A few years ago, accommodations for a typical vacation mostly consisted of a stay at a major hotel chain, perhaps with free breakfast thrown in or some sort of incentive, like book early and save 10% on your hotel rate. These days, there are a range of options — from the standard hotel chain, to the micro-hotel, to couchsurfing, to a vacation rental, and many other options in between. The question I often hear now is not which hotel should I stay in but what type of accommodation should I choose? More specifically, should I stay in a hotel or a vacation rental?
Vacation rental companies like Airbnb and HomeAway have become enormously popular in the last few years. Deemed as the more affordable option for people who want to feel more integrated into a place, this type of accommodation gives you the opportunity to stay in anything from a treehouse to a mansion — it's all up to you and your budget.
But which is better: a hotel or a vacation rental? When I'm staying in the latter, I find myself thinking, "This is great! I should always stay in a vacation rental." But then when I'm in a hotel, I think, "Wow, this is so convenient and pretty. I love hotels." Clearly, I can't make up my mind. I also think it depends on what you're looking for and the type of trip you're on. There are good things and not-so-good things about both:
Staying in a vacation rental really does make you feel like you're more integrated into a place, whether that's actually true or not. Chalk it up to me being a city girl who's lived in an apartment for a huge chunk of her life, but I love staying in an apartment (or flat) in another part of the world and feeling like I live there. I get to pick up groceries and cook, which certainly saves money, but I also tend to relax a bit more because it feels like my home, at least temporarily.
One of my favorite vacation memories was in a rental house that nine friends and I got in Malta. We cooked dinner together most nights, taking shifts on who would make what and then we stayed up late talking about anything and everything over bottles of wine and lots of laughter. It's hard to capture that same sort of camaraderie in a hotel, particularly with a large group. Vacation rentals are perfect for situations like that where you're traveling with a number of people.
Vacation rentals can also be more budget friendly. When my family and I travel to Europe, we often stay in apartment rentals, mostly because it's less expensive than trying to fit a group of people in multiple hotel rooms. Vacation rentals give us the space and flexibility while also allowing us to stay in central locations because of the lower cost.
All that being said, vacation rentals do have their downfalls. When you rent a place from someone, you're never entirely sure of what you will get or how reliable that person will be. A situation happened to my family and me in Italy that proved just how dependent you are on having a good vacation rental owner.
The gist of the story is that my family and I were booked to stay in an apartment in Venice, however the owner was unresponsive and we found ourselves canceling our stay and scrambling to book a hotel hours before we boarded our flight from Germany to Venice. Situations like that don't happen as often with hotels, so the sense of unreliability can be a stress factor. Also, what if the place does not look like it does in the pictures or the neighborhood is extremely sketchy? This can happen with a hotel, but it's more likely to happen with a vacation rental. For this reason, I am very appreciative of Google Maps and Google Street View. On several occasions I've seen a great apartment rental online and thought it looked like such a great deal, but after doing more digging and looking at the place on Google Street View, I've been able to get a clearer picture about the place, the neighborhood and its proximity to the areas and sites I'm interested in.
As I said, there are pros and cons to each. I have loved staying in apartment rentals immensely. In addition to my stay in Malta, I've also stayed in excellent vacation rental properties in Quebec, Milan, London, Paris and Jamaica, and I'll be staying in a vacation rental with friends over Memorial Day weekend. It's a matter of doing your due diligence (in other words, go through those reviews with a fine-tooth comb) and being ready to act quickly if things go awry.
I'll also say that something I personally don't do is stay in a private room in an occupied apartment. I know several travelers who do this and have amazing experiences. I also have heard stories that haven't been so amazing. Again, I think it's a matter of doing your homework to ensure the safety of the place. Also, use your common sense. If something doesn't seem right, it likely isn't.
A good hotel stay feels so nice; it really does. What's great about a hotel is the convenience. Most of the things you need are right there or easily available. If you don't know where to go or what to do, you can ask the hotel concierge for recommendations or help booking reservations somewhere. There's also an increased perceived sense of safety. I say perceived because unsafe situations can certainly happen in hotels, but there's a greater sense of protection when you're staying in a hotel versus a vacation rental.
Another great thing about hotels are the amenities. Whether it's a gym, pool or complimentary breakfast, it feels nice to indulge in these things while you're on vacation. Unlike vacation rentals, hotels do not feel like you live in a place, and for some people, that's exactly what they want. They want the customer service and the hotel room and all the convenience it comes with. And if that's what you're looking for, a hotel is the way to go.
In addition to typically being more expensive than a vacation property, one of the things that hotels sometimes lack is that sense of connection. It feels different to walk out of a home or an apartment in a foreign city than to walk out of a hotel. It explains why some hotels are taking a more boutique approach with the size and feel of their properties. Many people crave that connection and feeling of intimacy that you don't get at a massive resort.
Also, similar to vacation rentals, hotels can also be deceiving in regards to their photos online. Sites like Oyster help to show what a place is really like. Something else I like to do to combat situations like this is that I not only look at travelers' hotel photos on TripAdvisor, but I also check to see if anyone has posted photos of the property on Instagram or elsewhere on social media. These sources will give you the real deal when it comes to the hotel property you're interested in.
Hotels are great for the person who wants convenience and is skittish about staying in a vacation rental. It's also great for the person who wants customer service while on vacation. It's perfectly fine to want to feel a little pampered and to not have to worry about cooking your meals when you can eat at a hotel restaurant or get a recommendation from the concierge.
Similar to vacation rentals, I would also say doing your due diligence is very important for hotels as well, and don't assume that because it's a hotel it's automatically safer. Just like with anything, use your common sense and good judgment.
Whether you stay in a hotel or vacation rental (or both!) is up to you. I personally like to mix and match. When I'm traveling with a group, I tend to lean more towards vacation rentals, but if I'm traveling solo, I go with hotels. It's my personal preference, just as whatever you decide is yours. So, make your choice, do your homework, get suggestions from friends and enjoy the experience.
Which do you prefer: hotels or vacation rentals?