Hostel, hotel, or apartment? Figuring out lodging can be daunting - there are so many options, in every price range, in every neighborhood of every city. Deciding where to stay really comes down to one question - what kind of experience do you want to have? If you want the convenience of having everything done for you, totally private rooms and bathrooms, your room regularly cleaned, every meal prepared for you, in the center of the attraction, cost is not a worry, and the comfort of an English speaking concierge, you'll probably want to stay in a hotel. If you don't mind sharing a room and a bathroom with others, are willing to (maybe) sacrifice a little cleanliness and privacy for location, want to meet a bunch of other travelers, and are on a really tight budget, you might be interested in a hostel. If you want a mix of these things, a private room but perhaps not a private bathroom, a kitchen giving you the option to cook or eat out, and want to have the chance to connect with a local whose English might not be perfect but is good enough to tell you where to get a beer, you'd enjoy Airbnb. In Europe, we have used Airbnb for every city stay, save 5 places, and we've loved it. When we were considering the kind of experiences we wanted with regards to lodging for our trip, we found these things to be very important to us:
- Not blowing our whole budget on a place to sleep
- Having the opportunity to cook when we want to - a real money saver
- Having a private bedroom, and not sharing a room with eight 22 year old party animals
- Being within walking distance of the main attractions (which to us means about a 30 minute walk), but not in the very center of it all
- Having the chance to meet locals and see how they live, get to know them, and learn about locals spots instead of tourist traps
We knew that, in Europe, hotels would be out of our budget, and we were interested in more cultural immersion than a hotel would provide. After researching hostels, we learned that, while private rooms are available in most of them, they really aren't a deal at all, especially when no meals are included in the booking. Hostel's fees are calculated per person, per night. So, for a private room, we were looking at $26+ per person per night, often without breakfast or kitchen. Since we could find entire apartments or private bedrooms in apartments on Airbnb for less than $50 per night in most places, Airbnb was the most affordable, the most convenient, and the most fun for us. We've loved meeting our hosts and making new friendships, and learning about their hobbies, favorite things about where they live, and why they host travelers like us. We've loved seeing how each apartment is laid out and decorated. We've loved playing with the various pets our hosts have had. We've loved being able to cook breakfast or have it provided for us. We've loved being off the tourist track a bit, living where locals actually live instead of the tourist center where most people stay. Airbnb has allowed us to have many homes away from home, and make many local friends. Airbnb is our time share. It is our second house in another country. It's how we can live somewhere else, and not just be a tourist there, even though we may only stay for a few days.
We highly recommend it to anyone, traveling anywhere - seriously, it's in just about every city you would ever want to go to, all over the world. If you're planning a vacation and haven't checked out your options on Airbnb yet, what are you waiting for? And, while the intent of this post is not to promote Airbnb or get you guys to use our promo code (that also gives us $25 in credits), I'll make the plug anyway - first time users can get $25 off their first booking by clicking here: https://www.airbnb.com/c/jwysocki3?s=8 (feel free to pass this URL on to everyone you know)
Since we've been using Airbnb so much over the last several months, we wanted to share some tips, tricks, and recommendations we've learned that might make your experience that much better.
- Make a Wish List of properties you are interested in booking and message all of the hosts prior to submitting a Request to Book. In your message, introduce yourself and ask if your travel dates are available. Just because their calendar might show the unit as available, it's not always the case. If the unit is available and the host wants to accept you as a guest, they have the ability to send you a "Pre-Approval", which means you can book when ready, assuming someone else does not take those dates before you. You can then easily review all of the apartments that are available to you, and choose the one that best suits your needs.
- Always ask for a discount. After we message the host and confirm that the apartment/room is available, we ask each host for a discount, which most of the listings we end of staying with have granted. Even if the host declines to give us a discount, we still keep their place in the running as the apartment still may be a great value. We've still booked with hosts who have not granted our request for a discount and had wonderful stays! When hosts do give a discount, they send us a "Special Offer" that replaces the "Pre-Approval", and reflects the discounted price. We have saved several hundreds of dollars by simply asking for a discount.
- Keep all communication between you and the host in the Airbnb system. That way, if anything is not as expected and Airbnb customer service assistance in needed, the company has the communication history. You should always keep your communication polite and professional, and this is just another reason to do so.
- When renting the whole apartment instead of just a room and something goes wrong (like the washing machine stops working :::cough Venice cough::: ), take pictures and video immediately so you have documentation of the problem. This way you can send it to the hosts so they can understand the issue better, and you can send it to Airbnb customer service if your hosts fail to resolve it.
- Unless you have friends joining you or possibly if you are very familiar with the city already, we highly recommend you rent a private room and stay with hosts instead of renting a whole apartment. We find that this gives a richer experience because you have a local to talk with and sometimes go out on the town with (Looking at you Warsaw!), and the apartments have always been better maintained since they live there too. It is also easier to communicate in person than over email. Both of the apartments we had issues with were ones in which we stayed by ourselves. Plus, we have yet to meet the owner of any of the full apartments we rent, making the experience less personal and more transactional.
- When staying with a host, engage with them! They're a host on Airbnb because they love to interact with new people. Keep your door open when you're around, be approachable, and get to know them. That's why you're renting a spare bedroom, right?
- Don’t be afraid to use the things that are listed as amenities, like the washing machine, or the kitchen. Treat the place like it's your own - your host expects you to. Would you be upset if someone staying with you asks to borrow some tupperware for leftovers? Of course not. Neither would your host.
- Leave thorough reviews after every stay. The Airbnb community thrives on reviews, and reviews that simply state "What a nice place! Thanks!" are not helpful to anyone. Tell people what you would want to know. I focus on the following: the location, the comfort of the beds, the usefulness of the kitchen, the cleanliness of the unit, the communication with the host, and how any issues were resolved with the host (if anything came up). Also, saying something is "within walking distance" is subjective - we're big walkers, so I always state the minutes of walking because 30 minutes might not be "within walking distance" to someone else. Be as objective, specific, and factual as possible. This is especially important when leaving a review that’s not so stellar - leave the emotion out of it, just state what didn't meet your expectations.
- Take advantage of staying with a host - ask for suggestions on where to go, what to see, where to get great food and drinks, where to hang with locals and escape tourist traps. Your hosts have a wealth of knowledge that they will happily share. Don't you love giving out of town guests recommendations in the city you love? I sure do!