If there's one thing I'm not, it's an early adopter. It's not that I think I am, but I'm not, I know I'm not on the edge of all things new, cool, and hip.
When Danny and I first started using Airbnb, I felt like we were among the first of our friends and family to give it a shot, and however true that may be, we certainly weren't among its first users - after all, Airbnb got its start in 2008, but we didn't book our first stay until the summer of 2014.
So, almost four years and 50+ Airbnb stays later, what have we learned? Where has Airbnb taken us, who have we met, and why, exactly, do we think you're missing out if you never use Airbnb?
Our first Airbnb experience was in a shared apartment of a high-rise building in downtown Chicago. Danny and I, along with my parents and brother, had gone to visit my extended family in the suburbs of Chicago for a few days, and decided to add on two days of fun with my brother in the big city before flying back to Denver. I honestly can't remember what triggered me to want to use Airbnb over a hotel, but we gave it a whirl, and we've hardly looked back since.
Our first stay, though, wasn't all good. Apparently, we misunderstood the listing, because the three of us stayed in the apartment's living room on the foldout couch and futon, with no real private space to speak of, and the entire place smelled strongly of dog urine. We were within a block from Navy Pier, though, and for a price unmatched by hotels in the area, so although this initial experience wasn't amazing, something made us give it another go.
In between that stay in Chicago and today, we've had a variety of experiences all over Europe, a few in the US, and the three different places we stayed at while in Morocco. Going forward, I have to say, I'm speaking primarily about our Airbnb adventures in Europe. While we started using Airbnb just over a year before we moved abroad, most of the traveling we did in our final year in the US was tacked onto work trips Danny was already taking, so we stayed at or near hotels that had been arranged through his company (worth noting that we also took a two-week trip to London and Paris in that time period, and we used Airbnb in both cities).
Once we moved to Spain, we took budget travel to a whole new level, and Airbnb became our new best friend - $100 a night hotels simply weren't an option for us anymore. It wasn't/isn't uncommon to find private rooms on Airbnb in the €30 range, especially in countries like Spain, Portugal, and France.
With prices like these (of course, not all Airbnbs come so cheap - we've paid anywhere from €18.66 per night for a private room outside of Segovia, Spain to $142.01 per night for a private room in London), we've been able to cover a fair amount of ground, especially around Europe. We've stayed in Airbnbs in 16 different countries and 49 different villages, towns, and cities.
More often than not, we stay in private rooms when using Airbnb, which means that we have a private bedroom for sleeping but other areas (think kitchen, living room, and usually the bathroom) are shared between us and the host. When we talk to people thinking about using Airbnb for the first time, this is often the arrangement they're the most apprehensive about, and I get it. I'm an adult, you might think, and sharing bathrooms reminds you of college or staying in hostels - two experiences you may not be eager to repeat.
While we've never had to wait in line to brush our teeth or clean up after an untidy host, if you're still unsure, an entire place may be a better fit for you. We've stayed in plenty of these, and seek them out especially if we're going to be somewhere for a longer period of time, are going to be doing more cooking than eating out, or if the prices seem to be comparable between a shared and entire place (then there's really no reason not to go for an entire place and have more space and privacy, right?!).
There's one final type of Airbnb, and that's the shared room. In this situation, both the sleeping space and all common areas are shared. We've never stayed in one of these, and don't have plans to look for any either. ;)
Now, for one final plug on the private room-type of Airbnb. I believe this, aside from saving money (which is honestly probably the number one factor), is what keeps us coming back to Airbnb. When we travel, we don't always get a chance to meet and interact with locals. Sure, it's very likely that we might order food from a restaurant or buy train tickets from someone who's from the area, but those don't usually result in actual conversations or if they do, almost definitely not anything very meaningful. But staying in the home of a local? Your chances of having some kind of interaction increases - by a lot!
We've shared Christmas treats (and Danish spirits, specially offered to Danny because of his heritage!) with hosts and their friend late into the night in Berlin, tried vegetarian haggis - a first for all four of us! - with our eclectic hosts on the Isle of Skye, and bumbled our way through a couple of lengthy breakfasts with our Spanish speaking hosts in Zaragoza, Spain.
