Creepy Cabin in the Woods, Belfast, Maine

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.

Haunted House in Portland, ME

Airbnb house in Portland, Maine

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.

Camping in the Jungle in Borneo

Camping in the jungle in Borneo

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.

Holiday villa in Koh Chang, Thailand

Our upgraded luxury villa in Koh Chang

What we Love about Airbnb

Low costs

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.

Airbnb Shed in New Zealand

Airbnb Shed in New Zealand

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.

Creepy Cabin in the Woods, Belfast, Maine

Cabin in the woods in Maine

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.

One of our hosts' dogs Lola

Lola, our Airbnb pet

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.

Homemade apple pie in Vermont

The apple pie we baked at an Airbnb house in Vermont

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.

kayaking on Crystal Lake, New Hampshire

Our host lent us a kayak in New Hampshire

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.

A few of our Airbnb reviews

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

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.

Amy's bedbug bites

Bedbug bites in Philadelphia

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.

Our only heating: a log burner and an oven

Airbnb house in Maine

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.

airbnb, the good the bad and the bedbugs

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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?

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32 Comments
  • Kerri
    Posted at 15:29h, 06 December Reply

    We love AirBnB. It is a great way to save money and met people. But like you mentioned there are draw backs. The ironic thing for us, we managed to travel around the world and never have an issue until we came back to the US. Our first apartment in Portland Maine had bed bugs. But it took us a lot longer to figure it out. I kept on getting weird bites, but Jason and Sydney didn’t. I just figured it was mosquitos. Just as we were moving out Jason found one of those pesky bed bugs! Sorry we missed you while you where in New England! Next time you are welcome to stay with us!

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:44h, 06 December Reply

      Hi Kerri, no worries and thanks for the offer, we would love to come back to New England one day and we loved Portland 🙂 Sorry to hear you had bedbugs too; we also moved into a flat years ago in London that was infested, I guessed it was bedbugs pretty quickly as I’d actually been writing an article about the rise in London bedbug infestations for work! In a way it’s lucky that I get bites because Andrew doesn’t and we’d never know we had them otherwise, they are really one of my worst nightmares though!

  • Louisa Klimentos
    Posted at 22:39h, 06 December Reply

    I never stayed in an AirBNB before and should look into it..We normally stay in beautiful holiday houses which can be a bit pricey,but worth the money.You are very good at budgeting your money,Amy and Andrew and give great advise to other people.Love always Louisa

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:04h, 07 December Reply

      Holiday houses sound lovely 🙂 We’ve found some great places overall on Airbnb and we’ll definitely use it when we get to Spain at the end of January.

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  • Matt
    Posted at 18:21h, 08 December Reply

    I’m jealous – you guys have found some awesome places there. We tried Airbnb once (for Amsterdam) and got put off by the fact that we looked for ages, found the perfect place and then the owner rejected us a week later (as you said sometimes happens) which left us struggling to find something in time. I guess it’s harder when you first start using it as you don’t have much of a profile as a user? We’re planning to try it again soon anyway. Spain/Portugal area seems great for the Airbnb/longer term type rentals vs hotels – look forward to seeing where you guys find there.

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:14h, 09 December Reply

      Yep, you’re right Matt, we found it easier to book places once we had some good reviews, same goes for house sitting. Hope you guys have some good experiences with it; we’re excited to try some out some Airbnb places in Spain soon.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 20:47h, 08 December Reply

    We used AirBnB exclusively while traveling in Europe (apart from some CouchSurfing) and we have also used it quite a bit here in Mexico. We have had some good experiences, but to be honest, on the whole, I think we’ve not been too impressed with the places we have stayed, particularly in Europe. They were certainly cheaper than staying in a hostel/hotel, though we often opted for rooms in shared apartments and, in many cases, the properties were lacking (one place claimed to have WiFi, but you could only access it when standing on a street corner; another property had roommates who smoked and there was also a surprise pet cat, which wasn’t a dealbreaker for us, but if we had allergies it would have been…). When we elected to road trip across the U.S. on our way down to Mexico, we actually found it much cheaper to stay in Motel 6 and other little motels along the way, but perhaps that’s because we had the dogs with us. Here in Mexico, the experience has been mostly positive, though our last AirBnB rental when we arrived in Playa was pretty grim—the owners were clearly only interested in making as much money as possible and just weren’t very great in the end. Thankfully we have never encountered bed bugs, but with our luck, I wouldn’t be surprised!

    For budget travelers, I do think AirBnB can definitely be a boon, but I think you have to spend a lot of time and energy weeding out the duds. I’m really impressed you managed to stay in AirBnB properties for just £35/night on average during your road trip across the U.S.—that’s really impressive!

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:20h, 09 December Reply

      Interesting to hear your experiences Steph; I agree that Airbnb can be a bit hit and miss. Yes, we do spend a fair bit of time searching out good listings which means we usually stay in lovely places but even so, sometimes things go wrong (like finding bedbugs in your room!). All in all, Airbnb definitely worked well for us in the US and saved us so much money.

  • [email protected] The British Berliner
    Posted at 09:34h, 10 December Reply

    ‘Love the post Amy as there are so many thoughts about the pros & cons of going the airbnb route.

