So Many Lodging Choices, So Little Time
Selecting the ideal lodging can be one the most fun pre-planning aspect of taking a trip. Posh or budget. Downtown or a quiet neighborhood. Big or small. Lots of choices and of course, it will simply come down to what environment is going to suit your fancy on this particular trip. So let’s consider, Airbnb or not to be?
Speaking in broad categories, we are generally considering between hotels or Airbnbs. Hotels can be expanded to hotels, motels, and hostels. Airbnbs can be expanded into vacation rentals like Airbnb, VRBO, and any of the dozens of other web sites that offer vacation rentals. Places like bed and breakfasts could fit either category, but I am sure you get the drift.
For me, I do both. And will continue to do both. I will freely admit I have a personal bias toward Airbnbs. I know others who have a personal bias toward hotels.
Here Are the Pros of Airbnb
I feel more at home
Simply put, because I am staying at a home. This is a very nice feeling for me. Perhaps because home is so important to me. Having a bedroom separate from a living room. As well as books and possibly a quiet yard or a nice balcony to enjoy. This is less important to me when I am in the tropics, where I spend very little time inside. But in a temperate or cold climate, I could end up lingering in the morning or retreating in the evening and having a homey place to do so is just lovely.
My own kitchen!
That is truly a huge benefit of Airbnb (although some hotels have kitchenettes or at least a fridge). It becomes especially important if the location I am visiting is a food desert. While I can go a few days without proper nourishment, going much longer than that transforms me into a real cranky pants. In Southeast Asia, the food is awesome and inexpensive, so having my own kitchen was not all that important. In Iceland, the food is lackluster and very expensive, so a kitchen, at least some of the time, was very welcome. Paris has wonderful food, but hotels rooms are so tiny, very expensive and don’t have mini-fridges. So a kitchen to store basic provisions like charcuterie and cheese is welcome.
Having more choice about what neighborhood to stay in
On the whole, I like to be close to the action when visiting city, but perhaps not on top of the action (think an apartment in Chelsea over Times Square in NYC). Often the hotels are in the very heart of downtown, although boutique hotels can be found in some neighborhoods. But in any event, Airbnbs are all over the place and you can choose the micro environment you would like to be in. Maybe a side street in close walking distance to downtown like I did in Victoria. Perhaps across the street from a gorgeous park like I did in Reykjavik.
The home itself is unique and/or outstanding
To be honest, I am not super picky about lodging. But sometimes a certain place strikes me as being a perfect match for the trip. Like the log cabin I stayed in during a wintertime visit to Fairbanks. It could not have been more Alaskan, down to each and every detail. Like a freezer stocked with wild salmon and a coat rack made of birch tree. Stepping outside an ugly hotel to see the northern lights just would not have been the same as seeing them from the porch of my personal log cabin. You can stay in castles and treehouses and igloos too!
More space for the same amount of money
There is no doubt about it, you get much more value for your money in terms of square footage. It feels really luxurious to have a condo or two bedroom home for the same price as you would have paid for a hotel room. Another luxury is having a whole bedroom dedicated to put your stuff in, so your hanging out space is uncluttered.
Support a local in the economy instead of a big hotel chain
This is at least often the case, although sometimes Airbnb owners are living elsewhere in the world. And of course, a hostel or motel could be owned by a local. So this benefit is situational.
Interact with a local
Depending on the access to the host and your desire, it’s can be a nice opportunity to interact with a local. They can also help you. Like where is the best bakery? And can you call Avis to explain the broken car door, in your native language?
Here Are the Cons of Airbnb
You don’t know exactly what you will get
Checking out the pictures helps. And seeing how the Airbnb rates in terms of accuracy and host communication is important. Reading the reviews is a must. Sometimes a place looks great, but after I read a couple reviews that referenced the smell of cigarette smoke, I’m outta there. Yucky lodging experience avoided. When you stay at a chain hotel, you usually know exactly what you will get. No surprises or guess work involved.
It may not be as homey as it seems
Perhaps I just had a string of bad luck, but the beds in the Airbnbs I stayed in Iceland, were terrible. So much so that I ended up sleeping on the couch much of the time. Also, one of the Airbnbs was practically an empty house! Having two small towels in the entire home was not sufficient. And no soap. Barely enough kitchen utensils to cook a meal (hello, things like a wooden spoon or spatula would be nice). When I started to head to the local swimming pool, I realized the easy availability of towels at hotels was pretty nice.
