06 Apr Why use Airbnb – Plus peek inside our Airbnb rentals!
What is Airbnb?
Whether you’re looking for budget accommodations, hoping to stay with a local in a foreign place, or want more than a typical hotel can offer – like access to a kitchen or free bicycles – Airbnb rentals are all that and more. We use the site regularly and are huge fans.
Some people are skeptical of using Airbnb for vacation rentals because of the handful of horror stories where Airbnb hosts have found their home completely trashed by guests. These cases are extremely rare and in each instance, Airbnb actually foots the bill for damages. But they’re also proactive and have gotten more stringent with their security practices over time.
Here’s why you can sleep soundly with Airbnb:
Guests and hosts alike must verify their identity with official forms of ID, so you know people are who they say they are.
Every time you rent a place on Airbnb, both parties review each other. You don’t see the other person’s feedback until you’ve both submitted reviews, so there’s no pressure to leave a positive review just so the other person will do the same.
You can see all of the past Airbnb reviews for any rental you’re interested in. That way you know if the property description is accurate and you get a sense for how the host interacts with guests.
Guests can communicate with potential hosts before and after making a booking. This is all done on Airbnb’s site, without exchanging any personal information or e-mail addresses until the booking is finalized.
All money transactions go through Airbnb, so the guest’s payment is guaranteed at the time of booking and the host receives the funds 24 hours after check in.
Customer service is big with Airbnb (we’ve actually toured their office in Portland, and it was amazing!). You can learn more about their efforts at their online trust and safety center.
In our opinion, Airbnb really has three key advantages over more traditional accommodations:
The opportunity to rent an entire home or apartment with a kitchen. For the same price as a hotel – and often cheaper – you can find fully furnished vacation rentals through Airbnb that allow you to cook some of your own meals. In places with a high cost of living (like Switzerland) you can save a lot of money by not having to eat out for every meal.
The opportunity to stay with locals. Some Airbnb listings are for entire homes or apartments, where the homeowner is not present. But others involve renting a room in a place where someone lives, and many of these homeowners excel at hosting. On one of our road trips, we rented rooms from three families in Canada – in Vancouver, Kelowna, and Quebec City. We had varying levels of interaction with our hosts but in every case, we got valuable insider knowledge about visiting the city (like how to see a free Cirque du Soleil show and which three hikes we could fit into one day).
The opportunity to stay in some one-of-a-kind places. Airbnb truly has a wide range of accommodations, so there is something for everyone. I’ve seen a peaceful backyard tent set up for $10 a night in Utah, a large boat house on the Seine in Paris, tree houses, fancy penthouses in major cities, and – of course – some traditional Bed and Breakfast set ups.
Get a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your first rental!
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A peek into our past Airbnb rentals
We’ve stayed in quite a few Airbnb rentals over the past four years, sometimes on our own, sometimes with others. This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows a good variety. We’ll start with a few of our favorites:
Treasure Beach, Jamaica
Our first Airbnb experience was actually during our Peace Corps service, the first time we participated in Jake’s Off-Road Triathlon in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. We rented a two bedroom apartment on the lower level of a lady’s beach-front home, which we shared with two other friends. The accommodations were clean and simple (at that point, the hot shower was a luxury for us), but the back porch view was unbeatable. After the race, the homeowner pointed us to a great open-air breakfast spot, full of local characters. I think we paid $95 per night for the apartment, split among the four of us.
Our next Airbnb stays were during a vacation to Montreal, Canada – a city that soon became our favorite in North America. Together with my parents, we rented a spacious, three-bedroom flat on the top floor of a townhouse. The location was quiet and charming, yet steps away from restaurants, boutique shops, a major metro station, and several Bixi bike-share hubs. We tried different restaurants once or twice a day, and the rest of our meals we cooked ourselves with fresh produce from the farmers markets and groceries from the supermarket a few blocks away. That apartment was around $200 per night.
