I fully believe that where you stay while traveling can make or break your trip. It definitely colors the impression you have of the place, and often distorts memories, for better or for worse. Given this enormous weight your accommodation has on your trip, it makes sense to spend some time trying to find the best one! Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all for accommodation; every trip, every budget, and of course, every place is completely unique and so should be treated as such.
When I travel (with my husband, family or friends) we choose a mix of hotels and Airbnbs based on various factors. The biggest factor is usually budget, but gaining a unique local experience, or suitability for groups is usually a close second. While picking your accommodation, you have to narrow down a few important factors you have for this trip – is it location, or size, or convenience? Is luxury more important or adhering to a strict budget? In this post I hope to help you choose the type of your accommodation by answering these questions.
Here are some guidelines on when you should pick an Airbnb or a Hotel.
When to Choose an Airbnb
By now, I hope everyone has at least heard of Airbnb? If you haven’t, I highly recommend this NPR podcast. In a nutshell, it’s a service that lets you rent someones home for your trip, you could choose to rent an entire home or just a room. Doing it through Airbnb gives it an added level of service and security, if anything goes wrong with the landlord, Airbnb will come to the rescue.
I. Unique Places to Stay
Airbnb is a great way to find unique places to stay. This is amazing because you get to enjoy a new destination and enjoy a fun, unique experience at the same time! For instance, this treehouse we stayed at in San Luis Obispo – conveniently situated, the sweetest host, and the coolest accommodation!
Here are a few unique Airbnb’s on my wish list :
- The World Famous Sea Shell House
- This little Cottage in Sweden
- This Dome in Joshua Tree
- This dreamy Treehouse in Hawaii
- This stone hut in Italy
II. Want a local experience
It is hard enough to completely immerse yourself in the culture of a new place from a hotel room, and impossible to pretend to be a local. Renting an apartment is my favorite way to get local experiences – for one, they are usually in the parts of town that locals frequent, and two, you could actually get tips from your Airbnb host (and even make a new friend!).
III. Have a Large Group
While traveling in a large group (bachelor / bachelorette parties, family trips etc.) it’s fun to all stay together in a large house rather than split up in a hotel. This is when Airbnb becomes very useful (Note : There are other services you could use too – HomeAway’s VRBO is good for large rentals in the US).
IV. Get in in the afternoon or later and leave mid-morning or earlier
Most Airbnb’s don’t have lobbies to store your luggage before or after check out. (Note : Some hosts try to accommodate this, make sure to find out before booking).
V. Want to save money
Hotels in a lot of heavy trafficked (aka touristy) places are very expensive (case in point : all of the California coast, where a Super 8 might cost more than a lovely airbnb). In such cases, picking a nice Airbnb works out much better than staying in a cheap hotel – for the same cost, you get a lovelier experience helping to make better memories of the place. You also avoid the over-touristy sections, making it a solid win-win.
VI. Need a kitchen
On longer trips (or if you have dietary restrictions) it’s really useful to have a kitchen. It helps save a lot of money (even something as simple as eating breakfast at home can go a long way), and keeps you a little healthier too! Airbnb wins on this one.
VII. Three or more nights
An Airbnb can be a bit of an overkill for just one or two nights (you have to take out the trash and clean up after yourselves, the restrictions on keeping luggage etc.) so might not be worth it. Hence, I recommend it usually for three or more nights. Caveat : Of course, this rule doesn’t apply if it’s a unique place or you have a large group.
If your trip sounds like it fits well in the above criteria and you want to book an Airbnb, remember to comb through the reviews carefully. I usually try to book places with more than a handful of reviews, a Superhost is obviously preferred.
When to Choose a Hotel
I. Need place to store your luggage
A hotel is super useful when you reach a place at an odd time and just need a lobby to store your luggage (and yourself!) before or after you check in. It’s also good for the times you reach very late, are disoriented and /or jet lagged and just want a comfortable bed to crash on without the hassle of figuring out how to open a new apartment door.
II. City where Airbnb is questionably legal
The sad reality of Airbnb is that it’s still battling some legal issues – a few cities are openly against short term rentals (since they might hurt long term residents by causing a shortage of places to stay thus hiking up long term rental prices). Case in point – Barcelona fined Airbnb for allowing property listings that were not listed on the tourism registry aka illegal. Condo boards in Tokyo are not Airbnb friendly, and in such cases it’s just easier to pick a hotel than have to worry about hiding the fact that you are staying in an Airbnb.
III. You don’t plan to spend much time in the room (cheaper hotel, convenient location)
If the only thing you want from your accommodation is a clean bed to sleep on at night in a super convenient location, choose a hotel. Just make sure the bathrooms look decent!
IV. Luxurious experiences aka pampered to the max
Let’s face it, real luxury can only come from a hotel (for now). Who wouldn’t want to take a bath in a gorgeous standalone tub sipping $$$ champagne, wear the most luxurious robes and sink into a cloud posing as a bed? And the best part – you don’t need to take out the trash!
I highly recommend choosing luxury hotels to take your vacation up a notch – especially for honeymoons and romantic getaways!
V. Hotel offers some kind of perks / booked using credit card points
You can use credit card points to book a lot of hotels (FYI : I usually book five star hotels with points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve, and this makes me feel a lot less guilty!). Some hotels even have their own credit cards, and these are useful for upgrades, free stays etc. Most chain hotels have some kind of rewards system, and it does come in handy, if only to get free wifi (looking at you Marriott).
It might make sense to be consistent and stay at hotels where you can get and use perks – but of course the trade off is that you might miss out on some cool unique experiences in certain places.
Airbnb, hint, hint, to start some kind of rewards system?
VI. Unique Experiences
Ha! Fooled you! You can get unique experiences through both Airbnbs and Hotels. You just need to pick really unique (most of the time small and cute) hotels – such as Treebones in Big Sur (glamping in yurts), or Acre in Baja California (glamping in Tree Houses), or luxury safari camps etc.
On my bucket list is to stay at
- this luxury cave hotel in Cappadocia
- this amazing overwater bungalow in the Maldives
- this stunning hotel at the edge of a cliff in Positano
- experiencing a Safari while staying in a Skybed or the Mombo Camp
- this chalet on a glacier in Alaska
VII. Less than three days
For any trip less than three days I recommend a hotel. An airbnb is *usually* not worth the hassle, especially since you have to pay a cleaning and service fee. Of course, there could be some factors that could make the airbnb option more desirable (need a kitchen / more space, much better value for money etc).
VIII. If you are not on a budget
If you have no budget restrictions then just stay at fancy hotels. But make sure they are super luxurious because you need to compensate for missing out on local experiences 🙂
I hope you found this guide useful! Now stop procrastinating and get back to booking your dream trip!