Accommodation is probably the largest expense when you travel. Hotels are the more expensive option and hostels or camping are obviously the cheaper options. Smack in the middle of those choices now though is Airbnb (website). Not only is Airbnb cost efficient but you choose the location, the accommodation type, the extras you have access to, the cleanliness, etc. Airbnb also gives you the opportunity to experience how people live in that country. You see what their homes are like. If you choose to cook you get to go grocery shopping and see the different foods. If you have television you can see what that is like. Depending on the rental and the hosts, you might get the opportunity to have a conversation with them.
Insider Knowledge and Perks
Obviously each rental and host is different but you can generally count on receiving insider knowledge for everything from transportation (some provide you with a reusable travel card for their city that you add money to), things to see and do, great local places to eat, maps, city guides, etc.
Some hosts even provide little additional perks. In London we were given wine. In Cairns I was given local fruit and Tim Tams (this unfortunately started my little addiction to these dastardly, delicious, treats), as well as a pickup from the airport and a ride into the city the next day. At one of the places in Sydney, I was given a ride to the airport. Almost every location I stayed at in Australia and New Zealand I was also given breakfast. In both Amsterdam (read that article here) and Brisbane, the hosts offered a pickup from the airport to the rental, for a fee. The fee was less than a taxi and these drivers knew exactly where they were going.
There are also the bonuses that come with staying with someone. In Brisbane my host invited me to dinner out with her and her friends. In Christchurch I went to a festival one evening with my host.
All of these perks and insider knowledge, are things you just won’t find from other types of accommodation.
Airbnb Accommodation Type and Features
Through Airbnb I have rented an apartment, a studio apartment, an eco retreat cabin (read that article), and a room in people’s homes. Each place was different and choosing them took some research but this makes sure you get the specific features you are looking for. How long your trip is, how many people are traveling with you, how long you will be at the specific Airbnb rental, what season it is, and the location, are all factors that help in your decisions. For me, I generally look for heat or air conditioning depending, use of a kitchen, wifi, and use of a washing machine. If you have a lot of choices to choose from, you can then judge the bonuses and perks. Does it include breakfast? How large is the apartment or individual room? Does it have an ensuite? Is the room part of the house or is it separate? Is the bathroom shared or is it private? How much is the cleaning fee? Is the wifi fast? Will I have access to a pool? Is there a tv? What is the bed type?
The room I rented in Cairns was a private suite at the back of the garage, completely separate from the main house. I had my own entrance, ensuite, air conditioner, fridge, microwave, tea kettle, tv, as well as supplies, a little sitting area and the above-mentioned fruit and Tim Tams. I also had use of their washing machine as well as their outdoor pool. As an additional bonus, I was staying between Christmas and New Years so the hostess even had a mini Christmas tree and some decorations put up. It was so thoughtful and I really appreciated it after spending Christmas by myself without any of that. Not only was this an amazing rental but the family was thoughtful, helpful, checked up on me and generally went out of their way to make sure I had a wonderful stay.
Location of the Rental
One thing you might want to pay close attention to is the location of the rental. If you will be driving, is there convenient, free parking close by? Maybe, first come first serve street parking, isn’t what you want to leave to chance. If you aren’t driving, is there close, easy access to public transportation? Perhaps walking 2 km to the closest stop isn’t something you are capable of. If you are in a town or city without public transportation, is the rental located within walking distance to places you want to visit? Are there taxi cabs available? When I was in Alice Springs I chose to rent an entire apartment instead of a room because of the location for my 6 am tour pickup. There were other factors of course but that 6 am pickup location, in a city with no public transportation, was a big factor.
Location can also play a big role in your decision between a hotel and an Airbnb rental. One of my stays in Sydney was a room in an apartment. The apartment was in Bronte Beach, approx 100-ish metres from the beach, and it had an amazingly, beautiful view of the beach and ocean, just a little obstructed, from every window. I could not have afforded a stay like that in a hotel.
As a solo female traveler in Australia and New Zealand I was obviously concerned about safety when I was renting; whether it was an entire apartment or a room in someone’s home. So, when I read the reviews, I looked to see if other solo female travellers had stayed there and what they had to say about the experience. Hearing about someone else’s experience in the same situation as you, can give you good information to base your decision on. One of my rentals in Sydney was a room from a male host with two long-term male guests in the home. I was the only female in this apartment but I felt completely safe and respected during my stay there. I also ended up getting along amazingly with the host. If I hadn’t seen that other solo female travellers had stayed there, I wouldn’t have given it a chance and I would have missed out on a great place.
Cleanliness is quite important to me. I was interested in a great sounding rental once where the pictures showed a nice home. As I was reading the reviews though, it became obvious cleanliness was not an important issue for the owner. Every single review mentioned the dirtiness of this place.
Try to read all, or most, of the reviews for the Airbnb rental, not just the most recent.
Sometimes reviews can be confusing though. I rented a room in a family’s home. The reviews were good and it’s cleanliness had been mentioned a few times. So you can imagine my shock when I arrived and the extent of clutter inside this home was beyond anything I had every seen. My first thought was hoarders. Yes, the room and the bathroom were clean, but the home was FULL of stuff, unmentioned pets and people. It was overwhelming. The family was so considerate and thoughtful of each other, and me, though. I had an internal debate going on in my head the whole stay. It wasn’t a bad Airbnb rental but it also wasn’t the best.
Another place I rented had reviews from people who didn’t like the place or their stay. I was struggling to find a rental for that one night and decided the reviews weren’t bad enough to deter me, so I booked it. It turns out the place was more old, than anything. The hosts were friendly and helpful but the house could definitely have done with a bathroom renovation. The bed linen was mismatched and older but they were still in good shape. That’s as bad as it was. That rental felt more like staying with a bunch of your friends when you are in your twenties. The place was pretty clean but it was an old home and the linens were the ones given by your Mom when she cleaned out her cupboard. Completely acceptable place to stay for a night.
Everybody’s idea of clean is different. I found most of the Airbnb rentals I have stayed at though, were cleaner than hotels I have stayed at. Including the big named, expensive ones.
Review All Of The Information Given
Reviews and descriptions are important parts of your research before booking your rental with Airbnb but don’t forget the pictures. You’re reading this thinking, “Obviously!”. But even though my cousin and I looked at the pictures of a rental in Paris, we both almost missed an important fact. There was no separate washroom. The studio apartment was a very, very small room. The toilet, and I think the shower, were both out in the open, in the room. It’s good to remember that what is ‘normal’ for you in your home or country, is not always ‘normal’ everywhere else. Thankfully, we caught it.
For me, Airbnb has been a great accommodation option. I have heard some of the Airbnb horror stories that have made the news but thankfully, I have not had those experiences. I have had one or two personality differences when I rented a room in someone’s home. When you are sharing someone’s home though, those are expected, understandable and something you can deal with. Overall I have stayed in some great locations, in some great homes and have met some wonderful people. One of my hosts even made movies. He had just finished his second film and was going to be looking for film festivals to enter it into. He told me how his first movie had just finished a run on Netflix and then he gave me a DVD copy of it. Of course I asked him to sign it.