Get More Bang For Your Travel Buck: Stay at a B&B

Last year, I stayed in a bed and breakfast for the first time. I was a little worried about the experience ahead of time because of all the negative stereotypes about bed and breakfasts having horribly tacky decor and forced socialization with bizarre strangers (Gilmore Girls, anyone?) but the experience was wonderful. Maybe it was just beginner's luck, but I found that bed and breakfasts, despite sometimes being more expensive, can be a much better value than hotels. Here's why.

1. Insider information. When you stay at a bed and breakfast, you get access to one or more locals who can give you great tips on what to do and where to eat that you won't necessarily find in guidebooks. In our case, the B&B owner had pull with some of the local restaurants and was able to get us last-minute reservations at top-notch restaurants that otherwise would have been impossible to get into. This type of personalized service can be particularly indispensable in a foreign country where you don't know your way around things like the currency or metro systems, provided that the owner speaks your language.

2. Inability to rely on name recognition. While the Radisson or Marriott can rely on their names to maintain an overall good reputation and get your business in the future even if you have a bad experience at one location, bed and breakfasts don't have this luxury. They generally only have one location and one set of employees, meaning that they have a major incentive that hotel chains simply don't have to offer you great service and an overall great experience. If you have a bad experience at a B&B and tell 10,000 people about it on a site like Trip Advisor (no affiliation, though I am a fan of the site), the owners can be in serious trouble since they can't blame one bad employee or fall back on the revenue from their other 250 locations.

3. Quiet. Spring breakers, motorcycle gangs, and other folks who are likely to keep you awake late at night don't stay at B&B's. If you're looking to avoid screaming children, though, make sure to look for places that aren't family friendly. The place we stayed at only had a couple of rooms with one bed each, which made it highly unlikely that any families would be staying there.

4. Safety. Nothing is guaranteed, but when you're staying at a smaller place, you're more likely to know exactly who works there and who has access to your room, which greatly reduces the possibility of you playing the lead in Dateline's next hotel horror scandal.

5. Cleanliness. Again, with the greater level of personal responsibility that comes with running a B&B, the owners have a greater incentive to keep the place very clean. The B&B I stayed at was probably the cleanest place I have ever slept.

6. Homemade breakfasts. Forget stale apricot danishes and bran flakes. At many B&B's, a delicious homemade breakfast is included in the cost of your room. The meal we had would have cost us at least $15 a person in a restaurant. You might argue that you don't need to spend $15 on breakfast and you'd rather stay somewhere cheaper, and that's fine, but for me a flavorful, filling breakfast is a rare treat and an ideal way to get my energy up for a busy day of exploring. It can also save you money on your lunch bill when you aren't as hungry later on because you stuffed yourself silly with homemade french toast and fresh-squeezed orange juice that was actually freshly squeezed.

7. Meeting other travelers. Bed and breakfasts tend to have a sense of community that makes it easy to talk to other guests, if that's your thing, whereas in hotels it's an unwritten rule that you should keep to yourself. If you're the "keep to yourself" type, your usual tactics will still serve you just fine in a B&B, but if you're interested in finding some other people to do activities with or just learning from their experiences (i.e. whether you should try the restaurant they ate in last night and what to order), bed and breakfasts are ideal and can enhance your traveling experience.

8. Comfort. Where else can you get nice, soft bedding while you're traveling without staying in an overpriced four or five star hotel? If you hate the stiff generic comforters and funny foam blankets found in most affordable hotels, you'll love the bedding at a B&B, which is likely to feel a lot more plush and homey. I enjoyed an old-fashioned quilt, down comforter, and high thread count sheets during my recent stay.

The place I stayed recently cost $150 a night, which is more than I usually spend on a hotel room. B&B's can run the gamut, from under $100 to over $300, so they aren't categorically a better deal than hotels (I'd still pick a $100 hotel room over a $300 B&B). B&B's do have a lot of potential advantages that many people are unaware of, though, which in many cases can make them a better overall value, dollar for dollar.

Photo by tsmyther

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