Thanks to the internet, booking a hotel has never been easier, and if you look carefully you can find some gems, writes Linda Herrick.
It's a marvellous thing to be able to book hotels online way in advance of your departure date. It's so cheap.
But there is a downside if you lean, as I so easily do, towards profligacy and a love of luxury. The fact that you can book a nice place months ahead with a "free cancellation" option means you have time to roam around the site during idle moments, prompted by those tempting "up to 50 per cent discount if you book within the next 48 hours" emails that flood your inbox.
Once you're in, they're coming straight back at you. Posher, cheaper, better location. There's a world of hotels out there, and you can upgrade. Go on: they want you to.
As someone who had never used an online hotel booking site until recently, I rushed in for my first stop on an upcoming trip to Italy. I got it all wrong. I booked a place on Venice Island, but foolishly took the non-refundable option because it was cheaper. But then I realised I was going to have a hard job finding this place on arrival because it was up some narrow alley, over a bridge, turn left, then right, then up four flights of stairs because there was no lift. Some of the reviews said visitors felt unsafe going down the stairs with their luggage.
Whoops. I emailed the hotel to ask if I could cancel. They said ring the booking website, who were very pleasant and cancelled but don't do it again.
Chastened, I found a place that looked appealing over on the Lido, booked it ("free cancellation"), then a couple of days later looked on the map. The Lido is very long and thin, with the boat terminal in the middle. The place I'd booked was miles away. Cancelled.
Now I am set up in an Art Nouveau B&B, bang in the middle, near the boats, the cafes and the beach. Job well done.
My next destination will be Florence for a week. There are hundreds of hotels in Florence. I spent some hours one weekend looking, looking. It always pays to read the reviews. A place might look good; the reviews always have nigglers and whiners.
I've opted for a chain hotel, which is central, looks secure, safe and very bland. Very bland. But I'm hoping I won't be spending too much time in it, an establishment that some former guests - I noticed later - have attacked for having sullen staff, dirty plates in the breakfast area, and hard-as-bones mattresses.
On the other hand, I might keep looking.
Palermo is sorted, with a room on the upper floor of a palazzo run by a very friendly man called Giuseppe. Friends stayed there recently so I know it's all right. They also recommended a B&B in Siracusa - "plain but nice rooms and the very best breakfast in Sicily". I booked that but then I looked it up on Google Maps and saw an amazing place up the road, right on the harbour. A Grand Hotel, no less. So the B&B is out; the Grand in. I may regret that. Why did I forgo the best breakfast in Sicily?
Where to stay in Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily, has always been a given.
I once read an interview with Simple Minds' singer Jim Kerr, who owns a hotel there, Villa Angela. His hotel is not cheap but I got a good rate. It's in an amazing location on the side of a mountain, looking towards Mount Etna.
But hold on. Looking at the photos, the headboard on the bed in one of the rooms is the shape of a huge white scallop and I note that the large TV screens feature Best of Simple Minds DVDs. Aargh. Cheese. I'm sticking with it though. When I leave, I can hum, Don't You Forget About Me.
I bet no one's ever done that before.