We recently spent just under 4 weeks travelling across the western half of the United States, going up from Los Angeles to Seattle through Las Vegas (NV), Salt Lake City (UT), Boise (ID) and Portland (OR).
We decided to use Airbnb for all of our accommodation as we required at least three beds, which would usually cost an arm and a leg in hotels. The only two places where we did stay in a hotel was in Las Vegas (to take in the casino experience) and Salt Lake City where we stayed in a serviced apartment.
We learnt quite a lot from staying at 6 Airbnb properties and I thought I’d share them on here for travellers thinking about using them as opposed to hotels on their next journey.
So without further ado, here are 6 things I learned from travelling with Airbnb. 3 bad, and 3 good.
Something you have to remember is that these properties are almost always managed remotely by full-time working people who happen to own a spare property. Even the cleaning is done externally most of the time! Some properties may even be managed by one of those new Airbnb-specific property management companies.
This means that you will probably never get to meet your hosts, despite the myth that Airbnb offers a more personalised experience. Gone are the days where your host would show you around the neighbourhood or introduce themselves to you upon arrival. Perhaps this was because we were renting ‘Entire house / property’ rather than just a room in the property.
Most of the time you would be greeted by a lockbox or an unlocked property with the key indoors (this has its benefits, which I’ll touch on later on) which felt uncomfortable at times as you were essentially walking into an empty property. It almost felt like you were invading someone else’s privacy and home.
I’m not really sure what to think of this to be honest, I kind of liked the idea of having a more personal and local experience to staying in a foreign town or city, rather than the debatably cold and feelingless experience of staying in a large hotel chain.
This isn’t so much a bad thing, mostly just a criticism and a downside to the Airbnb approach to property rental. Airbnb has tried to solve this through their ‘Verified Photo’ scheme, but even then it’s difficult to accurately depict what a property looks like.
On one occasion our expectations were actually blown away, but for the rest of them we either found the property to be a lot smaller than it seemed on the listing page, or to be differently arranged, or to even have a completely different view to the one shown in the photos.
We were lucky in that these differences weren’t game changing for us, we never had a nervous breakdown and decided to splash out on a 5 star hotel. But the differences were enough to make us a little uncomfortable, and to lose trust and faith in our hosts and in Airbnb itself. Obviously Airbnb is unable to send out a trusted photographer to each listing, but perhaps encouraging hosts to post videos of their properties or some other method could help solve this once and for all.
Photographs can easily be manipulated with wide angle lenses and Photoshop edits, whereas videos help give you a better sense of scale, etc.
For example, one of the properties boasted a full set of washing amenities, but didn’t actually show them in the images. We ended up finding them beneath the property in a dirty cellar riddled with clutter and junk.
Airbnb works quite similarly to Uber, in that the host can see reviews which previous hosts have written about you before they can accept your request to stay in their property. This means that if you’re a particularly raucous or noisy tenant, then you’ll more than likely be rejected by a potential host unless they’re extremely desperate for business.
Thankfully for us, we’re pretty reasonable and clean when it comes to staying in these properties. We would wash up all the dishes, put the dirty linen in the washing machine and take out the trash before leaving every property. However, we are critical when it comes to reviewing. If something was bad about our stay, we’d say it.
This meant that we were almost scared of posting these comments on the public part of the review (you can leave a private review / feedback for the host) for fear of receiving negative vengeful comments from our hosts.
You might say that this is borderline paranoia, but it’s a genuine concern. I’ve had Uber drivers review me badly for shutting the door on their car a little too abruptly! A lot more things could be said of a tenant’s stay in an Airbnb: they didn’t empty the dishwasher, they didn’t put the sofa bed back, etc etc.
We ended up leaving handwritten notes in the properties with our feedback and critical comments (should we have any) and leaving glowing reviews for the most part on the Airbnb platform. Now perhaps I’m missing something here with how reviews are handled on the host’s end, after all I’m not a host, but clarification on this would be marvellous if I’ve missed something here!
Remember how I criticised the lack of a personal touch when staying in an Airbnb property earlier? It’s also a blessing in disguise. Never has it been easier to check in and out of a holiday property than now.
The most common way in which we ‘checked in’ was by opening a lockbox by the front door of the property, the code of which was either set by us by message to the host in the lead-up to our arrival or was pre-set by the host and given to us by message. Occasionally, if the property was a bit more secluded or if the host themselves lived nearby, the property would be left unlocked with the key somewhere in the property. So all we had to do was arrive and walk in.
Checking out was pretty much the same, either by locking the property up and replacing the key back into the lockbox, or by just leaving the key in the property and walking out.
Whilst this is a slightly new way of checking in and out of properties, which some may struggle to handle if they are concerned about security, etc, it’s actually wonderful as it means that you could theoretically check in to your property at any time after the mentioned check in time (usually 4pm). On a couple of occasions we arrived at our properties after 9pm at night but still could just check in without any problem and in our own time.
This is probably one of the biggest bonuses to staying in an Airbnb property. Most of the time, hotels and inns are located off freeways, or slap bang in the centre of the CBD of a city, meaning that you can often get pretty unimpressive views or noisy locations.
Airbnb actually gives you the opportunity to stay in some truly incredible locations, and they make a point of pushing this in their marketing efforts (e.g. staying in canal boats in Amsterdam).
At one of our stops, we managed to stay in the most beautiful location outside Olympia in Washington, with our own leisure boats to use, a beachside campfire and a small private area of forest. You would think that this would be unaffordable, but it ended up being more affordable than most city-centre hotels.
This meant that some of our stays were remarkably relaxing and truly unique, and we would end up staying in properties whereby the only noise we could hear would be the gentle lapping of water and the occasional bird in heat.
If you can splash the cash, there are even immense luxurious mansions you could stay in, something Beyonce famously did not too long ago. Airbnb offers you a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to stay in places that would usually be inaccessible or unaffordable to the general public.
Something that I think is actually often overlooked in Airbnb properties are the amenities. In some properties you could have a swimming pool or jacuzzi, but the most important ones are the basic home amenities.
We could only really take about a week’s worth of clothing with us on this trip, which meant that we would need to do laundry at least once or twice throughout the whole trip. Airbnb properties made this fantastically easy, with almost all of them providing you with a washer and dryer.
As well as this, you get your usual cooking amenities, even a waffle maker in one or two of them, which in a way redeemed the lost personal touch we felt from never meeting the hosts. You suddenly felt a little more at home, and meant that you didn’t have to eat out all the time, which could get very expensive very quickly, especially in America.
Even the luxury of having more than one bathroom in certain properties, or a dedicated dining room, or even a garage to keep the car in at night (not entirely useful, but worth acknowledging) meant that the experience felt that much more special and individual than staying in an overpriced hotel where you’re charged 15 cents per pair of underwear to clean.
All in all, it was certainly a new and exciting experience using Airbnb on holiday. I’d always been apprehensive of doing it because of the extensive negative coverage done of ‘Airbnb properties gone bad’ online or on television, but was pleasantly surprised by how smooth, simple and reliable the entire process was.
That’s not to say that every Airbnb stay experience is flawless, many people have had their fair share of bad properties or unfriendly and unhelpful hosts, but I feel like it’s something you should try a few times before really bad-mouthing it.
Out of all the properties we stayed at, only one was mildly frustrating, and even then that’s me nitpicking to the very extremes of nitpicking.
We really enjoyed every minute of it, and will probably opt for Airbnb again in future. It just makes sense in our current day and age to embrace such innovations in what have been iconically stubborn, outdated and expensive industries like the tourism industry.