While house-sitting is our favorite option for accommodation while traveling (and working), Airbnb is our next top choice. I will go over some of the pros and cons of using Airbnb but please note that this list is based mostly off of our personal experiences, all of which took place in Asia. Still, after staying at over 20 different Airbnbs in seven different countries, I think we’ve got some idea of the Airbnb experience. We will be staying at two more in Europe this year and I will update the lists if necessary. Most of the pros and cons should still apply elsewhere, but there might be a couple things that are different depending on the location.
I may also do a future post on how to search for (and find) an Airbnb that meets your needs and that will give you the experience you want, as well as one on our favorite and least favorite places so far. On that note, if you’ve never used Airbnb before, please sign up using our link. Depending on when you sign up (it seems to vary), this will give you between $20 and $35 to use for free! The only stipulation is that you must spend $75 on your booking (or that’s what it says currently). That number is not per night, but as a whole and this would end up amounting to $55 or $40, depending (before the fees- I may discuss this in a future post). When I signed up I did not use anyone’s link and therefore missed out on twenty free dollars! I did have Kyle sign up using my link which gave us both $20, though. My dad and one stranger also signed up using our link and used it so more free money! Unfortunately, that is all so far. We get more credit if you decide to host (though I’m not sure if that gives you any credit). We aspire to be Airbnb hosts ourselves someday if we ever get a place of our own.
On to the pros of using Airbnb as accommodation for travel!
1. Cost. Pick a city and compare the price of an Airbnb with the price of a hotel in the same area. In many cases (albeit not all), you will find that it’s cheaper. There are also often discounts offered on long-term stays. Most places will offer a nice weekly discount and an even greater monthly discount. You may find a better deal at a hostel, but in most cases, for two people, an Airbnb will be a better deal and will also likely offer you more privacy. Even if you don’t save money on accommodation on the surface, Airbnb may allow you to save in other ways. If you have a kitchen, you can cook meals occasionally rather than eat out at restaurants. If you are digital nomads like us, having access to a desk/table and other amenities may also aid in your productivity. If you are staying where the locals live, you may also find things to be cheaper than in the more touristy areas.
Below I will note some examples of the great deals we have found with Airbnb. All prices listed are before the fees (which will add something like $0.50 to $2 a night to the price, depending).
A hotel room with two large beds on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam with this view for $10 a night!!
A studio in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam with this view and a maid who would clean a couple times a week for $11 a night.
Multiple motorbikes to use as often as we pleased, a large, fun-looking room, great views both from our personal porch and the rooftop, fruit and snacks shared from the family, and a new friend for $13 a night, also in Ho Ch Minh, Vietnam.
Or at least, quality for cost. I do have to note that this is not true everywhere and thus quality is also mentioned in the cons. We have found plenty of high-quality places and great hospitality through Airbnb, though. One example is our second place in Kuala Lumpur. It was a very secure luxury condo on nearly the 30th floor of a building in the heart of the city. It was clean and modern, and had gym and pool facilities, a steakhouse (we didn’t go), a convenience shop, and a cafe. Finding a hotel that could offer all of this would likely have been at least triple to quadruple (if not more- but KL is still fairly cheap) the price ($16/night).
3. Options and variation.
Airbnb is not limited to rooms in peoples’ houses. We’ve stayed in the middle of nowhere and in the heart of the city. We’ve stayed in spare rooms in condos and houses, in studio and one bedroom apartments, and even in hotels and hostels. We’ve had entire floors of houses complete with room, living room, kitchen, en-suite bathroom and a separate entrance both to ourselves, and also shared a floor solely with other Airbnb guests (in separate rooms). One time we sort of even had a huge house to ourselves (long story- link coming later).
Here is part of our funky studio in Bangkok ($14/night):
Our bathroom in Bali ($16/night) had some interesting lighting.
And here is the outdoor dining area at our Airbnb in Yogyakarta ($15/night) where we received breakfast every morning.
