Staying at Airbnbs seem to be all the rage among travelers these days.  I’ve heard lots of people gush about them, both in person and in print.  Personally, I haven’t been tempted, but for the first stop on our UK road trip this past summer – Newark, where most of my in-laws live – the husband wanted to try one out.  In truth, if ever there was a time to give it a go, this was it.  His parents have a perfectly inviting home, but with his brother’s family visiting town at the same time we were, it made sense for us to stay elsewhere and let the family of five crash with the ‘rents.  So, half curious and half skeptical, we rented our first Airbnb.  This is my takeaway:

Purported pro #1:

You feel more like you live in the area and are part of the community.  When you stay in a hotel, you feel more like a tourist.

My response:  Once I step out that door, I’m a tourist, traveler, visitor, or whatever you want to call me, regardless of where I’ve slept.  While staying at the Airbnb in Newark, I certainly didn’t feel any more or less of a tourist than I did when we stayed in Castleton (inn), Betws-y-Coed (guest house), Ludlow (B&B), or London (hotel).  I think how touristy you feel is a state of mind, and whether or not others perceive you as a tourist has a lot to do with the attitude you project and the behavior you display on your travels.

Side note: if you really want to feel like a local while traveling, try petsitting.

Purported pro #2:

You save money because there’s a kitchen and you can grocery shop and cook.

My response:

In nearly all cases, cooking and cleaning up are just about the last things I want to do while traveling.  One of the joys of being away from home is getting away from the dreary, quotidian chores of my day-to-day life.  I love eating in restaurants.  I love that someone else does the work of both preparing and cleaning up from a magnificent meal.  I work a full-time job and save money like Ebenezer Scrooge so that I don’t have to cook and clean on my travels.

Purported pro #3:

You have an opportunity to stay at unique places; accommodations are not boilerplate like hotel rooms are.

My response:

If I wasn’t capable of finding unique accommodations, I’d have a really hard time calling myself The Travel Architect.  Anyone who can only manage to find garden variety, Holiday Inn-style hotel rooms on their travels, especially abroad, just isn’t trying that hard.  We’ve stayed in a 14th century half-timbered building in Prague, over a pub in the heart of London, in a grass-roofed hut in Belize, and at countless other quaint and charming B&Bs, pensions, and inns.  Not one of these was an Airbnb .  In short, there are lots of hotel options that break the stale and uninspired “four boring walls” mold.  Don’t believe me?  Type “unique hotels around the world” into your search engine.  Wait.  I’ve done it for you.  Click here.

Purported pro #4:

You often get more space than a traditional hotel room.

My response:

True, you can get more space, depending on the Airbnb you book.  In Newark, we had a one-bedroom apartment, so in addition to the bedroom and bathroom we’d get in a typical hotel room, we also got a kitchen and a living room.  In this case, the extra room was welcome, but on most of our travels, we’re don’t spent much time in our room, so the extra space would just go to waste.  Also, since we don’t have a TV in our bedroom at home (by design), it’s always a little treat to watch TV in bed when we stay in a hotel.  In our Airbnb, we couldn’t do this because the only TV was in the living room.  Small potatoes, but a consideration for us nonetheless.

Some Other Cons:

  • If the owner lives offsite, there’s often nobody around to quickly answer questions or provide help the way a front desk attendant or concierge can.  Case in point: This summer in Castleton I locked myself out of our room.  Had this happened at our Airbnb, I would have had to call or text the owner (assuming my phone wasn’t locked in the apartment, in which case I would have been in a world of hurt), wait for a reply, and wait for her to get over to the apartment with spare keys.  Who knows how long that would have taken?  Maybe minutes.  Possibly hours.  As it was, I walked to our inn’s pub, which was a few steps from our room, and had the door unlocked in 90 seconds.
  • You are rated as a guest, which means you have to clean up after yourself.  We aren’t slobs, but as we were getting ready to depart the Airbnb, there were a few dirty dishes in the sink.  The husband and I engaged in some back and forth as to whether cleaning them was necessary or expected.  I argued that we wouldn’t wash any dishes in a hotel sink, but he persisted and we ended up erring on the side of caution.  We washed, dried, and put away the dishes as well as vacuumed.  It’s a good thing, too, because hours after we left we received a review.  (5 stars, naturally 😉 )
  • Beware guest-unfriendly cancellation agreements.  The second I clicked the “book” button, I was committed to giving them half of the cost of our four-day stay, even if I cancelled 20 minutes after I booked – hell, even if I cancelled two minutes after I booked – even though I reserved the place months in advance.  True, not all Airbnb hosts have such a strict cancellation policy, but some do and I found it to be extreme.
  • I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: we don’t need all that space.  When it’s just two of us and we’re going to be out and about most of the day, a moderately-sized hotel room is fine, even with two bikes and a bike box.
  • Certain facilities and amenities may be lacking in an Airbnb.  After agonizing for weeks over which hotel to book in Andorra la Vella, I thought I’d give Airbnb a look-see, just for comparison’s sake.  We wanted somewhere with spa facilities.  Many hotels have them in Andorra la Vella (sometimes included, sometimes with a separate fee), but I could only find one or two Airbnb properties with any sort of spa facilities – usually just a hot tub – and they were huge homes with outlandish rental costs.

