It’s sometimes amazing to me the way the travel industry has changed since I began traveling on my own in earnest 10+ years ago. And this is perhaps no more true than in the business of lodging around the world.
A look back to 2008
In February 2008, I embarked on my first “solo” international adventure. OK, so I was going for a study abroad semester sponsored by my university, so I wouldn’t be totally on my own, but the fact remained that my parents would not be booking my flights and lodging for any travel once I landed in Australia.
The university set us up in a hotel for the night we arrived in Perth, and then we were in our dorms (flats) for the remainder of the semester. But I wasn’t staying in Perth the whole time––I’d flown literally to the other side of the world. I was going to travel. And travel, I did. I’ll get more into those destinations in another post, but as I think about it, I realize that in Australia, I stayed in only three types of places: hotel rooms, friends’ houses, and hostels. In today’s world of home rentals and nontraditional accommodations, I can only imagine how much more epic our travels around Aus could have been.
A decade later
In the time that Mike and I have been together (we just celebrated 4 years together), we’ve stayed in a fair number of hotels, but more often than not, we’ve stayed in the homes of complete strangers.
Yes, we stayed in a resort on our first weekend away to Western Maryland, and at an all-inclusive spot in Jamaica. We’ve stayed at a handful of hotels for friends’ weddings. And we were put up in a hotel in Denver on our Pack Up + Go surprise vacation.
But when given the choice, we will almost always choose to stay in an Airbnb instead.
Airbnbs we’ve stayed in
Since the first trip we booked via Airbnb in September 2016, we’ve stayed in 11 Airbnbs all over the world, including:
- A secluded cabin in the woods in Stanley, Virginia to say goodbye to 2016 and celebrate two years of dating
- A houseboat in Amsterdam to kick off our honeymoon
- An apartment with a rooftop terrace in Zurich
- A guesthouse in Hollywood, Florida for a quick spring getaway
- A condo two blocks from the beach in the Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina
Once you get past the initial “weird” factor of staying in someone else’s home (either with or without them there), we’ve found that it’s preferable to staying in a hotel. What we’ve always loved about staying in Airbnbs are the unexpected perks and added benefits that you just don’t get at a hotel.
Nothing like local advice
By far our favorite thing about staying in Airbnbs is the advice left by our hosts with little-known destinations and suggestions to help us experience our vacation like a local would. We can always use Yelp to find a good place to eat, but that dive bar with the great drink specials, friendly bartenders, and off-the-wall decor that has no Google reviews? Good luck finding that without a tip from someone who lives there.
Many of our hosts in Airbnbs have left us binders full of maps marked up by hand with their favorite watering holes and places to grab a bite in addition to the “traditional” tourist guides. Knowing the best time to check out that brunch place to avoid the crowds or the back way to a quiet place on the beach is invaluable when you’re looking to make the most of a short trip.
What we love about this touch is that these recommendations feel 100% genuine. You don’t get the feeling that the hotel is getting a kickback for each reservation made at a particular restaurant, and you are, more often than not, supporting a small business.
Bikes, breakfast, and bees, oh my!
Some of the other added perks we’ve gotten at Airbnbs have included: use of bicycles and beach chairs in Kill Devil Hills; breakfast made by very gracious hosts in Amsterdam; a bottle of bubbly left by our hosts to celebrate our marriage in Zurich; and a bee farm in Virginia (which meant we got a sample of truly local honey). These little touches have made our trips memorable and unique without increasing the price of our accommodations.
We also love the ability to cook a meal or two on each trip to save some money, especially since cooking together is one of the things we most enjoy. On our two-week honeymoon through Europe (for which we only packed a duffle bag and two small backpacks), laundry facilities in our Airbnbs were also clutch. We conveniently booked an Airbnb halfway through the trip that had a washer and dryer available for our use––for free!
Get a real feel for the local culture
As a journalist, sociologist, and traveler, getting a real feel for the local culture is incredibly important to me. And I’ve found that one of the best ways to do that is to see how people are in their own homes! There is nothing like seeing what homes in Europe are like firsthand (spoiler alert: bathrooms are tiny), walking (or biking) the neighborhoods, shopping where the locals shop, riding the train, or stopping for a pint in a pub on the way home after a long day exploring.
Or in the case of our trip to Stanley, Virginia (because who’s ever heard of Stanley?!), we literally just picked a place on the map and went. We were in the middle of nowhere and had no cell service, but that was exactly what we were looking for––an opportunity to get away, have the great outdoors all around us, and time to just be together.
What about you?
Have you stayed in many Airbnbs, or do you prefer to stick to the hotel chains you know and trust? What was the most surprising Airbnb experience you’ve had?
If you haven’t tried an Airbnb yet, use this link to get $40 off a home booking of $75 or more, or $15 off an experience booking of $50 or more. (Note: We will receive $10-20 if you complete a stay or experience through our link.)
Stay tuned for another post with our tips for getting the best out of your Airbnb bookings!