Airbnb is quickly becoming my go-to app for finding a place to stay in a new city, particularly when I’m staying for less than my usual four months.
When I move to a new country, I typically show up without a home, intending to look around, my feet on local pavement, so that I can see which locations are most ideal for my preferences, live where locals live (as opposed to where hotels happen to be: in touristy, heavily marketed-to areas), and get a better price (because I’m paying what locals pay, rather than what presumably spendy and less-knowledgeable tourists would drop for a temporary home).
I still prefer the latter when it makes sense, but even for stays of up to a month, I find that Airbnb offers some really wonderful options, and in fact presents some that I wouldn’t have ever discovered on my own, on the ground in a new home.
The way it works, if you haven’t tried it before:
People rent out a shared space, a bed, a private room, or an entire house/apartment/cabin, and you pay for it like you would a hotel. Each place is unique and has different benefits and routines, but generally you arrange to meet with the owners of a space you rent, get a key and house rules, and you’re good to go. Quite often you have many of the same amenities as a hotel (though other times you just show up, get your key, and you’re on your own for anything beyond a towel).
There are a few reasons Airbnb has won me over, despite my initial skepticism about it.
The first is that it allows you to plan ahead and still stay in a part of town where people actually live. The benefits of this cannot be overstated: when you’re in an actual neighborhood, not a whitewashed, theme-park version of a city (that all too often forms up around hotel districts), you have a very different experience. Just having such a space as a launchpad for exploration is huge, but many Airbnb hosts also provide lists of their favorite local dining hubs, will tell you the tricks of how to get around cheaply, and things like that — things locals know, and that hoteliers have little reason to tell you (especially since the more ignorant you are, the more hotels can upsell you on things).
Second, the money you would be spending on (probably) a multinational hotel chain instead goes to a local individual, couple, or family. Many of the people I rent from have been young professionals that rent to remove some of the rent-burden they might otherwise experience, while others are entrepreneurial families that buy up a few spaces, spruce them up, and run their Airbnb profile like a family business. There are some that are less personal and run more like a chain of available rooms, of course, but either way, I generally feel better about where my money is going when I rent this way.
And finally, it’s generally cheaper for what you get. Perhaps not a lot cheaper, and in some places it’s actually more expensive than staying at a La Quinta or other cheap hotel. But what you get for your money is usually a significantly more positive ratio, and given the option between having a standard, humdrum hotel room, or a place that’s unique and in a far better location, I know where I’d prefer to spend my money. But that said, there are generally some really stellar deals in any decent-sized city, particularly if you’re just looking for a place to sleep and leave your bag (shared rooms in particular can be had for hostel-level prices).
If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, I highly recommend giving it a shot. If you’re a newbie to it and want to get $20 credit on your first stay, use the link below (it’ll give me $20 credit, as well, so thanks in advance if you go that route).
Keep in mind that there are other options, as well, including Couchsurfing (which I’ve also linked to below). I find that I prefer to spend money on travel when I’m able, to help build the local economy but also to take away some of the pressure to socialize that is often inherent in someone being kind enough to let you crash on their couch. There are pros and cons to both, but I would remind anyone using Couchsurfing to use extra care, as it’s not as well-filtered for creepsters as Airbnb is.
Via Airbnb (use that link to get $20 credit for your first stay)
Couchsurfing (free, but be a good guest and be careful — not as well-regulated as paid options)