(If you haven’t used Airbnb before, it’s worth trying for yourself. Here’s a referral link that will get you $40 off your first stay.)
Have you guys noticed that Airbnb has been doing a LOT of sponsorships lately? It seems like every other travel blogger/Instagrammer gets free accommodations through Airbnb.
To be clear – I have zero issue with that. If Airbnb wanted to give us free places to stay, we’d be thrilled, too. 😉 Still, it’s sometimes difficult for me to get a true sense of what a product or service is like when it’s sponsored. I mean, if Airbnb is putting someone up, of course they’re going to get a place that’s lovely and clean and well-managed. On top of all that, I feel like 99% of the Airbnb sponsorships are for travelers, not for hosts.
So, as people who’ve used Airbnb extensively BOTH for staying and for hosting, and who’ve experimented with both all over the world, I thought I’d share our experience.
(TL; DR: It’s fantastic for travelers. It can have issues when hosting, as the organization tends to be very traveler-centric. We still choose to use it, but do so with extreme caution. More on why and how below.)
Overall, Airbnb is a fantastic option for traveling families. Here are my top 5 reasons why we prefer Airbnb while traveling, especially internationally:
1. SPACE: A couple of our kids really sleep so much better when they’re not in the same room with us, but it’s usually cost-prohibitive to reserve two separate hotel rooms. Airbnb gives us the option of having separate spaces, typically for much less than two separate hotel rooms would cost. On that note, it’s also great when you have a big group and want to stay together (so you can put kids to bed at night and stay up way too late eating ice cream and playing Codenames, of course).
2. COST: While in the US, we often like to stay at Marriott properties, especially Residence Inn and Towneplace Suites. This is because we usually have points we can use, and those two brands tend to allow upgrades to either a 1- or 2-bedroom suite, giving us lots of extra space for free. (And they include breakfast.) That doesn’t work as well internationally, though. In fact, many European hotels won’t even ALLOW 6 people in one room, even if they are small. So Airbnb gives us the option of not being REQUIRED to pay for multiple rooms.
3. LOCAL TIPS: Local hosts often have tips for what to do, where to go, where to eat. It’s awesome.
4. MEALS: Airbnbs will almost always have a kitchen/refrigerator available, so you can save lots of money by not eating out for every meal.
5. FAMILY PERKS: Many of the locations in which we’ve stayed have had washers and dryers, comfortable beds, extra towels, and various other things that are helpful with kids. We’ve never tried Kid & Coe before, but I’m excited to experiment with them this summer, as their properties are all specifically kid-friendly, with cribs, high chairs, etc.
Some of our favorite Airbnb locations have been in Iceland, where we had a private hot tub from which we watched the Northern Lights, and another where we stayed on a farm with Icelandic horses; a huge house in Flagstaff that enough room for two big families; and a lovely home on the Big Island in Hawai’i with enough room for us + grandparents (and provided homemade banana bread!). Oh, and there was one in Athens that was about 2 steps from a very convenient subway stop, but was still in a local area and was across from a terrific bakery. That was amazing.
Truly, though, we’ve never had a terrible experience as travelers. We’ve had some that weren’t quite as great as others (one in Wyoming that had a bathtub that always backed up and had flies all through the house, another in Oregon that had several hairs on the bathroom floor/toilet), but none was so awful that we felt we needed to leave. They were fine.
Just be sure to check out the reviews (we try to only stay at places that have hosted at least a few times before) and the location, and do some messaging to get a feel for the host him/herself, and you’ll hopefully have a very comfortable experience.
Hosting is where, for us, Airbnb has gotten a bit more dicey. If you know me in real life, you’ve likely already heard the saga of of when we rented out our home last May. We had gone to Hawai’i and got a last minute request after we’d already left on our trip. We’d prepared our home ahead of time in the event we did get a request, so it was ready to go and we accepted. It was a friend group of a few people and they seemed responsible, even if they didn’t have any previous Airbnb experience.
Sadly, they were not.
