Air Bed and Breakfast aka AirBnB is possibly one of my favorite websites when I’m traveling. I have used this site when I traveled throughout Europe, and also host in my own home.

If you’ve never used AirBnB, this is how it works. Someone, somewhere in the world lists their home, condo, apartment, or available room on the site for a certain price. Then you (the traveler) scroll through the available places during your dates, pick your price range, choose your location, and book. Some bookings can be done instantly, others require e-mails to the owner before agreement. Once you’ve completed the booking process, the host will send you all of the pertinent information about your stay. Mostly, how to get access to your new digs. Sometimes this info will also include house rules, wifi logons, and other details.

Of course, there are always concerns. For starters, as a host, someone could easily trash your house, rob you, or  be a completely horrible person that is now invading your living quarters. I have unfortunately experienced this one. A woman stayed in my home for only 1 night. I met her late in the evening and did not see her leave, as I was working. When I arrived home after my shift, I discovered my kitchen was in shambles. Towels on the floor, my Keurig (which I told her to have a cup of coffee if she wanted) was left on, with the cup still in it, another next to it, and a mug in the sink. This may not seem like a big deal, and all in all it’s not, but when I have a guest in my home, I expect them to treat it as though it’s their home as well. Needless to say, when she requested another visit 2 months later, I declined.

As a traveler, ALWAYS READ THE REVIEWS. Yes, many people are biased because now you’ve met the owner of the location, and no one wants to be rude. However, it is imperative that people leave honest reviews. 1 review can help the host learn what they’re doing wrong, and make travelers aware. Also, the details may not live up to the reality. This happened to me in Barcelona. After climbing the 3 floors to my apartment for the next 3 days I was greeted with a mop and bucket, complete with dirty water, shelving on the floor, and sheets that I quite simply refused to touch. The bathtub was so bad, I wore flip flops to shower. They got a not so great review.

Most of the time staying in an AirBnB location can be drastically cheaper than a hotel, or even a hostel. I have rented an entire apartment in Barcelona and Prague for about $60/night. There aren’t many amenities like in a hotel or even some hostels, but there’s usually WiFi (double check though). In 2 out of 3 of my visits, I also had a balcony.

My experiences are pretty varied. I rented a room in a home in the Alfama district of Lisbon, an apartment in Barceloneta, Barcelona and an apartment near old town square inPrague. In each of these places I looked for hotels first but couldn’t find anything in my budget, AirBnB let me stay right where I wanted, for a fraction of the price, and double the authenticity. I climbed crooked steps up 8 flights in Lisbon, used the strangest looking key to get in, was greeted with Portuguese tile, hardwoods floors and the most magnificent view.

I have to say getting the keys were sometimes a challenge. When I host I have a keyless entry, so I change the code after each visitor. That’s not typically what I’ve experienced however. In Lisbon, I was given the address of a small bakery. I took a cab to the bakery, asked for the key at the counter and then climbed the hill the hill to the apartment. Then I stumbled up 8 hardwood floors to my room, all after a 15 hour journey to get there. But it was so worth it. In Barcelona there was a bit of an issue. I only had wifi on my phone so I couldn’t call anyone. I went to a nearby restaurant for lunch that offered wifi and used that to contact the owner of the apartment who met me at the door. Prague was easy until the walk to the apartment. Both my friend and I came into the city via train, there was a main office across the street from the station where we picked up the keys and then dragged everything to the apartment. None of these were bad ways to get access, but some were less convenient than others. Boston may have been the easiest however, the host mailed me the key, which I left in the kitchen when my stay was up.

Through my lessons, I now know to ask how I will get access before booking. Not that it would have stopped me from any of these locations (maybe Barcelona….) .

When searching my best advice is to put in everything you want. Dates, space, amenities, then dwindle from there. Do you not REALLY need the balcony? Or pool? Or extra bedroom? Make sure you put in the correct dates though because some places will book up and you’ll be super disappointed when you see something and can’t have it.

After all is said and done, I love traveling with it. I’ve always meandered through cities wondering what the inside of homes look like, now I can say I’ve stayed there. As a host, I have had the privilege of meeting some very nice, albeit strange, people from all walks of life. A 70 year old woman from Louisiana, a 30 year old man from Bulgaria, even a 21 year old couple from middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. AirBnB allows you to immerse yourself into a culture and an atmosphere, and that’s something I think we could all use a little more of.

Published by Emily Kelly