When to Stay in a Hotel v. a Vacation Rental

Staying in a hotel is not always the best option (or the cheapest).

We tried to travel with some degree of fiscal responsibility and would usually splurge on one fancy dinner per trip. Depending on the city, we would stay outside and take the tram or metro in to downtown to save on lodging costs. That being said, we spent an average of $1000 per city, for 3-4 days, for two people. That number includes everything (from Starbucks at the airport to the little magnet souvenir).

If you don’t hate cooking and are staying someplace for more than 2 days it makes sense to get a vacation rental. Usually the prices are lower than hotels because you don’t get fancy things like turndown service. However, the money we’d save by going to the grocery store for 5 meals in 3 days was worth it. You can get amazing rentals that are right in the heart of the city – but the prices increase just as they would in a hotel. The difference is the cost of food at grocery stores is constant. So instead of going out to eat at a downtown restaurant you can cook for $10 per person.

In Paris, London and Rome we stayed in Airbnb flats and saved a lot of money. Brian’s mother was with us so we would have had to get two hotel rooms (because I was NOT going to share a room with my mother-in-law for 3 weeks). Instead, we got a larger, two bedroom flat for 2/3 the price of the neighboring hotel.

In Prague, we splurged. Everything is so much cheaper in Prague, though. Our gorgeous hotel room, right in the center of the city was only $120/night – with a jacuzzi tub!

I like to follow this equation when traveling to a cheap city (Budapest, Athens)

Food per day at a restaurant = $30/each. Food per day from a grocery store = $10/each. So for 2 people traveling for 3 days the difference would be $180 – $60 = $120.

For an expensive city the price per day to eat out doubles, at least, so the difference would be $240. Take that extra cash and put it towards a sweet vacation rental in the heart of the city, rather than a skimpy hotel outside the city.

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