Earlier this year I told a friend who was having a destination wedding that he could suggest Airbnb as an alternative for guests who were having trouble finding a hotel room. His response surprised me – that many of his guests weren’t “adventurous” enough to do that. I had never really thought of staying in an Airbnb as an adventure, but as I reflect back on the eight Airbnbs in six countries I’ve stayed in over the past two years, I realize there is some truth to that…unless you’re renting the $10,000 per night spots like Beyoncé and Jay Z rented for the Super Bowl.
I like Airbnbs primarily because they are cheaper than hotels, and in some cases a lot cheaper. They also allow you to live more like a local – something that appeals to some people but not to others. This generally appeals to me, but there have been times during all my Airbnb stays that I longed for the comforts of a hotel. Here are some of those times.
My first Airbnb was in Italy, and I’m pretty sure I had a “professional” host – someone who has a bunch of properties he rents and has the process down to a science – and the place was cool. So what made this an adventure? Two things. First was the damn front door – I couldn’t figure out how to open it from the outside. There wasn’t any sort of handle, so opening it required a special pull-push motion that wasn’t at all intuitive for me during the 10 minutes I spent trying to figure it out before I had to message my host. Of course, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, I figured it out a few minutes after I messaged him. The second thing is actually my biggest Airbnb lesson learned to date – when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, hotels provide you with certain services you take for granted until you don’t have them. In this case it was getting an early morning taxi to the airport. My Airbnb host was kind enough to book me one, but when you’re standing in a thunder and lightning storm for 30 minutes wondering if the cab that was supposed to come at 4:15 am will actually come, while an old woman across the street is giving you the stink eye from her window, you really wish you had stayed in a hotel. Fortunately the cab did come and I made it to the airport on time (only to miss my connecting flight home, but that’s another story).
My next Airbnb adventure was in Texas. It was a nice big place (it was Texas after all) and was really cheap, but how did I not notice in the listing that there was no TV? I spent a good ten minutes opening cupboards and looking for hidden panels trying to find that darn thing until I looked at the Airbnb listing again and saw “TV” was not listed as an amenity.
I think my next Airbnb in Colorado (for the aforementioned destination wedding) had a TV, but I couldn’t get past the fact that I was staying in the host’s home that she had clearly just vacated for the weekend so I could stay there. This is probably pretty typical, but it was weird to sleep in her bed (had she changed the sheets?) and have her clothes in the closet and her food in the fridge (which she said I could help myself to). She also had an eclectic decorating style which I can best describe as “early post-college”.
Then there was Oregon. During my visit it was hotter than blazes, so some hotel AC sure would have been nice. My host also lived in the unit right above me, and as I was leaving she popped out and started grilling me about the pros and cons of my stay. Not exactly what I was in the mood for at 7am. With a hotel I could have dropped my key in the box and silently slipped away.
Shortly after Oregon I was in Calgary in another unit that was close quarters with the host – a basement mother-in-law apartment. When I arrived I couldn’t see the address on the house because the driveway was taken up by two fifth wheel trailers. Wonder if those were also rentals? I also learned upon arrival that the family’s laundry facility was in the rental unit – so glad I was just staying one night. Finally, earplugs were provided in lieu of soundproofing.
In Portugal I got a huge place for a low price. What I didn’t get was any lighting in the stairwell, which made having enough battery for the flashlight on my phone at the end of each day extra important to make it safely up the four flights of stairs and find my door. I also didn’t get any type of fan to help with the sweltering summer heat. It was so hot in the apartment I ended up sleeping on the deck one of the nights – thank goodness for the hammock! I also looked into staying at another Airbnb in small town Portugal, but between reviews stating how emotional and unreasonable one host was to the host of an “entire home” listing noting that he would be staying in one of the bedrooms and “always around,” I opted for a hotel.
In Spain I also got a great bargain on a sleek space. Entry was a little bumpy since my host brought her two young boys with her when she gave me the keys and showed me the place. The boys were pretty energetic and talkative, although I couldn’t understand a word of their Spanish, so I just nodded and smiled. I got a little nervous when one of them grabbed my passport and then worried a little more when one of them made the keys disappear, resulting in a frantic few minutes of searching by my host and me until she found them under a pillow on the couch.
My Airbnb in Paris was another one where I was staying in the apartment where the host normally lives. Unlike my stay in Colorado, this time it didn’t faze me. Maybe it was because the place was nice and in good shape. I was pretty much in awe of how this compact space seemed to have everything I needed. No real “adventures” here, although I avoided a potential adventure/mishap by not doing laundry – the host told me his first renter managed to have his laundry get sucked into the washing machine. I was thankful I had done laundry in Spain.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed my Airbnb adventures. None of them have been perfect, but they’ve all provided me with safe and comfortable places to stay, and often the host has provided me with helpful personalized recommendations. Plus, I always appreciate a good travel story.