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When I feel like splurging, I will willingly pay the price for a good hotel. However, when I have to add a plane ticket to the bill, I inevitably have to go for more basic accommodation. My main criteria in this case: the three 'Cs' or clean, cheap and central. Mismatched furniture, average bed, bathroom in the hallway are usually part of the deal. Those hotels are therefore by no means luxurious. However good research pays off and the places are decent. As I travel alone regularly, a secure environment is also important. My evaluations, especially for Europe, reflect all those criteria.
For any destination, I have looked up museums, city cards, transportation, etc. to avoid disappointment. I tend to buy my food in markets like the locals and I enjoy talking with the residents and shop owners (I speak French, English, some Italian, a bit of German and Spanish--it helps!). To get a better feel of the city, I favor walking every where (or almost)