m just glad you were able to figure out what I meant. I wrote the comment quickly without even watching most of what I was writing, then accidentally hit send before proof reading. One too many glasses of wine I think.

        Bob L

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 9:17 pm

          I am getting use to interpreting your half drunk comments haha, and, as always, welcome them.

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  • Dave from The Longest Way Home January 21, 2011, 12:54 am

    This is a question I get asked a lot. I say call them up. Totally depends on the demographic you are aiming for.

    Personally if you tap into the API of a booking hostel then you can display their prices constantly. That said, if you are looking at the lower end of the market, many of the best bargains are not online. Perhaps that is your true target market as it’s relatively untapped.

    Just be aware of the number of hotels that have taken to suing bloggers and review websites for being critical. Google it, they are, and they are winning with retractions.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 12:10 pm

      Good call about hotels that are not online being cheaper. It seems as if the hotels think they are moving up in class just because they have a website and then they charge more haha. But an English language website in a non English speaking country DOES bring in lots of clientele willing to pay way more than the going rate. It seems as if an English language site alone is enough to raise the price of a hotel by 50%.

      It is not my impression that the hotels I stay at are wealthy enough to really sue me, even if they wanted to haha. Or so I hope.

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  • Andy Graham January 21, 2011, 3:50 am

    I expect it Wade, and Craig is also right, we also want the room number. There is always the best room in the Hotel that is priced the same as the bad room.
    I have been dealing with this issue for years, and if you do put a price, it is good to say,
    Eight Dollars (January 2011)

    You will be blamed by readers, this is why they are reading, they know they are not capable of making good decisions and want to follow your path so they can blame you.

    On HoboHideOut.com our Hotel site, I finally decided to have Hotel just list their cheapest room, because they are not to be trusted. We then want comments explain discount by actual users.

    I am trying to do two things, one is make a video of every hotel I stay in:

    Eight Dollar Hotel in Togo, four years ago was six.
    http://youtu.be/OMRIsFArtSo

    I also want to add them to HoboHideOut.com.
    http://www.hobohideout.com/

    The goal is this, the reader could go to your profile: Pato
    http://www.hobotraveler.com/hobos/pato

    On this profile they would find a complete list of Hotels you stay at, and could print a PDF or email it to themselves and have your list of Hotel picks. This is what I want as a pro traveler, I want a complete list of Wade Hotels with address and price.

    Why, for example, Lonely Planet, Roughguide, etc are all catering to Flashpackers. I have a PDF of the Lonely Planet for Togo, there is not even a reason to read the Hotels listed by the writers. The are all double what I pay, seldom is there a hotel worth a darn, I do read, just in case the Flashpacker, NGO, driving a Toyota Land Rover decided to be a Backpacker for a moment then there may be one hotel.

    I need a list of Hotel from experts like you, and I know I can follow along and save me a headache. A guide is a guide, please become immune to people who dysfunction-ally want you to be responsible for their problems.

    I have started totally deleting readers comments who are too dysfunctional, by allowing stupid comments to exist, good readers stop reading. I have always allowed most comments, this was a mistake, we are writing to support an idea, we are the experts, the comments that support your opinion should be allowed, gentle disagreement is good, but total disagreement is not needed.

    Fun stuff Wade, I hope you are getting hate mail, I get about three per week. There are very quiet and honest, responsible people out there reading, they are the majority, not the minority.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 12:07 pm

      Right on, Andy,

      This is why we do these websites. To fulfill my responsibility as a traveler I need to share my notes fully and openly with others. Anyone who travels long enough knows that their experience may not be the same as those who went before them, but they can use the experience of others as a guide.

      The Responsibility of the Traveler

      Like you told me what Richard Trillo said to you about his West Africa guide book:

      It is called a rough guide for a reason.

      All travel guides should be taken as a finger pointing at the path, not the path itself — if you take them as rough guides they can be of great assistance, if you take them literally you are just going to piss yourself off.

      Thanks.