Our first true “digital nomad” rental was a six-week stay in Cuenca, Ecuador, and it became one of our favorites. We picked out this spacious studio apartment on Airbnb after carefully going over reviews, messaging back and forth with the owner, and ensuring that the place would have good wifi. Located in the heart of Cuenca’s beautiful old town, we loved being able to see cupolas from an old church out our window. We used the kitchen daily to cook breakfast and dinner with fresh produce from the market and pastries from the bakery across the street. Because we got a monthly discount, rent was less than $20 per night.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Another favorite Airbnb of ours was Leaf Homestay in Hoi An. We chose it because they emphasize cross-cultural exchange in their listing and had a lot of great reviews. Thanks to the weekly discount, we stayed eleven days for less than $20 a night. This included a daily hot breakfast, bicycles, and good wifi. The homestay is run by a local family, some of whom live on the first floor, and the bed/bath suites are hotel room quality. For a small additional fee, you can do a market tour, cooking lesson, and share dinner with the owner. The family grew up in a nearby village, and they like to take guests to visit their family’s wood-carving workshop on the weekends. Since we stayed longer than usual, they decided to take us on a bigger adventure to the Mai Son temple ruins as well.
While visiting some friends in Denmark, we found this small but well-furnished apartment in a really nice neighborhood of Copenhagen. The Airbnb host was a university student who normally lives in the flat himself but goes and stays with a friend whenever he gets a booking. It worked out great for us to have an affordable place to stay in an otherwise expensive city!
While passing through Brussels with my parents one summer, we actually had an Airbnb host cancel on us last minute. With just a day or two before arriving in the city, Airbnb helped us find another listing of equal value and made the rebooking process nice and easy for us. Our new rental apartment was perfect – super nice with a quiet balcony where we enjoyed meals outside as a family.
Another Airbnb rental we loved was thanks to our parents, aunt, and uncle. They shared a three bedroom home with us in beautiful Bruges, Belgium before we embarked on a week-long, self-guided bicycle tour. The location couldn’t have been better, with our living room overlooking one of the picturesque canals.
After a week with my parents in Montreal, Jedd and I drove out to Quebec City where we found a room, with fresh croissant breakfast, for $50 a night. The family had an extra kitchen and three bedrooms in their basement which they rented out. So we met a few other travelers who also came through during our two night stay. Our hosts also explained to us how to see a free, outdoor Cirque du Soleil show, which ended up being a big highlight of our trip.
Vancouver (Richmond), BC
On our one-month Rockies Road Trip, there were three nights we needed accommodations when we weren’t visiting friends or camping. First was a quick stop in Vancouver, BC. We wanted to visit an international summer night market in Richmond, just south of Vancouver, so we rented a room nearby in the home of a big Chinese family for $40. They gave us a code to the front door and directions to the market. After we checked out the following day, we visited our favorite spots in Vancouver and continued on our road trip. Easy.
We had heard good things about Kelowna, British Columbia, so we reserved an Airbnb in town on our way up to Banff. We stayed with a guy our age who we ended up having a lot in common with. He showed us where to bike along the lake and mapped out three hikes and a winery we could visit in one day. We had a great discussion over tea in the living room, and our host introduced Jedd to rooibos tea, which is now his favorite. Our room with shared bath was about $60 per night.
One of our most memorable Airbnb stays was in Osaka, Japan. It was our first time in the country and our Japanese language skills were limited, so we wanted to make things as easy as possible. We flew into Osaka but needed to get further south by train the following day. We rented the cheapest place (with good reviews of the host) we could find within walking distance of the train station. The owner e-mailed us codes to the apartment complex and the door and he labeled everything inside in the room. Though incredibly tiny, it somehow had everything we needed, and was a fun introduction to Japan for only $35.
At the end of our two-month visit to Ecuador, we went North to the popular little market town of Otavalo. We stayed a few nights in a little apartment at the center of town. The owner met us at the bus station and gave us a ride to his place. It had a little roof-top patio with a nice view and was easy walking distance to everything we wanted to see.