Last spring we took a road trip around the south of France and stayed exclusively in Airbnbs. We did not meet a single rude French person as we got to know the country through our hosts and the different places around the country we visited. A couple of highlights stand out, including walking through the market of Marcillac-Vallon and trying many of its goods afterward over breakfast with our hosts while they explained their local origins and an accordion concert from a host in Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie who had performed earlier that day at an Easter festival at the Pont du Gard.
I could go on, talking about one of the most amazing breakfast spreads and inviting homes in what felt like the middle of nowhere Spain, learning about Romania over tea and pastries with our host in Timișoara (who'd also stayed up until 2am waiting for us to arrive the night before!), and eating homemade hummus and pitas with our genial hosts in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In short, we've met a lot of really interesting, smart, and kind people through Airbnb, and while not every host/home has earned a five-star rating from us, we thankfully don't have any horror stories to share either.
Through our frequent use of Airbnb, we've learned a thing or two - things you probably know if you've also used the platform. For us, when we're looking for somewhere to stay, location and cost are usually the two most important factors. Because of that, I usually zoom in on the map of the area so that we only see places available in our desired location, and I also limit the price so that we don't see any homes over a certain price, ensuring that we stay within budget.
Once we've narrowed down our search to a list of places that fit our criteria, we begin to open up homes that look appealing to us in new tabs, scrolling through photos, skimming descriptions, but mostly, reading reviews. Reviews are SO important to me when it comes to Airbnb, which is why after we stay at one, I try really hard to leave one for our hosts as soon as possible (so we don't forget!). If the reviews check out, then I read the listing more closely and also double check the amenities for things that might be important to us (our priorities here can really vary from trip to trip - sometimes a kitchen is essential, other times we know we won't use it all, other times it's a washer, free parking, breakfast, and so on - you can filter these before you begin your search, too, which is great).
When we've narrowed it down to our top choices, I message the host, and like Airbnb suggests, tell them why we're coming, why we like their place and want to stay there, how we hope it's still available on the dates we're coming to the area, and ask any questions I might have. I was timid at first to ask for things (okay, I still kind of am) but this part is so important. If you're arriving in a city at 10am with your four suitcases (talking from experience here) and aren't sure what to do because this is your dream Airbnb but the listing says check-in isn't until 4pm...ask! Most hosts have dealt with this before, and probably have procedures for things like this. If there's no way they can accommodate you (and 99% of the time they can!), they'll probably at least know somewhere you can safely store your bags for the day, or advise you to stay to elsewhere. Either way, they'll be really kind about it. I've asked a lot of weird questions, in fact, almost everytime I message a host before booking, I ask a question or two first, and it's never a big deal. Most hosts reply pretty promptly (which is usually a sign of good things to come!), and are happy to help - after all, this is their job (or at least a part-time one)!
Finally, this is obvious and goes without saying I feel, but communicate well with your host before and during your stay. Let them know what time you'll be arriving, especially if you'll be earlier or later than planned. Be a good guest, clean up after yourself, don't invite friends over to the place (unless prior permission was granted), and, if the invitation is extended, get to know your host! Hang out around the table together when they offer to share something, even after a long day of sightseeing. Of course, it's your vacation, so feel the freedom to say no, but remember - saying yes to even just 30 minutes of conversation over tea and cookies could lead to one of your favorite memories of the trip (at least, in our experience). Be yourself and do what feels comfortable to you, but, to us, this is one of the massive advantages to Airbnb.
So, why are you missing out if you're not using Airbnb? Well, from what I've found (being the one who books our accommodations most of the time when we travel), hotels - even the cheapest ones! - are almost always more expensive than Airbnbs, so if you like to save money, that's one major reason. (Something to keep in mind: if you're used to (and really like!) the full-service offerings of a hotel, then Airbnb could be an adjustment for you. There's some stunning Airbnbs out there, don't get me wrong, some of which cost thousands per night, but in most cases I don't think you'll find staff and around the clock service like hotels offer.)
Have you tried Airbnb? Maybe you've got more experience with it than us, and if so, chime in with anything you've learned or any particularly great experiences you've had along the way. Or, if you've never tried Airbnb, click here to get €25/$30 off when you book your first stay (do know we'll also get €15 towards future travels when you complete your trip). In some places, that's enough for an entire night, and might even include breakfast! Feel free to ask any questions you might have, either in the comments or privately - we obviously love Airbnb, and share only because we've had positive experiences for almost four years now, and want to help others be able to do the same!