It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of using Airbnb when I travel.
In fact, I probably stay in more Airbnb apartments than I do hostels, guesthouses, and hotels these days. I’m even writing this post from one in Granada! I first tried the site in 2012, and since then, I’ve used it in Austria, Croatia, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Belize, The Maldives, the United Kingdom, and Spain.
Why do I love it so much?
It’s cheap, especially if you’re travelling as a couple. In a lot of countries, I’ve found Airbnb apartments work out to be similar in cost to a private room in a hostel, two dorm beds, or a budget hotel room. Long-term stays of a month or more work out to be even cheaper.
It’s comfortable. Most of the Airbnb apartments I’ve stayed in have had a kitchen full of utensils and cooking ingredients. I love having a private bathroom I’m not sharing with 20 backpackers. An unshared Internet connection makes work easier and faster. Having separate rooms rather than just a bed and a desk, like in most guesthouses I stay in, keeps me sane.
Lots of unique accommodation options. Through Airbnb, I’ve stayed in a tiny home in Portland, a beach house in Los Angeles, a artist’s gallery in New Mexico, and I’ve just booked a stay in a houseboat in the Netherlands for next month! Did you know you can even stay in the clock tower at St Pancras Station in London? When you jump from room to room to room as a long-term traveller, your surroundings can kind of merge into one. Yeah, you can stay at quirky hostels, but I’ve found Airbnb to have some really awesome options.
It gives me a slice of home in an unfamiliar city. I love travel but it can be disorientating and overwhelming at times. Staying in a home instead of a guesthouse bedroom gives me a little slice of comfort and normality in my unconventional life.
You guys know I love showing you both the good and bad side of travel, and as much as I love Airbnb, my stays haven’t all been wonderful. Here, then, are some of my favourite apartments I’ve stayed in, some of the truly terrible experiences, and that time Dave’s birthday surprise didn’t quite go to plan.
All prices quoted in the post are what we paid at the time, and include Airbnb service fees plus the owners’ cleaning fees.
The Rustic Tiny Home in Portland ($1500 for a month/$50 a night)
The moment I fell in love with Airbnb and Portland was when I walked through the door of this place. Swoon. This is my favourite apartment I’ve ever stayed in and I’m so bummed they’ve since upped their price. The owners were concerned how we’d cope in such a small space but after living in guesthouses and hostels, it felt like a palace. We were in the perfect neighbourhood, five minutes from my favourite restaurant (Tasty N Sons), had a little garden outside to sit in the sunshine, enough space to get away from each other, and the most gorgeous surroundings to live in.
This place also kickstarted my obsession with tiny homes.
The Cottage in Tacoma ($950 for 14 nights/$68 a night)
This gorgeous cottage is the first time I went to a city solely because of the accommodation. Dave and I were looking for apartments in Seattle when I happened to spot this place as a suggested listing. Even better: it was half the price of similar quality places we’d seen in Seattle. What did I know about Tacoma? Nothing! So I booked it.
I’m so pleased I did because this apartment was amazing. It was located a couple of blocks back from the waterfront with half a dozen great restaurants and bars nearby. I loved the spacious kitchen and cosy living room. The only downside: climbing that scary-looking ladder to get to the bedroom. I didn’t really fall in love with Tacoma, but I’d go back just for this place.
The First Private Room in Flagstaff ($250 for 3 nights/$83 a night)
I’m pretty introverted and the idea of staying in a private room on Airbnb (where you have a private room but communal living areas) over an entire place made me nervous. Being around people saps my energy big time. Flagstaff, though, was crazy expensive, and this house had amazing reviews, where everyone mentioned how great the owners were.
I actually really enjoyed it, and discovered there are an immense amount of benefits to booking a private room. The owners had a crazy amount of knowledge about the Grand Canyon, and we spent a fun evening poring over maps and making plans. It was thanks to them we found a Grand Canyon walking trail with no tourists, picked up a delicious packed lunch from a nearby store, timed our Monument Valley trip perfectly, and managed to avoid roadworks on all our drives. The apartment was cosy, we had plenty of privacy so I didn’t go insane, and the free breakfasts were huge and delicious. I’d do it again.
The Incredible Guanajuato View ($300 for 8 nights/$37 a night)
And the winner of the best view of any apartment I’ve stayed in goes to this stylish place in Guanajuato, Mexico! The kitchen was huge and and there were plenty of places to work. Behind those bricks in the photo is the bedroom, and the sofa was perfect for snuggling and watching movies at night. What really made this apartment, though, was the spectacular view from the roof terrace. I loved polishing off a bottle of wine as I watched the sun set over this colourful city.
The Second Portland Tiny-ish Home ($1500 for a month/$50 a night)
After my beloved tiny home in Portland shot up in price, I was looking for somewhere new. I took a shot on this place because the photos on the listing were terrible (if you click the link, the first five photos are the only ones we had to go on. They’ve since added more), but it paid off as it ended up being a cute and homely place to stay. I especially loved that we had a spare bed, so we could repay friends’ generosity and invite them to stay with us for once!
The Brixton Base ($2000 for one month/$67 a night)
London is insane when it comes to Airbnb. You really need to book six months out to find somewhere for a month and everything’s so expensive! Dave and I were hoping for somewhere central, but ended up in Brixton — somewhere we immediately fell in love with.
