|The view from our Dublin hotel|
Well, I'm here to compare the different accommodations that I've used over my years traveling abroad. On this trip we stayed in three hotels, two bed & breakfasts, and five rented apartments. By the way, this was my first time renting apartments through a website called Airbnb, which ending up saving us some serious coin.
In Part 1, I'll point out the different things to look for when you are booking a place to stay.
In Part 3, I'll share my tips for a successful Airbnb rental after the comparison, since it was such a great experience! I'm not being paid or anything, but I wish I had some help before we started looking!
Part 1: What to Look For in a Place to Stay
The list of important things is different for everybody, but I noticed that when I was booking accommodations with my travel buddies, we each had different priorities. Here's a list of things to get the juices flowing on picking out the best place for your next vacation!
- Expense: Self-explanatory! There may be accommodations that include extras, such as WiFi, breakfast, parking, and pets for free. Definitely a bonus! Conversely, if you are charged extra, you should include this as part of the expense.
- Location, location, location: You may love to be in the touristy areas, near the attractions, or away from the craziness around where the locals live. It depends on you! Proximity to public transportation, as well as to good restaurants and cafes is always a plus. :)
- Ratings: Websites like Trip Advisor will help you to make your decision by reading reviews by previous guests. Also, some of the websites in Part 2 have rating systems built in to the search functions.
- Security: Often, this is tied to the location, but it may be important for you to have a private room with a safe.
- Ease of booking: Nowadays, the internet makes it easier, but there are some options that are definitely easier than others!
- The Pretty Factor: We all want to stay somewhere that looks and feels like somewhere we want to stay all day, even if we only stay here to sleep! Also, it may be important for you to have some local character in your accommodations. :)
- Room Size/Features: Usually bigger is better, especially if it has a kitchen and living room!
- Luxuries: The gym, spa, and babysitting services may be important necessities for you on your vacation. :) Also, you may want a 24 hour front desk or concierge that can book tours, tickets, etc.
- Access: Certain accommodations abroad will not comply with the same standards that we have in the U.S. This means steep staircases, lack of ramps, etc. which may be important if you're on the top floor with heavy suitcases!
- Family friendly: You'll want to pay attention to the safety of the neighborhood, room size, luxuries, and access.
|Our rented apartment was just a few minutes walk from the tower in Bruges!|
Part 2: Accommodation Comparison
I won't have to go too much into the specifics here, but I'll quickly sum up the pros and cons. Also, these are just generalizations for easier comparison, because there will always be exceptions to the rule.
Good websites for comparing hotels are Hotels.com, Hipmunk, Priceline, Orbitz, Kayak, and Hotel Tonight (for last minute hotels).
- Usually convenient locations
- Good security; may include room safes
- Easy comparison & booking through websites
- Luxury services may be available, such as gym, spa, etc.
- 24 hour front desk with concierge and housekeeping
- Easy access with elevators
- Family friendly
- Located in overly touristy areas
- Standard rooms, usually without local character
- Small rooms without kitchens or separate living rooms
- WiFi usually with a surcharge
- Typically no breakfast included
Bed & Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts are typically smaller houses or buildings that obviously provide a bed and breakfast. They can range from very affordable to very expensive for more exclusive accommodations.
Comparison websites: BedandBreakfast.com, Bed and Breakfast Inns, and Venere.
- Less expensive
- Away from touristy areas
- Rooms with local character
- Free WiFi
- Free breakfast
- Friendly guests and hosts with local recommendations
- Small rooms
- Difficult to comparison shop; many are not listed on websites
- Less secure than typical hotels
- May not have 24 hour front desk/host
- No luxuries available
- Difficult access, like lack of elevators or steep steps
Typically, hostels are places that backpackers stay, but there are now luxury hostels that are available! Although we didn't stay in any for this trip, we did stay in one amazing hostel in Prague. There is definitely huge range, from private double rooms with ensuite to 20-bed rooms with a shared bathroom. You will definitely need to look through pictures and reviews before settling on a place to stay.
