Recently, my wife and I spent five weeks on holiday in England, Scotland and Ireland. For the most part, we stayed in B&Bs, small family hotels or guest houses as well as the occasional apartment – 15 of them in about five weeks.
B&Bs and guest houses offer a great alternative larger hotels. They are often much cheaper and present an opportunity to meet the locals in a more informal setting.
However, there are also some downsides to watch out for, especially for older travelers.
Nearly all B&Bs in towns have their rooms up one, two or even three flights of narrow stairs. Lugging big suitcases up and down narrow stairs is not fun and there is usually no porter to help!
2. Car parking
B&Bs in the city often advertise car parking that didn’t really exist. One owner assured us that car parking was available on the street outside and when we arrived and noted the parking restrictions, he advised that there was really no problem as the parking inspectors “hardly ever” came past after 4pm.
In another place, the “free, 24-hour off-street parking” did exist, but appeared to be 100 per cent full 100 per cent of the time – the locals knew about it as well, it seemed.
3. Wall-mounted electric shower heaters
We have never seen these in Australia but they are everywhere in this type of accommodation in the UK and Ireland. They allegedly provide instant hot water [there is no tank] and all appeared to be of similar design but working out the mystery of the right combination of settings and getting them to provide hot water for a shower with a reasonable flow and even temperature was a daily challenge.
4. Navigational difficulties
“Centrally located” B&Bs “near” your destination can be well outside the town you think you are staying in and although “you can’t miss it” some of them in country areas can be really challenging to find. Make sure you get very clear directions or have access to a GPS and know exactly where it is, not just where it is supposed to be near.
5. Shared bathrooms
Many B&Bs offer ensuites these days but not all of them so if you don’t want to share with other guests who may not share your views on bathroom etiquette, check carefully what is on offer. In one B&B in Nice, France, a long time ago, we had to walk through the living room, squeezing past our hosts and their dinner guests, just to get to the bathroom.
6. Eating options
Remote country B&Bs may be in the most picturesque locations but choices for your evening meal may very limited, expensive or far away. Once you get there you don’t want to have go a long way to get a reasonably-priced meal.
7. Over-friendly hosts
Meeting the locals is great but if you want to relax in the lounge area and chill out after a long day of sightseeing sometimes you don’t want to have to chat to your host for an hour or so. On the other hand, local knowledge can add to your travel experience.
On Skye in Scotland, our host’s knowledge of local doctors came in very handy and may have saved our trip. It certainly made up for the traffic hazard caused by her husband’s cattle wandering the local roads threatening our collision damage waiver excess!
Sometimes all you get is your room and unless you want to hang out in your host’s lounge room watching the hurling there is not much to do but go to bed.
Actually, I loved the “traditional” Scottish, Irish and even English breakfasts, including black pudding which I would never eat in Oz. The only problem was eating lots of the same thing nearly every day for five weeks simply because breakfast was included in the price.
11. The ‘Vogue Living’ factor
In Ireland, we splashed out on an upmarket B&B in a cute converted church. It was absolutely gorgeous and our hosts were very friendly and helpful but our room was a little over-decorated which made it difficult to relax for fear of disturbing the carefully-placed furnishings and decorations.
We were reluctant to disturb the antique doll on the only chair in the room and decided that going downmarket had its advantages at times.
Bookings were generally easy via the usual travel websites which offer a B&Bs/guest houses option. What we didn’t know until late in the trip was how much of the tariff some of these websites take from the operator for doing not much more than trawling through websites created by others.
Now we would go straight to the operator’s website to book if possible.
13. Washing facilities
B&Bs, like many hotels in Europe, offer little or nothing to the traveler who needs to do some washing. Some serviced apartments supply washing and drying facilities and are a great alternative if you need to wash your clothes while you’re away.
I wouldn’t want to put you off. We enjoyed our stays in this type of accommodation but it pays to be very careful in making your selection.