Once upon a time there was a young and inexperienced traveler who thought hotels, motels, resorts and bed and breakfasts were her only options for finding accommodations on her vacations. A tightly budgeted trip to Europe would later teach her that hostels were (usually) nothing like that low-budget horror film she had seen about them. They were actually an affordable way to sleep safe and sound during her travels while also meeting her fellow wanderers.
As her list of travel experiences grew, so did her knowledge of other tips and tricks to see the world. The one thing that eluded her for many years, however, was home rentals. She thought that form of accommodation was reserved only for the savviest of travelers who could scour the local newspapers and websites of their destinations. That was until the fateful day when she discovered airbnb.com.
Ok, that’s enough talking in third person. The “she” in this story is obviously me, but the day I found out about airbnb.com was so epic and changed my travel life so much that I thought it deserved a more poetic introduction.
The website has grown tremendously since it first opened in 2008 and is extremely popular now, but for those of you who may be unfamiliar with airbnb.com and the many sites like it, I’m here to tell you a little bit about my experiences. Hopefully it’ll change your travel life like it did mine.
On airbnb.com, users can post listings of their homes to make them available for short-term rentals. The rentals can range from one day to a few weeks or even a few months on some occasions. Some people rent out their entire house or apartment, while others rent a private room in their home. When I first discovered Airbnb, I spent hours looking at all the dream homes I could possibly rent. You can find anything on that website from bungalows in the Costa Rican rainforest to chic loft apartments in Amsterdam. The possibilities are truly endless.
For those on the other side of the equation, finding a place to rent for a vacation is for the most part very easy. When I first started the accommodations hunt for my July trip to Paris, I was shocked by how expensive the hostels were. 35 euros per person per night for my travel buddy and I to share a room with 14 other people? Thanks, but no thanks.
That’s when I remembered airbnb.com. I typed in the city I was interested in: Paris, France. I adjusted the filters to show me only the homes that fell within my budget. I checked off the appropriate boxes so both private rooms and entire homes would come up in my search results. In less than a minute after hitting the search button, I had hundreds of options at my fingertips. They were all marked on an interactive map that gave me a general idea of where the homes were located. I wasn’t interested in any places on the outskirts of Paris, so I zoomed in on the map, and all the options outside of the area where I wanted to stay were instantly eliminated from my results.
After looking through the photos, descriptions and reviews of several beautiful homes and also some not so great ones, my travel buddy and I chose a home and sent in a request to book it. On airbnb.com and other websites like it, there are two options with the booking. Some homes are offered on an instant-booking basis while other requests for booking must be approved by the homeowner. Unfortunately, our request did not get approved for the home we were interested in. Apparently the owner had made a mistake when setting up the availability calendar for his home so although the website said it was available on the days we were staying in Paris, that was not the case.
So we set off on our hunt again. This time we used other home rental websites like homeaway.com and 9flats.com to do our search. Through 9flats.com, we ended up finding a private room in a trendy apartment located near Paris’ fashion district. The room was very spacious and well decorated. It had the most comfortable bed I slept on during my entire three-week Euro trip. It was close to several bars and restaurants and a major metro stop. Our hosts gave us breakfast every morning and a ton of useful tips for exploring the city. All that only cost us a few euros more than the price of a hostel. Those extra few euros were worth the comfort and privacy we got from staying at that apartment.
Although airbnb.com failed us in Paris, it did come in handy when we went to Pamplona, Spain for the festival where the Running of the Bulls takes place. Every single hotel and hostel room in Pamplona was booked by the time my travel buddy and I started looking for accommodations for our trip. I was told that it was difficult to find a place to stay in Pamplona during the San Fermin Festival, but I had no idea it would be that bad. Even on Airbnb, Homeaway and 9flats it was almost impossible to find something for a decent price.
I was starting to come to terms with the fact that we may have to sleep in a tent in a park like so many people do during the San Fermin festival, but luckily Airbnb came through for us at the last minute. We stayed in private room at a very conveniently located apartment with the best hosts in the world. Our hosts were extremely friendly and treated us as though we were family. By the end of our three days in Pamplona, we became friends with our host and her boyfriend. We even spent our last night there eating dinner with them on their couch and watching one of the World Cup games. Staying with them was not only worth the comfort, convenience and peace and quiet that we would not have found in a hostel, but also the friendship we gained from it.
All in all, my home renting experiences this summer went really well. I even used airbnb.com when I got back home to Florida and wanted to do a mini “staycation” with my friends in a town only ten minutes away. Although I used mostly airbnb.com and 9flats.com, there are many home rental websites out there. Some are even more specialized for certain countries or cities. Check out this guide written by Travel+Leisure Magazine for other home rental websites that you might find useful. It was this article that first introduced me to other sites like 9flats and Homeaway.
Hostels may be fun for meeting other travelers and hotels may be great for some real rest and relaxation, but home rentals also have a lot to offer travelers. From the comforts of feeling like you have a home of your own to getting a taste of what being a local is like, home rentals can be great for all travelers from the savviest to the newest.