Airbnb.com opens up amazing new possibilities for accommodation on your travels. It is a site we have used well over twenty times now. At its essence is the ability to book somebody’s spare room in their own home, rather than a traditional hotel room or hostel. Over 150 million people have used it for a stay. If you aren’t one of them, you are really missing out!
Why would you stay in somebody’s house rather than in a hotel?
There are many reasons why, and for us the number one reason is to save money. Especially in large and popular cities, where the price of accommodation is high, you can save a lot of money by finding somewhere on Airbnb. On numerous occasions, we have used it in London, for stays of around a week. Mostly, it is a room in a shared house where the host is away on holiday themselves. The high cost of rent in places in London result in the need for many people to recoup some of this money when they aren’t there themselves. This means you can often get a room for cheaper than you could get a long-term rental. We must have saved hundreds of pounds in London alone.
Another great reason is to live like a local in areas around the world. You will be staying in real homes, not sterile hotel rooms that could be anywhere. Many of the hosts that we have had have been extremely friendly. They often cook us breakfast or making us a cup of tea as we arrive. We have also found that it is less of a problem to leave our luggage in the homes on check-out day than when at a hotel. It feels much safer than an unlocked luggage room as well. Two of the homes that we have stayed in have even had a hot tub, so don’t assume that you can’t find luxury on Airbnb. You really can!
We have stayed on a farm in Wales, a hippy retreat in Wiltshire, and a posh London flat that had a BAFTA award on the mantelpiece. Despite our initial reservations about staying in somebody’s home, we have never had a problem. Like most booking websites, Airbnb has a review system so that you can read feedback about hosts and their properties. This gives you a higher level of confidence that the property will meet your needs. However, on a couple of occasions, we have booked accommodation with no ratings as long as the pictures are clear enough. Our trust has been rewarded with a great stay.
You are highly likely to have access to many other rooms in the house as well as the bedroom and bathroom. For example, the kitchen and even front room with TV and other entertainment facilities. Many places that we have stayed have had lovely big gardens too. This is ideal if you are there at a sunny time of the year.
Having a private host has its benefits too. As they live in the property, they are perfectly placed to advise on local attractions, parking or transportation options, and local amenities. This knowledge is often invaluable. Most of the time the selection of toiletries is higher than a standard hotel’s selection, due to the fact that these are the sort of products that they use themselves. Hosts often provide extras, such as robes, fruit baskets and suchlike. A couple of places we have stayed have had pets too. One had an extremely cute little kitten that we really enjoyed playing with when we got back at night.
The variety of accommodations is amazing as well. There is everything from a room in a flat, to a private castle or villa. You never know just how lucky you will get until you take a look on the website and search your location. The family with the nicest house in town might well be away on the weekend you wish to visit, and you might be able to grab an amazing bargain, whilst helping them too.
On one occasion out of the many we have used Airbnb, the host cancelled on us before our stay. What Airbnb did in this situation was to offer us credit of a higher amount than we had spent in order to find a new property. This was slightly annoying, but meant in essence that we got a free upgrade.
How does Airbnb work?
First, load up Airbnb.com (opens in a new tab).
Right near the top is the search box. They make this very simple. All you have to do is choose your destination, put in your dates, and how many guests will be staying.
I looked for a week in London from the 30th June, for two people. When you press search, a map appears along the right hand side of the page that not only shows the locations of the various available properties, but also helpfully the price per night of each of the options. On the left is each listing, with a large photograph to see at a glance what the properties are like. You can scroll through the photographs from this initial search page. This is handy if the main picture is of the bathroom or kitchen for example, rather than the room that you will stay in.
Depending on the location you choose, you may be faced with a lot of options. My example came up with over 300 properties. Therefore, I recommend using the search filters along the top of the page. The first is the room type, which is especially handy if you are a family looking to rent the entire place, rather than a single room.
The next filter is for price. This is the most useful for us, if we are travelling on a budget. The search results show that the average nightly price in London is £62. Therefore, I asked the site to show me listings up to that price using the slider, and pressed apply. There are still over 300 available properties!
Next up, is the option to only include listings that are Instant Book. I highly recommend this option. We have wasted far too much time contacting individual listings in the past, and waited for them to say that their room is not available on those dates. In the meantime, other great listings have been snapped up. It really isn’t worth the hassle, so click on the Instant Book option and press apply. This will only show rooms that you can book right away, with instant confirmation. There are still over 300 available properties, and this is for a week long stay!
The final option says ‘More filters’. Click here, and you can find properties with more than one bedroom, bed or bathroom, specific amenities that you require, listings that accept pets or smokers, specific neighbourhoods, or even a host that speaks a specific language, which is very handy if you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting!
I decided to use these extra options to get a little bit more fussy about the property to narrow the options down. One other option that I didn’t mention was to look only for ‘Superhosts’. These are hosts with a proven great track record of hosting. Let’s go for this. I now have 47 places to choose from, which is much more manageable.
Choosing properties with wireless internet only reduces the search by two, so the next thing to do is to pick a more specific area. Rather than the filters, I prefer to use the map feature for this. I can zoom in on the most central part of the city. This has left me with just 16 listings to choose from now. It is remarkably easy to see them all on the one map now, helpfully along with major attractions.
There are three good ways to choose a listing now. Firstly, by seeing the location on the map. Secondly, by checking out the pictures to find one that stands out as particularly pleasant. Thirdly, you can go back to the price filter, and reduce it a little to filter out the more expensive of the remaining options.
With Airbnb, you pay on booking. However, most listings seem to offer good cancellation protection, so you can get a refund up to a certain point before your stay, apart from the Airbnb fees themeselves, which are clearly identified on the price.
So, overall, is Airbnb worth trying?
Absolutely. If you click via this link, you will get a cash discount on your first stay! (it will also help to fund our travels, as a way of thanking us for introducing you to the site). Give it a go, and live like a local in a whole new place, even if it is just for the night.