Should I stay in a hotel or an Airbnb?
We’ve traveled enough to determine the best and the worst case scenarios for lodging. We’ve really fallen in love with the concept of Airbnb, and even rent our place out every single time we travel. In fact, for the past 2 years, it’s made us about $3,000 in revenue, which is great because every dollar helps offset out vacation budget.
But Airbnb is not without its difficulties, so we do enjoy staying in hotels as well. It feels nice to come back to a clean room, with professional service, and the chance to relax in a private, “own” environment. So when deciding to stay in a hotel or an Airbnb, what is the right option for you? It totally depends, but I’ve outlined some of the best and the most improvable parts of both options.
You get to stay in someone’s home, which is representative of the culture, architecture, and vibe of whichever city you are visiting.
Some Airbnb hosts leave out an array of products and goodies to make your stay more comfortable: towels, cookies & tea, shampoo, conditioner, and lotions, etc.
Full amenities are provided as it’s typically someone’s home, so you can use the kitchen to make meals, the living room to enjoy yourself and relax, and the washing / drying machines to do laundry. You can really live like a local.
The price is often very very approachable. Because Airbnb has many different options (shared room, private house, couch, garage, etc), you can always find a space that will suit your needs. And typically for the price, you can get a lot more space than a hotel, including spaces like the living room, extra bedroom (or just a larger bedroom), a kitchen, maybe even a balcony or pool access.
If you’re staying with a host, he/she can be very knowledgeable about the best spots in town as they have had to explore them for themselves. Also, you can get a sense of the city you’re staying in by talking to some of its citizens!
You have to clean after yourself. Airbnb works on a rating system, and besides that, you should aim to leave your space the way you found it. This means that you must incorporate some time into your Airbnb visit to clean up the place during and at the end of your stay. You should wash the dishes (or at least load them into the dishwasher), throw out the trash (or at least put all of your trash into one place), and put any things you’ve taken from shelves. This might be a hassle to the folks who tend to run late, or simply feel that cleaning should not be a part of a vacation.
Some hosts do not leave many products out for guests. Tom and I have been to Airbnb rentals where the “goodies” are very limited. Sometimes there are no towels, no toothpaste, perhaps shampoo is available but it’s of lesser quality. When we visit Airbnb’s, you should be prepared to have some of your own travel kit essentials.
If you’re missing an item like a phone charger, or lotion, or feminine products, etc, you will need to buy it yourself because there won’t be anyone to provide it. Unlike in a hotel, where you can quickly borrow a charger or an adaptor, you are left to hope that the host is thoughtful or kind enough to leave one around. But if there is not, you’d have to buy those items, if you’re in a pinch.
Because of its price, sometimes you spend more money on the travel from your Airbnb into the main areas than you’d expect. Tom and I often try to save on the big things like transportation to the location (airfare), and lodging. But what bites us in the butt the most is all of the Uber rides in between. We’ve certainly taken public transportation in cities, but if you’re ever running late, or tired, or feeling lazy, or feeling unsafe, you will have to pay the price for a taxi or an Uber and those fees can very quickly add up.
The check in / check out time can mean that you don’t always have a place to leave your bags. I’m writing this blog right now, as I await entering our Aribnb. The check in time is in 1.5 hours, and until then, we are stuck with our bags because the host left the key in an automated box that only will issue our key in 1.5 hours. It’s a bit frustrating so keep in mind that if an Airbnb is a busy one, and there are guests who are checking in right after you leave, you might need to figure out what to do with your bags.
If you don’t read the details on the Airbnb, you as the guest can accidentally ignore very important information from your host. We’ve been hosts and had several guests complain to us about out apartment being on the third floor and it being difficult for them to make it up there due to poor health, and this is after the descriptions boldly stating “3rd Floor Apartment”. And no matter whose fault it is whether the information was offered, or simply ignored, if you come to an Airbnb, it’s not easy to change your reservation, and its not easy to find one last second if a place is not to your liking. A hotel would be much more helpful to those with health issues.
A little bit of friction can occur with the check-in process due to reasons like getting the keys, working with the locks to get into the apartment (some get jammed), climbing up stairs with heavy bags (such as 5th floor Manhattan apartments), lack of amenities (such as no tea or coffee, or items to wash yourself with) etc.
If you are staying with hosts (in a shared space, a couch, a private bedroom in an apartment), you will need to interact with your hosts and abide by their rules, even if you don’t agree to them. I stayed in a place booked by my friend, in a shared living room space where there was a strict vegetarian rule. I love meat, and therefore could not make any dishes in their kitchen with any of the things I loved. Consider really reading the description closely, and book the reservation yourself if you’re a picky traveler.
