In this day and age, there are endless options when it comes to booking accommodations for your next trip. Many still prefer the traditional methods of booking hotels. But recently, the private rental industry begun changing the game with websites like Air bnb and VSBO becoming wildly popular. This has created some serious competition within the hospitality industry, virtually changing the way people travel.
So which is better?
I get asked this question a lot and it’s hard to answer because it is truly a matter of personal preference for each individual. Each form of lodging has its pros and cons, which I am going to dive into and share personal experiences to illustrate. Then at the end of this post, I will reveal my preference between the two.
The convenience of staying in a hotel is what many prefer. Endless towels, room cleaning service, amenities like pools and gyms, parking, breakfast buffets, free wifi, shuttle services, and a front desk or concierge that can help you with your every need. All things that can make your trip easier and more enjoyable.
There are also several options when it comes to hotels. If you are on a budget, there are motels and hostels. On the higher end, there are resorts and luxury hotels. There are also boutique hotels or the bed and breakfast options. And then in the middle where most people fall, there are several big chains that people love and trust, with loyalty programs that can earn you free stays and other perks. Within any one particular hotel, they usually offer different types of rooms from standard to luxury suites or even oceanfront.
I enjoy hotels because of all of these options and offerings, but my absolute favorite thing about hotels is luggage storage services. If your flight conflicts with check-in or check-out times, usually you can drop off your luggage to hotels and they will hold them for you in a secure space. I cannot tell you how many times this has come in handy for me. Let’s say check-out time is 11 AM and my flight is not until 8 PM. I do not want to lug my heavy bags around for several hours until it’s time to head to the airport, but I do want to use this time to explore and go off to do activities. So being able to drop my luggage off with the hotel staff and then pick up later is a huge perk in my eyes.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more authentic experience when travelling, private rentals are your best bet over touristy experiences you get from a hotel or resort. Sites like Air bnb and VRBO connect you with private owners who rent out their properties for far less than hotels. It puts you in a real neighborhood to see how life actually is in the city or country you’re visiting. While you can read reviews from past renters to get an idea of what to expect, they’re still more unpredictable and adventurous than a hotel, offering you new experiences and perspectives that a Sheraton or Holiday Inn simply cannot.
The best part about these rentals for most is that they are significantly cheaper than hotels. This will allow you to spend your hard-earned money on other things like activities and food. In addition, they usually have a kitchen so you can cook your own food as an option to save even more money. This is especially great if you’re traveling with a large group. You can easily rent a larger house so people have their own rooms and then just split the cost of the rental, which can offer hundreds or thousands in savings compared to renting several hotel rooms or a suite.
I used to visit Puerto Rico frequently and each time, I would rent a car and a tiny apartment in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. I interacted with the neighbors, walked a couple blocks to the beach, and drove around the island returning home to my apartment rental each day- all like a real local. It was always liberating and eye opening, plus it made the trips much more affordable.
Aside from this, there are two things I love the most about rentals. When you rent one, you’re supporting a local family or small business owner rather than a large company or corporation, which directly and immediately helps the local economy. Second, I love that rentals can connect you to locals, such as neighbors and the actual owner/host, and therefore you’ll meet people you normally would never encounter or have access to. The personal touch that an owner can offer with their rental can never happen at a hotel. For instance, when I stayed in Bali, Indonesia, the host picked us up from the airport in his own car. He chatted with us, told us what we needed to know and advised us on how to be safe. He was extremely helpful in providing recommendations on where to eat and what to do, and made himself accessible whenever we needed anything.
In another example, in 2010 I rented a beautiful private villa on the beach in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic for an awesome price. This included an absolutely amazing staff. The security guard lived in the house and was much more than just security. He waited on us hand and foot, never allowing us to lift a finger. He cooked authentic and delicious Dominican food for us and taught us all about his life in the DR so we could learn the real deal. He became my “papa Dominicano” and we became so close that he introduced us to his family. He accompanied us to the market and excursions to ensure we were safe and never taken advantage of. When I got sick, he even took me to the emergency room himself and took care of me. This is something that would never, ever happen in a hotel. I will never forget it. These are the kind of travel experiences that changed who I am and how I view the world.
On the other hand, sometimes in a rental you really do miss some of the conveniences that you become accustomed to in hotels. No options for room service or calling to get more towels. No one cleans up after you because you’re staying in someone’s home, so you need to pick up after yourself and leave the place as you found it. I realized that the missing safety factor was big for me when we were in Bali and our taxi driver flipped on us. We were terrified that he now knew where we lived and that we were just two girls staying there alone. We ended up being fine but it was pretty scary at the time.
So which do I prefer?
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I generally prefer private rentals. Air bnb has become a godsend for me as I begin planning a European trip for my husband and I. Hotel prices seem to keep going up, so instead I can be frugal and rent amazing rooms for about $50 a night. I am also planning a trip to Thailand, where I have seen nice room rentals for $30 a night. As I always say, travel does not have to break your bank account or put you in debt. These kinds of options make travel affordable and accessible to anyone.
However, this is not always the case. There are plenty of times where I prefer a hotel. As with everything when it comes to travel, this is more complex and depends on a variety of factors. If safety is a concern where you’re going, then stick with a hotel or resort so you will always feel secure and never have to worry. If the destination is safe enough for a foreigner to wander around on their own, such as Puerto Rico, Japan, or most places in Europe, go with an Air bnb and get the real deal experience.
It also depends on your expectations. If you’re more open-minded and adventurous, and you want more exposure to people and culture, then private rentals are the way to go. If you want convenience and to be catered to, hotels are the better option for you.
The one piece of advice that I offer is to avoid all-inclusive resorts at all costs. I absolutely disdain them. To me, staying in a Westernized resort with everything available to you dissuades you from going out to explore and actually experience the country and its culture firsthand, which completely defeats the purpose of traveling. In my experience, the food is usually horrible and the drinks are usually weak, which explains why they’re included and unlimited. The locals they employ work their butts off and make very little, while the resorts charge big rates and keep a majority as profit. They exploit the local culture and trap tourists into overpaid and unauthentic excursions, whereas local tour guides would charge you half and offer you much more. Yes, they’re beautifully manicured and can be enjoyed. I got an opportunity to stay at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino in Punta Cana, and I admit it was immaculate. But I would have much rather preferred to explore on my own than to remain around other tourists and be limited to a pre-packaged experience that the resort developed.
I will never knock someone because they prefer a hotel or resort. Sometimes you really do just want to lounge by the pool, have drinks served, and relax. But anyone who knows me will know that my passion lies in exploring cultures and sight-seeing. I want to get out there and learn, try new things, eat different food, and be totally immersed in another way of life. Everyone is different, and that is totally fine. When planning your trip, the destination should be carefully researched to determine what fits best for your preferences on all these factors and make the decision for yourself.
Either way, I am just thankful that these days, we have a plethora of options and choices for everyone and every budget. Regardless of where you stay or how you travel, the most important part is that you get out there and see the world.