One of the most difficult decisions to make while travelling (besides choosing your destination, of course) is choosing your accommodation. Luxury or budget? City centre or a quiet neighbourhood? Hotel, hostel or Airbnb?
In this post, we’re going to look specifically at Airbnb.
It’s very user-friendly
The Airbnb website is very clean and easy to navigate, and they’ve made it a very simple task to find properties that match your exact needs (number of rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, pools, barbecues etc. etc.).
After filling in your preferences, click ‘search’ and ta-da! All relevant options will pop up on your screen. You can scroll through them all, see where they are on a map, read reviews from previous travellers and find out more about each property on its individual page.
Booking your stay, communicating with the property owner(s) and leaving reviews are just as simple too. We really don’t have too many issues at all with the site – any issues we’ve encountered are usually with the property owner, not Airbnb.
It’s more personal
You can speak to your Airbnb host before arriving, and you can contact them throughout your stay if you have any questions. Most hosts are pretty happy to chat with you about the local area and tell you about themselves (and vice versa) if you want to hear about it.
Once (in Glasgow) we were staying in a private room and we got back in the evening with a bottle of red wine in hand. Planning on drinking it up in our room, we were on the hunt for a bottle opener in the kitchen when the host asked us if we’d like to stay downstairs and join her and another guest. We did exactly that and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening meeting and talking with new people and fellow travellers.
We had another great experience in an Airbnb in the Black Forest, Germany (one of the first ones we ever used). We needed to pick up some food for breakfast but the nearest supermarket was quite a distance away (we were staying in a tiny village).
On this occasion, our hosts very kindly offered to drive us to the nearest supermarket to pick up some supplies – it’s personal touches like this that you won’t get at a regular hotel or hostel.
During this particular stay, we’d also been given some local beer, milk and a homemade fruitcake – our hosts really went above and beyond! While this has happened on a couple of occasions for us, it’s not something that should be expected from every host.
You have access to a kitchen
As much as we absolutely love devouring every single type of local food that we can get our hands on, we usually try not to overdo eating in restaurants – it keeps our wallets happy. 🙂
This is much easier to do when you stay in an Airbnb property because you have access to a kitchen 99% of the time (we think we’ve only seen one place that didn’t want us to use their kitchen, and we thought it was a bit odd).
They’re generally fully stocked with pots, pans, cutlery, utensils, and anything else that you may need to do some cooking. You can stock up on ingredients at local markets and supermarkets and make yourself delicious meals at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out.
Quick tip: buy bottles of local beer from the shop and keep them in the fridge while you’re out and about exploring. There’s nothing better to come home to or enjoy with your home-cooked meal, than an ice-cold bottle of beer.
Whole house vs. private room
With Airbnb, you can choose to stay with a host in a private room or rent a whole apartment or house to yourself.
If you’re going away with family or friends you’ll probably want your own space. But if you’re going away for one night on your own for business, if you have an overnight layover at an airport, or if you’re just looking for the cheapest accommodation out there, then you might not be bothered about where you sleep – any old bed will do!
The main benefit of staying in a private room is that it’s much more affordable. You’ll save money and if all you need is a bed for the night, it can be a great option (and a great way to meet locals by the way).
Renting a whole property gives you privacy and freedom (which we personally much prefer over the above), but it will cost more. That’s not to say it’s expensive – that very much depends on which country you’re visiting, but in comparison, you’ll always be paying more for a whole property than a private room.
Properties can be anywhere
Hotel and hostel accommodation is typically found in busy areas: main streets, near train stations or airports, shopping areas, partying districts, or along beach fronts. While it’s nice to be in the hustle and the bustle of it all, sometimes you want to be able to take a step back and, after a long day, retreat to a quiet little corner of a city/town/village to recuperate for the next day.
This is where Airbnb really comes into its own. On offer will be the above if you fancy that, but you’ll also find really quirky properties in some really different places. It’s possible to stay in the middle of nowhere, or in the clock tower at St. Pancras, London (really – go check it out).
There’s a huge variety of properties and places to stay on Airbnb, so make sure you have a good look before booking your next trip.
Communication can be difficult
As nice as having the personal touch is, dealing with hosts can sometimes be difficult. There have been times that we’ve contacted our hosts via the website, usually because of an issue in the home, and haven’t heard back quickly (or for a couple of days). This can cause a bit of stress and frustration, especially when you just want a quick answer.
In one situation the Wi-Fi wasn’t working in our apartment, so we had to wander to a nearby restaurant, buy a beer (oh no!), connect to their Wi-Fi, then message our host from there to tell them. In a hotel, the issue would be sorted by calling reception…
Also, be aware that if you’re travelling to a country that speaks a different language to you, it’s not guaranteed that the host will speak your language (profiles on Airbnb will sometimes tell you if the host speaks your language).
Most hosts seem to know at least a basic amount of English (which is great for us), but we did have an experience in Malaga, Spain where the person meeting us didn’t speak one word of it. We were able to channel some of our high-school Spanish and we managed to get by okay, but it wasn’t an ideal situation at all.
The exchanging of keys
Sometimes this can be extremely easy (i.e. a keypad or a locked box with the key inside right by, or on, the front door) and sometimes this can be extremely difficult. The fact that it has to be done, often without the host being present, means that if something does go wrong, it can become very frustrating, very quickly – that’s why it’s in the ‘con’ section.
For example, on one trip to Copenhagen, we’d arrived quite late after a delayed flight, and were only able to contact our host once we’d landed. After apologizing for being late and telling our host that we were ready to meet, she responded by saying that she was out and to meet her at a metro station.
This metro station wasn’t anywhere near the flat itself, or the city centre for that matter. We also needed to jump back on the metro afterwards, and then transfer to a different metro to finally reach the flat – annoying at any time, but even more so when it’s late and we’d been delayed!
When we arrived at the metro station to meet our host no one else was there – brilliant. We wandered until we found a bar who kindly let us use their Wi-Fi to contact her. After buying a pint as a thank you to the bar, the host finally turned up! We got the keys off her and eventually made it to the property.
That’s the worst scenario of collecting keys that we’ve had through Airbnb before, but it does highlight the potential issues you can run into when relying on hosts rather than hotels or hostels.
Sometimes places aren’t as nice, or as big, as the photos would have you believe
Yes, this can easily occur in a hotel or hostel as well, but we’ve experienced this more often with Airbnb properties. Just be aware of this.
Finding the place can be tricky
Yes, again, this can sometimes be the case with hotels and hostels too, but we’re sticking it here because hotels and hostels are often signposted, and have a large sign on the front of the building telling you that you have arrived.
They’re landmarks, not someone’s house or flat. So when you’re asking for directions, the chances are people might know where ‘Hotel A’ is, but not ‘Flat X’ in a suburban area.
We typically use Airbnb when we travel because we do find that the pros outweigh the cons. We’ve had our fair share of negative experiences, but now we’re a bit more selective with the places we choose to stay in (i.e. not always going for the cheapest option).
Hosts can be ranked as a ‘Superhost’, meaning that their reviews are always very positive, they have a good response rate and that your stay with them should be great. So we try to book with Superhosts when we can.
We know that a few of our friends have been hesitant to try Airbnb because of a few bits and pieces of bad press. However, our experiences with Airbnb and its hosts have been mostly overwhelmingly positive. We’d recommend Airbnb to anyone – just do your research beforehand as you would with any hotel or hostel.
Do you agree with our pros? How about our cons? Let us know about your Airbnb experiences below!
Click the links here for our articles on the pros and cons for hotels and hostels.