Travel opens us to new horizons, the area which we just either read in books, see in movies but never really experience it. “Travel far enough, you meet yourself“ – it is one of my favourite travel quotes that define travelling for me. Travelling is not only about the famous tourist spots or ticking off items from my bucket list. Travel is my way to soak in the culture, the vibe and beauty of the place I am in. How I choose my accommodation is also an important aspect of how I perceive a city. I have stayed in numerous hotels, with family & friends and also chosen Airbnb as a part of my solo travel. There are times I prefer staying in a hotel and there were times when I chose an Airbnb. There’s this ongoing debate about Airbnb vs hotel in the tourism industry and people I know in India, still, prefer hotels over Airbnb. So, I guess I should put down my thoughts about when to choose an Airbnb and where to prefer a hotel. I am not drawing hostels in the debate because there’s this immense drive that keeps me away from them. But, being a travel professional, I am open to trying a hostel someday, and when I find enough reasons to choose one, I’m in for it.
What is an Airbnb?
Let’s start with the most basic question – what is an Airbnb? Airbnb is a platform where people host travellers & tourists in their home in exchange of a fee. The rental accommodation available can vary from a single room with private bathroom, single room with shared bathroom & even an entire apartment. The main benefit of choosing an Airbnb is privacy for me. Apart from that, I completely love the idea of staying in a home in an altogether new country or a city. This gives me a pleasure as if I am a local in the city even if that’s temporary. Plus, I am an Indian and believe me, Indian travel is way different than the way others do. Indian like the sanity of a home away from home where they can cook their own meals.
Airbnb vs Hotel
While Airbnb gives me more control over my privacy, hotels are there where we pay for the services to enjoy our vacation. So, let’s dig in when to choose which –
When to choose Hotel vs Airbnb?
– Hotels are perfect when we’re on a relaxing vacation and prefer all the services are easily available or a simple phone call away.
– 24X7 check-in facility is the actual edge of a hotel over an Airbnb. Who knows when our flight lands or god forbid if it’s delayed to the middle of the night. The host might not be available at that hour. In such a case, better to choose a hotel than spend a night stranded at the airport.
– Airbnb rental homes usually come with an in-house kitchen & the basic amenities. So, if you are staying only for a night or two, you can skip it and rather enjoy the hotel’s buffet, if they have.
– Airbnb homes have a reputation of cheaper than their counterpart, so if money is not a concern for you, you can skip the trouble and choose your favourite hotel chain.
– If you’re travelling for business and don’t have enough time to mingle in the culture of the city, you should rather go for a hotel & meet similar minds in the hotel restaurant.
When to choose Airbnb vs Hotel?
– If you’re travelling on a budget and want to save money on the accommodation, choose an Airbnb. Airbnb rental homes have a great reputation for being economic. I too have stayed in an Airbnb right next to the town square in Prague, and cheap too.
– If you like to eat in and prefer to cook your own food despite travelling, choose an Airbnb home. You’ll feel right at home.
– Airbnb homes are usually located in residential neighbourhoods, which means you will get a first-hand experience of the culture.
– Your Airbnb host can give you some of the amazing insiders’ tips, which are not easily available on most of the travel sites.
– If you’re travelling in a group, it’s better to stay in an Airbnb & divide the rent rather than paying for 2, 3 or more hotel rooms.
– The biggest perk for choosing an Airbnb is the Privacy and having to own the entire space gives a different feel to the trip.
When did I choose a Hotel?
The first solo trip I did was to Paris, & back then I nervous as hell and today I look back at it and consider myself a virgin solo traveller. It was the time, I was scared of pretty much everything, not enough courage to try out the famous Parisian cuisine, or take cabs alone or even walk around the gorgeous city of lights alone after dark.
So, I chose a hotel and didn’t even consider the Airbnb as an option. I chose Hotel Palais de Chaillot, which was a quiet small hotel near Trocadero & located in a residential neighbourhood. The hotel was perfect to give me a peek at the Parisian culture, and near to the Eiffel Tower. I landed at the Paris’s CDG airport around 7:30 PM and reached the hotel around 10:00 PM. This would have been a very awkward position if I had chosen an Airbnb. See, hotel wins clearly in this kind of situation.
When did I prefer an Airbnb?
