When planning any independent trip abroad, finding suitable accommodations—along with securing flights to and from the destination—are among the first tasks to be tackled. We were planning to go back to Bologna to spend two wonderful weeks in this medium-sized city that’s the capital of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. With a range of lodging options available to us, we wrestled with the question of whether to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment through Airbnb.
We decided to split our time between each type of accommodation, booking our first week in an apartment and the second at a four-star hotel. Both properties were conveniently located in the historic center of the city. Our reasoning: We like variety and could experience the best of both worlds.
During our stay, we began to reflect on the pros and cons of each.
7 ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN AN AIRBNB
1- More choices in terms of location
Because there are far more apartment listings in Bologna than the number of hotels, the former offered greater choice in terms of location. For the location of our Airbnb, we pinpointed a small alley that was lodged in the center of the busy ancient market area called the Quadrilateral.
2- Homelike feel and more space
At a rental, you are more likely to feel “at home.” In addition to having a bedroom, we enjoyed the luxury of having a kitchen and living room where we could cook our own meals and relax. Being so close to the market, we imagined cooking more meals “at home” than took place in actuality. As it turned out, a coffee bar we could almost fall into was directly across from our apartment and there were many more in the immediate area. Like most busy working Italians, we wound up having a quick coffee and Nutella-filled cornetta (croissant) at different bars each day until we chose one where we became “regulars.” The idea of cooking fell flat, too. Why hassle with cooking in a small kitchenette when we were surrounded with wonderful eateries within steps of our door?
3- Less touristy and more authentic
At the apartment, we lived among real neighbors without other tourists traipsing in and out of the building with luggage. Each time we entered and left, we felt part of our neighborhood. Moreover, staying in someone else’s apartment, we were able to experience the characteristic way a true Italian lives in terms of lifestyle and décor.
4- More privacy and independence
While hotels in the U.S. tend to be more anonymous, each time you pass a front desk in Italy, it is almost compulsory to exchange greetings, Buongiorno in the morning or Buon Pomeriggio in the afternoon. Many people appreciate bypassing a hotel lobby and being able to go directly to their room. In our case, neighbors weren’t right next door either, as they might be in a hotel. If we were in a rush in the morning, we didn’t have to tidy up for the arrival of housekeeping as we might in a hotel.
5- The bonus of having a washer and dryer
Being able to wash and dry our laundry mid-week and at the end of the week was a true blessing. Not all rental accommodations have them but many do. Of course, there was a startup curve in learning how to operate the washer/dryer combo with all the electronic settings written in Italian. Now I know that asciugatrice means dryer.
The first time I tried, the wash cycle took more than three hours and the clothes still emerged very damp. Thankfully, I was able to hang them in the kitchen (to continue drying) on a portable drying rack that the owner had stashed in a utility closet.
6- Better value
Not all the time but most times, rental apartments turn out to be a better value. Our apartment was priced at only $96 a night. We would have been hard-put to be able to find a suitable hotel room at that rate. When families travel and need multiple bedrooms, the cost-savings can be even more dramatic. Sometimes, too, renters are able to negotiate better rates with a lengthier stay. Of course, when deciding upon a rental, it’s important to calculate what cleaning fees, Airbnb or other rental agency fees, etc. are added on that might negate or minimize your savings. When drawing the comparison, don’t forget hotel taxes and amenity charges.
7- The element of surprise
Although there is also a downside, the upside of variability and inconsistency among rentals means that many times, you get more than you bargained for. In our case, it turned out that the apartment size was much larger than it appeared in the listing photos, and that the apartment had many “extras,” including a foosball table in the living room and wonderful coffee table books to browse through. Some owners are extremely gracious while others are stingy in an effort to cut costs. For example, your toilet paper supply or box of tissues may not outlast your stay. Also variable is whether or not the owner leaves detailed instructions for how to use appliances. For example, it Italy, we eventually figured out that it is common to have to turn the gas on with a wall handle before using a stove. Even taking out the garbage can be a hassle if you don’t understand the system. Bologna has a complicated recycling schedule and once in our apartment, we discovered we had to take refuse to public recycling bins located on another street.
5 ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN A HOTEL
1- Predictability and fewer surprises
Hotels tend to be more predictable with fewer surprises. This allows you to spend less time worrying about your accommodations. And if something goes wrong, it usually can be remedied with a quick call to the front desk. In an Airbnb, it can take time to contact an owner and there may not always be a quick fix. Also because hotels tend to be more regulated than private apartments, you are more likely to find smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in these properties. A recent article in the New York Times notes that the greatest renter laments are over what is missing (e.g., towels or a cutting board) rather than what is there.
2- Personal service
If you want personal service, you’re likely to opt for a hotel stay. Most apartments tend to be self-serviced. If you really need assistance you can contact the owner but otherwise, you’re on your own. In the apartment, I was responsible for washing dishes, keeping things tidy and making our bed each morning. In a hotel, it is always a joy to return to an immaculately clean room, a refreshed bed and changed linens. At the hotel where we stayed, a concierge was at our beck and call to offer directions, hail a taxi, make restaurant reservations or suggest things to do.
3- Breakfast and room service
Most hotels in Italy offer a complimentary buffet breakfast with a night’s stay. At our hotel, we had the choice of an indulgent buffet breakfast in the sala colazione (breakfast room) or a continental room service breakfast. For me, having a cup of cappuccino delivered each morning was a real luxury. Our hotel had no restaurant, so room service was limited to breakfast but some hotels provide room service all day or around the clock.
4- Better bathrooms and amenities
Luxury hotels tend to update their bathrooms and provide more shower amenities (e.g. rain shower heads, shower caps, branded toiletries, etc.) In our experience, the quality of bathrooms in rental apartments tends to be more idiosyncratic. Towels tend to be more plentiful and of better quality in hotels; they also can be changed as often as necessary. In our Airbnb, the linen supply was limited to one bath towel, one hand towel and no washcloths for the week. On the subject of washcloths, they are typically hard to find in Italy so we now bring our own (see Washcloths in Italy: Do Italians Use Them?) Another thing to know: You may find extra hand towels hanging over the bidet but most Italians would never use them for anything but their intended purpose: cleaning one’s private parts.
5- Safety and security
As older travelers, we are often concerned about the security of our accommodations. At the hotel, the front desk screened any visitors coming into the building, requiring them to provide an ID before entrance. We also had an in-room safe to secure any valuables. At the apartment, we weren’t quite sure who else had access to our unit and had to trust that nothing we left there would leave the premises. Fortunately, it didn’t. At night, the staircase leading to our apartment two flights up seemed more spooky than private. People traveling solo also may feel more comfortable and secure in a hotel. One more thing: In the event of a personal medical emergency abroad, it’s easier to pick up a phone and call the hotel reception desk than to find help in a rental apartment.
The choice of whether to stay in a hotel or an Airbnb usually isn’t clear-cut. Fortunately, we were able to give both our choices five-star ratings!
Although the decision to stay in an Airbnb or hotel is likely to depend on the availability of both accommodations, the length of stay and cost at a destination, it is also a matter of how you want to live and experience your travels away from home, and your flexibility and sense of adventure.
In our case, staying in an apartment for our first week allowed us to immerse ourselves in our environment and get to know a neighborhood really well. During the second week, we loved living in the lap of luxury. Yes, this was the best of both worlds.
Are there some other determinants that dictate how you decide between a stay in a hotel or Airbnb?
All photo credits: Jerome Levine
For information about lodging and attractions in Bologna: