With travel becoming increasingly complicated and stressful, it might be tempting to opt for accommodations that offer room and board just to simplify your life. Indeed, having meals included in the cost of your hotel might be the perfect way to vacation without having to worry about anything. But what are the downsides? And is room and board always the best option?
Full board vs. half board vs. all-inclusive
First, let’s get some definitions out of the way. You’ve likely seen these terms when you’re browsing your favorite hotel booking engine, but what’s included and what’s not may not always be clear. So generally speaking, these are the differences between full board, half board, and all-inclusive.
Half board generally refers to an accommodation package that includes breakfast and dinner. Full board refers to one that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Neither of these include drinks or snacks between meals. So if you have a beer or a soda with dinner, whether you have full or half board, you still have to pay for that.
On the other hand, all-inclusive includes all meals, snacks, and drinks. So if your plan is to spend your entire vacation getting sloshed by the pool, then all-inclusive would probably be a good deal. It’s common for cruises to offer both full board and all-inclusive packages, because cruisers basically have no other options but to eat on the ship. But when you’re visiting a city with a lot of restaurants, this might not always be the best choice.
Pros of room and board
It is more convenient
Far and away, the biggest advantage of getting room and board is that you save yourself the hassle of figuring out where you’re going to have your next meal. Too often, we find ourselves in an unknown city, walking long distances to a restaurant that is either booked up or unexpectedly closed. Knowing that your next meal is waiting for you at your hotel eliminates that problem. If you’re staying in a particularly remote location without easy access to populated areas, then room and board is most certainly the more convenient option.
It gives you a more realistic idea of the cost of a trip
Sometimes visiting expensive destinations can lead to unpleasant surprises when it comes to food. When we think of hotel and airfare to be the costliest part of the vacation, we often don’t account for how expensive food can be. Before you know it, you’ve spent three times as much eating and drinking in Iceland as you did to get there. Provided you stick to your meal plan and actually eat at the hotel every day, booking room and board together is a helpful way to know ahead of time how much your vacation will cost.
It may be safer
Some all-inclusive resorts are located in areas where tourists may otherwise be a target for petty or violent crime. Plenty of adventurous travelers welcome that kind of risk, but it may not be for everyone. If your plan is to spend the majority of your vacation in the comfort of your hotel, where people speak your language and you feel safer, then it makes no sense for you to try to venture out to find food.
Cons of room and board
It can be more expensive
You can always compare the price of accommodation alone to the price of room and board, giving you an idea of how much each of those meals will cost. If it averages out to more than you would expect to spend outside your hotel, then room and board is not a good value. If you’re the type of person that likes to have just coffee for breakfast and you wouldn’t even be taking advantage of the buffer at the hotel, you may be paying up to $15-20 for a meal you’re not having. Room and board also ends up being more expensive if you eat out more than a few times during your trip. Because for each of those meals, you’re paying twice.
You have to come back to the hotel each time you want to eat
Hotel location also plays a big role in whether room and board is worth it. If it’s going to be inconvenient or costly to return to the hotel in the middle of the day for lunch or dinner, then any savings you might have enjoyed on full board or all-inclusive is spent on Ubers, trains, and wasted time. This can also make room and board less convenient than it’s intended to be.
It limits your ability to try local foods
Room and board is categorically a bad idea if you’re visiting a destination that boasts great dining. While hotel food will be authentic and local to an extent, you will probably miss out on unforgettable restaurants nearby. If learning about the local culture through its culinary offerings is an important part of why you travel, then room and board won’t likely benefit you.
How to make the best of room and board?
Make sure the food at your accommodation is better than all the surrounding restaurants. If you’re going to give up the opportunity to try great meals around town, then at least make sure that your hotel’s restaurant offers some of the best food around. Don’t settle for room and board with subpar dining.
Consider doing half board so you can enjoy some meals out. This is a good compromise that allows you to enjoy the ease of room and board with the flexibility to try different restaurants around town.
Choose a destination where dining out is not important to you. For instance, if you’re visiting a different city in your own country, where the typical food is not that different from what you have at home, then you won’t miss much by getting room and board.
Be realistic about how much you eat and drink to get the best value. If you’re the kind of person who nurses one cocktail for the entire night, then you’re probably throwing away money by paying for an all-inclusive stay. The only difference between having meals included and eating out is that you’re paying for them in advance – but you’re still paying for them. So don’t pay for anything if you’re not actually going to take advantage of it.