When you are travelling you can opt to just go with the flow and find accommodation as needed or plan a little ahead. Generally we like to research options to decide whether the type of place we are visiting has lots of the type and price accommodation we want or not and this will help us decide whether to flow or plan.If you are a member of one of the Hospitality Clubs this may be your first area of research as not only do you get your accommodation but more importantly for us you meet locals and learn about the culture etc.
It helps if you have an idea of what you are looking for such as dorms, private rooms with or without bathrooms and cabins and if you need additional facilities such as a swimming pool, wi-fi.
Budget will also be a consideration but must be taken into context with which country you are in and also which town or city or where within the city.
Some tourists offices are extremely helpful and have maps and list of accommodation including accurate prices, others are hopeless.
Guide books are also a good source of information to get you started and whilst we rarely stay in the
accommodation they recommend it does give you a good idea which areas of the city have the budget rooms.
There are many web sites where you can research, read reviews and even book ahead
For general accommodation including hostels
Trip Adviser Lonely Planet
For mainly hostels
Hostel Traveller Hostel Bookers Hostel World Hostels Youth Hostels Mini Hostel Hostel Trail
HOTELS can also be a good deal and on websites such as Late Rooms it is possible to get a very nice room at a heavily discounted price.
Another slant are websites where people are offering either a room or even a whole house to rent privately.
9 Flats/ Room for travellers Air B and B
Crash Padder is a fairly new thing where people who have a spare room advertise it through this site, usually much cheaper than staying in a hotel but mainly for large cities - particularly good in London.
During our trip in South America we have often been met at bus stations by touts and were initially very wary. They are often promoting a new hotel or find they have plenty of rooms available and are offering discounts. Every time we have allowed them to take us to one the accommodation has been good and the price often cheaper than we could have negotiated as a walk in, as a bonus they often take you there by car. For example in Salta we stayed at a 3* hotel for the equivalent of £13 approx 1/3 of the normal price.
One thing that works well for us is to check out the area of town we want to stay in and make our way there. We either find a nice seat where one of us can stay with the bags or sit in a café whilst the other one sets out on foot. This enables you to walk around easier without people pestering you and there is always the legitimate reason for not agreeing to a room instantly as you have to check back with your spouse. Of course there is also the chance of the person in the café to ask other travellers for recommendations.
Don’t necessarily accept the first room you are shown (often places will try to let their poorer rooms first), ask if they have other rooms or cheaper rooms and ask politely if there may be any discount.
If the places you are looking at are constantly too expensive ask if they can recommend anything cheaper.
OK so having found the room one final thing you may want to do is check out street noise, comfort of the bed and whether the bathroom is fully functioning.
As a contingency plan we always have extra funds available just in case there is nothing in our budget and we have to upgrade a little. This happened in Uruguay when we arrived on the weekend of an irregualr fiesta. The only room left in the town was virtually an under stairs cupboard with double bed at $70 - as another couple were in line behind us and wanting to take it we snapped it up!