It seems that, most commonly, people stay in hotels when they are travelling and in my previous post, Tips for Booking Hotels Online, I went into great detail on the topic. However, there are a myriad of other accommodation options out there if you are interested in trying something different. Here are a few tips to finding some of these alternate accommodations online.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Erik and I started travelling together in 2007 and initially we used a travel agent to plan our trips. I’ll never forget our first trip to Europe when the agent was asking us about our accommodation preferences. We were relatively inexperienced in European travel and weren’t sure what options were available. However, our agent was clearly pro-hotel and said that he didn’t understand at all why anyone would want to sleep “in someone else’s house”. Over time, I have learned I much prefer a B&B over a sterile hotel room because I feel more at home and it gives me the chance to talk with the locals (and often practice another language) and learn about restaurants and places to visit that are off the beaten track. On top of that, if privacy is your concern, you just need to read the descriptions and reviews and choose accommodations that best meet your needs. Experience has taught us to be open and try different forms of accommodation, depending on where we are travelling, and B&Bs and farm stays have always been some of our favourite places to stay.
Bed and Breakfast
By definition, a B&B is a room that includes breakfast, although obviously what constitutes breakfast from one place to the next can vary. They can range from a room and shared bath in a family home, to several rooms in what is more like a small boutique hotel. You will find styles of B&Bs vary in different counties – I find in North America, they can be quite fancy and as pricey (if not more expensive) as a hotel, but in Europe, they tend to be more homey and generally less expensive.
The term B&B is becoming more universal but you may also have to look for the term in the language of the country you are travelling in. For example, France calls them a chambre d’hote and Italy often refers to them as a pensione or locanda.
B&Bs often work best for singles or couples as many are not set up to accommodate children. Read the description carefully to determine if you will be welcome if you are travelling with young ones. In addition, when the B&B is simply a bedroom within a home, the soundproofing isn’t always as good as a hotel. That being said, don’t discount them entirely as there are many that do cater to families – just read the descriptions to know if kids are welcome.
Like hotels, B&Bs come with a variety of amenities so you need to determine what is important to you (again see my hotel post) and then ensure the room you are considering has the things you need. Some have fridge and microwave, some kitchen access, and others are little more than a room with a bed and chair. Do they offer wifi or TV? Are there communal areas? Private or shared bath? And once again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the reviews. The photos and descriptions are usually accurate but not always. When you read the reviews, look for common themes, positive or negative, about the criteria that is important to you. Often the reviewers will say “the room was exactly as described”, “breakfasts were amazing”, or “the wifi was weak”. Read them.
In most cases, we always try to find a room with an ensuite bathroom, although we have stayed in some B&Bs that offer private bathrooms down the hall. We generally avoid rooms with a shared bathrooms but that may not be an issue to you. Often the rooms in a B&B are larger than a standard hotel room and sometimes also have a private sitting room and/or patio or deck. Check to see if there are any shared areas of the house. Often you are invited to use a common living room or you may have use of the family kitchen.
Breakfast can range from a help-yourself (self-catered) continental breakfast to a full gourmet breakfast that will last you most of the day. It may be served in your room or in a common area with other guests. And unless the meal is self-catered, you will usually be asked when you would like breakfast and be given a time range to choose from. You don’t always have a choice in the prepared food but the owners will likely ask you if you have any food allergies etc. If you have specific dietary needs, it’s best to let your host know ahead of time so they can make appropriate arrangements.
The breakfasts in France and Italy tend to be coffee and pastry, sometimes with yogurt, muesli, fruit, cheese, and/or cold meat. The UK often offers a large English breakfast including eggs, toast, beans, sausage or bacon and black pudding. I’ve yet to finish an English breakfast.
You can now book many B&Bs directly on many of the hotel booking sites that I listed in my previous post. In addition, there are B&B listing websites for many countries and a google search can often point you in the right direction. One such listing service is BedAndBreakfast.com which allows you to search and book B&Bs in different countries all over the world.
To further confuse things, some hotels offer a “B&B option” which is simply breakfast included in your hotel room fee. To me, these aren’t true B&Bs because they are missing the personal experience.
Prices for B&Bs can vary widely from pricey 5 star establishments with multiple rooms and hotel-like service to small, homey family run rooms with a shared bathroom.
Farm Stays – Also called Agriturismo in Italy or Casa Rural in Spain
Similar to a B&B, these accommodations are found on a working farm or ranch. They are generally more rustic, but they are also very homey and can be an interesting experience. Because they are found in rural areas, they are usually quiet and peaceful. Farmstays are generally family run and are often set up to supplement the farm income. Some are simply a room in the farmer’s home, while others are a more organized business with
multiple rooms available for booking. Sometimes you will be given an opportunity learn about the farm as part of the experience, offering tours or demonstrations (free or for a charge). Not surprisingly, you will often need a car if you are staying in a rural setting. Check to see what transportation options are available, especially when looking for restaurants, although some farmstays offer a dinner option as well.
We’ve enjoyed our time staying in Agriturismos in Italy – one was in an olive grove (it would be be cool to be there in the fall when they are pressing the oil) and another was a lavender farm. We were lucky enough to be there in summer when the farmer was threshing the seeds from the plants. Both places had multiple rooms and the B&B was definitely an important source of income for them.
Depending on the country you are visiting, you can search for and find websites that list most of the farm stays in a particular area and, like B&Bs, they can often be booked on the same booking sites I mentioned in my previous blog post.
In my next post, I will share some tips and tricks for booking accommodations at vacation listing sites such as AirBnB, VRBO, and Homestay. If you have questions or thoughts to share, please leave a comment below and feel free to share this post if you found it helpful!