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How to Choose Great Locally Owned Accommodations When You Travel

Over the years, I've stayed in many hotels. Some were awesome, some were so-so, and some had me worried that I wouldn't see the next sunrise.

One thing that I have learned along the way is that some of my favorite stays have been at locally owned and independently operated places: each is different, and your stay is more likely to leave an impression.

After all, how often do you think back and say, "Wow, those two nights in the Orlando area Hampton Inn were super stellar and unique"? Probably never since every Hampton Inn I've ever seen looked exactly the same.

If you're looking to break out of the mold of chain hotels, you're in luck, as there are some fantastic local places to call home while you're on the road. From 4-room bed and breakfasts to independent luxury resorts to someone's extra apartment on AirBnB, there's a huge range in what can be called "locally owned accommodations."

But how do you separate the delightful ones from the duds?

Thankfully, in this technological day and age, there are plenty of ways to research some independent lodging options. Here are great ways to choose a safe, clean, and memorable locally owned hotel:

1) Check out the ratings. While these are certainly not the be-all-and-end-all, they do give you a place to start.

See what people are complaining about (and there's always something) how universal the issues are. If one person complains about the toilet paper not being triple ply, and another complains that the pool wasn't the perfect warmth, and yet another bemoans the fact that the bathroom only had three towels instead of four, you're probably going to have a decent stay.

However, if all of the complaints center on the same thing--noise, terrible customer service, filthy bathrooms--you need to take heed. When more than a few people are noticing parallels in their experiences, you have to assume that the problem is with the establishment more so than the reviewers.

Cay Pointe Villa in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida--a small place with some amazing Trip Advisor reviews!

When you're looking for an independent lodging location, these reviews can warn you of resort charges, how much extra toilet paper you need to bring, and if you have daily laundry service.

2) Go to the hotel/ motel/ inn's webpage and social media. 
Sometimes, these can be really helpful--if you get a location that regularly updates them. It's a mixed bag when it comes to independent places and social media, as some hire full time coordinators (as The King and Prince Resort in St. Simons Island, Georgia, does), while others have Facebook pages that haven't been updated since their inception back in 2008.

The King and Prince Resort in St. Simons Island--gorgeous and super tech savvy

Having an internet presence in no way indicates if the place is good or not, as I've stayed in great places with a very basic (if any) website, and some awful places that were all over the place on the internet.

If you do find that your intended locale has a webpage or social media channels, read through them. They can be great sources of information on renovations, recent guests' thoughts, and particulars about your accommodations.

Hopefully, you can also find a few pictures, and compare them to what you saw on TripAdvisor. You're going to get a more well-rounded view of what the destination will look like between the more structured, controlled display given by the hotel and the more candid, critical approach from TripAdvisor users.

2) Look at the street view on Google Maps. 
We've all been there: the pictures on the website looked AMAZING, but when you show up, the place is a dump...or next to one.

While it's easy to take professional photos from flattering angles, it's not so easy to get Google Maps in on the lie. Take a virtual tour of the neighborhood before you book, so you won't be surprised that there's a busy highway right next to your private patio or that the "recently updated" place has half of the shutters hanging off.

If you check on the street view for the Geneva Riverside in Lake Lure, North Carolina, all you see is Chimney Rock. Not a bad view!
3) See if the hotel/ inn/ motel is affiliated with any groups. 
There are many groups that independent inns can join--and the majority of these group keep certain standards that their members must sustain.

For example, the Florida Superior Small Lodging Association (which helped me organize my recent trip to the Florida Gulf Coast) asserts that the properties within its membership will provide clean, safe, and comfortable lodgings for their clients. Any properties not meeting these requirements during a routine check will be dropped from the roster and will lose their FSSLA support.

The Historic Hotels of America group is another fantastic organization with a rigorous application process and standards. Every one that I've had the pleasure of visiting is unique, but all are extremely high-quality.
The Dunhill in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the Historic Hotels of America in which I've had the pleasure of staying
4) Reference the local CVB (Convention and Visitors' Bureau).
Sometimes, popular local places will shell out cash to their community websites as a way to focus their advertising. If you're unsure of how to narrow down your options, take the names you've found and give the CVB a call.

While a CVB often won't recommend one hotel over the other (at least, not on record), they will happy to share any knowledge on recent awards or accolades (such as if a local place just won Southern Living's Favorite B&B).

5) Ask the locals. 
If an inn, bed and breakfast, or hotel is good enough that the locals speak favorably of it, you know it's worth your time. While I haven't stayed in every single hotel in downtown Charleston, I'm still able to give an educated opinion about cute, clean, and charming places in the historic district because I hear so many great things from people, both locally and visiting.

So, call that old friend from college who's living wherever you're headed--she'll probably have some great suggestions about where you can stay for a fun getaway.

Hopefully, this list will help you locate some great local accommodations--you might find new friends, a favorite vacation spot, or a perfect getaway!

Tell me about your experiences with finding a locally-owned place. What are your worries when booking non-chain accommodations? What's been the best local place that you've stayed?