Renting an Apartment vs. Booking a Hotel

As websites offering private residences for temporary rental to travelers becomes more mainstream, more people are opting to spend their vacations staying in homes versus going the regular hotel route.

One of the main factors inspiring this switch is the low cost of apartments over pricy hotels.  But money isn’t the only factor to consider.  Here are some things to think about when considering renting an apartment vs. booking a hotel while traveling.

The king sized bed and red headboard at the Rouge Hotel in Washington DC.
Spacious, artistic and comfortable: the Rouge Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Apartment Pro: Space, and lots of it.
The biggest perk of private rentals tends to be the amount of space for the price.  Entire apartments are often offered for the amount of a tiny hotel room, or sometimes even at a fraction of the price.  Thanks to AirBNB, my friend and I rented a entire apartment in Paris across the street from the Louvre for 6 days for the same price as the hotel we had in Madrid for only 3 days.

Hotel Pro: Cleaning Crews.
Never underestimate how awesome it is when you leave your hotel room and return hours later to a sparkling clean bathroom, empty garbage cans, clean towels and perfectly made beds.  When you rent someone’s house, the cleaning crew doesn’t exist.  Actually, it does exist and that cleaning crew is you.  Remember that if you’re staying for a long time, have a messy travel companion, or just like a perfectly organized living space (like me).

The patio outside the cottage we rented in Sonoma.
Added amenities like a spacious patio and bikes were free with the cottage we rented in Sonoma.
Apartment Pro: Home Amenities.
Our Parisian apartment came with a kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a separate bedroom–all welcome amenities after practically living on top of each other in tiny hotel rooms in Spain.  Washing our clothes, having a fridge and our own space were very appreciated, even if the dryer took hours to complete and the fridge was smaller than a dorm room one.

Hotel Pro: Concierge Amenities.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on the knowledge of the hotel front desk until I stayed at an apartment without one.  We got used to asking for directions, suggestions on what to do or where to eat, and requesting a cab from the concierge in our Spain hotels and it required a bit more work without them in Paris.  The biggest obstacle was realizing that you can’t hail cabs in Paris like you can in New York City–something we discovered when already late to the opera.  We panicked, luckily found a cab stand, and made it on time, but only barely.

The Park South Hotel in New York City.
Nothing like returning to a clean hotel room. The Park South Hotel in New York City.

Apartment Pro: Staying Among Locals.
Staying in the home of an actual local puts you in the neighborhood of other actual locals, taking you away from the often over-priced, touristy places.  In Paris, that meant deliciously authentic French food for a fraction of what other tourists were paying.

Hotel Pro: Proximity to Touristy Sites.
While being among the locals is a desired asset at times, there was definitely a convenience for being steps away from the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

The owner's belongings in the Paris apartment we rented.
The owner’s belongings in the Paris apartment we rented.

Apartment Con: You’re in Someone’s House.
The Paris apartment was really clean, but the owner lived there so her stuff was everywhere.  Because we didn’t know her, it was weird to be among her clothing, toiletries in her shower, and miscellaneous stuff everywhere.  I was worried if I unpacked my suitcase, my stuff would mix among hers and I’d forget it.

When my friends and I rented a cottage in Sonoma, it was purely a rental property so all the closets were empty, making it feel more like a hotel and less like we broke into someone’s place and were staying among their stuff.  This is obviously a personal preference whether that sort of thing bugs you, but if it does, it’s a good thing to think about.

The premier room in the Grand America in Salt Lake City.
In some hotels all the rooms are huge, like the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Hotel Con: Front Desk = Babysitter.
Do you ever feel like the front desk watches every time you leave the hotel and every time you come back and notes what time it is and how long you’ve been gone and, hey, who is that with you? and wow, did she just stumble on those stairs?  Ok, so maybe I’m paranoid but sometimes I feel like I have to greet the front desk every time I pass go and it gets a little awkward.  Plus many European hotels require you to leave the room key with them, so you definitely have to check in every time you come and go.

Apartment Con: No Babysitter.
Sometimes the feeling of the front desk as a babysitter becomes a headache, but in the back of my mind, it’s also kind of nice.  In Paris, we only had one key to the apartment and if it got lost, the owner was out of the country so essentially we were out of luck.  Plus, the door automatically locked when we shut it.  (That didn’t make us paranoid about losing the key at all.)  In Sonoma, the owners lived on the property so we could call them in an emergency.  Make sure to ask about extra keys and the owners’ availability before renting.

Another note for young, solo or female travelers: I like the safety of knowing the front desk is stationed around the clock in case I am being followed or have any issues with creepy people.  When I travel alone this is a nice, warm fuzzy feeling I like to have in the back of my mind.

The Upham Bed & Breakfast in Santa Barbara, California.
The Upham Bed & Breakfast in Santa Barbara, California.

So: Apartment vs. Hotel?
When it comes down to it, deciding between an apartment rental or a hotel depends on a lot of factors.  I’ve done both and, personally, when I’m staying in one place for a long time and want a lot of space (like Paris) or when I’m traveling with a group of people (like Sonoma), rentals are the way to go.  When I’m only in town for a few days (like Madrid) or traveling alone (like New York City or Washington DC) I lean toward hotels.

But as the popularity of rentals grows, it’ll be interesting to see if–and how–the tide will change with amenities and trends of expectations in both apartments and hotels.  And when you just can’t decide, it seems like bed & breakfasts tend to fall right in the middle, so maybe that’s your best bet.

Tip :: For temporary rentals check AirBnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and GoWithOh (for rentals in Europe).

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