Are you new to Airbnb? Maybe wondering what all of the fuss is about? That was me about a year ago. I was as green as they get and had never tried any home rental service before. Oh boy, was I missing out.
Airbnb was founded in 2008 and claims to have 2,000,000+ listing in over 191 countries. It has excellent filters and unlike a lot of other home rental sites, Airbnb lets you just rent a room if that is your preference.
I decided to try Airbnb out after having a conversation with a friend of mine who had recently returned home from a trip to Europe. She and her husband stayed exclusively in Airbnb rentals and she was raving about both the experience and some of the places they stayed. I am embarrassed to admit that at that time, I had never heard of Airbnb (I know, I must have been living under a rock). Anyway, her enthusiasm was contagious and I decided right then and there that that was how I was going to do my next trip (good thing R didn’t mind and had heard good things as well). At the time, we were planning a trip to Europe with another friend of ours (shout out to C) and things like lodging had not been nailed down yet. So we decided to give it a go.
Advantages of Airbnb
Below are my top 10 reasons why you should give Airbnb a try (in no particular order):
Live like a local
This may be my favorite aspect of Airbnb. No offense to places like the Double Tree (or to you if that is your sort of thing), but once you step through the front door, it is darn-near impossible to tell if you are in Boise, Idaho, or San Jose, Costa Rica (the cookies taste the exact same in both locations, by the way). Cookie-cutter, two-queen-beds-with-terrible-art-above-them rooms are real tough to find on Airbnb. It is fascinating to see how others live and with Airbnb, you won’t just be seeing it; you’ll be living it for a brief time. Which is very cool.
In Tallinn, Estonia, our place was a bishop’s chapel that had been built in the 1400s. A Finnish man purchased it and converted it into an apartment. There was even a sauna in the basement. It was hands down the coolest place we stayed in on that trip.
Location, location, location
With Airbnb, you can stay in some really cool locations. Often, hotels in the old part of town or downtown can get quite expensive. But Airbnb offers more budget-friendly options in the locations you actually want to be.
Plenty of businesses offer incentives for “inviting” your “friends.” Airbnb is no different. For our trip to Europe, R, C and I all set up new Airbnb profiles. I set mine up first and then “invited” R and C to join. They received a credit to use on their first booking. Then I received a credit for inviting them. Taking advantage of that little incentive, we were able to save a little cash. If you are planning a trip with other Airbnb newbies, I highly suggest you do this.
We rented from a host in Hawaii who brought us fresh-cut pineapple the morning after we arrived and even offered us a ride back to the airport to pick up our rental car. Airbnb hosts often offer a personal and local touch that is missing from most hotels. Plus, they can give you really good advice on what to see and where to eat.
When R and I are searching for places to stay, we like to filter our searches so that we each have our own bed. (Note: on Airbnb there is a difference between the number of people a place sleeps and the number of beds.) This might limit our choices, but it also gives us a better sleeping experience. We also usually search on price, location and “entire place.” But feel free to get as specialized as you would like. For example, while searching for places to stay in Finland, we were able to filter and view places that had saunas (which is quite a lot in Finland).
So. Many. Options.
Airbnb is growing like crazy. That means options. I am continually amazed at the locations that have Airbnbs available. Combine that with hotels, motels, camping, etc., and you’ve got more choices than you will know what to do with. Depending on the length of stay and the options available, I still choose a hotel a lot of the time. But Airbnb has opened up a whole new world when it comes to lodging.
One of the main perks to staying in an Airbnb as opposed to a typical hotel, is the near certainty that you will have a kitchen. This makes breakfast particularly easy and you can prepare a meal once in a while if you are tired of eating out or if want to save a few bucks. I also really enjoy grocery shopping in a foreign country and a kitchen makes it easy to pick up snacks and food to have on hand.
The first thing I noticed about Airbnb is that it is not as straight forward to book as a hotel and it can be a bit intimidating in the beginning. You will need to set up a profile and to do that properly it is going to take more than a couple of minutes. But make sure you do it properly. Airbnb is a two-way street and renters have the option to deny you. They can also give you a bad review if you mess up their place. (Note: if you enjoy living like a slob while staying in a hotel, you might want to rethink Airbnb.) I was a bit worried that my first Airbnb request might get denied because I did not have any reviews. Luckily, that was not the case. And I have not heard of anyone else getting denied either. After your first reservation or two, you will feel just as comfortable booking on Airbnb as you do on any other booking site.
Because Airbnb has that two-way street review thing going on, there is incentive to actually leave a review. When you stay somewhere and the host leaves a review for you, you cannot actually read it until you have also left a review (or until two weeks have passed). Once you leave your review, then you both can read what the other has written. I do not know this for certain, but I imagine this method prompts a person to go ahead and write a review when they might not ordinarily feel bothered to do so. And more reviews mean more information and first-hand accounts for us who are looking at a place to stay.
Challenges with Airbnb
Now for arguments sake, I feel I should mention that not everything with Airbnb is all sunshine and roses. There can be challenges. Sometimes the pictures and descriptions for a listing are not entirely accurate.
There was a place in Warsaw that claimed to have three beds but in reality it just slept three. It was not a big deal, but it was not what we thought we had ordered and unlike a hotel, we could not just request a new room. So R and C got to share a bed on that one.
Be aware of any listings that do not have a review. They might be new on the market and looking for their first customer. They might also be illegally trying to sublease their place. If the owner catches wind of this and puts a stop to it, you might find yourself without a place to stay at the last minute. This has never happened to me. But it did happen to a friend of mine.
Communication can be difficult and you will definitely need to communicate with your host in a way you never need to communicate with a hotel. You will need to arrange a time and place to pick up and drop off keys, or get into the house, or receive special instructions, or report a problem, etc. You might not speak the same language and you might not have cell phone service.
We arrived to Krakow, Poland, a bit later than planned and then had a hard time finding transportation into the city. We thought we would have cell phone service but we did not. So we had to find a place with Wi-Fi so that we could email our host and let him know that we would be late. It was a bit of a disaster and there was some waiting on both of our parts (and a sprained ankle for C, unfortunately). In the end, it all worked out. But it was not nearly as smooth as simply showing up at a hotel and checking in.
Please, please, please do not let the challenges above stop you from trying Airbnb out. Just keep them in mind when you are planning your first (or tenth) experience.
Airbnb has grown considerably and in certain cities, unfortunately, is causing more harm than good. Do your research and try to avoid using Airbnb in cities where it is causing local problems (e.g. Amsterdam and Barcelona). In that situation, I recommend you either stay at a hotel or stay outside of the city. Be a respectful traveler and do not contribute to the problem.
Challenges aside, Airbnb is a worthy option for any Jane and one I definitely recommend trying. It may just change the way you travel.
Final note: My experience with VRBO is a bit more limited, but it is definitely a viable option. It combines the “home” experience with hotel-like booking. I have found the fees tend to be higher and the dual review method does not exist. For these reason, I definitely prefer Airbnb. But I also recommend VRBO as a good alternative.