To B&B, or Not to Be

I guess I first became aware of bed-and-breakfast accommodations when I went to Europe years ago. At that time, in the late 1970s, there didn’t seem to be any similar options for lodging here in the United States. Maybe because our country is such a car-happy place, motels were the popular choice, and, too, suburban sprawl was sucking people out of cities and towns, cities and towns being the most likely settings for B&Bs. In America, generally, if you had money you stayed in hotels in the city, and if you didn’t, motels outside the city. I am thinking, too, about all the Automobile Club-rated motels and also the Motel 6s, the cheapest accommodations to be had in almost any out-of-the-way place. Maybe it was in the 1980s and early 1990s that I started to see B&Bs come into their own. What I have been noticing lately is that B&Bs have morphed over time from what their intended purpose had been to what it is now.

My initial forays into B&Bs I found a little weird, I admit. So much togetherness with strangers. There were stays in people’s homes, in their spare bedroom, where I felt odd and uneasy, like I had just married into the family, never having met them. Then at breakfast, there was the coming together of the “parents” and all the new guest in-laws, which I was being introduced to for the very first time. We were all chatting as we awaited breakfast, mostly about why we were here, where we were from and how long we were staying. Although it was congenial, it was like orientation at college – a kind of forced intimacy that I found uncomfortable. The thing was, though, the interaction was part of the deal. You were ostensibly there for the interaction, this being part of the travel experience. You were meeting the natives, plus you were meeting other non-natives, and you were all shaken, not stirred into one big wayfarers-filled happy family with a hosting happy family. The melting pot. Home away from home, so to speak. Although, unless you run a B&B of your own, this setting would be nothing like home.

There were, of course, variations on this theme but, basically, you would become a foreign exchange student in an English-speaking land. Over the years I had noticed subtle changes in dining style. Rather than everyone together, breakfasts could be had at different seating times so that individual digestive tracts could be accommodated; serving was winnowed down so that the meal was not necessarily one for all, all for one. And, too, food choices could be made apart from the original farm-style breakfasts. Once in a while, there was a place that had a stocked mini-fridge in your room so your morning face wouldn’t have to frighten the other guests. And, too, there were the rare places that delivered a basket to your door, like Saint Nicholas filling your shoes overnight – no interaction whatsoever and your time was entirely your own. And, except for check-in, you never had to associate with your hosts again. Or were they elves?

It has occurred to me of late that now, often, the hosts don’t even live in the house. They have another private house on the grounds, or better yet, they live next door or nearby on a separate property. Two things seem to be working here: B&Bs are becoming more impersonal, more like inns with innkeepers who are there to give you directions or find you a corkscrew; and, travelers’ time is deemed more precious in our hurried-pace world so that, face it, talking with strangers is a waste of time. Get up and get going, don’t lollygag around making small talk with people from Des Moines. There are sights to see and someone just left a personalized tray of breakfast items on the hall table for us to pick up. In this instance, I think that we have created fast-food B&Bs. Although it is still, quite literally, a bed and a breakfast, has it become something other than the original concept? 

So the question begs: Is there or should there be placeness in overnight accommodations? Do B&Bs provide that or should they or can they? There is probably the placeness of where they are located, meaning their proximity to your destinations. And, undoubtedly, there is placeness in the style or design of the house or room, depending on where your tastes lie. And, if lucky, there is a placeness to the view you may have from your bay window or porch for the limited time that you will be in your room. But, in terms of the placeness of meeting fellow travelers, there isn’t much of that anymore. Even bed-and-breakfasts have turned into anonymous motels. Sure, there might be dizzying wallpaper, and more doilies than your great-grandmother had in her whole house just in one room, but the idea of a shared experience is over. The independent American spirit prevails, a B&B stay becomes a roof above without personal investment. Get back in your car.

55 Comments

Filed under Culture, Life, Musings, Random

55 responses to “To B&B, or Not to Be

  1. You know, I’ve never considered the progression of B&Bs over the years…until now. Interesting.

    There has always been a romance to the concept of a B&B — at least in my limited perspective. However, I’ll admit to never having stayed in one. Not once. I think my personal space issues have always made me think twice…

    • I understand what you mean about the personal space. Ive also found small motels and hotels to make me feel crowded. I recently heard however some bed and breakfast is set up more like condo rentals or vacation homes. Air BNB is a site dedicated to helping people to open their luxery boats and homes for weekend get aways at super low prices all around the continent. Thank you for creating such a well informed blog.

