Love affairs can be intense. They can be fulfilling (in more ways that one), heart-breaking, country-song-inspiring, appetite-suppressing, completely and totally engrossing. Love affairs can also be quiet, satisfying, romantic and provide much needed comfort and support.
When AirBNB first showed up on the scene, I was skeptical, not sure I was the right person for this kind of romance. But much like how Lyft and Uber seduced me, AirBNB has shown me and my family a whole new world, changing how we travel. I’ve fallen hard for the accommodation site, usually opting to rent an apartment over staying in a hotel. After staying in more than a dozen AirBNBs, I no longer think it’s just an infatuation. This love affair might be the real deal.
(To date, I’ve stayed in 14, Justin 11, and we already have three more lined up for this summer. We will continue to detail our experiences here on the blog.)
Below, I’ve recounted our experiences with AirBNB, from the beginning, rating each one on location, communication with the host, overall quality of the rental, and an overall grade. One thing to note: we always search for “entire home” listings, meaning we get to rent the entire property and not share with the hosts.
Cincinnati, May 2013: Our first experience with AirBNB
Justin and I celebrated our fourth dating anniversary with a long weekend in Cincinnati. We’d heard the zoo was worth-while, and wanted to check out the original Jungle Jim’s. Justin had also never been to an IKEA, which we had to rectify. Finances were tight at the time, so I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to try out this new-fangled way of travel. We found a place, exchanged lots of messages with the host, and made our way to a city that was new to both of us.
The neighborhood was slightly run-down, so initially we were concerned. Was it safe? And even though the cul-de-sac where the home was located was full of rough-looking rental properties, it was quiet and full of families. The house was charming and spacious, and after settling in we felt totally comfortable. Driving around the city (and getting lost on the way to the zoo), we learned that a LOT of Cincinnati looks like that, beat up by the weather and not properly taken care of. It might be rough around the edges, but we had a lovely time and smooth rental experience. I would rent from this host again.
Location: B- // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A- // Final Grade: B
Chicago, August 2014: Traveling with family
We road-tripped to Chicago with my best friend and my mother to attend the wedding of one of my college besties. We needed a place big enough for four adults that gave us all a modicum of privacy, and we wanted to be in a safe, fun neighborhood since Chicago was new to three of us.
We found an awesome, sunny 2 bed, 2 bath in Logan Square that gave us all comfortable places to sleep and plenty of room for our stuff. The location was convenient, and with 4 people splitting the cost of $179/night, you couldn’t really ask for more bang for your buck.
One downside: No coffee pot, and the place had not been deep-cleaned in a while so my mother spent part of the time wiping down the dusty counters and bathroom baseboards. (Not what you’re supposed to do on vacation but it made her feel more comfortable!)
Location: A // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: B // Final Grade: B+
Nashville, Sept 2014: Mini-Moon
We got married at the end of September but couldn’t go on our honeymoon until the following spring. We knew we’d need some downtime after the weekend of celebration, so we opted for a mini-moon staycation: we found an adorable apartment in the Belmont area, walking distance to 8th S and 12th S , and a $5 Uber from downtown. Aside from an hour of panic when I drunkenly lost my phone, this was the perfect getaway. Smooth sailing from start to finish. I only wish we could have stayed longer!
Location: A // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A // Final Grade: A
Orlando, October 2014: Work Trip with my Dad
Working for my dad’s company means I sometimes travel with him. We’ve gotten pretty good about traveling together, and he’s very considerate of the fact that he snores like a freight train, so he always gets us 2 hotel rooms or a 2 bedroom apartment.
We attended a conference in Orlando for work, and since we were not going to pay Disney prices to stay at the conference hotel, he booked us an apartment 1 mile down the road. No frills, very basic, furnished with hotel furniture and decor, but clean and spacious. It got the job done and was affordable.
Location: A // Communication: B // Quality of Accommodation: B // Final Grade: B+
Kailua, April 2015: Honeymoon Part 1
Our two-week honeymoon was the best trip either of us has ever taken. 1 day in San Francisco, 2 nights on Oahu visiting my Aunt Leigh, 7 nights on the Big Island in a condo generously loaned to us as a wedding present by family friends, and 2 more nights in San Fran. Since my Aunt lives in a studio, there was no way we’d be staying with her! Not on our honeymoon! 😉 But we managed to find a beautiful studio on the SAME STREET that was stocked with snacks, coffee, a washer and dryer. The only downside: super slow wifi, but since we were there to see stuff and vacate, we didn’t really need it.
This one was different from others we’d rented since it was attached to the hosts’ home, like an in-law suite. We never met the hosts in person but it never felt weird going in and out of our private entrance. I’d rent this place again in a heartbeat.
