Hotel vs Vacation Rental – The Ultimate Comparison

Remember that adorable Christmas movie The Holiday staring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet? Two single gals in opposite sides of the globe looking to escape everyday life – so they decide to do a house “switch”! Love that Rom-com!

And these days, trading the hotel experience for a more intimate vacation rental is common! So which is right? Which is best?

The rise in popularity with vacation rentals like those offered on Air B&B or VRBO Spain“>Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) is the assumed cost savings. Why pay for a hotel room when you can rent an entire home for the same amount, right? Actually, no. This depends largely on where you’re traveling to and the demand in that particular location, according to a recent analysis by Money Magazine.

So why choose one over the other? How does the experience differ? And ultimately, which one do WE prefer as a family with three young children? Here’s the breakdown…from our personal experience!

Hotel versus Vacation Rental – Which is Right?

Vacation Rental Pros:

1. The unique experiences are unmatched! There’s something truly authentic about spending your vacation in a castle in Ireland, a rustic stone house in the French countryside or on a vineyard in Italy. Such surroundings feel a bit LESS authentic when staying in a hotel.

2. Having your own fully equipped kitchen, living room and even outdoor space makes the vacation rental stay feel as if you’re….a resident! This also helps keep food expenses down when you’re cooking for yourselves.

3. And since we currently live in an apartment in Barcelona, the kids LOVE any rental with a backyard to play for endless hours. It’s something they miss most about our life back in the states.

Some vacation rentals that gave us a truly memorable experience…

Vacation Rental Cons:

1. Things like early check-in and late check-out are not super flexible when the property isn’t managed by a whole staff.

2. There’s a bit more work involved when renting someone’s home. You’ll cook your own meals, clean your dishes, sweep, wipe down countertops – all the usual upkeep with a home! No one there to do it for you, like in a hotel. In addition, you still PAY a fairly hefty cleaning service fee as part of the booking.

3. Last comment, no single Air B&B is the same. Some hosts welcome their guests with bottles of wine and fruit, while others don’t supply as much as a salt shaker. So a run to the local market (which may or may not be open) to fetch whatever random groceries you can find has left us feeling a bit unorganized at times. One evening, we were forced to serve pasta with a strange pink sauce everyone assumed was vodka – but ended up tasting more like mustard!? Point made.

Hotel Pros:

1. Today more than ever, hotels are competing for your business, so customer service must be second to none – and in our experience, it usually is! Someone always there to bring an extra pillow or fresh towel. Forgot your toothbrush? Just call the front desk! Once we saw a disturbingly ugly bug in our bathroom so requested a change of room – which was immediately granted!

2. Traveling as a party of five means, we’re on a budget! We always try to book hotels on for the most competitive rates and those with free breakfast buffets. The kids fill their bellies in the morning and usually aren’t hungry enough for a big lunch. So we’ll grab a fun “city authentic” snack (like gyros in Athens or gelato in Bellagio) which holds everyone over until dinnertime. Total cost savings!

We’ve stayed in some wonderful hotels too…

Hotel Cons:

1. An obvious comparison to a house rental is the very limited privacy offered in hotels. If your room is situated next to noisy neighbors, you’ll surely suffer.

2. You’ll also loose the unique feel many travelers long for. Hotels are commercial and can seem impersonal. Like a revolving door with travelers coming and going every day.

3. Unless you’re wealthy enough to afford a luxurious three bedroom suite (which most people are not!) you’ll be limited on space. Typical hotel rooms sleep four and have one bathroom, sometimes a small couch or desk to sit. As a family of five, we can still get away with the baby sleeping in a rollaway crib. But recently during our stay in Vienna, we were charged 60 euro for an “additional person fee”! Definitely not an issue in a vacation rental!

In the End…

So, which traveling experience ultimately wins us over? We’re a bit divided! If you’re looking for comfort and convenience when traveling (like tired mama over here) – going hotel is the way. It really doesn’t have to be expensive if you take the time to research competitive rates. Our trips to London, Italy, Prague and Vienna were spent in affordable hotels with little to worry about and still offered unique opportunities to make memories.

If adventure, excitement, the unique and the unknown is what you’re after, (like my beloved husband) you’ll be much happier in a vacation rental. We’ve stayed in some truly wonderful ones in Rupit, Pals, Valencia and La Pobla de Lillet, Spain pictured above. We’ve shaken hands with locals, hiked tree lined paths and skipped rocks over quiet streams.

So which is right for you? Only one way to find out…


  • Kate Hansen

    I loved how you mentioned that you can have a kitchen that is fully equipped! My husband and I are planning a trip for our whole family to go on in a couple of weeks, and we were wondering if we should find a hotel or a vacation rental to stay in. I really appreciate you helping me learn more about the benefits of staying in a vacation rental! We’ll have to look into finding one to stay in for our trip!

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Hi Kate! So glad this article was helpful in planning your family travels! Depending on what you are looking for in a vacation will help better define if a hotel or home rental is best! We’ve learned that the hard way haha 🙂 Best of luck in the planning process!

  • Rosie Beckett

    My little sister’s bachelorette party is coming up in just a few months, and she is inviting all of her bridesmaids, so there will be about 10 of us there. I am in charge of finding a fun place for us to stay, and I am so glad that I found this article because I didn’t know that vacation rentals have so many benefits! Thanks for explaining that they provide more privacy than a hotel and that having our own kitchen will end up saving us money.

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Hi Rosie! Ohhh wow that sounds like such a fun time, a bachelorette weekend away! Absolutely, a vacation rental is the way to go! Being in a bridal party can be so pricey to begin with so this house rental couple really help save money compared to a hotel. Not to mention, you’ll have a better time partying as a group if all under one roof. Enjoy your time, glad the article could help!!

  • Robert

    Not sure what you guys are moaning about?? The vodka sauce was amazing!! Yeah right! Having traveled the world and stayed in some amazing hotels
    (love those presidential suites) it’s hotel all the way for your Dad! Another great, informative and entertaining blog Loo. Keep em coming!

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Hahaha maybe that’s why I lean more towards a hotel – because we practically grew up in them at all the conferences haha! To be fair though, you were soo sick at your Air B&B experience so not a true indication of the stay. Next time, a better outcome! 😉

  • Susan

    Really enjoyed this blog Laur! I laughed out loud over the sauce we all thought was a rosa Vodka Sauce. nobody said anything until Autumn blurted out “this tastes like mustard!” We all died laughing and pretty much dumped our hardly eaten dinner out! LOL!
    Cherish the memory!

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Hahahaha I knew you would laugh about that odd sauce we still haven’t identified!! Great memory for sure 🙂

  • Becky Napp

    So interesting!! I love this! Never really knew exactly what an air b&b was…now I want to stay at one!!! Such a great read! Love you!!

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Ohh you’re too sweet!!!! I really didn’t know either until moving here – it can be amazing and fun! It can also be random and confusing hahaha! Love u!!

  • Angie Emde

    the kids rarely travel with us these days but, Even when we travel just two of us, we enjoy a variety. Love the Air BnB for the uniqueness and space but love too, a weekend or long weekend in a hotel for the relaxation. thanks for sharing your insights and beautiful family photos.

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      I couldn’t agree more! I felt a little bad saying out loud that I prefer hotels simple for the relaxation aspect haha. Housework is my current life status so going away for a weekend means I’d rather not have to haha!

  • Jill Mendes

    This is so eye opening Laur!! I loved it! I have never experienced travel staying in an Air BNB but I absolutely want to try it now!! Love you! Awesome read!

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Ohhhh its really fun! You’ve stayed in soo many hotels from SS, you would prob love the difference in a rental hehe!

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