You have to be willing to invest time with researching
You may invest time researching boutique hotels too. But for chain hotels, no research is needed. Just go online, and make a reservation. You’re done, that’s it.
No daily room service
This does not bother me, I rather not have strangers in my space. But it can be a nice luxury to leave a room messy and come back from lunch to see it clean.
You may have stressful experiences with Airbnb hosts
Let’s face it. With such a vast, decentralized system not everything is going to be perfect. In NYC, I had an Airbnb reserved a couple months in advance. A few weeks before the trip, I received an email out of the blue that the reservation was canceled. My money was refunded in full, but the selection that was then available in my price range was very slim pickings. When a host does this, it is visible on their reviews, but if you happen to be one of the first who gets this treatment, you are out of luck.
I also had a very non-responsive host in Akureyri Iceland. I was not alarmed that he did not respond to my friendly introduction when I booked four months prior. But when he did not respond to my communications two weeks prior and five days prior and two days prior, I started to freak. Airbnb has a hotline and is very responsive, but again, inventory is greatly diminished the closer you get to the actual travel dates. Despite these experiences, I have found hosts to be pretty fabulous, responsive, and caring on the whole.
Once you make a reservation, your lodging is no longer flexible
Or at least not without financial consequences. If there are no hiccups, then no problem. But if your plane gets delayed due to weather, like mine did flying from Reykjavik to Akureyri, then you may end up needing to grab a hotel for an extra night elsewhere, while still paying for your Airbnb. Most hotels let you cancel up to the day of or day before with no repercussions.
You pay upfront
You pay booking fees, cleaning fees and occupancy taxes as well as the cost of the lodging itself upfront. The fees vary based on the cost of the home, as well as what the host charges for cleaning. If you are just staying for one or two nights, it can really elevate the cost of your daily lodging. So much so, that a hotel is more economical.
You may miss an opportunity to plug into a community of travelers
If you stay in a hostel, you automatically connect with like-minded travelers. You can easily make friend to sightsee with. This may not be true of traditional hotels, but I have stayed in funky local hotels and often there is a common space where fellow free-spirited travelers hang out, sharing travel stories and sightseeing tips.
Boiling It Down – Airbnb or Not to Be
Staying in Airbnbs or more traditional lodging like hotels is not an either-or decision. And not even on one trip.
If you know that you like dependability and simply don’t have or want to allot the time toward researching Airbnbs, then make life easy on yourself and book a hotel. Some people just honestly feel more comfortable in a hotel. They like being pampered. They don’t want to feel like they are in someone else’s space. After all, they are on vacation.
In general, I prefer to stay in Airbnbs. And I am in awe of how this company has transformed the way humans are traveling around the globe. But here are a few situations where I personally would opt for something other than Airbnb.
I am only staying for one night
I prefer three or more nights for an Airbnb, but two nights could work as well. On such a quick visit, I am not going to even bother unpacking, cooking, or making myself at home. Plus, it will be more expensive, since the fees will be the same as with a longer stay.
I am traveling to visit friends or family and will be at my chosen lodging for nothing other than sleeping and showering
Since my focus on these types of trips is not about personal adventure, I don’t want to bother putting the time in to find the perfect lodging. Just give me a clean bed to sleep in, thank you.
I am on a road trip
Meaning I am in car, traveling long distances on certain days. I don’t know where I will end up on any given day. When I get tired, I start looking for a hotel. Again, just a clean bed to sleep in, a shower in the morning, and I’ll be on my way.
I am in the tropics
At least that has been my preference thus far, although I’d be open to staying in an Airbnb. It just seems when I travel in the tropics, I am much more relaxed about lodging. The heat dampens my appetite and I eat a lot less. Prepared food is inexpensive and the role of meals in the trip is diminished.
If you have never stayed in an Airbnb but are curious, consider this. Sign up on their website and get verified. Then book an Airbnb for a mini-vacation. Perhaps a place relatively close to home where you will only stay for a few nights. Think about a place where you might experience some of the benefits I have outlined. Give it a try, making the Airbnb part of your vacation experience.
Stay in your first Airbnb for what will be an easy trip. This way you can dip your toes into the well of Airbnb and still have lots of enthusiasm and energy for your vacation.