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.
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.
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.
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 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