If you would like to see some really crazy places, look at this cool list on Distractify.
4. Search Function Options.
You can filter your search by type of place (private room, entire place to yourself, shared room, etc.), neighborhood, amenities, and more. You can search only for Airbnbs with pools or hot tubs or breakfast! Or you can ensure you have air conditioning or parking available. I always initially search for wifi and a kitchen. The quality of the kitchen and wifi may vary, but at least we’d filter out the places that didn’t have these at all. We always choose entire home, private room, or both (usually both) as we aren’t interested in shared rooms. There are a couple other things I wish they had on there, including the option for ensuite bathroom, but for the most part, you can really narrow down your search by your needs with filters. Pictured: the living room of the floor we had to ourselves in Negambo.
On that note, it depends on the place, but through Airbnb, it is possible to have access to a kitchen, a washing machine, wifi, cable, and more, all of which are particularly convenient for the long-term traveler, but could also be nice for someone staying for a briefer period. Some places (particularly condos) may have pools or a gym. Our first studio in Bangkok had a kitchen, two desk spaces, a pool right outside of our door, and a 24 hour grocery store (perhaps the only we’ve found) less than a two minute’s walk away.
The pool from our second studio in Bangkok:
A home-cooked meal at our place in the Qadisha Valley in Lebanon:
6. Local Life.
Having access to more amenities makes you feel more at home. Staying in a local home/condo/apartment rather than a hotel can also allow you to obtain more insight into local life in the area. We felt we could get a better vibe of different cities and what it would be like to live there longer. Many people now want to travel “authentically” and this is a good way to do it. You are also supporting locals when you book (though I’m sure that is true of many hotels/hostels as well).
The train tracks we crossed on our way out to the grocery store/anything from our place in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka:
Kyle with some local dogs in Weligama:
7. Local insight and tips.
Your host is most likely a local and therefore can provide you with all sorts of tips and advice. Our host in Kuala Lumpur took Kyle to a breakfast place he liked and our host in Sri Lanka brought us local food he picked up. Our first host(s) in Yogyakarta gave us all kinds of advice about the area. They gave us a map they drew of the surrounding area and activities of interest because there isn’t much online. They brought us to the market the first time we needed food and offered to take us other places as well. Some hosts (like our one in Siem Reap) may provide you with local maps and guidebooks to use while you are there.
If you spend time talking to your host, you will also likely learn a great deal about local culture. We learned A LOT, including many things we haven’t found on the internet, but I won’t start getting into it or I might ramble. Pictured: us with our host in Weligama.
8. Hospitality and Support.
In Cat Ba, we were having issues with the internet and and so our host went and bought a new router for us. It worked well. Some hosts end up feeling like (and becoming) your friend, while others just provide great service and support while you’re there. Some hosts may pick you up at the airport (for free or for a fee), some will provide you with long and deep conversations (and beer), some will send you a nice fruit basket and card with the maid because it’s a holiday in their country, some will share their snacks with you, and some will take you to the store when you arrive- at least those have been some of our experiences.
Our hosts in Sri Lanka provided us with a constant supply of local tea. It’s a part of their culture to drink tea like water it seems.
9. The Review System.
This is good for a few reasons. Previous tenants may tell you things about a place that isn’t obvious on their profile and you can get a better idea of the accuracy of the profile. The system also gives hosts incentive to be good hosts. They want to maintain a good rating so they are able to get future guests. I find them really helpful most of the time (see the cons for the rest of the time).
10. Help with Transportation (sometimes).
If they do not provide you with transport or rent it to you, your Airbnb may have connections to a particular taxi driver which can offer you good deals or have suggestions for transport for places which require it. There were a number of places which we could get most places by walking, but there were also plenty where we needed or wanted to venture farther. Our hosts in Cat Ba, Bali, and Weligama rented motorbikes to us at inexpensive rates, while our second Airbnb in Ho Chi Minh and our first one in Yogyakarta allowed us to use their motorbikes free of charge (included in the price for the place). We had hosts call us cabs when we were having issues with our phones or apps and also give us recommendations on transportation in general. Below: Java and Sri Lanka.
