AirBNB vs. Hotel: The Eternal Traveller's Debate

If you’re a serious traveller, you’ve undoubtedly been met with the critical decision between booking a hotel room or opting for an AirBNB rental. It’s a tough call — each side decorated with strong pros and notable cons. 

As with most travel-related debates, this one greatly depends on your individual needs and preferences. But even further than that, the value in one versus the other differs entirely from one country to the next — and often, from city to city. 

AirBNB in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

AirBNB in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

The simplest way to determine which bed is better for your budget is with an old fashioned pros and cons list. 

Let’s narrow it down.

AirBNB

PROS

1. Offset other costs within the price of your room (food, parking, laundry, other amenities). 

If you’re a budget traveller, the greatest challenge is finding a way to stretch every dollar you have while maximizing the experience. By choosing to stay at an AirBNB, you could actually trim quite a bit off of your overall budget.

Think about it — in comparison to a hotel room, with an AirBNB you might spend a little more in exchange for an entire house. This provides you access to a wealth of amenities that you might have otherwise had to pay for. For example, if you’re road tripping, you now have a place to leave your car for the duration of your stay without having to pay for parking. Or if you’re a long term traveller, having access to free laundry will reduce laundering fees and also allow you to pack less, potentially eliminating checked baggage fees. 

But the most valuable freebie is the kitchen. If you’re travelling to somewhere like Thailand, maybe this isn’t as great of a perk since eating out is way cheaper than making your own food, but consider somewhere like Iceland where the price of food is outrageous. Having access to a fridge and stove means you can meal prep and avoid overspending your food budget at restaurants. 

So while you may pay a little more upfront with an AirBNB, you will certainly absorb those costs elsewhere in your budget, if you take advantage of the freebies. 

2. Much better for groups.

Since we’re talking about savings, what better way to cut individual costs than to split them up amongst a group? If you’re travelling in a group of three or more, AirBNB is definitely the way to go. 

Compared side to side, one for one, a hotel is generally the cheaper option. But once you add in a second hotel room for your extra guests, you’re generally looking at a more comparable price. Except now, you get all the free amenities listed above, more space and bedrooms, and generally a much more memorable experience. 

In larger groups, splitting the overall cost of an AirBNB is a definitely pro.

AirBNB in Chattanooga, TN

AirBNB in Chattanooga, TN

3. Direct access to local tips.

This perk is truly priceless. While a hotel concierge is paid to be at your service, I find that their advice or recommendations are often biased (sponsored) or heavily angled toward what they believe the average tourist wants to hear. Rare cases aside, I find a lack of authenticity in the guidance they provide.

But with AirBNB, you’re chatting with real locals with real opinions. Sure, there may be some career hosts who act more like hoteliers but more likely, the interactions you have with AirBNB hosts will lead you to learn far more about the local attractions than you would from the hotel’s brochure rack. 

The best part is it’s all at the tip of your fingers. The AirBNB app allows you to directly message your hosts through the app so as long as you’ve got wifi, you’ve got a host who (typically) has your best interest at heart.

4. Go sleep in a cave if you want. 

The vast variety of options here means that you can cater your trip to be exactly what you want it to be. Is sleeping on top of a mountain on you bucket list? There’s an AirBNB for that. How about an underwater room surrounded by sharks? Yeah, they’ve got that too. 

Feel free to live out your wildest travel dreams with AirBNB. It’s just a click away. 

I swear I’m not affiliated, that just sounds like a good slogan.

AirBNB in Utah

AirBNB in Utah

CONS

Now that I’ve convinced you that AirBNB is clearly the right choice, let’s take a closer look at what could go wrong. 

1. Not all hosts are Superhosts.

To counter my free amenities point, it’s important to note that not all hosts are as well-versed in hospitality as others may be. Your freebies are finite, and this can sometimes catch you off guard. 

We booked a place in Bangkok once that offered just one roll of toilet paper. When we inquired about this, they mentioned that they only provide one roll per stay… no matter how long your stay. So we had to go purchase our own for the remainder of our time there.  

