Tripologist: Decent digs for the new year

I'm travelling to western Europe in December-January. As a regular Travel reader, I often come across advice suggesting travellers should book accommodation early. On the other hand, with the rise of online booking sites that offer rooms at discounts, to what extent is the age-old advice to book early still valid? Further, my research has shown budget chain hotels to be only marginally more expensive than hostels in Europe's large cities. Would your advice change depending on whether we stay at a hostel versus a budget hotel? As a student, any money-saving tips would be greatly appreciated.

- Z. Wei Por, Hawthorn East.

At the time of the year you propose, there is no shortage of empty hotel rooms and no need to book ahead. Europeans hardly stir from their firesides in winter, unless it's to make a quick sprint to the airport to catch a plane to Abu Dhabi or Zanzibar.

As long as you're sharing, a budget hotel room should cost about the same as a hostel. Hotel discount websites such as Wotif (wotif.com) and Venere (venere.com) will have plenty of bargains. During the long Christmas academic break, you can often find accommodation in student residential halls, especially in London. Click the Travel link on the ukstudentlife.com website (ukstudentlife.com) for a list.

Pay attention to location when you're searching for a place to stay. Cheap accommodation a long way from the city centre might not turn out to be such a bargain. The sun sets at about 5pm in Paris at the end of December and it makes sense to look for accommodation in a lively area with plenty of restaurants and nightlife.

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