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Accommodation: Hotels Vs. Airbnb Vs. Couch Surfing – Which one is best?

Accommodation: Hotels Vs. Airbnb Vs. Couch Surfing – Which one is best?

So you have a big trip coming up and are unsure of what’s right for you? With the advent of new accommodation options a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. New destinations with previously limited accommodation options are now more accessible and within anyone’s budget. Lets’ look at the pros and cons of each so you can decide for yourself what is right for you in your next destination.

 

HOTELS

The classic and in my opinion, still the best option out there if you have the money. Nothing beats a nice comfortable hotel room.

 

Accommodation - hotel options and logos

Pros:

  • Privacy – If it’s peace and quiet you are after then hotels are for you. Granted you get the odd experience with noisy people humping in the next room, or being put facing a busy street, but for the most part, hotels offer the best in comfort and convenience.
  • Breakfast/room service – Sometimes food is really hard to find when traveling. If you come in late, don’t feel like hitting the restaurants or are a busy professional, eating at the hotel is a good options (although quality varies from place to place).
  • House Keeping – Unless you live with your mom or have a very accommodating spouse, all of us spend our lives cleaning and doing laundry. It sure is nice to have a freshly made bed and clean towels to come back to.
  • Front Desk/Concierge – We take this for granted when staying at hotels, but it’s really nice when checking in and out, and if any problems arise, to have someone there to address issues right away.
  • Safety – This is my number one concern anywhere I go. I try to live my life as worry free as possible, but having somewhere safe to sleep is a blessing. Many hotels have security, card key systems, safes and dead bolts. They all equate to a safe place for me and my belongings.

 

Cons:

  • Expensive – Of course there are all kinds of hotels/motels in all budgets, but there is no debating that hotels take up the majority the travel budget. The more remote the location the more expensive the options are and it is based on the socio-economic situation in that location.
  • Impersonal and sterile – Most hotels do a good job of decorating their room with the intention of comfort and convenience, but they lack character and personalization. Most are set up to optimize profit and little offer the creature comforts of home.
  • Hard to meet people – I have a saying…”The more expensive the hotel, the harder it is to meet people,” (I know, I’m such a poet!). Let’s face it, if you stay at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, I seriously doubt you will be invited by Sheikh Mohammed to come and hang out for dinner. I’ve met some amazing friendly people staying in hostels and dive hotels, and absolutely no one at the high class establishments… It’s a trade off.
  • Scarce in some places – The more remote the place, the harder it is to find hotels AND the more expensive it is. It’s always a good idea to look at the other two options before making a decision.

 

Tips: 

Unsure of how to book a hotel for the best price and in the best location? Look at: 10 tips for booking the ultimate hotel room

 

 

AIRBNB

AirBnb is a relatively new concept where people list their homes on a website database for people to rent. Options include a full house/apartment, a private room or shared accommodation.

Airbnb - Hit the Path

Pros:

  • Can be cheaper than a hotel –  If you are a single traveler and willing to share a room you can find accommodation in some places for as low as $5 a night. If all you need is a bed for the night it’s a good option.
  • More amenities – The great thing about AirBnb is the possibility of renting out a whole house or apartment. This means a kitchen and a full size bathroom and laundry facilities. If you are after that ‘home away from home’ experience, this is for you!
  • Live like a local – A lot of hotels are in commercial or industrial areas and you don’t get to experience the life of a local. Airbnb offers the opportunity to live the urban or suburban life and everything that comes with it. Local eateries, people watching, it’s all there and offers a far more personal experience.
  • Discounts on longer stays – This is why I love Airbnb. Most hosts offer a considerable discount for weekly and monthly guests and it can be less than half the per-night value. It’s definitely the best option for long term stays.
  • Meet new people – If you are staying in a home with a host

 

Cons:

