There are certainly perks to staying in a massive hotel, but there can also be some significant downsides to the experience. In a huge hotel environment, you are essentially anonymous. Your personal care is not the staff's first prerogative; they are trained to meet your needs, but you need to be very specific and vocal about what you want in order to receive it, especially if you want it in a timely manner. If you’re staying in a chain hotel with a less-than-perfect reputation, you’re going to get less-than-perfect service. You can easily stay in a hotel for a whole week without getting to know a single person living near you, which might take away from your experience of the local culture you're visiting. If you find yourself sullen over the loss of experiences that a hotel simply cannot offer you, it might be time to consider renting a room at a bed and breakfast.
What’s a bed and breakfast?
The name really says it all—when you stay in a bed and breakfast, you are essentially paying for just that. You receive a room in which to stay, usually accompanied by a private bathroom (or sometimes a shared bathroom) and breakfast each morning, prepared by staff or your hosts themselves. Bed and breakfasts originally started sprouting up in response to an elevated interest in travel that accompanied the advent of railroads linking far-off cities in the 1800s. At first, the most popular B&B locations were cities in California and Colorado, through which Gold Rush travelers were passing and found themselves in need of housing for a few days. Over time, the bed and breakfast became a staple for travelers staying in small, out-of-the-way towns.
What’s the difference between a B&B and a hotel?
A bed and breakfast is a more informal mode of accommodation than a hotel. In a hotel, you are seen by the staff as a paying customer, which implies a certain level of disconnect between you and the hotel staff; in a bed and breakfast, on the other hand, your relationship with the staff can be more intimate, because you are considered a guest in their space. The price of a room at a bed and breakfast can be higher than that of a hotel because you’re paying for the attention you’ll receive. Usually, there are fewer rooms available in a bed and breakfast, so the host is able to give each guest more high-quality care.
What to expect as a guest.
• Hosts can be kooky.
People who run bed and breakfasts are very interested in maintaining a positive host-guest relationship and for that reason might come off as overbearing. Remember that they’re just trying to make you comfortable in the space.
• Food will not always be to your liking.
When you stay in a bed and breakfast, you run the risk of not liking the food that is made for the guests. Some bed and breakfast hosts will ask you what you’d like to eat in the morning the night before, and some will just offer a continental-style buffet, but there are still bed and breakfasts where you’re served a mysterious breakfast the next morning that you did not order.
• Make your bed.
You may be paying for this experience, but you’re still staying in a space owned by someone else, so behave accordingly. Make your own bed in the morning; try to clear your own dishes; don’t leave clothing or dirty towels all over the floor. Usually, hosts of bed and breakfasts do not hire maid services, and they will appreciate you for making their job just a little bit easier.
Tips for hosts
• Be allergy-conscious.
Your willingness to cater to different groups of eaters may mean the difference between 10 customers and zero. You don’t have to be able to cater to every type of allergy — it becomes difficult to provide for diets with different needs at the same time—but you should try your best to diversify your menu in order to serve the needs of the people staying with you. If that’s not possible in your kitchen, make sure you’ve made that clear to guests.
• Spruce up your website.
The appeal of a bed and breakfast may be the quaint aspect of living in someone’s home, but that’s no excuse for your website to stay stuck in the past. Potential guests will be turned off by a website that is hard to navigate or does not show off your property well.
• Provide written tips about what to do in the neighborhood.
Guests might not always want to listen to you prattle on about your favorite restaurants in the neighborhood, and if you give them information out loud you risk them forgetting it. Instead, make a cute little pamphlet describing your favorite spots in town; your guests will appreciate it.
B&B v. Airbnb.
Airbnb is making finding accommodations in a new city easier (and cheaper) than ever. The company’s model allows house owners to list their own properties as available for short-term rentals on their website and allows users to sign up to stay in homes in various locations around the world. There are a few key differences between a real bed and breakfast and an Airbnb; the owners of the home you stay in are not required to give you breakfast, for one, because they are not on-site, and there’s not usually much interaction between guests and hosts aside from coordination of check-in and check-out.
Airbnb is enormously popular in cities, where hotel prices can be preposterously high and the thrill of a homey setting can be especially enticing. Unfortunately, the service is not without problems, some of them practical and some ethical.
The downside to Airbnb.
A few cities have created legislation designed to block Airbnb from taking over entire neighborhoods, so there's a chance that your Airbnb booking might violate the law. Before you decide to book an Airbnb property, check the local laws pertaining to Airbnb usage (for example, in NYC it is illegal to rent an Airbnb for less than 30 days unless the permanent tenant is in the apartment, too). On top of general legality issues, a surprising amount of Airbnb locations are actually either unlicensed or sublet without the knowledge of the landlord — both of which are illegal conditions in which to operate an Airbnb. If your Airbnb host is caught, you could lose all the money you paid for your booking and be without accommodations, so stay wary.
In addition to legality problems with Airbnb properties, Airbnb is also currently under fire for the way it impacts the lives of locals. More and more Airbnb properties are left empty when they’re not being rented, because the owners know they can offer the properties to tourists for a much higher price than locals would be willing to pay in rent. Airbnb's appeal to tourists to "live like a local" in big cities is having a profoundly negative effect on the housing market in the cities in question; it’s forcing real locals out of their homes as the rents skyrocket. So, the next time you travel, research the social impact of renting an Airbnb in your destination before booking it.