We’ve all been there: you’re planning a vacation – excited to be getting away – and then you start searching for a hotel to stay in. That can’t be the price, right? No minibar?! Pool/Resort fees extra?! Inflexible check-in and check-out times?! There’s got to be a better way without completely blowing your budget. Well, there is.
The revelation came one day when I found an obscenely cheap flight out to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. I was ready to cash in on this deal when I started looking at hotel rooms. There was next to nothing that wouldn’t completely blow the savings from my flight, and what was were in neighborhoods that I’m willing to walk through (during daylight hours), but not sleep in. So on a whim I checked out AirBNB, a site where homeowners post their own homes/apts/etc and income properties available for rent to travelers like myself. I was able to score a beautiful one bedroom in the Mission district with bay views for less than a cramped, anonymous hotel room would have cost. And with my own kitchen and all the amenities of home, I saved even more money through being able to cook for myself when I felt like it. It was an epiphany.
Though once the provenance of the more adventurous traveler, sites like AirBNB and VRBO have gone mainstream, with hundreds of thousands of listings in nearly every conceivable country. Places range from palatial (seriously, homes the size of hotels) in Montana and Miami to a quaint vintage Airstream trailer in urban Austin. The homeowners that post provide a huge array of information about the spaces and about themselves, so you can feel confident in forking over your hard-earned dollars in the exchange. On top of this, many homeowners take a huge amount of pride in their rentals, so it’s not uncommon to find a six-pack of local brew waiting in the fridge or a list of great local hotspots from actual(!) locals. Users post lengthy and informative reviews and any less-than-stellar places are either clearly marked or taken off the site entirely by administrators.
5 Bedroom Log Cabin, Big Sky, Montana. $540-1200/night. VRBO.com.
Still unsure about the concept? Here are a few tips for beginners to make the process as painless as possible.
Services like this tend to work best in major cities (where hotel prices are in the stratosphere), or places where hotels basically don’t exist. Middle-market cities still have gems to be found, but the offerings (for now) will be slim.
1 Bedroom Flat, Paris, France. $185/night. AirBNB.com
Dreaming of renting an ‘authentic’ hillside home in the working class neighborhoods of Mexico City? Think again. Hotels in more dangerous regions offer a much higher element of protection for travelers. It doesn’t pay to be hardcore when you turn a corner into a slum you didn’t know was there and can’t Google your way out.
Unlike a hotel, this market lives for negotiation. Most people renting their places would rather take $800 for a week than nothing at all, or meet you in the middle when it comes to check-in or check-out times. Just don’t be a bully about it.
2 Bedroom, Miami Beach, Florida. $269/night. AirBNB.com
Bring a buddy or 12:
The best deals to be had on these sites are on large places in unique locations that are much harder to rent out economically. Do some research ahead of time on a place and a house and then blow your friends away when you pitch it to them with a price that’s lower per-person than an airport Marriott.
All in all, it’s a renters market out there. You no longer have to suffer through half-cleaned rooms or a lack of amenities (or amenities that nickel-and-dime you to death). Just try to resist the desire to book the first amazing and affordable place you find. Trust us, there are plenty of fish in this vacation sea. Happy hunting.