Another in Iceland was listed as having the entire 16 bedroom complex to ourselves. When we arrived, it turned out the listing was just for the downstairs, while the owner lived upstairs and shared the kitchen with us. Fortunately, he gave us our space but it held us back knowing he was just hanging out upstairs. 

It’s incredibly important to dive deep into the reviews and look for common concerns. It can put a real damper on your overall experience if you choose the wrong place. 

2. Dealing with AirBNB

It’s no secret that the company is heavily biased towards protecting their hosts. There’s a lot of fine print when it comes down to responsibilities, particularly when it comes to damages. 

There is a live support chat but they aren’t very helpful, and their responses are often very vague or copy-and-paste text from their policies. 

You need to exercise caution and if you do cause any damages, be ready to battle. 

3. Extra fees.

By far the worst part of this service is the hidden fees. The price per night will be listed at a decent rate, and then fluctuate drastically the moment you click on it. Prices can vary based on time of the year, length of stay, level of hosting abilities, and worst of all, the cleaning fees. 

Many times I’ve seen extra fees for cleaning added in to the cost, and then the hosts will make you clean the dishes or expect another additional fee. 

Keep a close eye on these extra costs before you book. Ask lots of questions about the check out process and what is expected. Only then should you commit to that booking!

Hotel in Bangkok

Hotel in Bangkok

Hotel

PROS

1. You can’t deny that lux life.

The feeling of luxury is hard to beat, let’s be honest. While you can find AirBNBs that resemble a hotel room, there’s just something about checking in to a clean hotel that feels so refreshing. 

And then there are the hotel beds! I don’t know where they get those magical mattresses and sheets but dang, are they glorious. Finding that level of bedding in an AirBNB is very rare!

This of course comes with the caveat that not all hotels provide those complimentary luxuries, but to make a sweeping generalization, if you stick within the major brands, you’re usually in good hands. 

2. Daily Room Service, built into the price.

This is where AirBNB misses the mark. Paying for that cleaning fee but never really seeing the benefit during your stay doesn’t compare to the daily room service a hotel offers, at no extra cost.

Embrace your sloppy lifestyle and rest assured that when you return to your room after lunch, your poor decisions will be erased! 

Not only that but if you’re feeling particularly lazy or unwell, you can order food directly to your door. Heck, if you forget your toothbrush, just order one of those, too!

3. That customer service.

Hotel brands have a reputation to uphold. Aside from folks who might visit a city several times, an AirBNB is more likely to be a one-time visit for the individual tourist. But branded hotels tend to pop up in most tourist destinations. 

Earning your loyalty is critical to their success. 

For this reason, hotels tend to put a lot more focus into tending to your needs. They will do everything they can to respond with a ‘YES’. There are definitely some AirBNB hosts out there that will go above and beyond but most will merely meet the bare minimum. 

Hotels are a business working to please you and their goal is to make you feel like a million dollars. You can take advantage of this feature to the extent that you wish.

Hotel in London, Canada

Hotel in London, Canada

CONS

1. Don’t expect much more than a room with a bed, for more money.

When you compare dollars per square foot, hotels definitely come no where close to what an AirBNB could offer in the same city. If you can do without those hotel-specific perks, you’re potentially looking at the difference of a single room with a bed versus an entire house with multiple bedrooms. If you’re travelling alone, this might not be a problem.

In general, you’ll find hotels tend to be more expensive per night, particularly from a value for money perspective. But keep in mind, that little hotel room could come with one heck of a view, so be careful not to discount the option right away. 

2. Right in the heart of… tourist destinations.

Now, depending on what you’re travelling for, this may be a perk but for others, being positioned right in the middle of overpriced tourist-centric neighbourhoods is a hinderance.

If what you’re looking for is a local experience, staying downtown in a hotel may not stack up against the value you’d get out of an AirBNB. Taking into consideration the benefit of having a local contact, AirBNBs also tend to be located off the beaten path. 

