AirBNB vs. Hotel: Which Should You Pick?

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Should you stay at an AirBNB or a hotel for your next family vacation? The answer depends on your travel party, length of stay, and a few other very important things you should consider before you book your trip.

The photo collage shows a girl standing in front of an AirBNB door next to a picture of the front of a hotel.

When we were planning our family trip to London, my first thought was to find a hotel for our stay.

At the time, I knew very little about the city so I checked in for recommendations on the best location with my friend Maggy who lives just outside London.

Her advice was to take a peek at the local AirBNB listings because we might be more comfortable with the extra space since we’d be traveling with two teen girls.

I found a fantastic AirBNB within walking distance of Buckingham Palace at a great price and quickly booked the stay.

Now that our trip is over, I realize that the choice between a hotel and an AirBNB is not that simple. There were definitely times during the visit we wished we were at a hotel instead.

If you’re planning a big family vacation, here’s what you need to know before you make your choice between an AirBNB and a traditional hotel.

Important Factors to Consider

There is no one right answer between choosing an AirBNB vs. a hotel, the final decision will need to be made based on the specific circumstances of your family and your trip.

In the list below, I’ve included all the main questions you should discuss with your partner before researching and booking your family vacation.

Who is in Your Travel Party?

A girl stands in front of the front door of an AirBNB rental.
My daughter standing in front of our AirBNB in London. I’m taking the picture from the sidewalk up above.

If you are traveling with two people or less, you’ll be able to book just one room at a hotel or you could select a studio sized AirBNB.

If you are traveling with kids, things quickly get more complicated.

Our girls were ages 14 and 17 at the time of our trip to London. European hotel rooms run significantly smaller than American ones do and to accommodate our family we would have needed to book two hotel rooms for the four of us.

Be sure to check the bed configurations in the hotels you are considering, you may need a larger hotel or nearby rooms that would require splitting the family up among the spaces.

By staying in an AirBNB, we were able to find a place that had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living space, and a kitchen. This gave our family significantly more room for the weeklong trip.

How Long will You Stay?

An AirBNB takes a little bit of “setting up” to be comfortable and requires a bit of clean-up at the end of your stay if you don’t want to be fined by your host.

If you’re only staying for a short trip (3 days or less), the extra efforts may not be worth sacrificing the time and you may prefer the ease of a hotel.

If you’re staying for 4 days or longer, the sacrifice in time may be a nominal cost for a more comfortable stay during the duration of the visit.

Have You Traveled Internationally Before?

The front of a hotel in France. The sign says "Hotel de Flore"
The Hotel de Flore in Paris, France. We stayed here overnight during our day trip from London to Paris.

If you’ve never travelled outside of the US before, do not underestimate the peace of mind that you will have with the front desk and concierge staff at a hotel.

The hotel team will help guide you through all the unfamiliar things that come with traveling in a foreign country:

  • Currency Exchanges
  • How to Use the Local Transportation
  • How to Use the Electrical Outlets
  • Any Odd Plumbing Set-Ups in the Bathroom

Additionally, you’ll have people on site all 24 hours of the day for emergencies or questions along with recommendations for dining and entertainment in the area.

Do You Speak the Local Language?

It is inevitable that when you travel you will come across a challenge. If you fluently speak the local language, you can ask for help from store clerks, restaurant staff, or even taxi drivers.

However, if you do not speak the local language, you may appreciate a hotel staff that likely speaks English that could help you solve an unexpected challenge or might even go so far as making a phone call on your behalf to help communicate with the locals.

Last-Minute Cancellation Concerns?

Is there any chance you may have to cancel your travel plans in the days leading up to your trip?

Most hotels have a free cancellation policy right up the final 24 hours before your stay. Or you could cancel the stay and possibly just lose the cost of the first night.

An AirBNB, however, usually does not have free cancellation and you’ll need to have travel insurance to protect your reservation fees.

Will You Use a Kitchen?

The kitchen inside a London AirBNB rental.
The kitchen from our London AirBNB.

When we travel to the beach, we love to rent a condo with a kitchen vs. a hotel so we can save money on our food budget for the trip.

For our trip to London, I had no intentions of cooking anything but we still greatly enjoyed having a full kitchen at our access.

We stocked up on beverages for the fridge, snacks, and simple breakfasts to eat in the morning to save some money on our food budget.

It was also great to have access to a microwave to heat up leftovers we brought home from meals out.