My final thoughts… for the moment:

These opinions are based on our single experience staying in an Airbnb in Newark, England.  I realize this is hardly a comprehensive look at this lodging option.  I can even envision a travel experience in which an Airbnb might be a better choice than a standard hotel: Several years ago we passed four delightful days in the Loire Valley of France.  We stayed at a cute little inn in the town of Chinon.  We dream of returning to Chinon, perhaps for two or three weeks, and interspersing day trips visiting chateaux around the valley with relaxing days in town, strolling the outdoor market, buying fresh seafood, and cooking it up in our well-equipped Airbnb kitchen – perhaps even inviting our English relatives to join us for a few days here and there, making one of those “entire home” Airbnbs the perfect choice.  Still, for the vast majority of our travels, a traditional room in a hotel/inn/pension/guest house will remain our accommodation of choice.

Your turn: I know a lot of you are Airbnb devotees.  The comment box is below – let the backlash begin.

Wait! Before you attack 😉 , here are two more perspectives on Airbnbs – one pro, one con – published recently by bloggers I follow.

Pro perspective by Navigation Junkie: Why Airbnb?

Con perspective by An Orcadian Abroad: I’ve Still Never Used Airbnb – Here’s Why

 

 

44 thoughts

  1. For me, it’s simple finances: I stayed in a gorgeous apartment in Paris for $130/night…imagine what the $130/night hotel is like. More egregiously, in the US where a crappy room at a Holiday Inn Express can frequently exceed $200 depending on the location, I find it difficult to not choose an Airbnb. This Labor Day weekend, our 2-night rental in the lakes region of Maine was under $200 total…the run-down motel efficiencies were nearly that per night. I’ve been fortunate to not yet have a bad Airbnb experience, but given the increasingly ridiculous costs of hotels (before you factor in cash grabs like $30/night to park, $30/night for a resort fee, etc. etc.) I’m going to continue to patronize Airbnb.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! You make a lot of great points! I agree that when traveling you often times don’t spend much time in the hotel, which makes the extra space kind of obsolete. I do believe there are some positives to an Airbnb, but your points make a lot of sense. Thanks for the link!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would love nothing more than for someone else to cook and clean for us while we explore the world. But travelling with a 3-year-old who can wake up at 8am and happily request pasta with broccoli, avocado and sun-dried tomato pesto all sprinkled with fresh parmesan and toasted pumpkin seeds, we have no option but to stay with Airbnb and make our own meals.

    Of course, it would be ideal to devote 100% of our holiday to relaxing and taking in new sights, but restaurants with healthy kids/adult meals are very few in between.

    Did you know that actually hiring a place on Airbnb, so we can enjoy ‘cheaper’ holiday pushes rent prices up for locals who live and work in the city and has proved unpopular with existing residents? On top of that, Airbnb has little concern for your safety, on many occasions where we rented an apartment fire alarms, carbon monoxide testers were absent, and bad reviews were removed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s what my “con” blogger link mentions, especially the rent problem and the poor customer service of Airbnb. Sounds like you’ll be using it for the foreseeable future, so I hope you don’t have any of the bad experiences (like last minute cancellations) that I’ve heard about. And hey, someday that cute 3-year-old will be making YOU a healthy dinner, in gratitude for always making her a healthy dinner. 🙂

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  4. I like staying in an accredited hotel because I don’t need a lot of space when traveling and I don’t need to pretend to be a local to have a good time. Also, room service. What’s a vacay without someone waiting on me… just once even… while I’m away from home?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The magic of having discarded towels washed, dried, and folded before I get back to the cabin (I notice that especially on cruises, probably because it’s more than once a day 🙂) is one of my favorite things … time to burst into a Sound of Music song!

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  5. It all comes down to what one as a traveler wants from travel and what works for each person. We started staying in Airbnbs when our daughters were teenagers and it was really nice to have the extra space in a condo or house. We also like hearing the sounds of a residential neighborhood from our Airbnbs — kids playing soccer in the street in Praiano, families talking to each other over dinner in Rome, kayakers chatting to each other outside our houseboat in Copenhagen, etc. The nice thing about travel is that each person/couple/family/group can decide what works best for them, whether it’s a hotel or an Airbnb or something else — and then have the vacation that makes them happy.

