05 Dec Airbnb – the Good, the Bad and the Bedbugs
Ever tried using Airbnb? The website has become our go-to choice for booking travel accommodation these days and we used it exclusively during our trip to the USA. Airbnb has saved us tons of cash, allowed us to stay in some beautiful places and meet some amazing people. Unfortunately, we’ve also had some less comfortable experiences with Airbnb, from freezing cabins in the woods to last-minute cancellations and the worst of the worst: bedbugs.
How we Find Travel Accommodation
Since leaving the UK to travel we’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels, guesthouses, hostels and bnbs. These have ranged in quality from the spotless, luxury variety to the bug-ridden, dingy, cigarette-smelling kind. We’ve camped out in the jungle, slept at an elephant sanctuary, stayed in wooden huts with cold, salt-water showers, noisy 12-person dorm rooms and a family longhouse in Borneo. We’ve rented apartments in Thailand and Vietnam, been upgraded to a luxury holiday villa in Koh Chang and lived in a communal dorm-house while volunteering in the Philippines.
We’ve used all kinds of methods to find good, cheap accommodation while we travel, booking through comparison websites like Hostelbookers and Booking.com, seeking out recommendations from guidebooks or Tripadvisor and using Couchsurfing to arrange a memorable stay in Taipei. Most often in Asia we’d simply turn up to a new place and wander around, searching out guesthouses until we found one we liked. These days our favourite ways to find cheap accommodation are through housesitting and booking rooms and apartments through Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can get £20 free credit to spend on the site if you sign up using this link.
What we Love about Airbnb
Other than housesitting or staying with friends and relatives, we’ve found that Airbnb is usually the cheapest option in expensive countries like the UK, New Zealand, Australia and America. For example, when researching our autumn road trip through New England, we were staggered to find that most hotels charge between $100 and $200 per night and the few hostels that exist are almost as expensive if you want a private room or even just two beds in a dorm.
In the end, with the exception of our stay with Andrew’s relatives in New York City, we booked all of our accommodation in the USA through Airbnb, staying in 15 different properties. We paid between £27.80 and £51 per night, which averaged out at a total of £35 a night over 77 days for two people, including Airbnb booking fees. We could have easily spent double this amount had we stayed in traditional hotels, hostels or bnbs in the USA instead.
Range of accommodation options
You can find all types of accommodation through Airbnb, from guest rooms in family homes to self-contained apartments or entire properties and there are options to suit any price range. When we’re looking for places we normally figure out a rough budget and then set the search filters accordingly. In the USA our budget normally stretched to guest rooms in houses but we also ended up with a couple of self-contained apartments and had an entire cabin to ourselves. We’ve also used Airbnb to rent an amazing apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as well as a tiny shed in New Zealand and cheap rooms in Australia and Scotland.
Hosts, homes and pets
After living nomadically for years, we really appreciate homely accommodation, so we usually opt for guest rooms or small apartments connected to a family home, which makes the experience more personal than staying in a hotel. Since hosts own and live in the properties, everything is generally clean and well-cared for and facilities that may be sketchy in hotels, like wifi and hot water, work well because the host uses them too.
When we book through Airbnb we search for places with kitchen access so we can save money on eating out. We also look for places with laundry facilities, free parking and wifi; more lavish benefits may include cable TV or Netflix, free breakfasts and toiletries. Travel means that we can’t have pets of our own, so we also love staying in homes with pets; in the USA we stayed with dozens of dogs and cats.
Perhaps our favourite part of Airbnb is getting to meet new people. Hosts are normally local residents who’ve lived in the area for years and can give us the best tips on places to eat and visit. We’ve experienced some incredible hospitality in Airbnb homes; people have lent us bicycles and kayaks, shared meals with us, bought us groceries and spent hours chatting to us. We’ve met some amazing people through Airbnb; almost three years ago we first met our friends the World Travel Family when we stayed with them in Port Douglas, Australia, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
Review and payment systems
Whenever we search for accommodation on Airbnb we always read the previous guest reviews to help us make a decision about where to stay. We also make sure to review every property we visit to help other travellers make an informed choice and we leave private feedback for hosts if we feel there’s anything they can improve. In return, hosts have an opportunity to review us as guests, which encourages other people to accept our applications in the future.
I like the security of the payment system on Airbnb; the website holds money from your account when you book but only releases the money to the host once you’re staying with them. If there are any problems or disputes over refunds, Airbnb act as mediator and controls the funds accordingly. We’ve had several instances where we’ve painlessly received refunds from Airbnb which could have been difficult to get from hotels or hostels.
The Bad and the Bedbugs
Our worst Airbnb experience to date was in Philadelphia. When I woke up on our second morning there I spotted two red dots on my arm and immediately suspected bedbugs, one of my worst nightmares. We’ve had some traumatising brushes with these blood-sucking beasts before and knew we had to get out of there fast. We contacted the owner, who didn’t live at the property, and asked her to come over while we packed up all of our stuff. When she arrived we had an extremely uncomfortable conversation.
Bedbugs are a sore topic for guests and hosts alike. Firstly, there often isn’t any physical evidence of an infestation because the bugs hide so well and bites don’t show up on some people, so hosts can dispute that the bedbugs even exist. Secondly, it’s hard to tell how and infestation started and hosts may accuse a complaining guest of bringing the bedbugs to their home. Thankfully, our host gave us a refund and promised to get pest control in to investigate; we felt morally obligated to mention what had happened in our review to warn future travellers.
Slow bookings and cancellations
Unless listings are labelled ‘instant book’, you need to wait for a host to assess and accept your booking on Airbnb. This isn’t much of a problem if you’ve got time to spare and lots of options, but if you need to book something in a hurry Airbnb might not be the best choice. Although it’s only happened to us a few times, we find it frustrating when we’ve spent ages selecting and applying for the perfect room and the host takes ages to get back to us or declines our booking.
We were also unlucky to have one of our bookings cancelled the night before we were due to arrive when the host emailed to tell us that she had a family emergency and had to cancel our booking. After some frantic searching and phone calls to Airbnb we arranged a refund and were able to find another host to accommodate us at short notice but t was still a frustrating experience.
On the other side of the coin, we ended up cancelling a couple of reservations ourselves; one in Washington DC because we noticed a lot of recent bad reviews were showing for the property since we’d booked it. We also stayed in a rustic cabin in the woods in Maine, which was charming until a cold snap set in and the thermostat broke; we cancelled the second half of our stay there because it was just too uncomfortable. In both cases we got refunds but lost around £30 in Airbnb fees, which are non-refundable.
On balance, we feel that the advantages of Airbnb far outweigh the downsides and we’re excited to continue using the service on our upcoming trip to Spain in 2016. What do you think, do you use Airbnb? Have you had good or bad experiences with it?