One of the greatest improvements to travel in recent years has been the rise of Airbnb. Pronounced “air b and b,” this company allows travelers to stay in private homes, apartments and rooms around the world rather than traditional hotel rooms. Not only is the cost often less, it also provides a more unique and special way to visit a location. Over the last several years, my husband Thom and I have enjoyed staying at a variety of Airbnb properties. So I thought it might be valuable to share some of our experiences to help explain how it works, and why it is SMART to consider using it in the future.
Our first Airbnb stay was by default. A couple of years ago I bought tickets to see The Lion King at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Then I started looking for a hotel room. Unfortunately, all of the acceptable hotels in the area started at a shocking $300 to $400 per night. Even worse, they all charged extra for wifi and another $40 to $50 to park the car. That’s when I started looking into Airbnb.
Fortunately, I found a young man named Dan who lived in a very conveniently located upscale condo project within walking distance to the theater. Dan, a real estate attorney by day, and a bartender by night, rents out his master bedroom with private bath in his two-bedroom apartment, through Airbnb. Not only was the price a bargain at just over $100 per night, it included free parking, wifi, and a patio view of the famous Hollywood Sign right out the bedroom window.
Of course, what also made our first stay in a stranger’s master bedroom work so well were the reviews provided by Airbnb. When you go to the website, you can see photos of the property in advance and even more importantly, read reviews from other people who have stayed at the property before you. Beyond that, there is also a brief bio of the “host” to give you an idea of what kind of person owns the property where you hope to stay. Dan’s master bedroom showed attractive photos and positive reviews. We happily added ours to his list following our stay.
Since then, we have rented two different homes for a month each during the last two summers. Again, both homes had great photos, detailed reviews, and bios for the homeowner. In both cases, we walked away big fans of Airbnb. Then during the early part of September, Thom and I took a road trip to Northern California. During our travels, we stayed at four different Airbnb properties. Each offered distinctive and unique accommodations in their own way.
Four Recent Stays:
1) Cambria, Ca. One thing I’ve learned is that the further out you can book your stay the better. That’s because the best places get reserved far in advance. With Cambria, we were fortunate that school was back in session so even though it is still a very popular location we were able to snag a great property.
When given a choice Thom and I prefer to stay in a private apartment or home rather than just renting a room. That is always an option you can choose when searching for properties on the Airbnb website. In Cambria, we stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with a small downstairs and a bedroom and bath upstairs. The hostess met us upon arrival and provided a welcoming glass of wine and snacks. Like most Airbnb hosts, she also provided local information about good places to eat and things to do.
We stayed for two nights in this private apartment, and the total room cost was just under $300. Overall, I would rate the stay a 7 out of 10.
2) Sonoma, CA. Our first visit to the Napa/Sonoma wine country led to our staying in a quiet
mother-in-law studio apartment on the edge of town situated on 8 acres of land. Nearby sat the main house, several artist’s studios, a chicken coup, garden and lovely grounds.
Our hostess at this property provided us with welcoming snacks and gave us coffee and croissants for breakfast. The queen bed was the most comfortable bed of the entire trip. My only complaint was the lack of windows making the property too dark for my taste. A three-night stay cost just over $550. Hotels in the area routinely cost far more. This stay also earned a 7 out of 10.
3) Sacramento, CA. Here we stayed in a small stand-alone house in a great location just east of downtown in the area called midtown. This residential and attractive neighborhood featured tree lined streets, restaurants of every type within a short distance, and a tasty coffee house just down the street.
Our accommodation was a small one bedroom home built in 1924. We never did meet the hostess but gained access using a lock box. Amenities included a full kitchen, upgraded bathroom, and a koi pond out back with instructions to feed the fish twice a day.
The cost? We paid just under $325 for both nights total and rated the place an 8.
4) Stockton, CA—The Sacramento Delta. Stockton? You might wonder why anyone would stay in Stockton. But that would be before
you saw the two-bedroom/two-bath luxury yacht on the Delta that we made our home for two nights.
Parked in a marina that led to the Sacramento River and various lakes and waterways, we were able to imagine life on a houseboat. The yacht featured every amenity like a refrigerator, stove, coffee maker, ice machine, full stereo system, TV and air conditioning. The large master suite (with private shower and tub) had a queen size bed. The second bedroom had two twins.
The price for both nights was a little more than $350, and we rated this unique stay at an 8.5.
Our only bad experience on Airbnb was our fault. When visiting my sister in Colorado last spring, we picked a property near where she lives. The photos and description looked good although we could see it was a walkout basement apartment. Unfortunately, it never occurred to us that with children living in the home above us, the noise would be a problem. After hearing two toddlers run up and down the length of the house above us for three days, I was cranky. But like I said, the fault was mine for not reading the description more carefully and thinking it through.
Renting Tips For Airbnb
- Read the property description carefully. We will never again rent a basement or lower-level dwelling.
- Look at all the photos carefully. If the photos aren’t clear or don’t show certain areas of the property, there could be a problem. You can always send a message to your host in advance asking questions. Don’t be shy.
- Location is important. While a good location might cost a bit more it nearly always improves the stay.
- Nearly every rental includes a cleaning fee added to the cost of your stay, so staying longer spreads that cost out. One night can be much more expensive, so for cost comparison, a hotel room might be better.
- Read the reviews and read between the lines. Most reviews are complementary because not only do visitors review the property after their stay, the property owner then reviews every guest as well. Try to read between the lines of the reviews and you’ll get a good view of what to expect both from the property and the host.
- Being cool when it’s hot out is critical to me—especially at night. I nearly always make sure there is air conditioning. Never assume A/C is included. Ask.
- If you’re like me, you love having a kitchen or kitchenette so you can make morning coffee while waking up. It also allows for small meals so you don’t have to eat out all the time, which can save you a lot of money, not to mention calories!
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. When staying for just a night or two the asking rate is what you will pay along with cleaning fees and the Airbnb percentage. But when staying longer, like several weeks or a month it is possible to negotiate. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- In most cases, a strict cancellation fee makes canceling difficult and costly. When you reserve a room on Airbnb, the cost is charged immediately to your credit card and then the host only receives the money once you check in for your stay. Always look at the cancellation fee in advance and don’t reserve until you are sure you are going.
- Some properties accept pets but check if there is an additional charge for the service.
- While some hosts offer snacks or even breakfast of a sort, it is not required. Check or plan ahead.
- Keep in mind that you are staying in someone’s home or property. In many cases, it is their personal home or second home and taking care of things, cleaning up after yourself and being considerate are all part of the deal. Oh, and you have to make your own bed!
- Always leave a review. Renters rely on reviews to know what to expect so do your part. And remember, you will also be reviewed as a renter, so make sure you are a worthy visitor.
- Be flexible. Remember you are staying in someone’s home or property and stuff happens. When we arrived at our yacht rental, we learned from our hostess that her brother-in-law had died the day before! When we were unable to connect to the wifi we didn’t even bother to let her know. Fortunately, a neighbor hooked us up with another wifi link and it all worked out.
As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of Airbnb and look forward to using them again many times in the future. Have you used Airbnb yourself? If yes, please share your experience in the comments below. And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer.
By the way, this is NOT a sponsored post, so I did not receive any money for this review. However, Airbnb does offer a credit to new users AND to me for referring anyone if you sign up by clicking on the link below and opening an account. Thank you in advance if that works for you, and please let me know how your stay goes in the future! Until I experience otherwise, I think it’s SMART to consider using Airbnb any time you travel.