My Airbnb in Prague
With only 2 days in Prague for a weekend, I knew the hotel prices would be skyrocket high. So, I decided to look out for Airbnb there too. I spotted an Airbnb not only cheap but also within literally 2-minute walking distance to the town square. It was a perfect studio apartment for a solo traveller, with a basic kitchen and a huge living cum bedroom. The bathroom was of the optimal size and I couldn’t be happier about the location.
But, this was too good to be true –
The host didn’t pick my call when I arrived at Prague‘s central train station. After repeated calls when my calls went unanswered, I thought to check the Airbnb if she cancelled my booking. There I awed to find out that she left me a message at the portal that her friend at the apartment will hand me over the keys. I took a deep breath and took it in & reached the apartment. The apartment was in a narrow lane, difficult to spot. The “friend” waved me from the window pointing me towards the staircase. The moment I stepped in that building, I was surprised to find the dark stairs were literally in rags. I hoped that my apartment is not this worse & thank god it wasn’t. But I realised I calmed myself down too soon.
After coming back to the room from my first day of travel, I realised the room had an awful smell coming from the shaft. I switched on the exhaust fan, the smell reduced but still I could feel it’s presence. Later, I realised, the bed wasn’t even a proper bed, but rather a metal bed which moved at every movement of mine. I composed myself that it’s only for another day and I am on my way back to Vienna.
The Verdict –
It wasn’t a total disaster but an experience in itself. The narrow lane had a cafe downstairs and a Swarovski souvenir shop at the corner. Plus I got to walk to the Astronomical clock the next morning in my PJs, which was an advantage in itself 😉
Yet, Not Every Airbnb is the same
From my experiences, you might have noticed that not every Airbnb is the same. That is all travelling is about, right? See how Lauren from “The Traveller’s Guide” had an amazing experience with Airbnb in Iceland –
“Airbnb is by far my new favourite way to travel when it comes to accommodation. I can happily say that I have stayed in many Airbnb’s and have only ever had amazingly positive experiences. My personal favourite stay was on a trip to Iceland in the depths of winter over Christmas. Staying in a beautiful cabin not far out of the city of Selfoss was perfect for a bunch of Aussies wanting to enjoy their very first white Christmas. Imagine pulling into a secluded cabin tucked away amongst trees as it is snowing. That was the picture we were greeted with when we arrived and one I will never forget. In all the excitement of entering into what was a dream we were all busy unpacking and in doing so managed to lock ourselves out of the cabin. You can imagine my horror when we are stuck outside in the snow having no idea how we were going to get in freezing our butts off. Luckily enough I had a local sim card and was able to contact the host immediately. I felt so stupid explaining what we had done to the host; however, he was absolutely lovely and calmed me down quickly. He described it often happened and that it was no problem at all. He then proceeded to guide me through the process, which I will keep secret haha, on how we could get ourselves back into the cabin. Within 5 minutes we were back in the warmth because the hosts had preheated the beautiful cabin for us. Oh, and did I mention this Airbnb had an outside jacuzzi, which we could enjoy with the northern lights. I mean can it get much better than that?“
But, don’t get carried away just yet…
Not every Airbnb experience is a positive one, wait before you make up your mind about all the positivity you’ve just read. Read some of the experiences my fellow seasoned bloggers had –
Kelly from the “The Girl with the Passport” had a terrible experience with Airbnb –
“I wanted to enjoy my Airbnb stay in Naples, Italy, I really did. I mean, my host got five-star reviews all around and was even a designated Superhost and everything. But from the start, this Airbnb stay was a total disaster. I arrived at my host’s apartment and guess what? Not only was the place covered in scaffolding and the green, iron door totally consumed by rust, but my host didn’t answer me! I tried the doorbell, her phone, and nothing. Finally, a kind soul saw me and tried to help. When I mentioned my host’s name, Natalia, his eyes lit up and he immediately pointed to a picture of a woman pole dancing on his phone, and confidently said, “Natalia”. Alright, no big deal, I bet she’s super nice. Well, after trying to reach her for twenty minutes, she finally texted my male companion the words, “Friend in a diabetic coma. Can’t talk now. Don’t want him to die.” Now, I’m an empathetic person but it was 9 pm and I just wanted to get some sleep. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she told him to let me in, which was easier said than done. Not only did I have to talk up eight flights of stairs, but there were huge gaps in the stairs that made jumping a necessity if I didn’t want to fall to my doom. But we finally got to the apartment and my companion opened the door to a horde of twenty-something boys hanging out in what looked like a glorified frat house. At first, I thought this must be the wrong place but nope, this was my Airbnb. All I can say is that I’m glad my door had a lock and that I packed a large bottle of sleeping pills.“