The professional service and the care for your stay can make your transition very smooth and enjoyable.
The amenities available like pool access, gym, relaxation goodies like lotions, shampoos, and restaurant access can help the travelers who might feel that that’s a part of a good trip/ vacation.
The prices of hotels are quickly becoming more approachable due to the rising competition, and can even compare to some Airbnb’s in a specific area.
Hotels typically have terrific locations, and thus can be located in some of the most prime centers of all the interesting and traveler friendly environments.
Hotel staff can often be very knowledgable and help you make decisions about your travel itinerary.
Every day your hotel room is cleaned by the staff, and you get to return to lovely, made bed.
After you check out of the hotel, you can leave your bags in the lobby with the staff and still enjoy the rest of your day in the city if your flight/ride is towards evening time.
Most hotels have a breakfast baked into the price of your stay. A free breakfast, no matter if it may not always be lavish, is after all free.
You can feel like you’re staying in a copy, of a copy, of a copy of a room, especially if it’s the same hotel company over and over again (such as Hilton). The hotel rooms can feel quite sterile.
Some hotels (especially ones that offer handsome prices) are located closer to business districts where virtually nothing happens. You’ll need to have a plan on where to find the best spots, and make sure that the hotel is good proximity to nightlife.
Hotels can also be situated in tourist traps, leading people to restaurants that are also tourist traps, leading to boutiques that are…you get the point. The surrounding businesses can offer tourists low quality goods and experiences for a premium price. Take Times Square for example. Is it one of the most iconic places to visit in NYC? Absolutely! Are you going to pay $40 for a Digornos pizza? Yes indeed. Apply the same concept to all the most traffic heavy destinations: businesses don’t have to work as hard to attract people, they will simply drop in naturally.
Most hotels will try to up-sell you on the small goodies that they leave in your room. You want that bag of cookies in the middle of the night? Prepare to pay $10. Want to be lazy and drink their travel sized bottles of liquor instead of finding a store? $25. Water bottles, chocolates, goodies for adults ( 😉 ) , and so on : everything comes at a totally unreasonable price.
A hotel like the one in the photos below tries to incorporate some unique pieces, like a little bit of art and color. But under the surface, you can understand that every room is a carbon copy of the one next to it, and the experience feels somewhat sterile.
What do I think about Airbnb versus hotel? It all depends on: how much money you’d like to spend on your lodging, how much space you need, how close to the center of all the action you’d like to be, how important it is for your place to be accessible (like a lift or an elevator).
There are certainly amazing little finds in Airbnbs where you get to feel like a local, for a very reasonable price. But now, private businesses have began pumping out these “micro-hotel”-like buildings where the rooms are no frills, still comparable to the rest of Airbnb in the area, but are cold, un-delightful, and sterile. If your main objective is to feel like a resident of the city, I would argue paying a little bit more for a better Airbnb to get an enjoyable stay.
Much of what you get will depend 100% on the host. We’ve had hosts leave out cookies, beer, juice, granola, tea, and a whole array of self-care products simply because they felt a sense of pride to have this little hub that helps them make money, but also caters to human beings.
There are typically less frills with Airbnbs, but I believe they capture authenticity much better than any hotel can. No one is paid to “serve” you, and you can generally find really terrific, well designed homes for a fraction of the price of a hotel room.
And let’s not forget, the user interface of the Airbnb platforms makes it easy to find a great spot, communicate with your host, update them on any changes you might have, find other cool spots recommended by locals, and so on. Hotel websites may prove to be more challenging to interact with due to language barriers, outdated technology, etc.
In regards to a hotel, I would say that it’s a classic option that is still quite costly for many travelers. We all understand how a hotel works, and can have expectations for the level of care that will be offered when we check in. With Airbnbs, you often never even meet your host (which is fantastic for some guests, and terrifying for others). We’ve had guests who texted us, demanding wash-cloths, extra towels, parking in the area, extra bedsheets, etc. A hotel can accommodate to many expectations, whereas a host won’t always have the capacity to. This again, will either be a part of the experience and expectations with an Airbnb, acknowledging that the price point is why you don’t get the bells and whistles, or a source of friction who seek out better price points, ignoring the business model of the new, innovative platform.
There is a reason so many different types of micro-hotels, hostels, and other lodging accommodations are popping up. Travelers want to see the world, often needing only a bed to stay in, making the price point being their first priority. If you’re somewhere in the middle like me, you’ve got a ton of options. I typically start with “authenticity”, and if that costs too much, I move on to “comfort”.
What about you? What do you prefer?