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Sid KaplanThe term Bed and Breakfast, or B&B, started in Great Britain, with people inviting travellers into their homes, providing rooms and serving breakfast to earn a little extra money.

It soon spread throughout Europe, but you can find this type of accommodation almost everywhere now. Oh, no, you’re thinking. I’ve outgrown that bathroom down the hall stuff. Well, most B&Bs have too. While they all used to have toilet and shower facilities down the hall, sometimes with a sink in your room, those times have mostly passed, but it still helps to know what to ask about and look for.

More and more B&Bs now have “ensuite” facilities, with toilets and showers in the room. Sometimes, however, these have been shoehorned into the room. Others B&B’s have undergone extensive remodelling with their guest’s privacy in mind. Be aware, however, that the term “private bathroom” could mean it is still down the hall but you are the only one who can use it, with your own key.

Some places still only offer “standard” rooms, with a sink in the room and a trip down the hall for everything else. If you’re not speaking your native language, make sure you are talking about the same thing. Ask to see the room if you are inquiring in person. We’ve never found a proprietor who will object to that.

B&Bs can be small: only a room or two in a home, and you may be the only guests. They can also be guest houses with up to 15 or even 20 rooms. The ones you want to look for are those which have friendly hosts and a good location. Part of the charm of a B&B is the friendly host who will give you directions and tell you about their favourite restaurant.

Another plus to B&Bs is the breakfast, and it will generally be a substantial one. In England and Ireland, it will almost be too much to eat it all: cereal, juice, toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled mushrooms, grilled tomato and baked beans. Don’t be afraid to tell them how much you want. They will be happy to serve only what you want. In France, you may just get croissants, butter and jam, but they’ll be great croissants and lots of them.

Don’t forget to ask when breakfast is served: this isn’t a hotel. Breakfast is usually only served for an hour or two, and you don’t want to sleep through it and miss out.

B&Bs will generally save you money in Europe and other areas, but that is not the case everywhere. Europeans coming to North America are surprised to find that B&Bs are expensive accommodations, often costing more than hotels, not less.

People who have opened B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada have transformed the concept, making them into luxury destinations. Many are in historic inns or homes that have been fabulously refinished and decorated.

They may come with wine tasting in the evenings and a gourmet breakfast, but they don’t often come cheap. They are certainly charming and well worth what they cost, but you need to be aware that they are not usually budget accommodations in the U.S. and Canada.

Bed and Breakfasts can be like having a home away from home when you travel. But make sure you know what you’re getting into.

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