Never stayed in an Airbnb? Let me see if I can convince you of the merits of staying with locals in the new home-sharing economy! As both a regular traveler and an Airbnb host here in San Antonio, Texas–I’ve done my fair share of Airbnbing on both sides.
I love that I can still see some of the most expensive cities in the world, but still save for early retirement by using travel rewards and using Airbnb for everything else.
If you’re looking to optimize your savings on your next trip, here’s why I’d recommend you use Airbnb to save on travel:
Customizable Amenities, Half The Price
While staying in a hotel has perks, an Airbnb allows you to live like a local, and eat like one too–which leads to a huge cost savings. Many Airbnbs, whether you’re renting out the whole space or simply a room in a shared home, have amenities that you would find in a hotel but likely would have to pay extra for
One of the biggest perks is kitchen access, which means you can eat like a local and save money on food. These cost savings add up if you’re traveling with a family or large group, as you can utilize the kitchen to cut costs. Other amenities might also be included–like access to a pool, gym, or garage.
Related: How To Eat Frugally While Traveling
No matter what you decide with Airbnb, realize every listing is unique. Ensure your house has what you need to be comfortable. While most places provide towels and toiletries, double check that they have what you need.
If you’re sold on a place but don’t see that they have something you need, ask the host before you book to see if they can accommodate you. It’s their job to answer your questions quickly and do their best to be hospitable.
How To Read A Listing Like A Pro
It may take some time to get your sea legs when reading through Airbnb listings. You’ll be dealing with an array of different home types, areas, customs, and of course, the hosts themselves–some of which are more experienced and detailed than others.
After you’ve scanned the listing to ensure it fits your needs, read through the reviews. You may be a bit hesitant to book a shared space if you’ve never shared a home with a stranger before, but the reviews can be telling to help you decide whether to book or skip.
Sharing a space is not as weird as it sounds–especially with more seasoned hosts. But, if you’re looking for a more “hotel-like” experience versus staying with a local, your best bet is to book a room or home that is not occupied by the owner, or, a listing that designates a room has a private entry or is separate from the main house.
Deciding Where To Stay
There are a thousand nuances when deciding where you want to stay when you visit a new place. Is there public transportation? Is the area walkable? Will transportation costs outweigh any savings you made by booking a home away from the action? It really depends!
While there are usually ample listings in any city that can be near major attractions, if you’re deciding to stay a little further off the beaten path, have a plan on how you’ll get around. If you are able to drive to your location, what does parking near attractions look like?
Many guests have made the mistake of assuming they’d save on their room by booking with Airbnb only to discover that Uber surcharges eat into their travel budget. If you’re trying to get around during peak hours for a big event (like Mardi Gras or the NCAA Final Four) and can’t take public transportation, factor these costs in.
Before You Book, Read The Fine Print
In addition to amenities, listings also vary in terms of their cancellation policies and add-on fees. Each host has the ability to set their own rates for cleaning fees, the cost of a cancellation and what they could charge if you break the rules. Namely, by sneaking in extra people or smoking in the home.
One thing to note–be honest when you book. If you’re not certain how many people will be joining you, or you think you can change your plans later, not every host can, or will be able to accommodate you.
Book only for dates and a number of people you’re sure about. Remember, you’re not dealing with a large hotel chain. If you flake on your reservation, you may be leaving a small host out in the cold to rebook.
Plan Check-In & Check-Out Times Carefully
You’ll also want to be aware of check-in times and check-out times, as they are different from hotels and vary from host to host. Remember, unlike a hotel which employs a full time cleaning team, your host will be doing the room flipping on their own, or with one or two regular cleaners. That being said, they set their in and out times accordingly, sometimes without any available wiggle room.
If you want to check out late, they may be fully booked and unable to accommodate you. Trying to get in early may mean your room is still occupied and leaving late means the cleaning team may have to ask you to leave.
While a large hotel has room inventory they can toy with, a host does not. While they’ll usually do their best to accommodate, a popular location may mean that you’re sandwiched between other guests and need to honor your reservation’s stated arrival and departure time.
Mix and Match Hotels With Airbnb To Save
Some of my best travel experiences were longer trips that were a mix of hotels and Airbnbs. Upon arrival, I usually stay a hotel since if I’m jet-lagged, the check-in process is relatively standard, even if I don’t speak the local language.
As I get a few days into travel in a new country or place, I love switching to stay at Airbnbs. I get to eat like a local and get personal recommendations for restaurants and shops away from the tourist areas.
If you’re booking with Airbnb, feel free to over-communicate with your host so they can help meet your needs. If you’re planning on simply using the room to crash and would rather skip the pleasantries, they can give you your space.
As a host myself, I love knowing a guest’s expectations so I can either prep some personalized restaurant recommendations, or, give their space and just let them rest upon arrival.
Book “Experiences” With Airbnb
Airbnb now also offers experiences in addition to lodging–where local guides can take you on cheese tasting tours or teach you how to cook local fare. We took advantage of this on our trip to Paris. We got a tour of the city on a golf cart and ended up in a local bar tasting cheese. We even got a bottle of his favorite wine to take back to our room.
In Barcelona, we took a winery tour with a local in a gorgeous jeep, that ended with a picnic. Our guide had been born and raised in the wine country of Barcelona that mainly produces sparkling wines, cavass, and it was honestly the highlight of our trip!
Airbnb can be a place to crash, a place to live like a local, or a friend you didn’t know you had in a place you’ve never been–the adventure is up to you!
If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI’s free travel rewards course.