Over the course of my time as a travel reporter for Insider, I have spent more than 30 nights staying in rentals across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and South Korea.
I’ve been covering regional travel for Insider for a year, which has meant spending a lot of time in rentals. I’ve spent nights in luxury resorts in Indonesia, hostels in Singapore and Thailand, a campervan Airbnb in the Philippines, and a shipping container hotel in Malaysia.
When I first started making reservations for these rentals, it felt daunting — I was unfamiliar with the locations and there weren’t many reliable reviews online.
But after testing out dozens of accommodations, I’ve learned how to choose the right accommodation, book efficiently, and save money.
Here are seven of my top tips for travelers.
1. Read recent reviews on websites like TripAdvisor and look up vlogs to get a realistic picture of what the rental is like.
Travel writers and bloggers can have good tips, but I think it’s more helpful to find out what the average person experienced during their stay.
Google Reviews and TripAdvisor have both proven to be good places to gut-check the reality of hostels, hotels, and resorts. I suggest filtering reviews to show the most recent ones.
If you’re staying in an Airbnb or somewhere unique like a glamping tent, vlogs on YouTube and TikTok might be useful.
Photos online, especially those posted by the rental’s management, can be deceiving, so do your research and look at as many reviews as possible before booking.
2. Look up the rental on Google Street View before you book.
Whenever I travel to remote locations, I take to Google Maps and find satellite views of the rental to see its condition.
I also walk virtually around the neighboring streets of the rental to see what the atmosphere is like, and if I need to make special transport arrangements in case it’s located up a mountain or in a rural village.
3. If something about the online listing seems off, give them a call before you book.
Southeast Asia is known for its unique rentals — but they can sometimes be sketchy. Several videos on TikTok have shown tourists mistakenly booking abandoned resorts in places like Bali.
I’ve stayed in remote rentals including a rural mountain cabin in Thailand and a “haunted” hotel in Malaysia. I was initially skeptical of these rentals, so as an additional precaution, I called reservations before booking to make sure the place is still up and running.
I also asked for extra information like recent photos of the rental, instructions on how to get there, and who to contact in case I got lost along the way.
4. Avoid listings where guests complain about being “scammed” or you may find yourself paying an additional fee in person.
Look out for the words “scammer” and “overcharge” in reviews when doing your research — you might just be asked to pay extra upon arrival.
During a trip to a budget hotel in Malaysia, I was asked to pay an additional 80 ringgit (around $18.50) upon arrival, despite have already prepaid online.
If you’re backpacking and are closely watching your budget, it may be best to avoid these rentals altogether despite the cheap advertised rates.
5. Call in advance to request early or late check-in — or anything else, really.
I have found that most boutique rentals are willing to take special requests like early check-in or late check-out — as long as the request is made in advance.
The only exception to this are hostels and budget motels, where there is a strict hourly rate. In that case, your best move will be to check if there’s a discounted rate for early check-in.
6. Be patient when trying to snag deals — sometimes it’s worth refreshing the page a couple times to get a lower price.
Flash deals and prices can appear on booking sites without prior notice, so I typically refresh the booking page several times before making my payment.
For example, I booked a room with a private plunge pool in a luxury resort in Singapore for under $400 on a third-party website. Although the price listed was closer to $600, a flash sale netted me a substantial discount.
7. If you can, travel in the off-season.
If you’re traveling in Southeast Asia where the weather is hot and humid all year round, it might be worth making your booking during the monsoon season, when it’s likely to a bit rain more.
So long as you’re not booking a rental in a flood or landslide-prone area, it’s perfectly fine to book during a less busy season — not only will you save money on accommodation, but tourist attractions are also likely to be less crowded.