Traveling is so much fun, but it can be very expensive with hotel prices. Nowadays, I’m sure you have heard people talking about staying at an AirBnB, coined after the term Bed & Breakfast, but maybe you didn’t know what that actually meant. Well, fear not! I am going to share my experiences and what I think you might expect while staying at an AirBnB. This is not a review of the AirBnb website or business, but rather an informative article about the AirBnb process. I will forego discussion about ethics, gentrification, and the effects of rent/mortgages surrounding these types of establishments, specifically in urban areas. I’m sure you can find additional articles on that if you so choose. So, sticking to the topic, we will just dig right in. At the time of this article, I had stayed in 8 different AirBnBs (8 different cities, 2 different countries).
The key to remember is that an AirBnB is not a hotel.
TYPE OF SPACE
You have the choice of selecting to share a space or to have the whole apartment/house (going forward, I’ll just say house for simplicity). My very first experience was with a “Shared” space, which can probably the most uncomfortable. Sharing means that you will have a room in someone’s house, so you would share the kitchen, entrance, and most likely have to share a bathroom. Having the whole place means you really don’t have to interact with any other guests and you have your own key.
When booking an AirBnB, you will not have an exact address. You can put in the address that you want to be near (i.e. a convention center or airport), but, for security reasons, the address will not be shared until you have made payment. There will be pictures from the outside, so you can usually get a pretty good sense of what outside looks like, but keep in mind it’s all about advertising, so people are sometimes creative with their angles.
For the most part, you can come and go as you please, regardless of the setup, but you want to make sure that you are there for check-in time and check-out time, especially if someone must hand you a key. There’s so much technology that hosts can set up a lock box with the key in it and provide you with a code, but, especially in a different city, they might physically welcome you. Depending on who is staying before you, you may or may not have flexibility with your check-in/out times. It’s very important to keep an open communication with your host as time gets closer to your stay.
BEDS & BATHS
It’s nice to save a dime, but sometimes we don’t always want to share the bed. Make sure you look at the count of beds versus occupancy. Many will often count a couch as somewhere to sleep. If that’s not for you, it’s important to look at if the beds are twins or double capacity, and depending on if you are traveling with a partner or a friend, you may want a different setup.
As a female, I ALWAYS check how many bathrooms are included. If you are staying somewhere with 4 women, bathroom time can become an issue if you don’t have at least 1.5. Of if you are just renting a room and have to share the bathroom with their 4 kids, it’s just something you should know going in.
Reviews are so important. I never book a place without reading through the reviews, especially the best and worst. You can throw out the angry reviewer who cancelled at the last minute and didn’t get a refund, but reviews will tell you if they have bugs or don’t change the sheets, or if they are parked down a dark shady alley (pictures in the daytime can fool you). It’s also important for the host to read your review as a guest. So if you are staying in an Airbnb you want to make sure you leave the place tidy and communicate thoroughly with the host if there are any issues. If you get a poor review, you may be rejected from future places that you like. You also want to read the review on the Host. If they don’t reply to emails or don’t fix things, I could see that being problematic if you have an issue. Another tip: if you travel with someone a lot, you may want to take turns reserving the Airbnbs, because if you don’t have any reviews, the host is taking a gamble on you (works the same as having or not having credit). I don’t stay anywhere less than 3 stars unless it’s like Vegas or LA and I am on a super tight budget. That 3rd star is the difference between cardboard and 2-ply – I lie to you not!
The website will list all of the included amenities. You will probably be most concerned with wifi and parking. I like to have a refrigerator for leftovers, but it really depends on how long you are staying. If you are staying a week, you probably will want a stove and full kitchen (with pots and pans you can use). If you are just staying the weekend, you probably don’t care. It’s also good to know if towels are provided, but, remember, it is not a hotel, so you might feel more comfortable bringing your own. Also, things like shampoo and soap, would not necessarily be provided. Sheets and pillow are always provided. TV is an interesting topic. I don’t know that I’ve spent time watching tv while in an AirBnB, but you can expect that there will not always be one. If you need a television, this might be something to ask your host. Something like a washing machine I would not expect, but for long travelers that might be important.
I’ve never run across an AirBnB that offered meals, but I know some hosts offer coffee. You just have to read their details; it will be different for each place. Usually guests will their own purchase food and beverages that they will need and can use the host’s refrigerator and cabinets. I’ve stayed in places with a full kitchen and we cooked meals to save money!
The host is usually the owner of the house. Sometimes, they will have a Superhost, who helps the host out and can be there to greet you and give you your key. Depending on the language barrier, this could make things a lot easier. I got completely lost in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Superhost [who was fluent in like three languages] came out, found me and walked me to where I would be staying. We did communicate via text, so if you are traveling outside the country, make sure to have an app like WhatsApp or Viber. The hosts that I’ve worked with in different countries all spoke english, so that made things pretty clear when figuring out logistics.
The host should let you know things to do in the area and include some maps in the common space. Most of the tourist information will be on the website before you book, letting you know how close certain attractions are or nearest public transit. I typically message my host a couple times before I go to arrange for picking up the key and asking questions about amenities.
Payment is through the AirBnB website, so you are never having to give your credit card information to a host. Payment in full is due before you stay, with some reservations requiring 50% down to book, while others are 100% down. Read the refund policy carefully. It’s worth repeating: READ THE REFUND POLICY CAREFULLY!!! If you are not sure that you will make that trip or that 5 of your friends will be joining you, you will not want to reserve a non-refundable spot. Some places will give you a full refund up to 1 month ahead of your date, or even 1 week. Some places will only give you 50% back, and some places will not refund you; no matter what. It’s important to read this before booking. Once your payment goes through you will be emailed the address. The host will provide information regarding getting the key, closer to your check-in date.
Airbnb is a great alternative to saving money while traveling. There is some level of risk associated with staying at someone’s house. They might leave out that they smoke or have cats/dogs (a big no-no is leaving out information, but every now and then it can happen). If you are flying with Spirit or Frontier Airlines (review to come) and you don’t have space for a towel and amenities normally provided by a hotel, it may not be a good option to stay at an AirBnB. If I’m taking a girls trip to a new destination and I’d rather spend my money seeing the sites, it’s a great option. If you are traveling with your family or significant other on vacation, a hotel may offer you a guaranteed level of satisfaction, and thus be one less thing to worry about. So, go ahead and try it, at least once. Feel free to add your comments and tips below in the comment section.
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