Ask for a card in the reception with the name, address and phone number of your accommodations. This is useful to show to taxi drivers and people on the street to find your way back.
Try to avoid looking for accommodations after dark and when you are tired and hungry.
If you arrive late in a popular place you will probably find the first alternatives mentioned in the popular guidebooks already full, start with the ones mentioned further down in the text.
Have a look at the room before deciding. Things to check out include:
• The shower – “hot water” is a relative concept
• Does the toilet work (flush)
• Is there a shower curtain
• Noise (traffic/bars around)
• The bed: are the mattress and pillow okey or have they been worn out
Before leaving the hotel ask the reception if the accommodations closes at a certain hour and how to get back in after closing time (e.g. you have to ring a bell which is often ingeniously hidden to make it impossible to find in the dark). If you plan to bring company it can be wise to ask beforehand if it is okey.
Turn off the refrigerator if it makes noise at night. If there is ice inside it may melt and start dripping making more noise. In this case put a towel on the bottom of the refrigerator floor.
Use an alarm clock in addition to the hotel wake-up calls (maybe your cell phone has a built in alarm). If there are manual wake up calls they are not always reliable, especially in cheaper places.
Some places (such as love hotels in Japan) may not accept gay couples. In that case one of you has to dress like a woman or you can go with two females, pose as two straight couples and switch rooms afterwards.
If you are on a tight budget camping may be an alternative (depending on the country). There are official camp grounds with showers, lockers etc or you can sometimes stay in peoples gardens for a small fee. Some countries have very liberal rules regarding where camping is allowed (e.g. Sweden).
You can stay for free in other travelers’ homes through the Hospitality Club or the Couchsurfing project. You can also sleep in some airports to save an expensive hotel room.
Traveling by night buses or trains saves you a night’s accommodation, but do not leave things lying around while you sleep, lock your backpack to something and use earplugs and eye shades to get some sleep.
Hostelling International is an international chain of budget hostels. You can also book accommodations online which may be convenient if you arrive late at night or travel during high season.
Even if you live in a cheap place it is often possible to use the swimming pool of expensive hotels for a small fee, ask at the reception.
If you stay several nights at the same place you can sometimes get a discount, try asking for it.
Booking on-line can give you really good discounts compared to walking in from the street. Check with your travel agent if there are any package deals which include hotels and airfare.
If you walk into a hotel and manage to negotiate a discount get the price in writing since different people work day and night and by the time you check out there may be another person working in the reception.
The Havana Hotel Heist
I was in Cuba and walked into a pretty fancy hotel. I thought the price for the room was too high and started walking out. The hotel staff then told them me that I could go to the travel agency in the hotel to book a room at a great discount (which I did).