Pro Tip: Get to the bottom of this post and you’ll score $25 off of your first AirBNB trip from yours truly!
I woke up to the sound of birds chirping at each other in the nearby palms that hung outside our front door. Immediately my eyes found the wall in front of me which secured my hammock in place as it swung wildly in the warm breeze of the Mexican Riviera. The colors of the hammock reminded me of all the various hues in the tienditas we passed earlier on our 5-block walk to the white sand beach of Playa del Carmen. Suddenly my stomach realized its emptiness, and I envisioned engorging myself yet again on the 8-peso ($.60 USD) tacos al carbon just down the street from our apartment. We put on our sandals, grabbed our towels, and walked down the rough-cut stone steps to the rest of our afternoon.
At the risk of sounding like a complete fanboy, AirBNB is my homie. Here’s why. Back in the good ‘ol single days it was simple enough to find a friend while traveling and camp on their couch for a night or two. Hostels were cheap, if option 1 didn’t work out. But when you get married and have a kid, your options shift quite a bit. Though the couchsurfing network still exists for families, the opportunities are rarer and rarer. In our case, we’ve learned that we’re most comfortable when we can have our own place, or at least our own room, and we’re more than happy to pay for it. But hotels are expensive.
Like, really expensive.
Sure, they aren’t always that way, but the correlation between hotel price and desirability of location is very high. And if you do end up finding a cheap hotel, the correlation between low price and pubic hair frequency is equally as high.
Knowing this, when we planned a trip to Mexico last year, we were eager to determine whether AirBNB was going to be a good experience for us. Turns out it was.
But besides simply relying on my obviously accurate anecdotal evidence, we’ve decided to put together a more accurate list of the pros and cons of AirBNB for you so you can find out if you wanna ditch the old school hotel/resort experience and try AirBNB next time you and your family find yourselves on a trip.
Remember that really fancy hotel in downtown Paris for $*%#!@ a night? Though there are some great benefits to staying in a hotel, consider this 4-person AirBNB listing even closer to the city center:
All the sudden that family trip to Paris is not seeming so impossible. AirBNB (which literally stands for “Air Bed n’ Breakfast”, by the way) lets ordinary–and sometimes not so ordinary–people rent out their rooms, apartments, and homes for prices that are often well below the cost of the surrounding hotels. Though some listings may ask you to book for at least 3 days, there are plenty that offer one-night availability.
Most people tend to travel for a week or two in order to make the time worth it, especially if the family is coming along for the trip. AirBNB knows this, and most listings have discount rates for longer stays. On our trip, we’re booking apartments or private rooms for a month in each country we go to. This lowered our cost of room and board in New Zealand from around $1500 to under $1000. Obviously this will not work for everyone’s travel plans, but it’s certainly something to consider.
One of the most important things to us when we travel is learning about the culture and area we’re in. Before we went to New Zealand we did as much research as we could to see what we could do while staying fairly close to our home base in Nelson, and we thought we had a pretty good handle on things. Once we got to New Zealand, we realized how pathetic all our research really was. We still didn’t know anything about the area, and we didn’t know where to find out more.
If we were in a hotel, our option would be to go to the front desk and scour over a couple pamphlets while the concierge attempted to sell you on some super-cultural jet ski paragliding tour. AirBNB, on the other hand, puts you in contact with your host directly, automatically giving you access to someone that knows the area well who doesn’t particularly have an ulterior motive. Our AirBNB hosts have been our greatest resource for discovering incredible things to do that didn’t kill the wallet. They’re typically used to the concept of travelers with a budget and usually don’t mind helping you figure things out if you’re willing to ask them.
Though I can’t speak for AirBNB’s cancellation policy (as it varies from listing to listing, and I’ve never had to use it before), I can speak for its worldwide availability, as almost every country we’ve looked into visiting has already been populated with listings on AirBNB within our budget–and we were looking in pretty obscure places. No matter where you’re planning on tripping, as long as it’s not in the middle of China in a 200-year-old Qing Dynasty house, you’ll–
…Oh wait, they have that too.
Just like there are no free lunches, there’s also nothing in this world that doesn’t have “cons” to counter its “pros”. AirBNB does have its downsides:
The “Hands On” Experience
Booking a room, apartment, or house through AirBNB is not quite as easy as swiping your credit card online and checking in at the front desk three weeks later. There’s usually no hotel lobby, ice maker, indoor pool, shuttle service, or gift shop. You have to research the listing carefully and read the reviews/comments from past tenants to know what kind of experience you’re going to get, and to know whether your room comes with a washer/dryer, allows pets, has wifi, or is dirtier than the listing implies.
On top of all that, unless the property you’re looking at offers the not-so-common “instant book”, you should expect to wait up to 24 hours for the owner’s approval that you’re the right kind of tenant, and sometimes they don’t respond at all. In many instances, the AirBNB listings are the actual homes of the people listing them, and if you look like you have rowdy kids, they may not want your family staying in their glass treehouse. And yes, they have those.
The bottom line is that if the conveniences of booking and staying at a hotel or resort are top priorities, then perhaps AirBNB isn’t your cup o’ tea. After all, everybody needs a vacation, and sometimes you don’t want your trip to stress you out more than your job.
Another rather large advantage of the hoteling business is that, unless the 50th Anniversary Star Trek Convention is occurring at the time of your visit, there’s always a room available. With AirBNB, you may not get the listing you want if someone else beats you to it. The highest rated apartments and houses are often booked 2 months or longer in advance. To curb this problem, it’s good practice to find a couple listings in the area you’re interested in and not get your hopes up on any particular one… or just book one mega early.
You’ve always stayed in hotels when you travel. You know what to expect, you know who to talk to to get your key, you know how to schedule a wake-up call, you know how to check out. It’s easy, because it’s familiar. AirBNB is not familiar.
You can guarantee that each experience with AirBNB will be different. Though hosts tend to lean toward a more hotel-like ambiance (we’ve even had mints on our pillow before!), it’s most certainly not a guarantee. There’s an element of surprise in literally every place you book. We have been amazed, and we have been disgusted, sometimes in the same stay. But, much like hotels (or amazon.com products, for that matter), the more reviews a listing has, the more likely it is you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into–before you get into it. Don’t let the unknown scare you, but know that you can’t possibly know everything about a place from a few pictures.
And as a general rule of thumb, if the listing has more pictures of the backyard than the actual room you’re staying in, you should probably worry a bit. Just take our word for it. So that about wraps it up. If you have anything to add, feel free to bounce it down into the comments here or on our facebook page; and as always, stay hydrated, my friends. Because if you’re thirsty you’re probably dehydrated.
Want $25 for using AirBNB for the first time? Just click here and we’ll make it happen.
(AirBNB did NOT pay us to write this post, and every single opinion is our own. However, should AirBNB desire, we would of course accept their gracious offer of a free month of travel. Feel free to contact us at any time.)