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  6. We do both… Airbnb for longer stays so we can have more room and a kitchen, traditional hotels for shorter stays. Our current 6-week stay in Mexico would be very expensive in a hotel. I feel more than a bit hypocritical, though… I would hate to have an Airbnb in my neighborhood. Although my husband and I are quiet and respectful, not everyone is… and I wouldn’t like a constant stream of strangers going in and out every few days.

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  7. We actually offer AirBnB in our house. A bit like you, we find people just want a bed and a shower – they really don’t want a whole lot of extra space even though we provide a sitting room and access to other parts of the house. We have met some wonderful people and it is a good way to fund our own travels! We have stayed in AirBnBs when we travel too, but sometimes sites such as booking.com offer better deals without all the surcharges and cleaning fees. Swings and roundabouts! Bye, Mel

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  8. Methinks you have a Travel Architect’s gut. We tend to feel the same way. For three reasons: the oversight seems not to always be there (as in https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/43k7z3/nationwide-fake-host-scam-on-airbnb), the service/options (the toilet clogged, etc.) are more difficult to deal with, and you can’t rely on reviews in the same way as you can for the hotel industry. When one can get retaliatory reviews for not being exuberant about the accommodations, it’s more difficult to trust the reviews (when I looked there were too many perfect ones, that a five star hotel would not get…). Thank you for the great point of view!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! The Vice article is the one referred to by An Orcadian Abroad that I linked at the bottom. It’s funny, because this topic (Airbnb or not) is as divisive as my Barcelona post. People either seem to love Airbnbs/Barcelona or hate Airbnbs/Barcelona.

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  9. I do not want to strip the bedding, wash & put away dishes, and sweep the floor when I’m getting packed up to head to the airport. Grocery shopping & cooking on vacation? Nope. In fact, we stayed in an upstairs apt (there weren’t airbnb’s back then) in Kauai, and we still couldn’t bring ourselves to cook even breakfast while there. Not very frugal but, oh well.

    My sister-in-law and her husband, after moving to southern California, decided to invest in an airbnb. I assumed they’d buy one near their SoCal condo, but no. They bought one in New Jersey. Imagine how long it might take to get you that spare key! Alhough they probably have a management company to handle those sorts of things. I’m guessing they chose NJ to be close to her Manhattan sibling whose apartment is too small for visitors, or so I’ve been informed. Now that seems like a less expensive way to visit New York regularly: stay in your o wnsecond home there! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A really interesting read – your post, and all the comments afterwards. Guess it’s just horses for courses. We stay in Airbnb’s a lot – almost always choosing an entire place where the owner is absent. It’s different when you’re constantly on the move. I look for a place where I can cook, wash clothes, and I feel an Airbnb apartment gives me more space than a traditional hotel room – I like a couch, an area to sit, rather than just sitting on the bed all the time. And I think all these things do help me to feel more like a local. I see how people live in a place, steep stairs in Amsterdam, quiet courtyards in Paris, tiny apartments in Tokyo. I shop in supermarkets. Airbnbs are also in residential neighbourhoods, not just in the centre of a place like more traditional hotel accommodation. It’s a trade off, I don’t mind washing the dishes or cleaning up after myself in exchange for this. But I probably wouldn’t feel the same if I had 2 or 3 holidays a year. There are drawbacks to Airbnb stays though – it bothers me that it affects the housing market in a place. That houses become too expensive for locals to buy. And it’s true, there is no help if something goes wrong – we’ve had a flood from the flat above in Paris, which basically took a day to sort out as we had to wait for a plumber to arrive. Everything has pros and cons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are perhaps the poster child for pros and cons. Unfortunately, we are the 1-3 trips per year type of people. For longer stationary stays, like the Chinon fantasy, Airbnbs make a whole lotta sense. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  11. We’ve stayed in AirBnBs all over the world, including: three in Japan, one in Hong Kong, several in the US, one in Romania, and numerous in France, Germany and Belgium.

    We haven’t yet had a bad experience, although one in Tokyo was a little hard to find (we were rescued by a friendly neighbour, and the Samurai Katana umbrella in the apartment made up for it as far as the kids were concerned).

    We have stayed in some places which far outshone traditional accommodation. The castle in France with a tower bedroom complete with hibernating bat, the traditional Japanese house complete with floor mat beds and paper window coverings, the beautiful city centre apartment in a Romanian medieval walled city, and our favourite, the lovely family in Portland OR who welcomed us into their basement, shared a birthday party with us and made us feel the most welcome it is possible to be.