On to the Cons!
We can guess the reason behind one of the times this happened to us: we were booking less than 24 hours in advance. The other times, I don’t know the reason. It’s only happened a few times, but each time the host said that the place was actually already booked and they just hadn’t updated the calendar. Many Airbnbs may list their place on other sites, especially if they are actually a hotel or hostel. Even houses may be listed on other homestay sites or things of that nature. If they get booked elsewhere, the host may forget to update the calendar on Airbnb. If they don’t actually then go and update the calendar, though, that is a sign that they simply did not want to rent to you. It could be because they are racist (this has been a significant problem with Airbnb), sexist, homophobic, etc. It could be because they have something against people from your country, or they prefer to only rent to couples or single people or older people, and so on. If you are new to Airbnb, it could simply be because you don’t have any reviews yet but your potential host could have some sort of problem in their personal life. Who knows, but they can reject you for all kinds of reasons.
We’ve only had cancellations twice, and both were places in Lebanon. The first place we booked in Beirut cancelled because “There has been an emergency and I need to travel abroad.” Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. Something different happened with the place in Bcharre. I had noticed the place had gotten a couple reviews that weren’t impeccable since we had booked. Suddenly the place disappeared from the site. I assumed it was under review. Now, I did not realize this until after we figured things out with another place, but the host actually messaged me on Facebook after their place was removed from the site letting us know it was still available. I didn’t see it at first because it went into my “other” folder. The places we did end up booking were honestly preferable but we hadn’t originally chosen them because of the prices. We were not happy about having to go up on our budget but we were happy to get a taste for what else Airbnb can offer if you pay a little more (which would actually still fall in the low-budget range for most people).
3. Difficult to find.
This has been one of our biggest issues.
I think you are far less likely to find this problem in the US, but internationally we have faced a number of problems including: 1) the host not providing us with the correct address 2) taxi drivers who don’t know how to find the address 3) the taxi driver only being able to get so far and then having to navigate the various alleyways to find the place 4) the host providing us with the name of the apartment complex but not the building number and us not realizing until we are there that the complex is gigantic 5) the host being late and us being unsure if we are in the right location 6) the host not being there to pick us up at the train station because the train was late 7) streets which are confusing and difficult to navigate, and more. Each could be a story. Pictured below: our stuff sitting in an alleyway in Hanoi because we had spent hours exhausting ourselves trying to find our place and needed to take off our packs for a little bit.
The quality can be great and the quality can also be terrible, and you don’t always know for certain until you arrive. Our second place in Hanoi did not look like the pictures. There was a single bad review for the place but we overlooked it because we weren’t booking early or for very long, so we were limited in places that fell within our budget. We were told we could use the kitchen but this wasn’t really true as it was actually a hostel. It cost money to do our laundry and we heard what we think was domestic violence among the staff/owners. We have a few other horror stories (for different reasons) that I’ve touched on in the past in our monthly roundups and may mention in a future post. Pictured: the “balcony” at our first place in Hanoi.
5. The Good with the Bad.
Many places which had some fantastic qualities and benefits also still had at least a couple downsides. The bathroom in our first Airbnb in KL (which gave us access to several luxury style pools) was filled with spiders (daddy long legs). I think I counted twenty once. Once the host’s mother returned, we were also no longer able to use the kitchen, even the microwave. We’ve also stayed at a number of places that were great in many ways, but were maybe a little more remote from activities, or far from a grocery store. Pictured: Kyle munching on some bread on our porch in our second place in Saigon. We were more remote here and almost everything was closed for Tet so we had trouble finding food.
My assumption is that if you pay a little bit more, you are less likely to encounter some of these issues, but I’m not positive. As one might expect, the most expensive place we stayed at was probably the nicest.