Alternatively, if you are looking to be right in the heart of the city, hotels often can’t be beat. 

3. Lack of personality. 

Pricey boutique hotels aside, unique rooms are almost non-existent. The plight of a large hotel is catering to the average client. And average tends to be bland and faceless; good for business travels and airport layovers where the main goal is sleeping.

Beige, white, and brown have never been a classic combo for individuality. If you want to spice up your hotel stay, you’re going to have to scour those hotel websites for a gem. 

Unbeatable view from a Tennessee AirBNB

Unbeatable view from a Tennessee AirBNB

So which one is better?

Well, the annoying truth is that no option is better than the other as a general rule. Your travel preferences must dictate and guide your decision in the right direction. While I personally will choose AirBNB more often than not, you may not be looking for the same type of experience.

So to help in your decision making, it could be boiled down to this

Choose AirBNB if you are…

  • travelling with a group of three of more.

  • interested in a more localized experience.

  • a value-driven or budget-conscious traveller.

  • an adventure seeker, or bucket list traveller. 

Choose a Hotel if you are…

  • all about that that luxurious lifestyle. No interest in cooking or cleaning.

  • just looking for a comfortable place to sleep.

  • interested in just checking in and checking out without overthinking the process. No responsibilities.

  • enjoy being in the heart of the hustle and bustle.


How to Use the Trains in Bangkok

Keeping a city of 8.5 million people moving day to day is no small feat but Bangkok’s mass transit system is robust and efficient, and gets the job done well. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you ever considered taking a taxi but as a first-time user, understanding Bangkok’s train system can be a little daunting.

Here’s what you need to know to connect your A to B’s like a local!

There are three main commuter train systems, each beneficial in their own way.

BTS: Bangkok Transit System

bangkok travel

The BTS, also known as the Skytrain, is just as it sounds: above your head. Built in 1999, it consists of two lines. One follows along the sprawling Sukhumvit Road, creating a chunky concrete ceiling over much of the road, eventually making a turn north towards Chatuchak Market; while the other turns south towards Si Lom.

You can access the BTS at many major intersections (35 stops in total) between the hours of 6:00am and midnight. The trains are air-conditioned and offer an inexpensive break from the Thailand heat.

Train intervals range between 3-7 minutes.

MRT: Mass Rapid Transit

bangkok travel

The MRT differs from the BTS in that it runs primarily underground. This line services different areas of Bangkok and caters to a commuter crowd. For this reason, as a tourist you’ll likely use this transit system less frequently than the BTS.

This one opened in 2004, currently offering 35 stops along 43 kilometres of track. And while it is run by a different operator, you can still transfer to certain BTS stations wherever there is a crossover in their respective transit lines (although you will have to pay a separate fare). The hours of operation for this line are 5:30am until midnight.

Train intervals range between 3-7 minutes.

Airport Rail Link

bangkok travel

This marvellous system was opened in 2010 to get commuters from the inner city out to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in under an hour. There are just eight stops along the route which help speed up the transit time and makes it hands down the most efficient way to get to and from the airport.

The trains are accessible from the lowest floor of the airport so theres honestly no reason to put yourself through the troubles of locating and paying so much more for a taxi. 

Train intervals range between 10-15 minutes and it can get pretty packed during peak periods.

How to Access the Trains

Each of these trains run on a similar concept: pay for a token/ticket that will grant you access through the turnstiles. Here’s the step by step.

First of all, watch for the logos pictured above. They'll direct you very clearly as to which direction you need to go and how to get to the station.

For the BTS and ARL, you can't miss it -- giant concrete structures overhead with escalators or stairs leading up. 
For the MRT, you'll need to locate the above-ground entrances leading underground. They're easily distinguishable with their blue accented entrances and gold/white writing.

Once inside, they operate almost identically. For simplicity sake, most of the examples below are for the BTS but the concept can be interchangeable with the other two.

You can either purchase your entry directly from the vending machines if you have change or you can do so from the agents behind the desk. 

