Recently, before a trip to Budapest, I was having quite a bit of trouble finding a hotel room to book. Other than overly-expensive luxury or business hotels, there wasn't much on offer - especially in the mid-range that I would typically choose. Looking into things a bit closer, I discovered the reason. There are so many affordable apartments for tourists in the popular parts of the city, it's hard for cheap hotels to compete.
Budapest is quite an extreme example. It's not common for apartments to outnumber hotel rooms, but there's no doubt that the number of tourist apartments in cities around the world has dramatically increased in recent years. The option has always existed to some degree, but websites like Airbnb really changed the landscape - and now things have taken on a life of their own. It's no longer just regular people occasionally renting out their home. There are now serious investors and management agencies looking after multiple properties.
For travellers, it means that it can be just as easy to book an apartment online as a hotel room ... which can often lead to a difficult choice. Should you stay in a hotel or an apartment on your next trip? The answer isn't always obvious, each having its own pros and cons, with each situation a little different.
As I travel around the world, I do a mixture of the two, depending on which I think will be best for that circumstance. Perhaps some of the things I take into consideration may be helpful for your next trip when you face this choice yourself.
The first thing to think about is the length of stay. I tend not to use apartments if I'm only going to be there for a couple of nights. In part, this is because it makes things more expensive, as there are often cleaning fees that are the same regardless of how long you're there. On the other hand, apartments can often work out cheaper for longer stays and you're likely to get a discount for more than a week.
But I also think the biggest advantage of an apartment - space - is more relevant if you're staying for a longer period and a small hotel room may start to seem a little smaller each day. Sure, you may be away from home, but that doesn't mean you have to feel like you're not at a home!
The next thing I consider is how much time I'm likely to be spending in my accommodation. If I'm going to be out all day and just coming back to sleep, then a hotel may be fine. But if it's the kind of trip where you might want to relax a bit, or pop in and out to break up a day of sightseeing, then it's nice to have an apartment with a lounge room or an outside area.
On a related note, it's good to also think about whether you want to be eating out for every meal. Trying the local food is such an important part of travel but that doesn't mean you don't want to cook yourself sometimes - particularly if you're on a long trip or there aren't many dining options. Having an apartment with a kitchen can be really nice for making breakfast or having the option of a quiet night in after a busy day of activities.
If it's the kind of trip where you might want to relax a bit, or pop in and out to break up a day of sightseeing, then it's nice to have an apartment with a lounge room or an outside area.
One of the best reasons for choosing an apartment over a hotel is if you're travelling in a group - or even just with another friend or family member. Perhaps you don't want to have your beds right next to each other, but it seems a bit decadent to get two hotel rooms. Or perhaps you're willing to pay for two hotel rooms, but then feel like you don't spend as much time together. In this situation, an apartment is great because everyone can have their own bedroom but you still have a common area to hang out.
Some of the other reasons an apartment can be a better option is if it gives you a taste of the local way of living, or if it allows you to stay in a neighbourhood that doesn't have hotels, or if you prefer the privacy that you can't get with staff constantly around.
On the other hand, a hotel room may be better if you are making a last minute booking and want something guaranteed immediately, or if you're not sure when you are going to arrive and don't want to arrange to meet at a specific time to collect the keys, or if you like the idea of having the room cleaned each day and staff who can help with other issues you may have.
There is no right or wrong answer to the general question of whether it's better to stay in apartments or hotels. However, if you go through the considerations that I've laid out each time you're about to go on a trip, I think it will normally be quite obvious which will be better for that occasion.
- Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for eight years. To read more about his travel adventures, visit timetravelturtle.com