    A hotel is predictable, but our AirBnB experiences have all been unique.

    Sure, there’s cleaning to be done, but I just see it as a challenge to leave the place cleaner when we depart than when we arrived.

    It’s not as good value as it used to be when it started, but still offers a useful alternative. That is especially so when you are a larger family for whom multiple rooms might be expensive, or if you want to feel more like you are living somewhere rather than just staying there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like you’ve had some amazing experiences. You make a good point about the expense of having a large family and needing multiple rooms, which doesn’t apply to us. Your comment begs the question: Why, oh why don’t you have your own travel blog, and if you do, how can I find it?! 🙂

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  12. Great post!!! I love all of your points. I will add another. Sometimes using AirBnb can save you a ton of time and money on transportation. When we sent to Nova Scotia to golf, we could have stayed at the course for $500/night or drove 1+ hrs each way from nearest hotel, but instead we found an Airbnb 5 minutes from course for under $200/night.

    Thanks for the great perspective on this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love, love, love AirBnB. I’ve stayed in the most amazing places! Treehouse, farmhouse, open air shacks on private beaches and in the middle of jungles, haunted house, whole wing of a palace, earthship, remote cabins on a mesa or in the middle of a forest, and even in an old chuckwagon. And I’ll be staying in a big old colonial style mansion in Havana for a week in January for next to nothing. Couldn’t live without it! I’m not oblivious to how it’s damaged communities (read about how it’s ruined New Orleans, for example), but I just still really love the unique opportunities it gives me as a traveler.

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  14. Interesting article and links. I didn’t realize the negative effects of Air BnB on the rental markets. Food for thought. My own experiences have been mixed. Most of the time they have been good experiences, but I had one disaster – the dude was actually renting out his own bed and the place was a pit of squalor. What annoys me are the tacked on fees. When you advertise a place for $50 a night but it’s actually $125 that’s not truth in advertising. I compare both hotels and Air BnB in most destinations and use a mix of both.

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  15. This is a great post, and I love your comparison of expectations vs. experience (of which both are subjective, of course!). I also really appreciate the link up, thanks so much for including me! It’s been a really interesting debate and I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments from both sides. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My family and I have stayed at Airbnb properties around the US and in many countries. Only once did it turn out not that great (the place reeked of cigarette smoke). I always check hotels and compare to what’s available through Airbnb. Sometimes the hotel is a better option. We like to have at least one or even two separate bedrooms if possible, a living room, kitchen, and at least one bathroom ideally. That’s very difficult to find at a hotel, but we have found some on occasion with all of that. As far as not wanting to cook while on vacation, we’ve had some really great meals by just picking up dinner at a grocery store deli, say a whole roasted chicken, some sides, and dinner is served! I think even if it was just my husband I, I would still compare Airbnb vs. hotels and see what the better option is. Oh, and having a washing machine is a big factor to us since we don’t check bags with airlines and only pack up to a week’s worth of clothes. Some hotels have washing machines, but it’s by far more convenient if it’s right there in your house/apt.

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  17. The few places I have stayed (airbnb) I have loved, we do enjoy staying in a place where there is a lounge and room to manoueve, but I have also loved the hotels we have stayed in! I tend to find that when I am researching, either airbnbs or hotels seem to fit my search better! Recent stays in Greenwich and Edinburgh were airbnb, both offered a safe residential environment, with areas to relax after a hard days exploring with great access to the city! However, when we go to Glasgow we are hotelling it! Definately pros and cons to airbnb, and I am very choosey about where I stay- verified and good reviews only (same with hotels, haha). Really interesting to read everyones thoughts!

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  18. I appreciated your post! From my perspective….I actually like the apartment thing (i.e. kitchen), especially when I’m staying 2+ weeks and there are super cool markets (seafood in Barcelona, everything in Italy and France, etc.). Having said that, I will take VRBO/homeaway over airBnB any day of the week – in my experience VRBO apartments are professionally managed by people who have made this a vocation; in contrast, everyone and anyone is trying to make a little extra money through airBnB. In my (admittedly one and only) airBnB experience, I literally ended up on the mattress on a struggling expat’s filthy floor, and even though I ended up bailing one week into my pre-paid 4 weeks stay, I wasn’t going to fight over the money as it was apparent it was how she paid for groceries that month (and the policies, as you mentioned, are not renter friendly). In any case, traveling is always an adventure!

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  19. I’m still a bit of a AirBnB sceptic. I only used it for the first time last year for many of the reasons you listed, plus the added horror stories I’ve heard from others.
    I only personally had good experiences but I’d still rather stay in a hotel or if looking for a budget option I’ll stay in a hostel.

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