I loved this house because it had three floors! It sounds ridiculous but I love having a bedroom on a different level to the living space. It was tastefully decorated and in a great location. My favourite part was the snug: a top-level area filled with beanbags and blankets, and a big TV. Also, it was amaaazingly decorated!
The Vancouver Apartment That Made Me Cry ($125 for 2 nights/$62 a night)
Oh god, possibly the worst place I’ve ever stayed in. My parents were in Vancouver for a few days, and I booked a cheap-ish apartment in the city so we could hang. It was fine enough during the day but at night?
That room must have been well over 40 degrees C — no exaggeration. There was no air conditioning, there were no windows (that blind in the photo masked a brick wall!), and the door was this thick, heavy, fire-proof monstrosity. It was so hot and humid I had beads of sweat dripping off my face and felt like I couldn’t breathe.
In fact, it was so bad I ended up wrapping myself in the sheets and standing under the ice-cold shower water to cool down. I did this every 15 minutes throughout the night. Did I mention I also had a really bad cold? I genuinely considered sleeping on the streets outside.
The Cold Guanajuato Christmas ($400 for 6 nights/$67 a night)
Remember that amazing Guanajuato apartment I mentioned above? Well, sadly it was booked over Christmas, so we moved to different one that looked just as nice. It was cold. Guanajuato isn’t usually freezing cold in winter but it was while we were there. What this meant is that the houses have poor insulation, and with mine and Dave’s limited wardrobe, we were miserable.
Even worse, it was in a terrible location. There were only two shops within a half an hour walk, and a few street food stalls along the way. What we didn’t realise was Guanajuato closes for Christmas, so nothing was open but a tiny grocery store. We spent Christmas day eating packets of crisps and eggs.
The room itself was actually really nice, and the owners were lovely — it wasn’t their fault it was cold and Christmas. But yeah, we left after two nights.
Scammed in Guraidhoo ($350 for 6 nights/$58 a night)
I’ve written a whole blog post about the time I was scammed in Guraidhoo, but the quick version is that the shady guesthouse owner quoted us a price for a ferry transfer, and then when it came time to check out, doubled it. I’ve since heard from others that the guy has a bad reputation on the island — unfortunately, none of the guesthouses on Airbnb in the Maldives had reviews, so we didn’t know.
The Cat With the Cone Head ($170 for 2 nights/$85 a night)
I thought it was a bit weird when the owner of our Montreal Airbnb place sent me a message telling us she had a small cat and asking if we could we look after it. We said yes — Dave knew how to look after cats; I had no idea — but it still felt a little strange. We met the owner at her apartment and while we were talking to her, the cat jumped out the window onto the balcony of her second floor apartment, and prepared to jump. She freaked out, collected him, and told us he’d never done that before.
What she hadn’t told us was that the cat had some kind of infection on its face and was wearing one of those plastic cone things around its neck. The infection was itchy and how do I know this? Because the cat scratched its cone all day and all night, keeping us awake and irritated. The apartment was fine but it was all a little weird. Flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, flap, all day long.
The Ruined Birthday
The Austin Apartment of Crappy Surprises ($425 for 4 nights/$106 a night)
It was Dave’s birthday and as a present, I was treating to him to kickass apartment in Austin.
We walked in to find a crumpled duvet lying at our feet. That was weird. There were no sheets on the bed. Also weird. No towels in the bathroom. Dirty dishes strewn across the kitchen. The entire place was filthy, messy, and disgusting, nothing like the photo above.
“Happy birthday, baby!” I cooed while trying not to burst into tears. We sat in the mess while I tried for an hour to get through to the owner, at which point she told me I wasn’t supposed to be arriving today. At which point I checked my booking and told her I definitely was.
She jumped into action and called her friend to clean the apartment while Dave and I — exhausted from our six-hour drive to get there — went out for a meal when all we wanted to do was sleep. Needless to say, it wasn’t the greatest birthday surprise I’ve ever pulled off, and I spent our stay beating myself up over it.
How to Have a Successful Airbnb Experience
The good experiences I’ve had with Airbnb far outweigh the bad, and most of the bad could have easily been avoided. Here’s how to make the most out of your experience:
Read the reviews. It’s common sense but I’m going to tell you to do it anyway. If I’m looking for a long-term stay, I especially read reviews from other people who have stayed for a month or more — it lets me know if it’s a liveable space. If there are no reviews for a property, don’t stay there unless it’s extremely good value. It’s not worth the risk.
Ask the owner questions. Often, I can be preoccupied with just trying to find somewhere rather than making sure it’s the perfect fit. If you work online, ask the owner how fast the Internet is. Ask what appliances there are in the kitchen if you love to cook. If public transport is in close proximity.
Don’t scrimp on quality if you’re going to end up crying. I like to think my years of living in hostel dorms have prepared me for crappy rooms, but sometimes, like in Vancouver, I should have just paid a bit more for somewhere with air conditioning.
Make a note of what’s important to you. One thing Dave and I like to do when we’re looking at accommodation is make a list of what we need to have and what would be nice to have. It’s easy to get sucked into an apartment listing because it looks beautiful, only to realise it’s only accessible by car, or there isn’t Wi-Fi.
Long-term stays save you so much money. You’ll typically be able to save around 50% on the day rate if you book for a month. Also, if you’re going to stay for more than a month, email the owner separately and ask for a discount. I’ve done this before and ended up saving about 30% on the advertised monthly rate.