One of the worst AirBnBs we stayed in was our first. We had just started our nomadic traveling life on the road, and clearly we had a lot to learn. Four and a half years have passed, and we can tell you two things with certainty: AirBnB has changed a lot, and we have learned from 750 nights’ experience.
When we started planning our nomadic life, cost alone convinced us that we needed to find an alternative to hotels and inns. We turned to AirBnB.
The large terrace of our charming 2-bedroom apartment in Funchal, Madeira looked out to the sea, but, when we looked down to the street, this is what we saw. We stayed 3 weeks for $75/night (including fees).
The view of the Cathedral from our AirBnB studio in Porto, Portugal. The price and time period were the same as the apartment above.
We started off with shorter stays – anywhere from 1-7 nights a week – and, over the years, our stays have increased to an average of 17 nights. Our longest stay? 48 nights in a “Cute & Cozy 1bdr Condo in James Bay,” well-located in Victoria, the largest city on Vancouver Island. The cost? $40/night (including fees).
We started off just wanting a place to get a comfortable night’s sleep and wifi. Over time we realized we should look for a “home-on-the-road” – a place with a kitchen, a chair or two, and if there was a washer we were ecstatic. We narrowed our search to locations where we could walk to shops, a grocery, and see the best sights.
From our perspective, AirBnB was less structured when we started booking places to stay. We had more informal interaction with hosts, stayed at funkier places, and rarely had a “hotel-like” experience. Today, more hosts give you a code to let yourselves in, and there are hotel-sized toiletries in the bathroom, along with better bedding and towels. Some changes are better, others not, but it is clear than AirBnB is on the move to becoming a powerhouse company.
We have now stayed over 750 nights in AirBnBs in 4.5 years and have 146 more nights booked for the coming year. Here are guidelines that we follow in selecting a good AirBnB for ourselves (and maybe they’ll help you, too):
Know what you want to do and stay nearby. We use the filter keys near the top of the screen (“Room type”, “Price Range” and “More filters”) to hone in on what we’re looking for. If you plan to go to Paris to see museums, narrow the map down to be in a nearby neighborhood.
The Otavalan craft market operated in the San Francisco Plaza right in front of our large AirBnB in Cuenca, Ecuador. We were interested in crafts and couldn’t believe our luck to have the market right at our doorstep. The 1-bedroom apartment was $38/night (including fees).
Plan according to budget. Consider commuter time and cost when you’re looking to “save” money by staying far away from where you want to be. Also consider getting a kitchen if you’ll be in a location for many days. Eating in restaurants can add up and the joy of shopping in local markets and eating regional food can be rewarding, as well as save you a lot of money. All of the AirBnBs we stayed in (with photo images on this post) had kitchens, greatly reducing our food budget.
Look at the listing photos carefully. They will tell the tale. Are there bedside tables and lamps? Are there enough windows to keep us happy? Is the refrigerator full or half size? Will we be happy there? We allow a lot of leeway in styles and can be happy with minimalist or highly decorated styles. We draw the line at messy and disfunctional.
Some AirBnBs are ever so much better than their photos. The AirBnB at Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia had a pool that provided the perfect place to read in the afternoon. We also walked to the beach for variety. We paid $102/night (including fees) to stay in the resort town.
Designed by architects, our AirBnB in Mendoza, Argentina was a visual (and functional) delight, all for $71/night (including fees) to be in one of the great wine-producing regions of the world.
5-star listings only. If an AirBnB has been rated 5 stars, we also scan down to see how many stars are listed for accuracy, communication, cleanliness, location, check-in and value. They all have to have 5 stars for us to consider them. Yes, that eliminates all new listings and I’m sure some of those are good. What we look for are the tried and true, tested by many travelers before us.
Last step: read others’ reviews. Read at least 10 and better to look at 15. You would be surprised what you can pick up. Finding out from a past guest that a host will pick you up at the train station is always good news. Reading that “it’s not the host’s fault” that the local bar was noisy at night was all we needed to decide this listing was not for us.
The element of the unexpected came through in an elegantly crafted AirBnB cottage in Kuranda, Queensland, Australia. Joe sipped his morning coffee on a high deck looking out to the encircling green. The perfect way to start the day! $78/night (including fees).
Not every listing and not every night has been perfect at AirBnBs. For comparison, we’d have to say the same has also been true for the motels and hotels we’ve stayed at along the way. The low price and high value accommodations fit our budget and the helpfulness of AirBnB hosts oriented us in new places from Shanghai (China) to Whangaparaoa (New Zealand) to Missoula, Montana, US. AirBnBs may not suit everyone, but it’s been home for almost half of our very long trip. We could not have traveled around the world and up and down the Americas were it not for staying at AirBnBs.