For the vending machine, you must identify your desired stop on the map. Each stop will have a corresponding number (which is conveniently also the cost of the trip). Press the button for that number into the vending machine and it will light up and request the fare. Simply insert your coins and take your card or token and be on your way. These machines will only take coins, unless you're using the ARL, which accepts bills.

Alternatively, if you aren't confident in using the machines, you can speak to a real human at the desk. They speak English well. All you need to do is tell them which stop you'd like to go to and they'll exchange your money for a token or card. 

Just note that sometimes they'll run out of tokens/cards at the desk and will just give you change to use in the vending machines. 

The BTS uses a ticket/card system.

While the other two use a black token system.

Once you have your token/card, head over to the turnstiles. On the right hand side you'll use your token/card.

For the BTS, insert your card as pictured below. Upon entry, your card will pop back up at the top of the turnstile for you to remove and keep with you. When you exit at your destination, you'll insert the card once again but this time you won't get it back. This completes the trip.

For the MRT and ARL, you will just tap your token when you enter, as pictured below. When you've reached your destination and exit the system, you will insert your token into a coin slot to complete the trip. 

Unfortunately for the scrapbookers out there, you cannot keep any of these tokens or cards for memories sake. But it does keep the system fair and avoids any opportunities for dishonesty.  

Additional Tips!

1. At every transit stop, you’ll have to pass through a security checkpoint. In most cases, you just walk through a metal detector that will make a noise and the security officer will just wave you through regardless. Other times, they may request to see inside your bags. It’s all completely normal and I find it just depends on how seriously the individual guard takes their job. 

The BTS security guards are a little more diligent with bag checks than the MRT ones and more likely to request bag checks. Before you enter, there is a clear list of items you can’t bring on the trains if you’re concerned. This also includes wearing sunglasses or hats, but again, it's loosely governed. 

2. Another one of those things being food and drink. After some trial and error, we’ve determined that they don’t mind if you bring sealed drinks or takeout in a bag onto the train but if it’s open they will make you turn around or toss it. 

And they really test you on this, too. Every stop seems to be offering bubble tea or some kind of delicious snack but you must refrain! Wait until you exit the train on the other end to indulge in these glorious Thai snacks.

While this may seem silly, it is part of what makes the Bangkok trains so enjoyable. They’re so clean! Please do your part to keep it that way.

3. At the end of each line, you might notice that the train crew will yell something in Thai as the passenger exit. They're simply asking that you don’t enter the train until they’ve cleared the train of any garbage or sleepy passengers in preparation for the next commute.

4. Offer your seat to anyone elderly, pregnant, or with children. Additionally, as a respectful gesture, any monks. There are signs on the trains that will remind you but it’s a good practice no matter where you go.

5. Unlike many of the transit system passengers in North America that I’ve come in contact with, the Thais practice respect when they commute. Everyone waits for passengers to exit the trains, everyone lines up single-file in order of when they arrived, and most importantly, no one rushes the doors from the back of the line.

When I think of Thailand, one of the first words that come to mind is respect. Thailand seems to built around a culture of respect and it’s important that you do your part to reciprocate it. Not only by being a respectful commuter but in everything you do and everywhere you visit while you’re there. 

6. If you plan on spending a lot of time on these trains, you can opt for the Rabbit Card that you can preload for quicker access to the trains. 

7. The MRT offers an app to help you in your travels. 

bangkok travel

So why use the trains in Bangkok?

Truly, there is no better way to get across town, in our opinion.

Are there cheaper options? Sure. But it comes at the cost of hot exhaust in your face.
Are there quicker options? Sometimes. But it depends on the time of day and how good your driver is.

But what you get with these trains is traffic-free reliability, air-conditioning, and a clean environment for both you and the Earth -- at a very reasonable price (starting as low as 16 baht). Maybe on a rare occasion during rush hour, you'll need to squish in with other commuters, but it's a small price to pay for such convenience. 

Any other questions about riding the Bangkok transit systems? Leave a comment below or email us!