6. Living locally.
Living locally is a great experience in many ways, but it also means dealing with whatever issues the locals face. We had frequent power outages in Sri Lanka, had an unstable internet connection in our second place in Bangkok, and didn’t have hot water at many places. Some of these issues you are likely to also face at hotels, and some of these issues can simply be fixed by paying more. For us, the first two are only problematic for work and at this point, hot water seems like more of a luxury anyway. Pictured below: To the left there are Vietnamese men fighting loudly below our studio in Saigon.
7. Hosting and Staying Style Conflicts.
Staying in someone’s house can present a number of issues, particularly if you are a digital nomad like us rather than a regular traveler. The biggest problem we face is hosts who want to socialize too much. Some of the socializing has been mutual (Kyle really enjoyed spending hours just talking and drinking with our host in Kuala Lumpur) but other times, hosts were just annoying. All of the time, it interfered with us getting work done. Some hosts seemed to feel an obligation to entertain us incessantly even though we told them not to and that we had work to do, while others were bored and lonely and wanted company. At some point I wrote on my profile that we really prefer to be left to ourselves but it seemed to have the opposite effect. The other issue we’ve had is because we are night owls. If we are staying in someone’s home, sometimes have to be quiet, can’t cook at night, etc. There is a way to mediate this issue, though, which is to stay in a place to ourselves.
8. It’s not a Hotel (unless it is a hotel).
Some Airbnbs are actually hotels which advertise themselves on Airbnb but plenty are not and you cannot expect the same things/services in someone’s house as you would at a hotel. Actually, even at foreign (particularly family-run) hotels, you cannot necessarily expect the same services you would in the U.S., Canada (or maybe Europe?) While there is typically someone at the desk 24 hours at a hotel, if your host is sleeping, it would be rude to ask them for new towels. Most Airbnbs hosts have their own lives (albeit we have encountered a number that don’t seem to have jobs or a social life) and while they may try, they cannot be there all the time if you lost your key or can’t find something. Still, many of them are available to communicate on WhatsApp or Airbnb most of the time.
9. Airbnb as a Front.
I guess I wouldn’t call it a front, per se, but some people use Airbnb to upsell other things, especially if they are in the tourism industry. For some people this works out great, but it can also be annoying. The downstairs of the hotel we stayed at in Cat Ba was a hair salon/beauty parlor/massage parlor/place to rent motorbikes/place to book tours, etc. and we were asked often if we wanted any number of things. We did rent the motorbikes a few times but booked our Ha Long day cruise elsewhere which made things awkward. Their other services were honestly very affordable and if you were on vacation then you would likely enjoy taking advantage of them.
10. The Review System.
The review system is good, but it can also be misleading. One place we stayed at which was quite bad quality in many ways (tons of bugs, hard, damp beds, slippery floor, etc.) had only five star reviews. Why? Sometimes the hosts guilt trip you into leaving positive reviews even though there are lots of issues with the place. I’ve seen places where they are using Airbnb to raise funds for a family member who is ill. In this case, he was trying to pay for his daughter’s college. He was also a very helpful, gracious, and generous (and sensitive) host so we too, didn’t really feel like we could leave a negative review.
At the same time, you may see a bad review from someone who simply had different circumstances from you or was a bit ridiculous with their requests. Hosts also sometimes fix problems mentioned in reviews. Then there are Airbnbs without reviews. Unfortunately for them, we usually ignore those unless we are really having trouble finding a place. We tend to book for longer periods so we don’t want to be stuck somewhere that’s not so great for a couple weeks to a month. I’m going to note one extra con which is that Airbnb support is kind of difficult to contact.
Though there are some disadvantages, I think there are plenty of benefits and the company does continue to work to improve their features for the best user experience. While it may not be for everyone, and may not work in every situation, we still think Airbnb is a great place to look for accommodation for travel. Now that you know the pros and cons, do you think you’ll try it? Do you think there was anything I forgot? Let us know if you’d like information on any specific Airbnb, want to know the price for anything I didn’t mention, or if you have any questions in general!