Nuraini from “Teja on the Horizon” not only uses Airbnb as a traveller but also hosts a property. Hosting exposes Nuraini to some amazing travellers which she also compares to Couchsurfing too –
“I started doing some ad hoc hosting on Airbnb since about a year and a half ago. (Note: I host in the way of Airbnb’s original ‘share economy’ concept, i.e. letting out a spare room in my own place, not the short-term rental purposeful business that it has morphed into). On average I tend to end up hosting may be one or two guests a month, unless I’m travelling myself or can’t be bothered! So far I’ve only had good guests who were clean and followed house rules (tip: the key things an Airbnb host looks for in your references!). Maybe I’ve been lucky, or maybe the fact that I live in the same property? Perhaps it’s also the fact that I purposely don’t price myself at the lowest end of the range for my area, on the logic that I’d get better quality guests if I’m not aiming for the travellers who are looking for the cheapest deal. Anyway, it seems to work out so far. Going by this approach, I find that I tend to get people on layovers, or coming for a conference or other event in the city centre area. They tend to keep to themselves, which makes it a surprisingly easy and low-stress hosting arrangement. Contrasting that with Couchsurfing (which I also do on occasion!), I would typically get more interesting guests with the latter – but I need to be in a more social mood to get the most from that mode of hosting. That said, I did get one guest on Airbnb who came for a metaphysics conference. We ended up talking about our respective social media projects, and the very first Teja on the Horizon podcast interview was recorded on his SoundCloud channel!”
Nuraini’s experience as a traveller
“When my best friend and I were planning a road trip along Australia’s Great Ocean Road, I let her do the Airbnb bookings for us both. But it took her longer to be done than it usually does for me. I thought she was slacking off! Then, curiously, she told me it’s typical for it to take this long. And when I asked her why she told me that she doesn’t always get a response back. Now, as a host, this was really strange to me, because hosts get penalised for not responding or not accepting bookings when the calendar is open on the requested dates. And it wasn’t as if she had no verified ID data at all, or that she had zero reviews on her profile. But… her profile photo shows her and her husband as being visibly Muslim. She wears hijab, and it just so happened that her husband was wearing an Arab robe in the photo, even though they are not Arabs (it’s popular fashion in Malaysia). The ironic thing is, between the two of us, my friend is actually the more outgoing one. She is friendlier, more open to people of different backgrounds, makes friends and sustains conversation more skilfully. She is the one who will remember things about you! We did briefly discuss whether it would be better if I made the booking arrangements. But in the end, we chose to leave it, because it was better to know up front who didn’t mind hosting us, rather than having it come to a head when we arrive. At the end of the day, Airbnb is not supposed to be a hotel, but someone’s house. We did find hosts for our road trip. One was a sweet French and Balinese couple who migrated to work in the area – the Balinese half of the pair was quite happy for the opportunity to speak a bit of Indonesian with us! (our languages are related) And as for the second host, we had an Australian home to ourselves, with a self-check-in system.”
P.S. Technically Airbnb hosts are prohibited from turning down guests on discriminatory grounds, with very few exceptions. However, I usually advocate the low-drama policy that travellers adapt to local sensitivities and current social realities, whatever one’s personal opinion about them. Just because the country is a developed rather than a developing one, does not really matter. After all, a traveller has the option of booking normal accommodations, or – in the worst case – avoiding the country altogether.
The final words on Airbnb vs Hotel
Every platform has it’s own pros and cons, it’s all about our priorities how we would like to spend our holiday. Choose a quaint boutique hotel when in Paris, or an Airbnb home in a high rise apartment of New York.
When booking an Airbnb, always look for traveller’s reviews, how the bed is and above all, the location.
Which one would you pick – Airbnb vs Hotel? Do share your experiences with me!
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— The Wanderer