One of the very talked about subjects in the realm of affordable and frequent travel is staying at AirBnB instead of hotels for the experience and cost savings. As a couple we love home stays for the experience, but extensive traveling over time has made us opt for very often for boutique hotels instead.
When AirBnB first came, we were excited about more affordable and interesting stays. But a series of not-so-good experiences, coupled with better support at boutique hotels have made us change our mind.
For starters, the first time I tried booking an AirBnB was in Bangalore. We were driving from Mumbai to Pondicherry and wanted a stopover in Bangalore to meet friends. I looked hard on AirBnB for an interesting place to stay which also offered parking. The thing about AirBnB is you can only initially chat with the host/owner using the app. After much searching we found a place. Was no-smoking, had a parking and offered free breakfast. It was also available on the day we needed. So I booked and paid. And left a note for the host that since we are heading further south, we would leave early in the morning, and wondered if we could get some tea/biscuits at around 6 am in place of a full breakfast. Not having heard from the host, but with a confirmed booking, we headed out on the road. Somewhere closer to Bangalore I received a message from the host cancelling the booking with no reason given. We were left high and dry, on a highway with little internet access to search for the next place to spend the night in Bangalore. If it were a hotel, we would have called, made bookings and enquired about the early morning tea.
Our second bad AirBnB experience was unfortunately also in Bangalore. On another trip, we needed to extend the stay and wanted to choose a nice home. We had to be close to the 100 Feet Road. After much searching we found a ‘home stay’ with no-smoking and available parking. On reaching the address it turned out to be a hotel with a suite like room which included a kitchenette and they were calling it a home-stay. The room also smelt like previous occupants smoked there.
On yet another trip, somewhere on our way to Goa, we found a nice home. An elderly couple were running it and it seemed like a great place to spend the night. After a long day driving, we were eager to get into a warm cozy house and dig into some home food. When we called the host and asked if we could get dinner (of course we could pay extra), we were told yes, it would be ready for us. We reached to find a really nice home, a lovely elderly couple and delicious dinner spread for us. As we started chatting with the host, we learnt they had recently moved into this place and still didn’t have house help. The thought of the lovely old frail lady washing all our dinner dishes made us feel terrible, and even though we were very tired from the day we offered to wash them. They happily complied. So dreams of relaxing by the balcony were tossed out, we spent the evening washing all the dinner dishes, and clearing the table. The next morning, we were cheerfully urged to make our own breakfasts (and of course wash up after wards), when all we wanted was to enjoy the farm and hit the road. Not that we mind washing dishes, but on a roadtrip, soap and bubbles was the last thing on the agenda.
In our overseas travels too we found hotels to be more convenient.
In most AirBnBs, one has to share a toilet with the host or other guests. Many people may not like that. It may also restrict your timing freedom. You have no idea what the other guests or the host are like, in the living room, when you are in your own. You may want to leave or come back early or late, and may not want to disturb the host. Once a host abroad told us, if the building security asked, to tell him we were relatives of the host, since the building didn’t allow AirBnBs. Such dubious ways made us feel very uncomfortable.
Moreover, for many overseas AirBnBs, the hotels offered a similar (not much more expensive) price package. The hotels offered free breakfast, parking, WiFi, attached toilet with 24*7 hot water. You can leave your hotel room early in the morning and when you return housekeeping would have cleaned it for you. You can order food/beverages in the room, if you don’t feel like cooking. And you don’t have to wash the dishes, if you don’t feel like. There is always someone in the hotel you can call if something isn’t working. Hotels, in that sense, provide much more local employment.
With AirBnB, if you have the house to yourself, one of the first things to do is shop and stock up for your late night or early morning needs. You want bed tea? Go buy some milk, tea, sugar. You want to grab a bite before heading out, make sure you have something to eat. Like to nibble on fruits/snacks/biscuits in your room, stock it. Make sure there is hot water when you need it. Or the Water Purifier is running and full. And when you leave, make sure you switch off water heaters, air conditioners, electric stoves, gas. Of course we do that in our house too, but someone else’s house sounds like too much responsibility. The thing is if you are looking for a holiday or a break, you want a real break from domesticity, which may not always be guaranteed in an AirBNB. Plus travel, which is mostly road trips for us is about exploring a new place, people and authentic food, than spend time spotting grocery and ration shops.
AirBnBs work well if there are more than two travellers to split the cost. For a trip to Europe, there were four of us, so an AirBnB apartment worked well for us, cost wise. Unfortunately there was only one toilet-bathroom, thereby slowing down our mornings, and evenings. And yes, we did have to make a shopping trip to stock the house so we all had breakfast, milk, snacks etc. If you do not want to share a toilet, then often you have to rent a larger house which works out to be the same or more expensive than a boutique hotel.
Sometimes you also meet extraordinary hosts and get to eat great food, but unpleasant surprises can be avoided. But to be fair, AirbBnB does have the potential to offer unique experiences. Maybe on a future trip to a remote place…