By now, most of you have heard of and have probably used Airbnb before. But for those of you who are unfamiliar, Airbnb is a service allowing hosts or rent out portions of their house or their extra properties as vacation rentals.
It has been increasing in popularity as an alternative to hotels and hostels. We have had quite a bit of experience using Airbnb in the US and Europe, and while we have had mostly positive experiences, there have been some mishaps as well.
Below I have listed some pros and cons to using Airbnb for your next travel adventure, and also some tips to ensure you have the best experience.
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Pros and Cons
Pro - More affordable than a hotel
Probably one of the most important aspects of Airbnb and why it is doing so well is that it can be much more affordable than booking a hotel. They have something for every budget whether it is just a room in someone’s house, a whole apartment, or an entire Tuscan villa fit for 20 of your closest friends.
Con - Possible misleading information
A thing to keep on the lookout for is misinformation from the host. They can put whatever pictures they want of the place they are renting, which may be very old photos or manipulated to make it look better or bigger than it really is. Be sure to thoroughly check the listing and reviews.
Pro - Live like a local
Renting out someone’s apartment or house gives you the opportunity to live like a local in the area you are visiting, rather than staying in a hotel in the touristy part of town. This helps give you a more authentic experience and immerses you in the local culture. In some areas that were hit hard economically, Airbnb provides some hosts’ only source of income and you can feel good about helping the local economy.
Con - It could be bad for the housing market
While Airbnb has been extremely helpful and rewarding for travellers and hosts, in some larger cities it has had a negative impact on the housing market. Since Airbnb has grown, more and more investors have been renting out properties as vacation rentals instead of to locals, hiking up the rental prices in that area. In some large cities, Airbnb has actually been banned because of this. Be mindful of this as you do your accommodation search - not all destinations should be or can be booked with Airbnb.
Pro - Having a kitchen can save you money
A lot of Airbnb rentals have a kitchen or at least a kitchenette, which can help you save money so you don’t have to eat out for every meal. Personally, we choose to eat in for most meals when we stay in an Airbnb, mainly breakfast, and sometimes dinners. We are usually out exploring during the day, so we usually make lunch our “splurge” meal at a restaurant.
Con - Wifi connection may or may not be good
First of all, if you are in need of a wireless connection, be sure to check the box in the Airbnb search to make sure the place you rent actually has it! Some may not. But even if they do have wifi, it is subject to the local providers, and as such may or may not be the best. Something to keep in mind if you plan on working during your travels like we do.
Pro - More privacy than a hotel
If you rent a whole apartment/house, this affords you much more privacy than a hotel, which is nice if you’ve been out and about with people all around you during the day. It can be a quieter and more relaxing place to unwind at the end of a hectic day. Plus you don’t have to worry about putting the “do not disturb” sign if you don’t want anyone entering your room.
Con - Sometimes the rental can be hard to find
Especially if you are renting something outside the city centre or in a rural area, Google Maps is going to be your best friend. Be sure to check with your host as well since they know the best way to get to their house.
Pro - You can possibly pack less by doing laundry!
If your rental has a washing machine, you can do laundry on longer stays to avoid having to pack as heavily. This can save you money in baggage fees and can save you your sanity if you don’t have to heft around as many bags.
Con - House rules can sometimes be strict
Usually in the listing itself or in the “house manual” you get after booking you will see some house rules associated with that particular rental. Some of them may be as simple as not having parties or pets, but some can be pretty strict about water usage, what to do with your garbage, etc. So this is something to keep in mind since you may have extra steps you have to take before you check out versus at a hotel.
Pro - Discount for longer stays
Some rentals have weekly or monthly discounts for longer stays. Sometimes the cost can actually come out to less than a shorter stay! You will find this information in the pricing breakdown when you select your dates. This came in handy when we moved to the UK last year and needed a place to stay for a couple of months while we got settled and found our own flat.
Con - Fees
Airbnb charges a service fee that is non-negotiable and non-refundable, so keep in mind that will raise the total cost of the booking. Some hosts may also charge a cleaning fee to help pay for housekeeping after you check out. Also be on the lookout in the description for any other fees they may charge that are not included in the initial booking price. One place we stayed at charged a daily tourism tax and for how much gas we used for heating during our stay.
Pro - Guest and Host Reviews
Airbnb prompts you to leave a review for the rental as soon as you leave, and a lot of people do, which can be quite helpful. Be sure to read all the reviews thoroughly as even though they may have given the property 5-stars, they might mention something you didn’t think of or that wasn’t mentioned in the listing description which could be helpful in deciding whether this is the place for you. Airbnb also gives hosts the opportunity to review you as a guest, which, if you didn’t leave the place in shambles, can benefit you by having positive reviews in your profile.
Con - Guest and Host Reviews
I also listed reviews as a con, because we have noticed from previous experience that a place with all positive reviews can end up being not-so-ideal for you. The host can see this review, and since a lot of the time you have met the host, I think some people are afraid to give a negative review because they don’t want to hurt the host’s feelings. Another thing to note about the reviews on Airbnb is that the host can review you as well - meaning if you give a negative review, what is to stop them from giving you one? This is why we recommend taking the reviews you see on the site with a grain of salt.
Pro - The Airbnb Resolution Team
If there is any sort of problem with the property, first things first, let your host know so they can try to rectify it! However, if it is something they can’t fix, like the apartment is a disaster, or you don’t feel comfortable staying there, or if the problem is with the host themselves, there is the Airbnb Resolution Team. They are there to intervene if you can’t resolve the issue with the host. We have only had to use the resolution team once so far, but although the experience leading to the need to use them was not pleasant, our experience with our resolution team member was very positive. In our case, the property was not as advertised and very dirty. We did not feel comfortable staying there so we left first thing the next morning. The host agreed to only charge us the one night when we spoke to her, but then later refused to pay us the refund. The resolution team researched the issue, got both sides of the story, and was able to get us our refund.
Con - Language barriers
If you are renting in a country where you don’t speak the language, sometimes a language barrier can be an issue. In our experience in Italy, even though the hosts listed English as one of their spoken languages, in some cases it was very limited English and we had a tough time communicating any questions or issues that arose. In any case, when you are looking at a listing, make sure you speak at least one of the languages the host does! The Airbnb messaging app automatically translates messages between the host and guest, but once you arrive you only have your own wits and possibly the Google Translate app.
- Do your homework - make sure to select all of your required amenities in the search, read all descriptions carefully, and read all of the reviews before hitting the button to book.
- Do some research on the location of the rental as well. Sometimes that beautiful apartment is cheaper than the rest for a reason. You don’t want to be stuck in an unpleasant or unsafe area.
- Look up directions to the rental ahead of time and ask the host questions about how to find it if you are unsure.
- To help save money, make sure the rental has some form or kitchen, and for longer stays, a means to do laundry.
- Make sure you know what is expected of you as a guest, and if you are unsure, ask questions!
- If something is missing, broken, let your host know while you are there!
- After your stay, make sure to leave a review - if something was not to your standard, make sure it is known, but be constructive and helpful, not overly negative.
- If you have certain (small) comforting things from home that you miss while travelling - bring them! We always travel with our favourite teas and freshly roasted coffee beans, manual grinder and French press.
- Only pay via Airbnb’s secure system.
- Check the cancellation policy - hosts can choose a flexible, moderate, or strict cancellation policy with cancellation penalties beginning between 24 hours and 30 days before the trip, so make sure you know what you are getting into before you book it.
There you have it. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have about our varied experiences using Airbnb.
Have you used Airbnb? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!
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