Turns out, they ignored multiple house rules. They were smokers, and smoked on the property, which we expressly forbid. They even left lighters lying around with ashes on our counters, and cigarette butts in our yard. They’d clearly been drinking heavily, as there were multiple empty cases of alcohol (one neighbor asked about the party going on…). They broke a handle in our bathroom, used up a bunch of our food (and personal toiletries found in our cabinets! yuck!), and broke a bunch of cords leading to our projector and other electronics. It was enormously frustrating to return to that.
What was even more frustrating was that Airbnb refused to help. We’d always felt comfortable hosting with the service because they heavily advertise their $1,000,000 host guarantee. Turns out, it is extraordinarily difficult to actually USE the guarantee.
First of all, it was very, VERY difficult to even contact Airbnb. We submitted our claim online fairly easily. And then waited. And waited. And waited some more.
They never called us back.
So I did some googling and found a customer service number (it’s not advertised). I called many, MANY times and no one was helpful. They would tell me things like, “that’s not covered,” or “a supervisor will call you back” (…), or “we’re not responsible for that.” I wanted to be like, “So what ARE you responsible for?”
I had calls dropped at LEAST 10 different times (I don’t know what’s wrong with their phone system). Every single conversation was with someone who clearly spoke English as a second language…which would be fine, except they never seemed to fully understand what I was trying to communicate (as in, they didn’t always understand what a projector even is).
They finally came back with a resolution for us and offered us…$87. It was ridiculous. We’d provided them with all KINDS of documentation of things that were broken, used up, and needed to be cleaned, and they offered us $87. I was furious.
We kept trying to get them to do something about it, but they refused to do anything more. I swore I’d never use them again.
And then guess what?? We, as a last-ditch effort, reached back out to the individual who made the reservation. We were completely shocked when he actually responded, and was super apologetic and kind. He said Airbnb never even reached out to him to try to mediate a resolution.
He was lovely, and immediately offered to send us money for any damages and extra deep cleaning. We were so grateful.
So we decided that Airbnb users can be pretty great, and if we feel we can trust them, it will be a good experience 99% of the time. We’ve probably had at least 25 different people stay at our home over 7 years in Virginia and California, and that was the first big issue we’ve had.
So we, personally, have decided to continue hosting with caution. We really only allow families and business travelers (no friend groups), and made our house rules EVEN more clear (for instance, we ask smokers to not even ask to stay, as we don’t want the smell getting from their clothes in our house). We lay everything out in the rules they must read before even making a request, and message back and forth to ensure everything is clear. It’s not a perfect system, but it makes us comfortable enough to proceed with hosting, which really does offset a significant portion of our travel.
With all that in mind, here are the top 3 reasons we (continue to) host:
1. COST: Travel is expensive, and it is usually more so for accommodations with kids. This helps offset it.
2. SECURITY: While some people get concerned about their stuff being stolen, we’ve fortunately never had that problem. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have anything terribly valuable, anyway ($200 couch from Amazon, anyone?), but that’s never been a huge concern. And frankly, it gives me some peace of mind that someone is actually staying in and caring for our place while we’re gone (alongside extraordinarily aware and helpful neighbors).
3. CONTRIBUTING TO THE COMMUNITY: Especially as a traveling family, we truly have benefitted from having Airbnb as an option. It’s nice to be able to help other families, as well.
Overall, Airbnb is extremely traveler-centric, which is nice if you’re the one doing the staying. However, I would recommend proceeding with caution as a host. Make sure you are EXTREMELY clear about your house rules, and discuss with any guests in advance (don’t just assume they read everything). Because Airbnb is so focused on travelers having a good experience, I would not count on them going to bat for you, so make sure you do your own due diligence.
I’m hopeful that by enough hosts sharing their experiences with the lack of support/service that Airbnb will recognize that hosts are the lifeline of their business, and that they need to ensure protection on that end to maintain their business model. In the meantime, renting your place has obvious financial advantages and can enable travel, so if you choose to do it, proceed with diligence and caution. And enjoy some extra scoops of ice cream with your extra funds. 😉