  2. Miriam Joy

    I remember a few years ago, my parents and I (I don’t know what we did with my brother and sister) went on holiday and stayed a couple of nights in different B & Bs all over the place. We also did the same thing in Wales another year, with youth hostels. I don’t remember much because I was very little at the time, but I know I made friends with a lot of the people who ran the places. At my favourite Youth Hostel in Wales (near the Wye Valley), I was very friendly with the guy on the reception desk who looked after all the board games. Then again, I made friends with everyone back then.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed 🙂

  3. interesting. i can’t say that i’ve stayed in b&b, but I still think I’d like to try it before they completely die out. thanks for your insightful post!

  4. If I want to meet other travelers, I’ll stay in a hostel. Otherwise, a hotel or motel. It seems like B&B’s are neither here nor there… maybe if it’s the only option and I feel like staying somewhere quaint.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  5. There sure is a ‘placeness’ for a unique experience :>

  6. Lovely thought provoking post!

  7. A B&B is a good idea if you’ve never been to one. My favorite B&B stay was when I was a mature 17 years old staying at one on the strip that is Northfield, MN. I was visiting the colleges of Carleton and St. Olaf. When I decided to check out the Northfield scene instead of going to St. Olaf’s welcome breakfast, they called my mother to let her know I had skipped out on it. She thanked them for the call, and then informed them it was doubtful I would go to a school that felt it necessary to keep tabs on me. Upon learning this, I didn’t regret for a second choosing the B&B over a dorm stay. That said, I don’t think it would hold the same charm or sway, twenty years later, today.

  8. An interesting thought. I stayed in the Lake District over the last school holiday with my boyfriend in a little place which called itself a B&B.

    It was lovely. More like a hotel really just fully run by only one couple. As you mentioned above – they lived in an adjacent (rather spacious looking) property.

    When we arrived we got a lovely welcome, free map guides and the owner spent a while explaining some of the attractions of the area. The room was gorgeous and en suite so no bathroom sharing required. Breakfast was in a small room downstairs and we had an hour to go and get it – we pre-ordered the previous evening.

    The place was lovely but nothing like the B&Bs I remember visiting as a child. In my opinion, this is much much better. The owners were more than willing to offer any help and at the ring of a bell I don’t doubt that they would have arrived to offer advice and chatter galore if we had wanted them to.

    We were basically left to our own devices but given a slightly more personal experience than I have had at most hotel chains I have visited.

    The place you go to these days to meet and greet with other like-minded travelers are youth hostels. I’ve had some great experiences in YAs but you have to be in the sharing mindframe.

    I suppose it makes sense than in a world where it becomes ever more difficult to find a quiet space we have tended to shun strangers and conversation. People are everywhere. Don’t you sometimes just want to get away from them?

    Great post – thanks.

    xx GnG xx

  9. Vina Kent

    very cool post. Thank you!

  10. ns

    Great post, brilliant title!

  11. I like your post. Compliments. Greetings from Italy!

  12. Gosh, that is kind of sad. I have never stayed in a B&B, but it has always been on my list. Seems very romantic, and I for one enjoy meeting new people. Although, it brings to mind something that a couple I was recently introduced to is doing… there is a website http://www.airbnb.com/ that allows people to sign up use their homes as mini B&B’s – they are matched up with people who are flying into their city. The couple I talked with loved it, they had had a few quests and also stayed at a few places themselves. Seemed like a really fun idea to me. Possibly a good alternative to the homogenized traditional B&B’s?

  13. I’ve always wanted to spend a day or two at a Bed & Breakfast, but if the experience is as isolating as you say, maybe I’ll just stay home. Although I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, especially in less populated places where small businesses flourish. Still, the old B&B has got to be better than a hotel with the continental breakfast. Blech.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  14. I always wanted to stay in a B&B and did so recently for the first time. It was definitely a different experience than a hotel. Our hosts cooked us an excellent farm-fresh breakfast and proceeded to chat with us for an hour, telling us all their adventures in being B&B owners, farming, and living in a tourist-y area. Overall, I enjoyed the experience more than a hotel. It was quieter, more comfortable, better service, and the price was right. I’d stay in a B&B again, although I understand they can be somewhat hit and miss. At least with hotel chains you know what to expect, but I guess that’s what travel review sites are for. 🙂

  15. I have to say I still find the B&B’s I in my travels are a good mix in-between. Perhaps I’m just luck. I do love to stay at B&B’s whenever possible and find there are friendly, mingling people at some level in each spot. I enjoyed your post!

