Now that we are a family of four, holidays have taken on a completely new meaning, especially when it comes to organising accommodation. Finding a hotel which can accommodate two adults, a toddler and a small baby can be a tricky task if you are on a budget. We have stayed in a few hotels where my husband and I would occupy the main bed, our toddler would take up the whole sofa bed, and our baby would sleep in a baby bed squashed into whatever free space was available. It was doable, but it meant that once the kids were “tucked in”, my husband and I were prevented from watching TV or even talking, lest it disturbed the kids who were already excited to be on holidays and with their new sleeping arrangements. Eating out at every meal can also be cumbersome with two tiny tots, not to mention expensive, and we soon discovered that it was worth the cost of paying a bit more to stay in a hotel apartment or Airbnb property where the kids could sleep in a separate room and there would be a kitchen available to cook some meals.
Hotel apartments are fantastic for families, especially if you might need accommodation for more than a few days as you are more likely to be assured the comfort of a home away from home. But most hotel apartments come at a hefty cost, not to mention that they can be limited in availability depending on where you are travelling.
But Airbnb has taken off in many countries and thousands of people are now opting to stay in other people’s homes as an alternative to hotel accommodation. In some instances, you might be staying as a guest with the host owners (as you would in a traditional bed and breakfast), or you might elect to stay in a property all to yourself. Airbnb has now allowed a generation of people to suddenly make a bit of cash by vacating their property for a few nights or more, and it is not uncommon to read that some Airbnb owners are making more in rental returns than traditional landlords would.
If you are considering an alternative to hotel accommodation, here are 10 things you should know about staying at an Airbnb property.
1. It is Not a Hotel
Not everyone has your standard of living, unfortunately. Some basic things which you might expect when staying as a guest in someone’s home, like clean towels and clean sheets, are not always guaranteed. An Airbnb apartment is not a hotel where a chambermaid has performed a checklist of cleaning duties prior to your arrival; it is simply someone else’s home, and the cleanliness depends very much on the owner’s standard. We have stayed in properties where we have had to remake all of the beds with clean sheets and duvet covers before daring to sleep in the beds, and we considered ourselves lucky that there were clean sheets available. But some thoughtful hosts will leave a welcome note with their tips on where to eat in the neighbourhood, and we have had one host go so far as to leave a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water for us to enjoy on our arrival.
2. You Will Have to Do Some Cleaning
Most Airbnb bookings will include a cleaning fee which can range anywhere from $20 to $150 or more. Despite the cleaning fee, you should still treat the property with respect and leave the place in a reasonably clean state. This means cleaning the dirty dishes, taking out the garbage, and doing a general tidy-up before you leave. Some places will state what the housekeeping rules are, but it is not uncommon to hear about confusion as to how much cleaning the guests must perform, if any. We once stayed at a property where the owner left a pile of dirty dishcloths by the sink, and the two teatowels available to use were of questionable cleanliness. Given that there were no clean cloths available for our use, we decided that there was little cleaning we could do. On another occasion, we arrived at an apartment at 8.30 pm to discover that it had not been cleaned after the previous Airbnb guests had left. We then had to change all of the bedsheets and towels ourselves, as well as clean the dirty dishes, the kitchen and bathroom, and also take out the garbage from the previous guests. We received a refund for our troubles, but nothing could compensate us for the lost time and frustration.
3. Photos Can Be Misleading
Like most real estate photos, most properties on Airbnb will have professional or semi-professional photos to tempt you to make a booking. Just don’t be surprised when you turn up at the property and discover that what looked like a minimalist-style apartment in the photos is actually the home of a messy hoarder who thinks you won’t mind if they leave all of their make-up and skincare clutter on the bathroom counter. We have also stayed in an apartment where every hook on the coat stand by the door was over-burdened with the owner’s coats and jackets, leaving no room at all for our own clothes. There was also no space, let alone empty coathangers, in the wardrobes.
4. A Warning for Foodies
One of the benefits of staying at an Airbnb apartment is having a kitchen where you can cook your own meals instead of having to eat out all of the time. Being able to have breakfast at home each day or cooking a few simple meals during your holiday, can save you a lot of time and money. Plus, the convenience and comfort of being able to eat in sometimes can also help you to feel more relaxed on your holiday. However, just because there is a kitchen, doesn’t mean that it will be fully equiped. Even though my own kitchen might be overflowing with assorted crockery, utensils and gadgets, I am often shocked by how bare some people’s kitchens can be. On our recent trip to Paris, we stayed in an apartment where the only knives in the kitchen were flimsy steak knives. There was also only one small saucepan for cooking, and the oven wasn’t even working. It was rather disappointing, given that there was a twice-weekly farmers’ market right on the doorstep and we were simply unable to do any cooking. Most of the reviews for this apartment raved about the great kitchen, but the only thing that was working was the microwave.