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  • Zablon Mukuba January 21, 2011, 10:35 am

    these are great tips, for getting good prices. what happens when i am new to a country and i dont know where to get a cheap place to buy cheap clothes. should i expect to be ripped off?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 12:00 pm

      Nope, you can read Vagabond Journey to find out what I paid haha.

      Or you can search hotel and hostel sites in advance, always keeping in mind that you can often easily land rooms at under 75% of the lowest recorded prices on the cheap hotel and hostel sites.

      Another way to find out how much accommodation should cost is to walk a town from end to end asking the price of lodging at every hotel and hostel. By the time you get to the other side of town you should have a good idea of how much you are going to spend.

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      • craig | travelvice.com January 21, 2011, 1:18 pm

        Agreed. A lot of it is just walking and getting it done… however the majority of backpackers seem to gravitate to a LP recommendation for the 1st night and can’t be bothered to look elsewhere, even if that’s what they had in mind. The key is not to never be complacent: to always be on the hunt to upgrade your quality while reducing your costs.

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 2:31 pm

          This is truly right on. “Always be on the hunt to upgrade your quality while reducing your costs.”

          This should be one of the mantras of long term extreme budget travel.

          Thanks for adding this.

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  • LR January 21, 2011, 6:13 pm

    Wade, is there one place on your site that has a list of the hotels you stayed at and there prices, or do readers have to read individual articles from each location to find out how much you paid for a hotel? Either way, could you give me a link to an example, thanks.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 7:32 pm

      There is no direct list mentioning prices. This is too dangerous, as prices are always changing and there is no way that I could keep this page updated. But there are some pages that come close.

      Digital Nomad Hotels List– This is a list of accommodation that I have found good for digital nomads. I give addresses and contact info on this page, but no prices. But if I stayed there then it was probably cheap.

      Accommodation on Travelogue- An index of all travelogue entries about accommodation.

      Hotels on travelogue- This is an index of hotel related entries.

      Also, if I know that the hotel owner gives me a special price and doesn’t want it broadcasted — this often happens — then I will not publish it. I will just say that it is cheap. In point, this travelogue brings in a regular stream of traffic to hotels that I have stayed at — sometimes people show up when I am still there. Right now, th22ere are two sets of readers staying at a hotel that I wrote about a month ago. With this, there is a certain amount of responsibility, I suppose — I need to be both responsible to the travelers who follow and to the hotel itself. In point, if a hotel owner tells me not to tell other people what I am paying (this happens regularly) then I don’t publish the price. Again, I will just say it is cheap and regular readers know that I generally pay between $5 and $12 per night for a double room with private bathroom and, often, WIFI (and other amenities hehehe).

      So this is pretty much the standard operating procedure for publishing the prices of hotel rooms.

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      • craig | travelvice.com January 21, 2011, 8:38 pm

        A page like that is actually something I wish I had the data to support. Some of the notes are there in travelogue entries (as I talk about price often), but there’s no single historical record of such things… and I really, really wish there was.

        Since arriving in Peru last May I’ve been noting the GPS location for maps, room numbers and rates of my place and others of interest. Then again, I know well that few will care for the existence of such a page — so it’ll pretty much be for my own love of the road and not a guidebook substitute.

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 9:17 pm

          Maybe a few of us should make a website together about accommodation and as we travel throw in the prices we paid as well as some photos? Have are real quick way to do it. Or we should just load this up to Hobohideout.com, as Andy is making it so that we can upload directly to profiles. The value of such a page, for me, would be the data so I don’t care if it is on another site. I would really like to know where you, Andy, and Dave stay. We may be going to the Philippians soon, and, man, I wish I had Dave’s notes haha.

          I will suggest this to Andy, maybe he could combine our data into a separate searchable section on this site.

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          • craig | travelvice.com January 21, 2011, 9:51 pm

            But you can see the total lack of relevance for a lot of people for our data now that we’re traveling with family, Wade. Double with bathroom en suite? Seriously? Traveling solo that would’ve been pampering that I didn’t reach for. Unless it’s a traveling couple, staying in the rooms I select for the family is a reach.