  16. I’ve had a lot of different B&B experiences. They seem to be more intimate in Europe/UK. In Oxford, England, I stayed with a family and ate breakfast in their kitchen with them. One in Florida, there was a formal dining room and it was more like a large house. It depends on what you’re looking for. But if you like getting in there and meeting the natives, some B&B experiences can be quite fun.

  17. This is a fantastic article. We have found in our travels that U.S. B&B’s are becoming more and more impersonal. I hope that when we take our trip this summer to walk the Wainwright that we encounter a more friendly B&B experience. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  18. millodello

    A friend once told me that farming was not a job. It was a life style. I think that also applies to the B&B. Some actually enjoy hosting others. They exhibit a style and a unique personality. If it is a job to them they work at an Inn. Both have their place and each serves a different need.

  19. This was interesting, I have only stayed in a few B&B’s, preferring solitude for my writing as one of my reasons to get away. I remember though, staying in a pretty fancy B&B of the more traditional type, drinks with the innkeeper and other guests the encourgaement to connect and all that, with my cowboy boyfriend of the time. He was horrified that after we had sampled the bed mid-afternoon and came back after dinner, we found chocolates on the pillows and he realized that the innkeeper “knew what we had been doing”. Needless to say no more B&B’s with that guy! Our future travels were limited to horsback camping in mountains! Anyway i’m hoping to land a job as an innkeeper, the ad sounded intriguing and my first interview more so. People have told me I am a cross between Martha Stewart and Mcgyver so Inn keeping sounds like the perfect expression of those talents. I hope I find out!

  20. I’ve only had two B&B experiences during my lifetime, therefore your history of the evolution is quite fascinating. Thanks for the share.

  21. Any place where I have to go down the hall to use the bathroom is not my idea of a good time. My mother’s place is okay–she doesn’t charge me to stay overnight. And breakfast is still free. I’m too American to do the share- accommodations-with-strangers idea. I gave it a try a few times and I’ll take a worn out Motel 6 room with my own bathroom just a step away over a swanky themed B&B (bathroom a mere few steps down the hall, thank you enjoy your stay) room any time. Yup.
    Blue Skies,
    CricketMuse

  22. I like bed and I like breakfast. What’s not to like about putting the two together? I think the challenge would have to be making the business end work, while still keeping the personal touch meaningful. Great title and really good thoughts – thanks for sharing!

  23. Warriors and Goddesses

    We prefer to stay in B&B’s or Guesthouses when we travel but so very true that they are sometimes now geared to accomodate an attitude of ‘leave us guests alone’ inside a country house feel. I personally love the interaction and story swapping over breakfast. It’s all about a balance of privacy and sharing. Well thought out and written post!

  24. A very informative article. This is the first time I heard about “B & B”. The whole concept does sound deceptively British.

  25. I agree that there has always been a bit of a romantic notion with B&Bs. I have stayed in one, but either it wasn’t fully inhabited or we didn’t stick around much. We didn’t fall all over other people too much.

  26. very interesting article. I never thought of b&bs in that kind of depth. very cool

  27. very nice what a great peace you have cary on

  28. i love all this wish you best of luck

  29. I’ve stayed in a number of B &Bs, overseas in the the U.S., including one in Sedona and one in rural Ohio, both when I was traveling alone. In those instances, I really enjoyed having someone (the owner) to chat with in the morning and evening and to offer suggestions. In Ohio (!) she took me to my first-ever demolition derby, an event I would never in a million years have chosen to attend. We had a blast! I think B & Bs are great if you’re up for being social and will very much give you a sense of place if you’re open to it.

  30. Our B&B/Guesthouse (wouldn’t really know what to call it!) is on Cathedral Road in Cardiff, which was traditionally full of small independently run hotels. Over the past decade or two more and more of these have closed and been converted to apartments while chain hotels such as the Hilton have moved into the centre of town.

