Finding comfortable and affordable accommodations on the road can be one of the most difficult aspects of planning for a vacation. If you’re like us and plan your vacations on a whim, then you’ve probably struggled with the same conundrums we typically face. Questions of, “Are there any beaches around that area?” “Is there public transportation nearby?” “How close is a shopping or dining district?” constantly force us to evaluate and re-evaluate our hotel options and their locations. While it is easier to simply splurge and trust that the expensive hotels are in prime locations, it’s important to know that there are more options than might come to mind, like Airbnb. Some high-end hotels aren’t in the best locations, and some of the cheapest options aren’t as far from the downtown tourist mecca as they seemed on Google Maps. Often the humble listing are still near subway stations or are just far enough from town to skip the city’s restless noises.
Lately we’ve grown exceedingly frustrated with hotels and hotel booking sites. Indonesia, in particular, set us on a path to explore other options outside of the Bookings, the TripAdvisors, and the endless list of other hotel filtering sites. Realizing that many hotels are allowed to simply check every possible amenity and feature without anyone checking its actual existence, we started to feel a bit cheated after a string of bad hotels. Instead, we begun a, hopefully, long lasting love affair with Airbnb. While we are definitely late to the Airbnb bandwagon, we’ve realized that plenty of people still haven’t given this alternate option a second thought. I had known of Airbnb’s existence for a long time before I actually looked into their listings and prices. After about 10 minutes of looking around at listings in Seoul for my Mom’s last visit, I knew we’d found a solution to disappointing. For the same price as a hotel room, we were able to find large and fully furnished apartments to live in for multiple days. There’s something very different about traveling and coming back to a place that feels like home every night. There are many filtering options when you search (like shared rooms-hostel style, private rooms, entire apartment/house, etc.) but so far we’ve been enjoying renting entire apartments for the same price as most hotels. While both hotels and Airbnbs have advantages and disadvantages, both, I’ll try to explain in words why your next trip should use Airbnb.
Like all things in life and nature, the universe finds a balance. While we’re huge fans of Airbnb, there is always a give and take.
- The greatest thing about Hotels (or worst if some instances, if theft occurs) is the room service and daily cleaning. Coming back to fresh towels after a long day of wandering a new city almost invites you to take a long hot shower and wash off the day.
- Recognition – Knowing a hotel’s name is typically all you need to give a taxi driver, and this can be a life saver if you’re utterly lost and/or tired.
- 24-Hour Staff – Having someone to help you out or get you something in a pinch in underrated. You never know what you’re gonna realize you need after midnight and need someone to point you towards a 7Eleven or, better yet, bring you a travel sized freebie.
- Pictures – Someone is paid to get the best possible angle/shot of each room and often the room is staged especially for the photo. This leads to many disappointments and realizing “I guess all of the pictures were taken with a ultra-wide lens and all of the fancy furnishings are nowhere to be seen.
- Prices – discrepancies in online listing prices, hotel websites, and walk-in rates can often leave either the hotel or the customer feeling like the other is cheating them somehow. Often overpriced, these rooms are often the same rate as renting an entire apartment or house over on Airbnb.
- Online Reservations – We’ve booked several hotels in Asia just to show up and have to haggle over prices even after we’ve booked. Logic and “it’s already been charged, give me what I paid for” don’t always work at 11pm and the hotelier still holds the keys to whatever room they actually have available. We’ve also shown up and the hotel never checked the booking site where we booked and paid for our room and had no available rooms to give to us. This has been a huge issue for us in the past, multiple times, in multiple countries.
- The space – Especially when booking an entire apartment or house, coming back to a place that feels comfortable like a home, has a full kitchen and real-person-sized bathroom, and has beds that have been chosen by a real person instead of a board meeting is beyond compare. Airbnb markets their listings as putting you more in touch with the community you’re visiting and it’s true. Instead of room service, maybe you become familiar with a local bakery or market staff. Having a kitchen (many single and shared rooms also have access to the kitchen of the house, just check the listing details) and going to a neighborhood instead of a hotel gives a certain level of comfort, like you’re really coming to your home.
- The Host – While we have only had a few interactions with Hosts, we have no doubt that the stories other renters have are true. Many Hosts take you into their own homes if you’re renting a single room, and often treat you like you’re family while you stay. People often go out to eat with their Hosts, get rides into town/are shown around unfamiliar cities, and are sometimes welcomed back at the end of the day with a cold beer. There’s a listing in Seoul that is famous for its Host loving to chat with travelers late into the night over bottomless beers on his roof that boasts spectacular views of the city and Namsan Tower. Bucket list.
- The reviews – Unlike normal Hotel booking sites, the customer reviews tend to be much more accurate on Airbnb. Since you can imagine someone’s own home being rented out as being cleaner/better maintained than a quick-turnaround hotel room, it’s nice to see what other people thought and how the host handled any problems. The reviews are just as much about the host as they are about the room. The customer service we’ve experienced from our Hosts, face-to-face and in person, have been outstanding and surprisingly comfortable experiences. “Need a bike to see the city? Here, take mine!” “Let me see if I have an extra umbrella around here!” “Sure, I can drive you to the train station in the morning!” It’s nice to have someone who cares about you and their listing, and the reviews really help you know which ones go the extra mile.
- No room service – Since we really just use Airbnb when we stay for longer periods of time, this means we often amass dishes and clutter over the span of many days. Having hotel staff sneak in every day to clean up your human-filth is something we do miss, as the room isn’t cleaned until your stay is completed. We don’t mind cleaning up after ourselves, but sometimes it’s nice to be pampered. Some listings do say that they can clean up and wash towels mid-week if you need it, but this might incur an additional cleaning fee.
- Added fees – While this is completely understandable, the fees for cleaning and service charges don’t show in the initial price. We’ve noticed that some really cheap prices for entire apartments tack on what amounts to be a whole additional day’s rent for their cleaning fee. Same with adding extra people, sometimes their “+1” charge is ridiculous. Pay attention to the price when fees get added in.
- Restaurants and Bars – While many Airbnb listings provide a small resemblance of breakfast (check the listing details) it’s nice to have a restaurant or bar in the building sometimes. Continental breakfasts, dinner in the same building during inclement weather, and just the ability to order up some dinner certainly has its place. Hosts can often point you toward restaurants and landmarks in the area (and many print local custom maps for you to take) but you will need to use your legs more.
I will certainly concede that sometimes you just want to be pampered and given the “resort experience.” And it’s important to note that many beaches have been bought up by resort companies and are your only option if your heart is set on a specific place. Many times you can book single huts in these places, though, and many beach-side houses have been modified to house Airbnb guests (lots of people pay their mortgage on amazing houses by Hosting through Airbnb). There are even people who will rent out their sailboat as a place to stay while it’s docked for people wanting a pirate-experience, and this past week in New York a man capitalized on the snow and built an igloo and listed it for rent! While resorts are often the only option in some places and for specific experiences, we hope you keep an eye on amazingly unique options trough Airbnb.