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            • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 21, 2011, 11:56 pm

              Haha, well, I am still only paying like $8 a night haha. As you said, better for less. But the amenities — like WIFI, bathroom, electrical outlets, toilet seats — this stuff is still necessary for making a hotel into a “home” whether you are solo or not. I suppose having the family made me realize the true benefits of having a good base to work out of haha. As I said, I want this list for me. I suppose I have upped my standards.

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              • craig | travelvice.com January 22, 2011, 12:36 am

                I know I have as well. I haven’t shared or stayed in a hostel dorm room since… damn… well, since early 2007 I suppose…. then Tatiana joined me full time in mid-07, and well, what’s the point of going back when it’s cheaper to haggle down doubles outside of the LP hotels/hostels?

                Perhaps if I’m feeling bored one day this year I’ll go back through the travelogues and pull out what hotel/hostel details I can.

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                • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 22, 2011, 11:05 am

                  It is really interesting how in some popular backpacking regions — like Europe — two dorm beds cost way more than a nice double room. Traveling with a partner is also a budget travel move.

                  Would also love to be able to reference your list of places you’ve stayed.

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          • Dave from The Longest Way Home January 22, 2011, 12:55 am

            My Philippines section has a list of all the places I stayed that won’t frighten the average person off.

            Biggest issue for you will be Electricity and WIFI.

            Dry season these days means no electricity 5 + hours a day in many parts. Doesn’t sound like much, but everyday for months it gets to you.

            The average low end backpacker is too lazy these days to look up from a tour or LP book. I see this looking at them. The vagabonds of the world already know what to do.

            If Hobohide out can show numbers on the demographics and profits then I would say take a look at a website.

            I kept a giant OVI map of everywhere I stayed. Until the evil nokia update destroyed it. Now it’s on google and much safer. The reality is many of these lower end places change every other year.

            The best place to stay in Bangkok is now gone. 300 a night for wifi and private room, secure. Now it’s a struggle to find anything within that range that’s both secure, near a BTS, WIFI and not full of drunk layabouts.

            Relevance is indeed key here.

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            • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 22, 2011, 11:04 am

              I just want a concise list of good hotels selected by travelers whose judgement in such matters I respect. So that is you, Craig, Andy . . . I think it would be good if these pages were public so that readers who follow can leave comments to say if the priced changed or if the hotels don’t exist any more.

              “The reality is many of these lower end places change every other year.”

              This is perhaps the great conundrum of publishing information about hotels.

              Would love to check out the map of hotels you have stayed at in the Philippines.

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  • Réjean and Lise February 2, 2011, 11:54 am

    Please Wade keep going telling us about prices you paid no matter how you made it ! We would also be very pleased to learn about your experience and tricks to get the best deals. I think we are gathered here to share and help each others in order to enjoy our trips with the best deals and tips we could grab in your great website. We are willing to become more skilfull and travel until 105 years old ! So we are here to stay ! ahah ! We are not upset at all for Monte Cristo’s price we paid in Puerto Angel meanwhile. We are on the contrary extremely glad you had this incredible deal with the charming Lila ! She is such a lovely Lady and she owns the best place !

    Just give us more details about your successful deals and I think it could help us to be in the context you were at such period of year or so. Good deals seem to us to be unique and personal at least in Mexico so far ! We met a lot a people and we can confirm our statement ! lol !

    We are going now in order to enjoy the Mexico winter !!!!

    Réjean and lise.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 2, 2011, 8:47 pm

      Thank you very much.

      I really appreciate this. Will do, for sure.

      Thanks for all of the information that you have been sharing on this site, it is truly appreciated.

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  • Adam February 18, 2011, 11:35 pm

    Nice one! Good stuff. Hotels should not be biased in the way they price their rooms. Room rates should be flat and stay inflexible no matter how one looks like.

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