  • Legalities – A lot of apartment buildings and gated communities don’t allow “subleasing”, but people do it anyway. Hosts will often ask guests to keep their identity a secret, or pretend they are family members in order to sneak them into the building. This is the last thing you want to deal with after paying good money for accommodation.
  • Security – The main problem I have with AirBnb is the security issue. You have no idea who has access to the apartment and who can just come in whenever they please. Also previous guests can make copies of keys and come back whenever they please for whatever reason. This worries me a lot.
  • Ads are Misleading – After looking at booking.com for a hotel I decided to switch over to Airbnb and low and behold the local hostels/hotels are advertising a ‘private room’. Yea, they fail to mention that the private room is situated in a very busy motel/hostel. Nice try and it happens everywhere.
  • Check In Problems – Since there is no 24/7 concierge desk and you are dealing with private people, you really have to coordinate your times well. If you are coming in early or late this can be a problem. Another common problem I find in the tourist areas is that most of the hosts live in the city and have the key to a house 3 hours away! This is very inconvenient is you are booking last minute and this method of reservation requires a little bit of planning and forethought.
  • Hosts can be greedy –  Like any marketplace website where people can name their own price for their goods and services (such as Ebay), people can get greedy and prices get way over-inflated. It’s always a good idea to e-mail hosts first and make them an offer, all they can do is say no.

Tips:

The AirBnb website charges a lot of money. In a typical transaction they charge the guest an additional 6-12% service fee, and then the hosts typically get hit with a processing fee to cover credit card transactions etc. To avoid this you can do a little snooping and contact the host privately on Facebook or LinkedIn. A lot of people will mention names of their house/bed and breakfast in the ad. For example, ‘Mountain luxury retreat’. If you do a quick search for this + the location, you might even find a webpage and can make a direct booking/reservation.

 

COUCHSURFING

A relatively new online platform linking budget travelers with generous hosts around the world. This accommodation is free and can range from a couch to a single bedroom or maybe a whole apartment if you have a busy and generous host. It also offers an opportunity for travelers to meet up with locals for meals and sightseeing. In theory it’s great, in practice, well…decide for yourself…

 

Couchsurfing - Hit the path

 

Pros:

  • It’s Free! Yay! – This is the ultimate in budget travel and popular with younger generations. You might be asked to help out with household chores or offer language help in exchange, but ultimately, it’s free.
  • Free tour guide – A lot of locals on CS are interested in meeting new people, making new friends and showing them the best their city has to offer. This includes tourist attractions and great local food. This information is invaluable when traveling.
  • Invitation to local events – This is something you don’t get in a hotel, an invitation to a local wedding or festival. If you want to really live like a local, this is the way to do it!
  • Home cooking and family life – They say the best local and traditional food is made in people’s homes. A lot of hosts live with their families or nearby, and are usually happy to invite you for a family dinner. This is also a great way to get a firsthand account of familial structure, social interactions and local culture. There is a reason international travel hosts on TV always visit a local host family for a real first-hand account of food and customs.

 

Cons:

  • Safety –  This has been a huge concern since the beginning and rapes and crimes do happen. Misunderstandings, cultural mishaps and assault are a far too common occurrence for my comfort level.
  • Unmet expectations –  There are a lot of people on CS that use it for the explicit purpose of a free hook up. Women get chosen more often over men for the explicit purpose of a possible sexual encounter.
  • People are unreliable –  they cancel last minute and you MUST have a back up host or plan. Unfortunately this is human nature and has been a real problem. Always bring enough money to cover a hotel if need be and if you get a free couch for the night then great, you save a few dollars. but never be left with no other options.
  • popularity –  cities such as Paris and NYC are extremely hard to find a host in. You are competing with many other hopefuls and if you do find a host in an expensive and popular city, consider yourself very lucky!
  • False Advertising – What people offer might not necessarily be what you get when you arrive. (i.e people lying about sleeping arrangements). There have been a few accounts where people have been asked to share a bed with the host, or even taken to a hotel room! sleazy…
  • Privacy and Rules – You are in somebody else’s house and must follow their rules. This includes what times you can come and go from the property, if there is a curfew, and what is expected of you as a guest. Always talk with your host first and come to an pre-arranged agreement.

 

Tips:

See my post on CouchSurfing for a true and accurate account of the pros and cons of free accommodation.

 

 

Here are the three major accommodation options available both domestically and internationally. Some you may have heard of and some you may not, all have good and bad points about them and all offer a different depth of cultural integration and comfort. Pick what’s right for you and your needs, and if something doesn’t feel right at any time, then have a plan B and bounce!

Be safe and happy travels.

 

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