Homestays accommodations are common in Vietnam, and they range from hotel-like businesses to true family homes. We found our homestay in Huế on Airbnb. The local owner rents out three separate bedrooms in his home and provides a breakfast in the shared courtyard each morning. His friend provides bicycle rentals and sells tours for guests – which can be convenient if that’s what you’re looking for. We like the river-side location but weren’t big fans of the mosquitos that came with it.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
After hearing so many good things about Chiang Mai, we decided to rent an apartment there for the whole month of November. For $387, we stayed in an upscale condo complex with gym, swimming pool, security, coin operated laundry, and good wifi. It was a bit far from the popular parts of town, so we rented a moped for the month ($80). There was a fancy mall within walking distance with a small supermarket and two food courts where we often got cheap Thai meals, baked goods, and lots of mango sticky rice! It was nice to settle in for several weeks with a morning work out routine, making breakfasts in the mini kitchen, working at home or in a cafe, and then exploring Chiang Mai in our free time.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
While visiting a friend briefly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we rented a room in a local family’s house for a couple nights. The private bed/bathroom had one of the most interested set ups we’ve ever seen. As Jedd is demonstrating above, there’s just a window separating the toilet and shower from the bed area! Fortunately, it had a shower curtain so you actually did have more privacy. We didn’t spend much time in our room due to our schedule, but it met our needs and was very affordable ($12 per night).
Siem Reap, Cambodia
One of our more interesting Airbnb’s was one we shared with a friend when we did the Angkor Wat Half Marathon in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The host was also a tuk-tuk driver, so he picked us up from the bus when we arrived and took us around if we needed transportation. The family home is found in a neighborhood with red dirt roads, not far from Angkor Wat. The host family, including a couple kids, sleep in the main room downstairs while the upstairs is reserved for guests. Almost the whole place is open air and the bathroom is in a separate building in the lush backyard. It was definitely a cool, unique experience for about $20 per night (plus about the same in tuk-tuk fees).
In Merida, we stayed in two places for a total of three weeks. Our first Airbnb was a basement apartment with a great location just a few blocks from the historic main square. It was simple but more than adequate for our needs. Internet wasn’t perfect but was decent enough, and the kitchen was great for preparing our breakfasts and dinners every day.
After a week, we had arranged to stay with Aries y Libra bed and breakfast for our remaining two weeks. We actually did an exchange with the owner so our stay was comped, but we did help update their listings on Airbnb. We love the style of the place and the friendly Dutch owner, though we will say that the noise from the street can get a bit loud (especially in the red double bed room).
For our most recent digital nomad destination, we took a risk and booked a completely new Airbnb apartment before it had any reviews. Normally, we rely heavily on reviews but this one was a good deal and the owner was good about answering our questions before booking. He lives part of the year in Canada and part of the year in Medellin, so he recently bought this place for himself to live in. It’s a compact and modern 5th floor apartment with a bedroom loft. We actually really liked the set up, but there were a few quirks – like some not-so-great smells that came into the room from time to time.
For a truly off-the-beaten path experience in Jamaica, we can now recommend our former host mom’s place. This ground-floor apartment is where we lived while volunteering with Peace Corps from 2012-14, and we had the chance to stay again on our most recent visit back to the island. Our host family are amazing people and you’ll be guests on their large, lush property with creek in the backyard. They live upstairs in the historic estate house but the Airbnb apartment is private, with its own separate entrance. If you want to experience a truly local seafood dinner, they’d be happy to arrange a visit to their friends in “India Town!”
Our brother and sister-in-law in Portland also run an Airbnb out of the basement apartment in their house. We stay there often when we’re in town. It has a full kitchen, two bedrooms, living room, and bath, plus guests get a free bottle of local wine or bag of coffee beans. They are the kind of hosts that will make you feel like family, with a passion for sharing their favorite things about Portland! Check them out when you come to PDX.
If you’ve never used AirBnB, you can sign up through our link and get up to $40 off on your first rental. (Note that this increased sign up bonus may expire soon.)
We’d love to know about the AirBnB rentals you’ve stayed in. Do you have any favorites?
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