11 Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Bangkok

While it’s unquestionably simple to fall in love with Bangkok, there are still a few things you need to know about travelling to Bangkok that, if you’re not prepared, could turn your fantasy food trip into a sweaty concern. 

1. Dress appropriately for the hot and humid weather. 

Depending on where you’re coming from, the weather in Thailand could take some time to acclimate to. Even just walking to the 7-Eleven down the street could you have drenched in sweat. You know your body better than anyone — dress appropriately to your needs. 

Plan your outfits ahead of time, whether that means covering yourself up more or less. Remember that loose-fitting clothing is always better for air circulation and drying off, even compared to more revealing tight clothing. Additionally, cotton items will always create and hold more moisture so it would be a smart move to avoid this material if you sweat a lot.

Just think of the hottest and heaviest days of summer wherever you’re coming from and it will likely be similar to that. 

2. Plan your days in chunks with afternoon rest periods.

The afternoon hours are the hottest ones of the day so try to plan your days around them. If you break up your days into smaller portions, you can ensure that the afternoons are spent either somewhere air-conditioned like a mall or back at your hotel in the pool. 

When in doubt, just do as the locals do! They say that Thailand comes alive when the sun goes down, and they aren’t kidding. During the day you won’t see many people on the streets unless they need to be, and for that reason, there really isn’t a whole lot to do at that time of day. This country really makes it easy to embrace a sleep in late, stay up late kinda lifestyle. 

Grab an early lunch, head back to the hotel to relax and snack, then make your way out again around 5pm when the street vendors begin to set up shop, and the bars/restaurants start beckoning you in. 

3. 7-Eleven is your new best friend.

It’s best you get acquainted early in your trip. You can find these stores literally everywhere… sometimes within 20 feet of each other. They seriously put the ‘convenience’ back in convenience store. 

And they sell pretty much all the essential items you could ever need. Drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), snacks (spicy, sweet, crispy, sour, cold, hot… you name it), toiletries, pet food, lunch foods —you get the idea! 

But best of all? They’ve got the air-conditioning cranked up so when you’re out walking the streets and need a break from the heat, just pop your head into a 7-Eleven and hang out for a few minutes. 

Also, since it’s recommended that you avoid drinking tap water, you can opt instead for the bottles at 7-Eleven: nearly 2 litres for as little as 40 cents!

Life saver.

4. Eat and drink in smaller portions all day long.

As you’ve surely heard by now, Bangkok is basically the food capitol of the world. The biggest mistake you can make here is to waste all your stomach space on just three meals per day! Instead try to eat smaller portions throughout the day. 

There’s two reasons for this. First of all, it’s really easy to forget to eat when you’re exploring a city or have a tight itinerary on vacation. This causes all kinds of trouble overtime including dehydration, fatigue, and hunger striking at inopportune moments. The other reason is so you can enjoy a greater variety of foods rather than limiting yourself to just a couple of large meals. 

Anytime you see something that interests you, just grab it! Between restaurant stops, you can pick up a skewer here, a bubble tea there, etc. This will keep your body, and that metabolism, moving. 

Additionally, if you really want to eat as much food as possible, the best way is to share meals. Order as a group and sample from each other, or if you’re real committed, share single dishes and restaurant hop. You’ll never get stuck filling up on just one dish — rather, a full spectrum of flavours and diverse dishes. 

5. Get your clothes washed rather than overpacking.

With all this heat, you don’t want to be lugging around more baggage than you absolutely need to. It’s absolutely possible to get by with just a carry on backpack. 

Plenty of AirBNBs come equipped with washing machines or there are lots of options throughout the city to launder your clothes for next to nothing. By doing so, you’ve cut your packing needs in half and you’ll have fresh clothing all the time. 

There’s nothing worse than packing away your sweaty, stinky clothes and keeping them there for two weeks until you get home to wash them. Imagine getting home and just putting your clothes in your closet. No post-vacation laundry!

