Hotel room or vacation rental? The accommodation debate
Where you stay makes all the difference on the road. Even if you only plan to spend your sleeping hours in a hotel room or apartment or rental home, inconvenient or unappealing accommodations can detract from — or ruin — an otherwise lovely trip.
The range of choices and amenities is vast, but one of the key decisions these days is whether to go with a traditional hotel room or opt for a rental property through Airbnb or a similar site with listings from ultraluxurious villas to bare-bones guest rooms.
Fluffy bathrobes, turndown service and breakfast in bed or a private residence with DIY meal possibilities and room to spread out?
Weighing in on this debate are two CNN Travel staffers. We also want to hear your rationale. Please submit your reasons for booking a hotel or a rental property in the form below.
TRIED-AND-TRUE: A CASE FOR HOTEL ROOMS
Lilit Marcus is a New York City-based editor at CNN Travel and an unrepentant road warrior. She also hates making her bed.
When I think about going on vacation, I think about one word: relaxing.
Which of these situations is more relaxing to you: standing in the middle of a street trying to siphon Wi-Fi from a neighborhood restaurant, carrying all your luggage and being jet lagged as hell while you desperately try to pull up an email from your Airbnb host containing the key code for their apartment building, or having a concierge whisk you and your bags upstairs to a cozy room so that you can immediately fall asleep?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
It’s not relaxing to make your own bed
As a woman who travels alone all over the world, I find it comforting to know which things I can control and which ones I can’t. A 24-hour reception desk staffed by people who speak a range of languages feels immensely comforting in an unfamiliar place, not to mention safe.
I have been chased down streets, harassed by taxi drivers and nearly assaulted in the course of my travels. But I always heave a happy sigh of relief when I arrive at the front door to my hotel.
Like airports, hotels seem to exist in their own separate world. Need a full meal at 3 a.m. because you’re wide awake with a walloping case of jet lag? Consider it done. Want to immediately wash the clothes that got soaked in an unexpected downpour? No need to figure out how to use a foreign washing machine — just dial zero for reception.
If I wanted to make my own bed and clean my own bathroom, I’d stay home. Travel is supposed to be about trying new things, not doing the same boring ones in slightly different circumstances.
Being a local is overrated
I’m just going to say it: the “live like a local” mentality is overrated.
Yes, I like its general ethos of venturing to less-crowded areas and indulging in hole-in-the-wall restaurants. But not every aspect of being a local is fun.
I live in Manhattan. For me “being a local” isn’t just about going to Broadway shows — it also means shoving my way onto a crowded rush hour subway train, waiting an hour in line to get a salad at lunch and lugging my trash down six flights of stairs because the elevator in my building is broken again.
Does that sound fun and glamorous to you? Because it doesn’t to me. If I have the chance to experience New York City like a tourist by staying at a hotel, I’ll happily take it.
So much of travel is about learning how to navigate new and unfamiliar experiences. I love to get lost in a cute neighborhood or try a food that I’ve never heard of before. But not every single component of being in a different place is sacred. You can do all of those “not a local” experiences … and then end the day at the hotel pool.
Loyalty has its pluses
There’s another major reason I love hotels: the points.
Travel can beget more travel by working your loyalty programs. Just like I hoard frequent flier miles and use them judiciously for trips I can’t afford on my own, being loyal to my hotel brands of choice makes it more likely I can afford a free room or a fancy upgrade the next time around.
And it’s not just about redeeming points in the loyalty game. Having status with a given hotel brand often means you get free upgrades, personalized greetings, your favorite snacks in your room waiting for you on check-in and other perks.
For example, I’m a tea drinker and not a coffee person, but my favorite hotel chain knows this info and makes sure there’s tea and a kettle already in the room before I even get a chance to ask. What’s more luxurious than that?
Hotels also provide some cushion for those critical oh-wait-did-I-forget-something moments that even the most savvy traveler has sometimes. Their outlets often work for multiple kinds of plugs, meaning you don’t need to pack a bagful of adapters, and there’s someone who can bring you toothpaste to your door if you forgot to pack it yourself.
Travel is exciting, but it can also make you feel very vulnerable. You’re in a new place where you might not speak the language, you don’t know your way around, the weather’s totally different than what you left at home, and you’re exhausted. Hotels can eliminate some of these logistics-related pain points and give you more time and energy to focus on the things you’re really excited about.
LOCAL FLAVOR FOR LESS: THE VACATION RENTAL ARGUMENT
Atlanta-based editor Marnie Hunter loves a good value in a great location and likes pretending to live in walkable neighborhoods where coffee and snacks are just steps away. And she needs her space.
Travel is expensive and more travel = more fun. I have a hard time plunking down hundreds of dollars a night before I’ve even started eating, drinking and exploring. So, vacation rentals are my go-to. More space for less money on lodging means more money for everything else.
Never underestimate having your own space
I’m a light and uneven sleeper. I wear ear plugs at home by myself. With a fan on. I travel frequently with friends and — not naming names — some of them snore.
I need my own room.
I’ll gladly sleep in a slim European single or on a futon with one blanket, if I can have that quiet space to myself. In fact, I find the global hotel market’s embrace of duvets very troubling; I am not a person who needs enforced Alpine-ski-lodge coziness in July.
With a vacation rental, the cost of two or more bedrooms is often comparable to a hotel room and definitely far cheaper than booking multiple rooms in a comfortable and conveniently located hotel in a popular destination.
You can buy perishables and breakfast won’t cost you $40
You have the added benefit of refrigeration. A full kitchen, really, but I tend to lean heavily on the full-sized fridge to store my market goodies — cheeses, pate, charcuterie, olives and so on. Sometimes pastries. Mostly cheeses. Breakfast can be prepared. Dinner even.
In San Sebastian, Spain, the apartment a friend and I rented had an electric juicer. Five kilos of oranges later, we started our days with the freshest, tastiest OJ I’d ever had. Then we strolled down our narrow street for sidewalk-café espresso done right.
You can also buy life-sized bottles of wine or liquor and drink it out of proper glasses without the exponential hotel mini-bar mark up.
The residency fantasy is real
I’m pretty thrifty, yes, but I will pay for design. I’m not looking for the most elegant apartment on the rental market — can’t afford it.
But what I am buying, somewhat guiltily, is the fantasy of living somewhere in a style that looks accessible (but would no doubt be well beyond my means in the places I’m visiting).
I’ll take that fantasy over a five-star hotel any day.
And when you do want to stretch into a new bracket of luxury living, there are rentals that offer next-level glamor that’s more personalized than a luxury hotel.
Pied-à-terre in central Paris? Yes, it may be within reach — for a few days.
A friend and I once rented an apartment in the Marais that was owned by an Irish architect. It wasn’t the most economical option (although still cheaper than two decent hotel rooms in the same neighborhood), but the delicious design, curated art and antiques and striking balance of classic and contemporary was well worth the cash.
And when you really up the vacation-rental ante — going in with a group of friends on a villa in Turks and Caicos — you may score the unparalleled delight of your very own infinity pool with Caribbean paradise views (plus blender for umbrella drinks) — for a fraction of the price of a resort-run property.
You have a refuge
When you rent a home, you’ve also got a refuge from rain or cold or blistering heat that doesn’t involve sitting in your bed (Five-star hotel suites notwithstanding).
In a temporary residence, you can make yourself a cup of tea or a stiff drink and sit on your living room sofa plotting your next move like a civilized human.