5. Is it Really Family-Friendly?
When you are travelling with small children, staying at an Airbnb property is generally a better option to a traditional hotel. In some rare instances, your Airbnb home will come fully-equipped with toys, baby beds, changing mats and high chairs. It makes a huge difference when the children can have a bit more space to roam and play, and it can be quite a relief for the parents to be able to do the laundry while on holidays; having access to a washing machine means you can pack less clothing for the kids, who tend to need a change of clothes more often than adults. But if a home is described as family-friendly, it sometimes has more to do with the sleeping space than whether your kids will be comfortable. More often than not, you will need to do a quick rearranging of most rooms to remove fragile objects and choking hazards. You can generally ascertain from the photos if the home will be child-friendly, i.e. maybe don’t rent an apartment with a glass coffee table if your toddler is still going through the banging-toys-on-furniture phase. If you are not sure, just contact the owner. In some instances, your Airbnb host may be able to organise a travel cot or high chair for you, even if such items are not mentioned in the description. Quite often, child-free hosts forget that their homes may be suitable for families with children and don’t think to market their place for such customers.
6. Check the Fees Per Person
All Airbnb properties will specify how many people are allowed on the premises, and there is often a fee for extra persons. Whilst you should not sneak in extra bodies without properly notifying the owner first, it is worth noting if there are additional fees because they can add up, especially if you are staying for more than a few nights. We once looked at a property where the owner considered our baby (aged 6 months at the time) to be an additional person which would cost us an extra $50 per night, despite the fact that we were bringing our own travel cot. What had originally looked like a bargain was suddenly no longer.
7. Running Out of the Bare Necessities
Most owners are not familiar with the rules of the hoteling industry, nor have they read Martha Stewart’s guide to entertaining guests. Just because you are staying for 7 nights, doesn’t mean that you will have toilet paper to last you that long. It is unclear if the owner is responsible for providing the basic necessities for your stay (is it supposed to be covered by the nightly rate?), but we prefer to avoid such awkward conversations and often end up buying items such as toilet paper, hand soap and dishwashing detergent, and leaving behind any leftover for the owner to use or dispose. You might be lucky to have a kitchen stocked with pantry essentials, but don’t be surprised if you have to buy basic ingredients like tea, coffee, salt and pepper.
8. Waiting For Your Airbnb Host to Turn Up
On a recent stay in Paris, we were left stranded on a busy street for 2.5 hours with our luggage and two tired and hungry kids during what would have been dinner time. If you are short on time, the last thing you want to do is hang around waiting while you could be enjoying the local sights. Carefully read the reviews to see how reliable the Airbnb host is, including how well they keep in contact with the guests during their stay. The dependability of your host can mean the difference between a positive and negative experience.
9. Your Airbnb Host May Not Turn Up At All
It is one thing if the Airbnb host is late in meeting you upon arrival, but sometimes they don’t turn up at all. We were recently stopped in the streets of Paris by an Indian couple who had spent several hours desperately trying to contact their Airbnb host. We managed to find our way inside the apartment complex, only to discover a note on the host’s door with a message to call a certain phone number. We dialled the number – it was the number of a Portuguese couple who had similarly been left stranded by the same Airbnb host the previous week. In order to avoid any last-minute bad surprises, you should contact your Airbnb host a few days prior to your arrival, both to remind them of your stay and to organise a time for them to meet you with the key. If your host does not respond, consider making alternative arrangements and getting a refund through Airbnb as soon as possible.
10. Sometimes, It Can Be Better Than a Hotel
It may be illegal in some cities, but some entrepreneurial owners rent out their homes exclusively and permanently on Airbnb, i.e. they live elsewhere and the property is rented out like a serviced apartment for short stays. In my view, these are the best places to stay. Such places are usually cleaned professionally and equipped to a minimum standard expected of regular serviced apartments. You also won’t have to worry about anyone else’s personal effects about the place, and you might even have your dealings with a third-party agent instead of the owner. It is almost like staying in a hotel which, all things considered, is perhaps not in the spirit of Airbnb …
We have used Airbnb on 5 occasions in 3 countries (in Europe) and, to date, our experience has been good, but not great. We tend to choose properties which are centrally located and which are, therefore, in the mid to high price bracket. But paying more does not necessarily guarantee a better experience, and this is, unfortunately, the conclusion which we have arrived at. That said, Airbnb homes usually provide much more convenience and comfort than what you can find from traditional hotels for the same price. It is usually more cost efficient to stay in an Airbnb home when travelling in small groups, and the convenience of having a kitchen and laundry while on holidays can be priceless. We know many people who have had positive experiences with Airbnb and who would choose Airbnb as their first source of accommodation when travelling. Make sure you read all of the reviews for the Airbnb host to determine if you will enjoy staying at their property, but keep in mind that everyone has different standards and expectations. We have stayed in properties which have had at least a dozen reviews – all of them predominantly positive – yet we still encountered the issues which are mentioned above.
Have you stayed at an Airbnb property? Has your experience been positive or negative? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!