Hotels vs. Airbnb: Which One to Choose When You Need a Break From Van Life

Though we love our van, every now and then we crave a shower. And a real bed. And the ability to stand up straight. Often it’s poor weather that makes us want to escape the van. When that happens the conversation always turns to “should we get a hotel room or an airbnb?” In this post we talk about the pros and cons of hotels vs. Airbnb when traveling.

Pros for choosing a hotel

They’re everywhere

Hotels are everywhere a person wants to travel. When traveling to major cities you’ll have your pick from almost more brands than you can choose from. Everything from boutique hotels to budget friendly places to stay. Even in smaller cities, most of the time you’re bound to find at least one or two hotels.

You can book last minute

One of the biggest pros for choosing a hotel over Airbnb is that you can book and secure a room at the last minute. Numerous times in our travels, we’ll literally pick an exit, look for a familiar logo on the signage and point our vehicle that way. Most of the time, we’ve been lucky and able to book a room just by walking up to the desk.

Rewards points

Depending on which hotel you choose to frequent, you may be eligible for rewards points. Often, creating an account is free in exchange for turning over some personal information: a phone number and email address, both of which you’ll most likely have to give in order to book the room. If you don’t mind doing that, sign up and then make sure to claim your points each time you visit a hotel. Points most often can be redeemed for free snacks upon checking in or even a complimentary stay.

Free breakfast

When I was a kid, one of the things I used to love about traveling with my family was staying in a hotel and going downstairs to free breakfast. What’s not to love about the wafflemaker and all you can eat Frosted Flakes?! Granted not all hotels offer free breakfast (and my tastebuds have changed) but we can almost always find something to eat at the breakfast bar when it’s offered.

Access to amenities

A pool? Laundry? A workout room? A business center with a nice office, printer and wi fi? Sign us up! One of the things that makes hotels a fun choice are often the the extra things that come with it.

Cons for choosing a hotel


One of the top reasons a person may opt for a hotel, particularly a certain brand, is that you know what to expect. The familiarity can reduce any travel anxiety or stress you may feel. Unfortunately, inconsistency is often at play, especially with the lower tiered hotels. When we first started traveling, we would opt for super budget friendly hotels. That’s code for the absolute cheapest things we could find. We never were quite able to relax in those places and sometimes we felt unsafe. It’s true that you get what you pay for. After nearly a dozen of these unhappy experiences we decided to stay in hotels less often but stay in nicer places.


Sometimes parking comes with the hotel, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s one of the things to consider when deciding to choose any place of lodging. We’ve found more often than not that the parking at hotels in major cities is an additional fee. We’ve started asking before booking whether or not it’s included and it’s had an impact on our decision.

Same old, same old.

The Holiday Inn that you stay at in one city is most likely going to look very similar to the Holiday Inn in every other city. At times, it can make the weary traveler ache for a touch of home. This is one of the biggest factors for us when it comes to hotels vs. Airbnb.

Pros for Renting an Airbnb

photo of a blue do in San Francisco
Ready to take the Airbnb plunge?

A personal and unique experience

When you stay at an Airbnb you are often interacting with someone who is opening their home to you. Though we have stayed at places where a rental management company is the one communicating with us, more often than not it’s been a local. We like that. In addition to connecting with someone in the place we are visiting (and getting a great recommendation on some local dining spots), the space itself is also more unique. For us, this is one of the biggest pros for renting an Airbnb. The decorations and the art on the walls is personal and the experience itself feels more authentic than a hotel.

You can feel like more of a local

Staying at an Airbnb means that you often get to stay in a residential neighborhood. That alone can make the experience feel less touristy. It means that our four mile run is through less crowded streets and that we can get a feel for what it would be like to live there. It’s a big departure from what it can be like to stay in a hotel, many of which are often situated in places where you’re surrounded by other hotels and chains, tons of cars and end up feeling like you’re in a concrete jungle.

Parking is often free

Though not all of our Airbnb’s have come with free parking, most of them have offered a place to drop the van without a charge. This is especially true when we’ve stayed in a neighborhood and we literally can use the homeowner’s driveway.


Though one of our favorite things to do when we travel is to try new restaurants, we very rarely eat out more than one meal a day. Having a kitchen is a huge bonus and one of the biggest pros for us over a hotel. Though many hotels have a microwave and a mini fridge, there’s only so many things you can make with those things. We love it when there’s a full kitchen and a full-size fridge. It helps us cut down on costs and also allows us to enjoy a meal without having to hunch over in the van.

Cons for renting an Airbnb

You need an internet connection

One of the biggest cons for renting an Airbnb is that unlike a hotel, you can’t just walk up to someone’s Airbnb like you can a hotel and ask about a room. In fact, though you can see what general area an Airbnb is located in, you can’t actually see the exact address where the home is located. This has never been a major turn off for us but it has been a barrier when needing to book a room last-minute.

Need to plan ahead

In addition to needing an internet connection, another con for renting an Airbnb is that some Airbnb hosts will request that you make a request a reservation and then they will approve it. Not all hosts operate this way, some allow you to book their place instantly. But with those who ask you to make a reservation there is often a delay which can be anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

Often there’s a two night minimum

At a hotel, you can choose the length of your stay and there is hardly ever a minimum requirement. Not so at an Airbnb. Though some places allow you to book for one night, many will require at least two nights.

Cleaning fees

Hotels always have taxes and fees but usually the cost of cleaning the room is factored into the overall price. With Airbnb the cleaning fee is tacked on at the end before you go to book and can make what seemed like an otherwise affordable place to stay, suddenly out of your budget.

Hotel vs. Airbnb Recap

Consider choosing a neighborhood that allows you to park the van for a day or two and explore on foot.

The winner? For us, if we had to pick one experience over the other we would almost always pick an Airbnb.

When it comes to hotels vs. Airbnb, which one should you pick? Honestly, the preference is totally personal and depends on the situation. We’ve had good experiences at both hotels and Airbnb’s. There have been times when we are so road weary and can’t stand the thought of making our van into a bed in the rain that we’ll head for a hotel. And there other times when we book an Airbnb in advance and then get to look forward to the experience for the next several days.

Have you needed a break from van life and stayed in a hotel or Airbnb? If so, what was your experience? We’d love to hear from you on your thoughts about hotels vs. Airbnb. Please leave your comments below!

Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady are content creators based in Asheville, North Carolina. They spend several months out of the year traveling the country in their van for work.

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email
Skip to content