Consider How You’ll Check In

With a hotel, you can arrive straight from the airport to the hotel lobby, check in, and head directly to your room.

With an AirBNB, check in may be more complicated.

Our host left two sets of keys for our rental at a security desk of a local shop over a block away from the rental site.

We arrived with all of our suitcases at the front door and then I waited with the kids and our pile of luggage while my husband walked 30 minutes for his back and forth trip to the shop to pick up our keys.

We were very lucky it wasn’t raining that day, there was no awning or cover that would have protected us from the elements.

However, after an hour-long ride from the airport, I really needed to use a bathroom and there was no lobby bathroom available as we waited there on the sidewalk outside the AirBNB.

Ironically, there was a Best Western two doors down from our AirBNB and the super-kind front desk clerk allowed me to use the hotel restroom since waiting that extra 30 minutes wasn’t an option! I’m not sure all hotel clerks would be so considerate since big cities usually require you to be a patron of the establishment to use the facilities.

What’s Your Plan for When Things Go Wrong?

For sure the biggest consideration when choosing between an AirBNB and a hotel that I didn’t think of before our trip is what we would do when something went wrong.

The airline lost my daughter’s suitcase on the way over to London. We were warned it would be several days before we might see it again.

You can read all about how to handle a lost suitcase here, but I immediately had to figure out where to take her shopping for replacement clothes.

Then, when the airline finally was able to deliver the suitcase, there was no one at the AirBNB to accept the delivery and keep it safe.

This meant that someone from our family either had to stay all day at the AirBNB and miss out on a day of family fun or we had to chance the suitcase sitting on the front step in a major city and just hope it didn’t get stolen.

In the end, the airline delivered it but put it in the RUBBISH BIN to “hide it”. We are so so lucky it wasn’t trash pick-up day or her suitcase would have been literally out with the trash.

The front desk staff at a hotel is available 24-7 to help when problems arise and support you in accepting deliveries during your stay.

Reasons an AirBNB is Best

The cozy living room has two couches, a fireplace, and shelves with books and plants.
The living room in our London AirBNB.

There are several good reasons to choose an AirBNB:

  1. Location: You can get a vacation rental in residential areas near major tourist sites where no hotels might be available in your price range.
  2. Budget: One 2-bedroom AirBNB cost less than 2 hotel rooms to fit our family.
  3. Kitchen: You can save money on your food budget by eating breakfast in your home and stocking up on beverages and wine vs. paying the restaurant rates.
  4. Space: With extra living spaces, your family can spread out a be more comfortable.
  5. Local Flavor: In an AirBNB you can see how the locals live and get a better feel for what it would be like to live in that city yourself.

Reasons a Hotel is Best

The bathroom inside a French hotel.
The bathroom in our hotel in Paris. Best shower we had all week!

There are several good reasons to choose a hotel:

  1. Location: Major hotels are often located in the heart of popular tourist areas, they may just come at a premium in price.
  2. Budget: You might earn loyalty points by staying in your preferred hotel chain that could be turned into bonuses later.
  3. Cleanliness: A hotel has an on-site cleaning staff to help support you throughout your trip. In addition, your room could be cleaned daily.
  4. Emergency Support Staff: The front desk and concierge services will be available to help you 24-7.
  5. Lobby and/or On-Site Dining Options: Depending on your hotel pick, there may be luxurious lobby areas to relax or on-site restaurants for a quick bite at most hours of the day.
  6. Support the Local Economy: A hotel supports local workers — the hotel staff, the cleaning crews, restaurant workers, and more. AirBNBs are often owned by people who do not live in the area and are investors instead.

What We Would Choose Next Time

Our London AirBNB was lovely and we were quite comfortable during our trip but there were definitely moments of regret where we knew a hotel would have been a better choice to help us through some emergencies that happened.

If I had to do it over again, for our first European vacation as a family, I would have booked two rooms at a hotel for the safety and convenience of having the hotel staff to help us.

Now that we are more comfortable with traveling abroad with kids, I would consider an AirBNB for our next trip as long as we were going someplace where we spoke the language but only if it saved us a significant amount on our vacation budget.

The ease of booking, canceling in case of emergencies, and support staff on site to assist us during the vacation all help significantly with my pre-trip anxiety. The peace of mind is worth it to me, even if a hotel costs just a little bit more.

The photo collage shows a living room in an AirBNB next to a photo of the front of a hotel in France.

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