6. The height of the curbs in Bangkok are ridiculous.

If that last point didn’t convince you to backpack it, then this certainly should. The first time we came to Bangkok, Linda and I brought three roller-style luggage bags. What we didn’t know was that the sidewalks and curbs are not friendly to this type of bag. 

As we traversed across town with our excess baggage, sweating in the heat, we had to lift our maxed out 55kg bags anywhere from 9-15 inches every time we crossed an intersection or driveway. But then in between those curbs the sidewalks are uneven, full of holes, or just wide enough for one person to squeeze by sideways. 

It is not the kind of terrain on which you want to be dragging around a bunch of heavy luggage. Not only that, but I find the more luggage you give yourself, the more you tend to overpack “since you have the space”. Challenge yourself to reduce your packing needs down to a single backpack — I bet you’ll never go back to bulky luggage again. 

7. You’re going to witness a lot of poverty and stray animals.

While Thailand has seen plenty of incredibly progressive development, they’ve still got a long way to go. It won’t take long before you cross paths with this realization during your time in Bangkok.

But it's a unique place because it's all extremes here. You'll see severe poverty sitting right next to a 9-floor luxury mall with all the technology you could ever imagine. You'll see rats, bugs, dogs, and cats casually roaming the same streets you'll find Michelin rated restaurants.

You're going to come across some difficult things to see and you should be prepared. The most important thing you can do is be respectful: don’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, and if you have the means to help, do what you can. Beyond that is up to you but I encourage you to do your research to find out how you can give back, if that’s something you’re interested in. 

8. Haggle respectfully and only where appropriate.

The only time negotiating is really appropriate is at the markets or with taxis/tuk tuks. Pretty much everywhere else, you’ll pay the posted price. 

When it comes to tuk tuks, be ruthless! Particularly with foreigners, these drivers will jack up their initial offer as high as possible so it’s up to you to bring that number back down. With taxis, don’t open that door until they agree to use the meter, even if they try to set a fixed price (it’s usually grossly inflated). 

But at the markets, be respectful. Don’t forget that in most cases, knocking off a few baht from the total price means more to them than it does to you. Have fun and play the game — the prices are set higher for a reason — but don’t be disrespectful.

9. Restaurant tips and taxes.

When you dine in at restaurants, you will usually find a 7% VAT (tax) and a service charge of 10% included at the bottom of your bill. But sometimes they won’t mention this so it’s important to check your bill before paying to determine whether or not you need to add an additional tip.

If it’s not included, it’s customary to leave the 10%. This only applies to dining in. Elsewhere, it’s your call. 

10. WIFI isn’t easy to find.

Aside from the airport and select higher end shopping centres, free WIFI is a rare luxury. Either you’ll need to do thorough research before you leave your hotel or you’ll need some data for your phone. 

Tourist SIM cards solve this problem. Before you leave, make sure your phone is unlocked so you can purchase a Thai SIM card at the airport or at a shopping mall. The two main phone carriers are AIS and True (I found the latter to have better coverage and faster internet). 

299 baht gets you between 3-5 GB of data over 7-8 days. I found True offered a better deal at Suvarnabhumi Airport (5gb plus some call time for 8 days) versus what AIS offered at the mall (3gb with no call time over 7 days).

11. Beware of Scams

Yes, the rumours are true: there are crooked folks out there who want to make a fool of you and you, the "naive tourist". 

But you're wiser than that! Avoiding scams is a simple art. Honestly, here's the two golden rules:

1. Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
2. Be aware of your surroundings and try your best to blend in (ie, don't flaunt the fact that you're a fresh tourist). Bonus points if you can avoid spending too much time in the main tourist areas -- that's mainly where these guys do their dirty business.

Most of the usual Thailand scams can be avoided by doing your research. Just google a few examples and you'll start to see a trend of naivety amongst those that have been scammed. 

But you can find these crooks no matter where you go in the world. Don't let it hold you back! For the record, we've been to Thailand three times now and have yet to be caught in such a situation.

For additional tips on getting around in Bangkok, click here!

Do you have any other tips for travelling in Bangkok, leave them in the comments below!