    As has been said, you know what to expect from these big names, but I think (and of course I would think this) that you can get so much more out of somewhere independent and really get a better feel for the local area.

    I live on the property and my bedroom is the only room (apart from the cellar) that is completely off-limits to guests. Balancing a life that you share with guests and that you can keep private can sometimes be a little bit difficult, but I’ve met so many interesting people from all around the world and so many of them are happy to talk to me about what they do that I feel truly grateful about the position I’m in.

    Fantastic post, but I hope the trend towards a less personal B&B experience doesn’t come to light!

  31. Reblogged this on Cathedral House Cardiff and commented:
    A great post that is obviously close to our heart here at Cathedral House Cardiff! We find that most of our guests choose to stay with us because they want a more personal experience, but there’s certainly no rule that says you can’t limit all personal interactions to check-in and check-out!

  32. MindMindful

    Yes, the b&b experience has changed, & is less of a thrown-together kind of thing. Alas…….. I always loved the strangeness of it all: someone else’s family photos, realizing that someone other than my folks wants your feet off the sofa. Still, since you don’t know what you’ll get, a b&b is always my 1st choice.

  33. MindMindful

    I realized after sending the previous post the WHY of a b&b still being my 1st choice for a place to stay: NONE of my Very Worst Travel Experiences have occurred in one, & some of my Very BEST Travel Experiences have.

  34. As the proprietor of a B&B in Northern Ontario, Canada I applaud your article. One of the unique aspects to B&B’s as you so eloquently point out is the personal connection it provides…. different from the sterile hotel/motel stay. My guest book is filled with comments that express the refreshing pause, joy and warmth that comes from…the conversation, trading travel experiences, learning about the local history and sights, inhaling the peaceful environment of the property and savouring a home-cooked breakfast. I live at the site and heartily agree that the preservation of the personal touch in B&B’s is a small but vital contribution to staying aware of our humanity! Thank you for your insights!

  35. My husband and I spent our honeymoon at a B&B. We had to choose between sleeping late each morning and having breakfast, which was a bit of a drag. But it really was part of the experience to share a meal with fellow travelers, get tips on area museums, etc.

  36. I’ve never stayed in a B&B. As I’m in my mid-twenties, the whole concept seems a little too old for me. Perhaps I’ll try one sometime far in the future, but not anytime soon. The idea of being so close to strangers seems weird. I go on vacation for privacy, not to share a bathroom with people I don’t know.

  37. B&Bs are as diverse as the people who run them. The BEST ones are run by people who love people, who have the energy to get up early and be there to be a host. We prefer B&Bs, especially in a new area to explore because of the advice given for out of the way places not in any tour guide.

  38. One of our pre-retirement ideas is to own a B&B, prefferably near wild salmon. Hubby will take people out fishing and I will cook the fish for the guests, along with my sweet breads, cookies, tarts for breakfast. So the whole idea is to be interactive with our guests and make them feel comfortable. I’m glad people are seeking such experiences, get over the “stranger danger” stigma and visit with others!

  39. verry goodsite and content

  40. Your perspective on the changing face of the B&B industry is really intriguing, and different, to all the others. What an unfortunate realisation to have made though. It’s so sad that the ‘personality’ has started to seep out of B&Bs, I always thought of them as such homey places that were there to introduce you to the area and other people.

  41. I’ve always found B&Bs awkward as I pass by others in the hallways. Especially if I heard noises coming from their room the night before. I kind of like the anonymity that hotels bring. My wife loves B&Bs though so we frequent them. My biggest problem with them is that there is no hotel bar.

  42. Interesting post…. My husband and I went to a B&B for our 10th anniversary which was almost 20 years ago. At that time, it was exactly as you had described. Since we haven’t been to one since, we will just keep the memory of the past.

  43. Reblogged this on Live.Hope.Love.Laughter. and commented:
    On my wish list : I want to stay in a B&B before it dies away and turn into another ordinary motels. Yikes!

  44. I’ve never put much thought into B&B’s… but I mostly agree. They are a rip-off in the U.S. Mostly they seem to be a way for people to open up their “home” and charge horrendous prices. Owners live next door? Often they live further than that, or hire someone else to run it. In other words – it’s a small hotel. All that would be fine except for the prices they charge.