    I like the idea and concept of airbnb but surprisingly, I haven’t booked it myself. I’ve passed the room-in-someone’s-apartment stage I’m afraid, and would only be willing to book a complete house, in perhaps, a developing country. I think it would be great for developing countries where the owners would have huge, interesting homes and would cost basically less than a hotel and in many cases, you would meet and hang out with them for a while.

    I wouldn’t use it for the West as it’s too hit and miss and if you’re in an expensive country and it all goes wrong, you’re stuck with a second-rate place or none at all! However, never say never lol!

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:52h, 10 December Reply

      Hi Victoria, yes, You could definitely book an entire house or apartment through Airbnb; we arranged a month-long stay in a lovely apartment in Chiang Mai through the site. True, Airbnb can be hit and miss but we found that most hosts try really hard to make your stay pleasant, as they’re counting on you to leave a good review afterwards so they can attract more guests.

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 10:04h, 13 December Reply

    I have never tried Airbnb but I do think it is a great concept and if it saves you money also it is a winner. Brian and I will definitely give it a go in the future when we do our RTW trip. Great post with lots of great information?

    • Amy
      Posted at 20:31h, 14 December Reply

      Airbnb is definitely worth a go, especially if you want to rent entire apartments. If you’re planning on visiting more expensive countries than it’s a great way to save money without resorting to dorm rooms/hostels!

  • ron
    Posted at 14:00h, 18 December Reply

    Just happened to me as well. Absolute rubbish. this dude cancelled mine and everyone else’s bookings 2 days before my flight. Because the booking was over super-peak period and for 8 nights, it’s been hell trying to find a decently priced accommodation at such short notice. Here is his sob story: “We are very sorry that we have to cancel your reservation as we now have legal problem with the house rent. We were inspected by police for illegal house rent to tourists. Honestly, we have been caught 2 times before for illegal rent to tourists and this morning we were caught for 3rd time.
    So, the house is being closed by police now and we cannot accommodate you anymore.
    If we rent house, we will be jailed…. hope you may understand our situation…..
    We don’t know how to say sorry about the cancellation and hope you can quickly find another place for your stay in seoul….. so so sorry……”
    I’m half decided to expose his full details online – but I need to cool down first!
    AirBnB had better find some better way for poor users to flag rotten apples and receive feedback…. but this will be my last time on such a rubbish service.

    • Amy
      Posted at 18:22h, 18 December Reply

      Hi Ron, thanks for sharing your experience and I’m sorry to hear that it was so bad. We were lucky that the host who cancelled on us was incredibly nice and even offered to help us find other accommodation and pay the difference if it was more expensive (luckily we found somewhere ourselves in the same price range). It sounds like you were just left high and dry and the host sounds incredibly dodgy! Hopefully Airbnb can crack down on hosts that are offering rooms illegally in the future. I hope you still manage to have a good trip.

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  • Tracy & Della
    Posted at 12:11h, 17 January Reply

    We use AirBnB regularly and have stayed in some great places here in the UK but also in Australia and Malaysia.
    We would be interested in the details of the places you guys stayed in New England as we are planning a similar trip ourselves for later this year! Thanks for all the tips and sharing your adventures.
    Tracy & Della

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:39h, 18 January Reply

      Hi Tracy and Della, thanks for reading and commenting. I will share the details of where we stayed with you via email, as it’s quite a long list 🙂

      • Filipa
        Posted at 10:31h, 29 March Reply

        Hi Amy. Could you share that list with me as well, as we are planning a New England road trip for fall 2016? Ours will be just 3-4 weeks, unfortunately. But your posts on the subject have been really useful. Thank you for that!

        • Amy
          Posted at 18:17h, 31 March Reply

          Hi Filipa, sure, I will email you the details. Have a great trip and if you have any other questions, let me know 🙂

  • Jess
    Posted at 08:35h, 18 January Reply

    I really like the idea of Airbnb but I have had so many bookings cancelled on me that I’ve given up! It’s a great idea in principle but my experience and a few horror stories means I am sticking to hostels and budget hotels for now.

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:42h, 18 January Reply

      Hi Jess, thanks for sharing your experience. I can see why you’d give up if you kept getting cancellations. We’ve been pretty lucky only to have one cancellation so far; we’re just planning some trips for Spain now 🙂

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  • nemrut
    Posted at 07:24h, 08 October Reply

    “When she arrived we had an extremely uncomfortable conversation”

    Is it possible to share a little more detail and what, if anything, you learned from the experience and wouldve done differently?

    • Amy
      Posted at 07:38h, 08 October Reply

      Hi, sure.

      As I explained in the article, it’s difficult to prove whether there are actually bed bugs in a property as they can be difficult to spot. Also, hosts can dispute that they were already there and try and claim that you brought them in with you. Since my skin reacts so violently to bed bug bites I know exactly when I’m staying somewhere with an infestation though. Nevertheless, we didn’t know how the host would react to us telling her she had an infestation. Actually, she didn’t seem all that surprised and was happy to give us a refund so I suspect she already knew there was a problem. She did say she was going to get pest control round though.

      We did all we could in that situation and would do the same if it happened again: tell the host, move out, request a refund and mention it in our review. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell whether a place has bed bugs in advance, all we can do is scan previous reviews to see if anyone has mentioned it. It’s the same case with hotels, guesthouses and hostels; since we travel a lot we have also experienced bed bugs in these types of accommodation on two separate occasions.

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