Traveling can often be an impersonal experience. Sure you chat with the person at reception when you check in at a hotel and maybe even ask the concierge for restaurant advice, but sometimes what you are really after is the local perspective of a city from a friendly native. Staying at a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) can offer a more personal experience and for many people, these guesthouses are the perfect way to make a vacation more homey.
Bed and breakfast stays aren't for everyone. To begin with, you have to realize that you are staying in someone's home, so it's not appropriate if you are on a rowdy boys' weekend or a Spring Break stay. Likewise, sometimes traveling with small children makes a B&B stay difficult as there may not be facilities like a television, swimming pools or recreation areas. Room service is out, so is the idea of a phone in your room -- sometimes you may even have to share a bathroom.
On the plus side though, B&Bs can often be considerably cheaper than traditional hotels plus you get to stay in an intimate setting, with fewer guests, sumptuous home-cooked breakfasts, personalized service and friendly hosts that will generally help you find your way around. The houses are more often than not historic and romantic, with four-poster canopy beds, candles and a quiet atmosphere -- so you need to weigh your needs and decide if you want the standard amenities of a hotel or the ambience of a B&B.
In Europe, the B&B tradition, especially in smaller towns, is entrenched. They make for an authentic experience as well as a chance to interact with townspeople while immersing yourself in the local culture, even if language barriers may make it appear somewhat difficult at first.
Last weekend we escaped the city and had a romantic getaway to the Connecticut-Rhode Island border and stayed at the same B&B that we visited last year. Dare I share our secret gem with you? It's Sage House (tel. 866/599-8447; www.sagehouse.com) in Pawcatuck, CT. Suffice it to say that we would never consider staying anywhere else in the area, as the memories we have of this B & B are full of romance, genuine hospitality and mouth-watering breakfasts.
If you have never stayed in a B&B before and would like more information about what to expect at a particular property, it would be advantageous to visit the B&B's website (if they have one) and message boards like ours offered in our Travel Talk section to get some additional information, personal recommendations and even criticisms. It is also important to bare in mind, that like their owners, B&Bs have their own personality and may be unique in design, amenities and quality of customer service. Sometimes for every good experience (like ours in Pawcatuck) there may be a bad one -- like the time I stayed in a seemingly gorgeous B&B in Montreal mid-winter and was forced by the owner to use the outdoor spiral staircase covered in ice (with no exterior light) to access my room on the third floor.
Most cities, regions and countries have their own B&B websites with multiple listings, plus many areas will also have a B&B association; in the U.S. it is the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII) whose members are required to qualify using system based on quality. All states in the U.S. regulate B&Bs of a certain size, and many require those with five or more rooms to comply with the same standards hotels and larger properties must adhere to. Although most municipalities inspect and regulate B&Bs on a basic-to-stringent level, approximately 5,000 properties in the U.S. take an extra step and submit to a travel industry inspection that further guarantees the B&B's safety, cleanliness, maintenance and hospitality. For B&Bs that are members of PAII, visit www.paii.org.
In some cases though, inclusion of a property on a B&B directory website may be purely because they have paid for a listing, so always do your research. Word of mouth rather than star-ratings may be all you have to go by, so keep an open mind. If you have particular concerns or special needs, call the B&B owner, ask the pertinent questions and find out up front if there is air conditioning in your room, if it is possible to get a lactose-free breakfast, whether your dog may come with you or if there really is place to park your car on the property. Also find out about booking deposits, cancellation fees and other conditions that may be different from regular hotel policies you are used to. Many B&Bs do not accept credit cards, and this in itself may influence your decision to book.
BedandBreakfast.com (www.bandb.com) is a comprehensive site that provides listings of 27,000 bed and breakfasts, home-stays, country inns, guest houses, lodges, cabins, historic hotels, small resorts, ranches, farmhouses and working farms worldwide. The site's database allows you to search by accommodation style, location, amenities, online booking options, special packages or last-minute availability. The site has consumer message boards with feedback on properties and although rare, properties that receive multiple negative reviews are removed from the site. BedandBreakfast.com sends out weekly newsletters with hot deals and discounts of 20% or more on select properties in the U.S., and particularly helpful is an article that gives tips to consumers as to how to choose a B&B from a website. In September 2005, Bandb.com will be launching an independent review program on its site to further assist consumers makes the choices that are right for them.
There are numerous additional websites that you can use to find your perfect getaway:
- BB Online (www.bbonline.com) features 5000 properties, mainly in the U.S. and Canada but also many international options.
- www.bedandbreakfastcenter.com, www.bnbchoices.com, www.inns.com and www.planetbnb.com all feature international selections.
- Bed and Breakfast Directory (www.bedandbreakfast-directory.co.uk) specializes in listings mainly for the U.K. and Ireland, but also includes Australia and the U.S.
- Beds and Breakfasts (www.bedsandbreakfasts.com.au) and BABS (www.babs.com.au) are two of the B&B accommodation directories for Australia.
- www.bedandbreakfast.co.za is specifically for South Africa.
- www.bbeurope.net is for Europe.
- We even found a Christian B&B website (www.christianbandb.com).
Most sites provide you with photographs of rooms and the B&B itself and links to individual websites if they have them, so you can read testimonials, get further information and correspond directly with the proprietor.
Care to share your Bed and Breakfast experience? Interested in visiting a Bed and Breakfast for a quaint an authentic visit? Check out the Lodgings Message Boards to see what fellow travelers have to say about their favorite B& B spots as well as those to avoid.