I am amazed how Airbnb has exploded around the world since it started in the spring of 2009. Today, their website has surpassed 800,000 listings, offering more lodging than any other hotel chain in the world!
Having never heard of Airbnb until 2013 myself I am truly blown away by how it has influenced travel for us and the travel industry as a whole. The consumer pursuit of the “local travel experience” is pervading every sector of travel and tourism in 2015 and I can’t help thinking Airbnb helped start that travel trend. It’s hard to believe it all started as “Air Bed and Breakfast”, literally one loft apartment, three air mattresses, and free breakfast!
Airbnb has made our travel lifestyle possible. We think the value for money is undeniable, so much better (in some cases) than hotels and even hostels! When we first started traveling we had never intended to move around as much as we have. We wanted to establish a “home on the road” for Makai so our plan was to find furnished apartments to short-term lease. This proved to be harder to do than we had anticipated.
Having never used Airbnb before we booked our first entire place rental in Miami on our way to Colombia. We had no idea what an impact Airbnb would have on the way we travel. Eight countries and fourteen Airbnb rentals later I can definitely say, even though we don’t have a home to call our own, no dishes, pots, or a stick of furniture to our name we find everything we need to feel at home traveling with Airbnb.
Not everyone who has used Airbnb is a fan of the service like we are. Some see Airbnb as risky or too much work to find a good rental. Others have had a bad experience with one host and blame Airbnb for their rental choice. You need to understand, Airbnb is just a service that helps independent hosts connect with would-be travelers. It is up to the potential renter to research listings carefully to ensure their accommodation needs can be met by a particular host. We always look for certain things in a listing before we book any rental. Our due diligence has helped us find exactly what we want for accommodation in the places we visit. The experience we have had with Airbnb has been very positive. Here is how we find everything we want to feel like “home” with Airbnb in the places we travel.
We Always Book Entire Place Rentals
When you book with Airbnb there are three different room types you can book: Entire place (a whole house or apartment), Private room (a room in a hosts home), or Shared room (like in a dorm in a hostel). We always book entire place rentals because we like to have a living space to ourselves. Every entire place rental we have booked has cost a fraction of what we would pay in a self-catering suite or a double occupancy room in a hotel. On average we have paid $50 USD a night for the apartments we have rented. Most hosts will give a discount when you book a month. We have paid as little as $20 USD a night ($600 USD for a month) for a fully furnished apartment.
We look for a one or two bedroom rental, studios are available and usually less expensive, but we like separate living and sleeping spaces. Having access to a full kitchen saves us so much money not haveing to eat out as much while traveling. Some entire place rentals come with conveniences like washing machines. This is great for traveling families or anyone who is traveling for longer periods, no need to pay for laundry service.
Booking an entire place rental is not like booking with a hotel, it is priced so much better for the space you get, but there is no daily housekeeping or room service. Staying in private room or shared room rentals will feel different than a hotel or hostel as well. Closer contact with the host can be viewed as a benefit as most hosts are helpful and super friendly or a negative if you prefer the anonymity and privacy of stay in a hotel.
We Avoid Booking Apartments That Have No Reviews
Probably the most important thing to look for for us is the reviews on the listings we consider booking. We like to see at least three but the more the better and from different types of travelers (families, couples and travelers from different parts of the world). If there is one thing we have learned reviews tell the most about the listing, and the host, good or bad.
Listings with lots of great reviews drastically reduce the risk of making a bad choice for a rental. Sometimes listings that have a lot of great reviews are more expensive than rentals with none. Paying a little more for the rated one will help you choose a good rental. The Airbnb host we had in Barranquilla had great reviews about her rental apartment and her as a person. The rental itself was more expensive than other listings we had looked at but the friend we made in our host Nazly, made our time in Barranquilla amazing. After booking with Naz, we were hooked on Airbnb. Look for positive comments about the rental but also about the host.
We Look For Rentals in an Area we Want to Stay
We research cities we are preparing to visit for local neighborhoods that are just the outside tourist zones. We then search Airbnb listings clicking on “more options” button to choose the neighborhood we want to stay in. This narrows down the search results to only the type of accommodation we chose in our specified neighborhood. Doing so helps us stay close to tourist draws but not pay the expensive rates that hotels tend to charge in these areas. Alternatively, if we are more interested in exploring an up and coming area in a destination choosing the neighborhood through Airbnb expands our accommodation choices by a large margin as these developing areas often have little choice for good hotels or hostels.
This does take more research than booking a hotel. In our experience choosing the neighborhoods we want to stay in, be it just outside the tourist area or in a new trendy neighborhood through Airbnb has saved us up to 60% on cost per night over opting to book a hotel. We also tend to find hidden gems for shopping and restaurants staying in neighborhoods who cater to locals as opposed to tourists.
We Make Sure Everything We Need is Within Walking Distance
We never rent cars in the cities we visit so we make sure necessities like a grocery store, parks, and access to public transit are all within walking distance. Most times these conveniences will be mentioned in the listings description. We always want see the area for ourselves so we use Google maps with street view to explore the streets around the listing. Airbnb doesn’t give you the exact address for the rental until you book. They give would be guests the general area of the listing. Using Googles street view helps us look around the general area to find necessities and get a feel for the neighborhood.
We realize this is more work than booking a hotel that is right in the middle of a tourist area. Having to do a little extra work on our end is worth the money we save on accommodation. The Airbnb we rented in Miami Beach was across the street from the beach and cost $88 a night. The hotel close by, (also actually across the street) cost $220 a night for a double occupancy room. We have saved a lot of money booking with Airbnb hosts, doing research to make sure everything we want and need is close by adds even more value when we book.
We Look Very Closely at the Listing
One thing that is very important about booking with Airbnb is looking carefully at the listing. All the aforementioned points will help you dig down and find a great rental, but this practice will help you cross off listings before doing any of the other stuff. There are a few things that are red flags in a listing for us: Pictures that are distorted or shown in another listing. Hosts that use exact same photos used in more than one listing are a sign that they are trying to dupe would-be customers into booking. When guests arrive they can find the rental is totally different than the one shown for the listing.
Also booking with hosts in Europe sometimes can take a little more due diligence, in our experience. Things like a dryer, or number of rooms can be understood differently than what we would expect. Our friend Talon explained these challenges perfectly in a post of his here. Long story short with this point, communicate with the host if you have questions. make sure you have all of the answers before you book your rental.
We have had our share of bad experiences booking hotels with outdated photos. We have also felt huge disappointment when a hotel didn’t deliver amenities promised when booking. The great thing about Airbnb’s service is if something looks off or doesn’t feel right you always have other options to choose from in the area you want.
We love traveling with Airbnb. It has saved a significant amount of money and their service has truly helped us feel at home on the road. We recognize booking accommodation through Airbnb takes more work than booking a hotel. The friendships we have built with hosts and how those relationships enriched our travel experiences make the extra work well worth doing in our opinion. The value for money for the extra space and convenience of a full kitchen is better than any hotel we have stayed in as well. If you would like to read more opinions on the future Airbnb from people with lots of experience using their service you can find a great article here.
Have you booked accommodation through Airbnb before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.