The most common question I get from first time travelers is not “What hotel should I stay in?” rather it is “Should I stay in a hotel or a bed and breakfast?” “Should I couch surf or rent an apartment?”
There was a time when the only option a traveler had was a hotel, motel or B & B and the differences between them was vast. These days there are accommodations to satisfy everyone.
There are the large chain hotels, local traveler’s motels, family run hotels, family run hotels owned by a chain and boutique hotels not to mention the various B & B’s that have popped up that cater to specific interests. You can find B & B’s that offer cooking classes, language classes, art classes and on and on and on. And then of course there is always the option to stay with a family by couchsurfing or renting a room. There is house swapping, renting an apartment and airbnb.
Where you stay depends on what makes you most comfortable.
I don’t travel to Italy to stay in a Hilton and the few times I have it is because I have rewards points that I can use to pay for my room. Chain hotels are okay and if that is what makes you comfortable then by all means that is where you should stay.
I have always liked small family run hotels. I also like B & B’s, but since I generally travel with friends and since B & B’s rarely have rooms with 2 beds I generally settle for a small family run hotel. I like the personal service, I like having a local tell me about their favorite places and restaurants. I know they are often promoting places owned by family and friends but so what. Most of the times their suggestions are good ones, and if not a bad recommendation is never worth brooding about. I always let them know, in the most polite way possible, if I liked their suggestion. I also like meeting my fellow travels and since most small hotels have a breakfast room or sitting room they promote interaction among other people staying at the hotel.
I have rented apartments in Venice and Paris, both times, sight unseen off the Internet.
In Paris we rented through an individual who sent us the key in the mail. I was very skeptical but other than having a hard time finding the apartment and then working our way through a series of complex doors with even more complex locks everything worked out great. The apartment was nice, convenient to public transportation and within walking distance of great restaurants.
In Venice we rented through an agency. Someone met us at our train and took us to the apartment which was a good thing since we would never have found it otherwise. Even after having been led there I felt like I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs every time I left to ensure I would be able to find my way back. The apartment itself was lovely, situated on a small piazza away from the tourist sites. It sat over a caffé so we could enjoy a coffee and pastry in the morning. In the evenings we could look out our window and watch people wandering around the piazza. In that case it was good we had rented through an agency since we managed to blow a fuse within an hour of arriving.
One of my retired friends has couch surfed all over the world and has hosted couch surfers from all over the world. She has met fascinating people and enjoyed all of her experiences. On the other hand I have a friend in her 20’s who never strays from a hotel with a name she recognizes. Again it is whatever makes you most comfortable. You have enough to deal with when you travel, you want to stay somewhere you can feel relaxed and safe.
If I had a house to swap, I would try that and if I had an extra couch to offer up to a couch surfer I would try that as well.
When it comes to things like that, always make sure to do business with a reliable organization and make sure you know your liability. If I were participating in a house swap or even couchsurfing I would make sure everything I valued was put away in a locked closet that was not accessible to my visitors. Your house guests may not value grandma’s vase in the same way you do.
No matter what accommodation you choose always check out reviews of the hotel by other travelers on sites such as TripAdvisor. Look for reviews that address things that are important to you: Is the hotel quiet? Are they family friendly? How big are the bathrooms? What is the breakfast like? Are the accommodations near the city center? What are the transportation options? Is the hotel safe and in a safe area? Do you need to navigate stairs? How about an elevator?