See what experts have to say before you book your next stay.
which is safer? Hotel or Airbnb
Credit: Getty Images

Whether you're planning to travel because you're an essential worker who's heading to a new job, you're struggling with your mental health and need a change of scenery, or you're going outside of town for family, it's important for you to know the safest place to lodge during this pandemic.

While many large hotel chains have announced new cleaning initiatives to help limit their staff and guests from contracting coronavirus (COVID-19), Airbnb has also recently announced in May their new Enhanced Clean program, which involves educational tools and materials that hosts can use in 12 different countries across the world. But even though initiatives have been put in place, is one lodging situation better than another?

To find out if either a hotel or an Airbnb (or other short-term rental options) is safer to stay in, we talked with health experts to see what they had to say. Below is everything you need to keep in mind before making your travel plans.

Understand and accept the risks

First, it’s important to recognize that even as some states are opening up and relaxing restrictions, we’re still in a pandemic. “The safest thing you can do is to stay home, and that’s particularly true for any of us who have health conditions or might live with someone who has health conditions,” Dr. Gwen Murphy, Ph.D., MPH, director of epidemiology for at-home testing company LetsGetChecked and former epidemiologist at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, tells HelloGiggles.

But if you want to or need to travel, there are ways to do so safely.

Dr. Murphy suggests approaching your plan as a matter of personal responsibility. Start by understanding the coronavirus rates of where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Ideally, you’d only travel from a low-risk area to another low-risk area, and you’d make sure that you do everything possible to reduce the risk of you transmitting the virus or becoming infected with it.

Part of that means going and staying in your location for at least two weeks if you can so that you can self-isolate and not run the risk of infecting anyone in the community you’re going to. Also, you should be planning for isolation even if you’ve tested negative, says Dr. Murphy: “Testing may be able to shorten that quarantine period, but because you can be negative one day and positive the next, testing doesn’t give you carte blanche to travel.”

which is safer? Hotel or Airbnb
Credit: Getty Images

Know what matters when it comes to transmission

Have you been frantically wiping down every door handle you come into contact with before touching it? That’s not a bad idea, but that alone won’t save you from getting the virus.

“By far the biggest risk of infection is exposure to other people,” says Dr. Murphy. “The chance of you getting infected as a result of touching a contaminated surface is actually pretty small, though it is possible.”

Which means that the hotel chains that are advertising their extra-heavy-duty cleaning protocols and disinfecting guarantees aren’t addressing the real problem of person-to-person transmission. A perfectly sterile hotel bathroom is a good thing, but if you have to pass through unmasked crowds in the lobby, elevator, and hallway in order to get to it, you haven’t avoided the real danger.

The most important thing to consider when choosing your accommodation, according to experts, is how much social distancing it allows for, and there’s no one universal answer as to whether hotels or Airbnbs provide more of it.

For example, a hotel that’s invested in contactless check-in kiosks and is enforcing social distancing rules in their common spaces—like closing breakfast buffets and not having people from different households share elevators—might be a better option than an Airbnb in an apartment building where residents cluster in the lobby and aren’t staying six feet apart. But at the same time, a standalone cabin that you rent on Airbnb and use a lockbox to get into could enable a much greater degree of social distancing than staying in a hotel full of other guests, particularly if you were going to the hotel in order to access high-use common areas like a pool or spa.

“How many other people are going to be sharing that space with you?” is the number one question to ask when it comes to deciding whether a hotel or an Airbnb is a better, safer option, says Dr. Murphy. Choose the option that reduces your contact as much as possible with people who are outside of your household.

While a standalone property with a remote check-in option is probably safer than a heavily-trafficked hotel, that doesn’t mean staying in an Airbnb is always the best option.

If you’ve decided that the best option for you is a hotel, infectious disease physician and researcher Dr. Jeanne Breen suggests asking the staff two more questions before booking your reservation:

•  What is their policy on time between check-out of prior guests and check-in of new guests in the same room, and what level of cleaning do they do during that window?

•  Are masks required of staff and guests in all common areas such as the lobby, hallways, elevators, and gym?

And upon arrival at your accommodation, whether it’s a hotel or an Airbnb, Dr. Breen says it’s still a good idea to disinfect high-touch surfaces just in case. “Disinfect the doorknobs, faucet handles, light switches, remotes, counters, lamp switches, appliance handles, and any children's toys or sports gear,” she suggests.

Finalize your plans and enjoy your stay

Wherever you stay when you travel, remember to do so safely and take responsibility for your own health and the risk that your presence brings with it.

Dr. Murphy, who lives in Ireland, has traveled locally with her family in the last few months and recommends using ground travel as much as possible. “I would not be keen to take my family on an airplane, but I have taken a car journey with my family and vacationed in a private house,” she says. So bring your wipes, wear your mask, and keep clear of anyone that's not part of your inner circle.