    On the other hand – the equivalents in Europe and South America are generally a great experience. Good value, fun quirks that add to the experience, owners that actually interact with the guests…

    My $.02

  45. Excellent post! Having been a “B & B”-er through your post’s history, and living summers in a small coastal town festooned with B & Bs, we’ve seen the contrasts. We’ve not experienced the “fast-food” ones…and still prefer ones with interaction with others. We have heard of a local one with its own version of “fast-food”; in the morning the owner gives the guests each $5 and tells them to go to the local diner! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  46. musingsinaminidress

    I have only tried a B&B once and it was not my favorite experience. I don’t mind interacting with strangers, that might be the one thing I do like about it. What I didn’t like was feeling like I was a teenager staying with my parents.
    The breakfast itself was delightful, but I didn’t like feeling that I had to be dressed and downstairs at a certain time because people were waiting on me. And when my husband and I stayed out late one night, we felt like we had to sneak back into the house without being heard or caught coming in so late. So then I definitely did not feel like I could go to the bathroom at that hour to brush my teeth, etc. before bed.
    I also really did not like having to get “dressed” to go down the hall to the bathroom in the morning. We had our own bathroom, but it was down the hall from our room.
    When I go on vacation, I like to be totally on vacation. No agenda. No timeline. No schedule. From my one experience with a B&B, it didn’t seem conducive to that type of vacation attitude.

  47. The only time I would choose a hotel over B&B would be when I was just traveling through. I’ve stayed in B&B’s in Greune, TX, St. Augustine, FL, and Savannah, GA. Unless only stopping overnight, I’ll choose B&B every time. Meeting other guests is one of the top reasons I stay there, though there are many others. The homey atmosphere, sense of home away from home, and economy are major reasons. Yes, economy. My food expense is minimal. We have a huge breakfast, explore the town, have lunch at the best places much cheaper than dinner and go home for happy hour. After a big lunch, say at Paula Deen’s, gourmet snacks and free wine or beer is all you need to finish the day.
    Where else could you stay in the oldest inn in America (St. Augustine’s St. Francis Inn), or a farmhouse in Texas, or lovely residential home in Savannah? Yes, most of these are technically inns. I don’t think I’d want to just hole up in someone’s spare bedroom. I think B&B’s in the US are all trending to inns.
    If you enjoy meeting people and soaking up local atmosphere you should try B&B’s or inns. You experience is so much richer.

  48. Great thoughts! I have only been to one B&B and it was unfortunately the later of the two styles. Your thoughts make me want to consider guests into my house just to get to know people and offer them an option similar to a traditional B&B.

  49. Nice post, although i don’t have much experience of this.

  50. janet

    I’ve stayed in a number of B&B’s in Europe, most recently in England, Wales and Edinburgh, and enjoyed them all greatly. There was quite a bit of interaction with the family or couple running them if you, the guest, so desired. As I love meeting people and talking with them, it was great.

    In the US, we stay less often in B&B’s as we’re generally on the way to somewhere we’ll be staying. Our daughters got us a two-night stay in a B&B in historic Louisville a few years ago, http://www.centralparkbandb.com/. The place was gorgeous and the host and hostess friendly and charming. When the host found we were interested in whiskey and scotch, he brought out some bourbons for us to taste. They provided snacks and drinks between meals and we had breakfast with a table filled with lovely people. The area was great, too.

    So far, I’ve loved the B&B’s I’ve experienced and feel it’s worth the effort if you have the chance…and the money.

  51. Really interesting way of looking at it. I, unlike most of the people who read this post, have spent more time in B&Bs than in hotels due to the fact that I live in England. We love the tradition of a bed and breakfast accommodation, and, from what I’ve seen, the experience of staying in one has stayed very consistent over here.

    Of course, there are good B&Bs and bad B&Bs, just like there are good hotels and bad hotels, good restaurants and bad restaurants. When you find a good one, though, there is nothing else quite like it.

  52. Great post…B&Bs have always made me feel a little uneasy because, just like you say, it’s like being married into the family! They all have such personal taste in their decoration and they give me the creeps a little bit!!

  53. Teehee, love the title. (and the post of course.)

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