While on a train to Amsterdam, after spending two nights in the tourist hotspot of Bruges, it dawned on me that hostels aren’t that great. We had just stayed at one of the many hostels in town and while the location was central it didn’t have much else going for it, unless you include intoxicated fellow guests crashing through the place at 3 in the morning. Now you might think this is just a knee-jerk reaction to one bad experience. It isn’t. I’ve had more than one but, to be fair, I’ve also stayed at some really nice hostels. But the experience was a catalyst for thinking that the rising trend of online private accommodation services like Airbnb is actually great news for travelers like me.
Recently we spent four months traveling around the world, flying in to Paris and finally, 17 weeks and 16 countries later, flying out of LAX. It was an amazing experience and didn’t require as much planning as a lot of people say an adventure of that magnitude needs. And, thanks to Airbnb, it cost a lot less than is normally expected when you’re staying in the world’s capital cities for four months.
We are travelers on a ‘mid-range’ budget (not that anyone was really counting) but we didn’t want to sacrifice too much. So sleeping in parks, WOOFing or couch surfing was not on the list of options. I don’t have anything against couch surfing but I’ve moved on from just ‘making do’ when it comes to accommodation. I’ve also come to appreciate that getting a good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold when you’re on the road – for the sake of saving a few dollars you pay the much bigger price of feeling off par the next day, or worse, become the grumpy travel buddy nobody wants to be around (normally that would be me). Some of the thousands we’d saved flying with a budget airline could at least be put towards paying a little more for good accommodation.
Turns out we didn’t have to dip into those ‘savings’ with the amount of places on Airbnb, many available for around $USD80 per night for an entire apartment. That is so much better than the hostel option, which is normally around $USD40 per person. Add in that most hostels force you to share a bathroom and lack cooking facilities (another cost saver in itself), you’re on your way to becoming just like Charlie Sheen – bi-winning.
And, even though we were traveling during peak season and hitting all the tourist hotspots, we still had plenty to choose from despite only booking a week or less in advance (mostly due to our ‘go where we feel like it’ planning approach). So after four months on the road, traveling around the world, I’ve come to the conclusion that Airbnb is definitely a big win for travelers.
Here are my top five reasons.
1 – Hosts care about reviews
Airbnb is built on a feedback system, where every person who stays gives a review of the place. Star ratings are given for a range of factors including cleanliness, value and location. Reviews are a significant factor when guests choose their next place to stay. More positive reviews definitely impact on the number of bookings a host gets.
Hosts know that every guest will be reviewing them, unlike hostels where there’s no setup to gather feedback from every visitor. Just one tip on reviews: While it’s a great way to trust you’ll get good accommodation, places with little or no reviews are sometimes priced accordingly, meaning that if you’re willing to risk it, you can bag a bargain (more than once it worked out really well for us).
2 – Hosts care about their home
This might sound a little ridiculous but it’s one reason Airbnb stands head and shoulders above many hostels (and even motels and hotels). Because your accommodation is the host’s home you can be sure it has been cared for, a side-benefit of a house-proud host. Conversely, I’ve seen many a hostel or motel in an advanced state of entropy – peeling wallpaper, dirty amenities and the worst crime of all, hairs in the bed – while all the time there’s a guy at check-in who, politely put, doesn’t give a damn.
3 – Hosts take better care of their guests
With an Airbnb host, you’re not just another number, a faceless tourist checking in, sandwiched somewhere between a busload of Japanese tourists and that group of footie players on a weekend drinking expedition. Think of it this way: imagine walking into a hotel and you were the only guest. Sporting chance you would get royal treatment. Besides hosts remember the first point we discussed so of course they want you to enjoy your stay!
One notable experience we had was a host who went way beyond the call of duty when he got up at 5am on a Sunday to prepare our breakfast so we could make it down to Pier 33 to get our Alcatraz tickets. We had tried to dissuade him the night before but he insisted. I have never had anything resembling that level of amazing service at any hotel I’ve stayed at.
4 – You get a better ‘local’ experience
Hosts are locals and generally live where the locals live. They do the things (no matter how banal they are, they are interesting to you as a visitor) that locals do. They know all the best places to go, the local spots away from the tourist trail and Lonely Planet crowd. The new Guidebook feature on Airbnb (which I’ve just started using) is a case in point.
Hosts can often give you better advice and even discounts to local attractions or public transport passes. We’ve had people stay with us that travel for work and are just sick of the corporate-blah of hotel life, cocooned away from the real world.
5 – You get more accommodation for your money
It’s not just about saving money; it’s also about getting a better all-round accommodation experience. You can stay at some very unique places (we almost got to stay on a luxury yacht in San Francisco) – places with a lot of history or good, old-fashioned charm. You can also get more features for your money. While a hostel or hotel might restrict you to a room and cramped bathroom facilities, there are plenty of entire homes available on Airbnb. And many of them are very reasonably priced. For the cost of a basic motel room, we rented entire apartments in most of the major cities we visited in Europe. Aside from the pleasure of having an entire place to ourselves, the cooking facilities meant we also saved on having to eat out every night.
Long story short, we liked Airbnb so much that we’ve put our own house on there, and over the last 18 months have had quite a few visitors, which has been a welcome shot in the arm for our local tourism, struggling with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake and drastic accommodation shortage.
If you haven’t already started using Airbnb then you don’t know what you’re missing – making your next holiday more affordable, without having to put up with budget accommodation could be as simple as browsing Airbnb.
Have you used Airbnb? Would you recommend it to other travelers?