Also, another tip for booking is to remember that the charge is per person. We actually found that it was really expensive to stay in hostels when we looked for a private double with ensuite bathroom!
Comparison websites: Hostels.com, HostelWorld
- Cheap (*But see note above!)
- Easy to book
- Front desk with lots of recommendations for tours & access to discounts
- Opportunity to meet fellow travelers
- Not very secure
- Cleanliness may be questionable
- NOT pretty
- Small room size
- No luxuries
- Not family friendly
There are several websites where you can peruse apartments and even whole homes that people list for one night to longer term rentals. The accommodations may be someone's personal home, while they are on vacation, or an apartment that they own specifically for renting out. Scroll down for my tips and my own experience!
Comparison Websites: Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO
- Easy to book
- Large room size & possibility of full kitchen and living room
- Recommendations from a local host
- Large choice of locations
- Local character
- No luxuries
- No Front desk or onsite help
- Access may be difficult
- Cleanliness may be questionable
- Lots of research needed
- Shared homes (if you choose that option)
Part 3: Airbnb Tips
So, you're interested in booking from Airbnb, but you're not sure if you want to and how the process goes. Here I am to help! First of all, I have to say that I am overall really pleased with the experience, and I would absolutely recommend it. For us, the advantages definitely outweighed the disadvantages.
The good: It took a lot of work to research, but we found some gems for a really low price. Our rooms were about $100/night and were in great neighborhoods with huge bedrooms. Two of them even had large kitchens and living spaces. All of the hosts were incredibly nice, even though we only saw them at the beginning of our stay for our tour. Once, we stayed with a young couple in their guest room, which we thought might be strange. However, it was actually really great to hang out and have lots of recommendations!
The bad: The research process can be a long one. One time, I didn't take note of where we needed to pick up a key because the host was at work until 6pm, and we arrived early. We ducked into a hotel to use their internet and figure out where to pick it up. Another time, we didn't have time to contact our host when our train would be arriving, so we ended up walking in while she was still cleaning up from the last guest. It was awkward at first, but she gave us a tour and then personally gave us the recommendations for dinner. We ended up ducking out so she could finish while we ate. Lastly, there are what I like to call "European quirks" to a couple of the apartments, like tiny bathrooms, sloped roofs, and steep staircases, although that's pretty common even for hotels. However, we knew these things going in, so it wasn't a problem. :)
Here are my tips for booking process!
* If you're not sure where you want to stay, check out their handy Neighborhood Guides.
* When you start your search, if you don't want to spend a long time researching places, be as specific as possible. Choose specific neighborhoods, room type, and your price range.
* Most likely, you're going to get a HUGE amount of results, so the best thing to do is get more specific. If you want to narrow down the location, check "Redo search in map" and zoom into where you want to stay. If you want to lower the maximum price, it's possible that you'll still find great results for an even lower price!
* Next, sift through as many results as you would like. My advice is to look at the pictures, read the reviews and description, and identify the amenities they provide.
* For any results that you are interested in, hit the "Save to Wishlist" button so you can find it easily later.
* When you're done looking through the listings, prepare a message to ask if they are available.
- Make sure to provide a bit of information about yourself, so they know what to expect.
- Ask any questions that you might be concerned about after reading reviews, etc.
- This is something that I figured out along the way, but it's possible to ask for a special rate, especially if you will be there long term. It could save a couple bucks!
* This is important, but make sure to contact about 10 hosts. Don't bother ranking your top choices because most likely half of them will fail to respond quickly. Also, some of them may offer the special rates, which could change your rankings.
* Before booking, ask any final questions that you may have.
* After making your booking, make sure the details are taken care of beforehand. Know how you'll pick up and drop off the key. Find out how to contact your host if anything breaks while you're there.
Whew! That's a lot of information, but I hope this answers a lot of questions that you guys have been e-mailing me.
Also, if anyone wants the exact places where we stayed this trip in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Ireland (Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Dublin), as well as my last trip to Budapest, Vienna, Cesky Krumlov, Prague, Dubrovnik, and Split, send me an e-mail!