Location: A // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A- // Final Grade: A
San Francisco, April 2015: Honeymoon Part 2
More and more, I’ve been noticing commercial properties popping up in the AirBNB listings. Usually they’re independently-owned B&Bs or family-owned hotels, and here they’ve found an easy way to reach new customers. Since San Francisco is the most expensive city in America, finding a quality, affordable AirBNB for the last 2 nights of our Honeymoon was tough. I knew we’d be spending quite a bit on food and drink, and didn’t want to use up all our funds on accommodations. So I found an established, family-owned motel in Pacific Heights.
Decent location. Inexpensive. But this might be one of the worst experiences we’ve had. We arrived before our official Check-In time. We asked if we could just leave our bags so we could start exploring the city. They opened a room for us that hadn’t been cleaned yet but we didn’t care. Justin just wanted to take a shower and I wanted a safe place for our bags. But when he tried taking a shower, the water was freezing. He threw on clean clothes, we complained about the water, they said it would be fixed, and we left. When we came back 10+ hours later, we’d already gotten into a stupid (alcohol-fueled) fight, were tired, and just wanted to shower. When Justin stepped into another freezing cold shower, he lost it. A missing phone charger, a dumped purse, an entire bag of pretzels, and finally I go to the front desk asking for them to switch us to a new room. The new room had hot water, and crazy thin walls.
Now, the bad experience is not entirely the motel’s fault, and I don’t really consider a motel to be a true AirBNB experience, so we didn’t let this one anomaly end a budding relationship.
Location: B+ // Communication: B // Quality of Accommodation: C- // Final Grade: C
Atlanta, May 2015: Attending a Conference
I had the opportunity to attend the Digital Summit and needed a place to stay that was near the convention center. Hotels in that area were too expensive to justify work paying for it, so I found an apartment that was a 7-minute drive to the conference. It was perfect. Spacious, fast wi-fi, a kitchen stocked with tea, coffee and snacks, a bathroom stocked with essentials in case I forgot any. The host was super easy to communicate with. I would stay there again if I needed to be near that particular area of north Atlanta.
Location: A // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A // Final Grade: A
Omaha, July 2015: Family trip to the Zoo
Justin’s entire family lives around the Sioux Falls area. Often, it’s more affordable to fly Southwest into Omaha (or Minneapolis) and drive into Sioux Falls rather than fly directly to their regional airport.
This time, we decided to stay overnight in Omaha so we could go to their zoo. His older brother’s family drove down to meet us the night we arrived, and we decided a 3 bedroom apartment would be more affordable than 2 hotel rooms. The AirBNB selection in Omaha was not vast, and the one we ended up with left us disappointed. The neighborhood looked a little rough (which didn’t bother us too much), and the apartment was very sparse with no welcome book or instruction manual, as is customary. It took us forever to find extra towels and toilet paper. There was exactly one couch and no chairs in the living room, so we stood around talking to one another. And there were bugs in our bed. Literal bed bugs.
This was one of the least-cared for properties I’ve ever seen — nothing was stocked in the kitchen, the decor was minimal and lazy, there was no wi-fi, and not having a “Welcome” book of any kind is bad customer service. The communication prior to the trip was all done with a friend of the host since the host was off in Venezuela; the communication was polite but short, and I never did hear back from the host after leaving an honest review.
Location: C // Communication: C- // Quality of Accommodation: D- // Final Grade: D
Atlanta, September 2015: Anniversary Celebration
I was going to be out of town for a work trip (see below) for our actual anniversary so we decided to celebrate the weekend before… when I also happened to be out of town for another work trip. 🙂 Luckily, I was in Atlanta, a place we’d been wanting to explore together, so Justin drove down on Friday to pick me up from the conference and took me to our AirBNB, a lovely, bright, airy Buckhead apartment.
There was definite confusion when it came to our arrival and parking situation — the apartment building doesn’t allow short-term rentals (which might be why I can’t find the listing any longer), so we had to enter through the back entrance, and park in some specifically designated spots. We misunderstood the parking instructions and Justin had to race back to the apartment mid-way through lunch to move the car before it got towed. But aside from that, the apartment itself was delightful and in a safe, perfect location.
Location: A // Communication: B // Quality of Accommodation: B+ // Final Grade: B+
Louisville, September 2015: Conference with Co-workers
With four people scheduled to attend a conference, there was no way my dad wanted to pay for 2+ hotel rooms for 4 nights. So he found a gorgeous 100-year-old 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment about 1 mile from the conference. One of my co-workers ended up not being able to attend, so no one had to sleep on the couch. The beds were insanely comfortable, the rooms spacious and bright. It was a $5 Uber ride to the conference. He said he’d rent the same place next time we go to this conference.
Location: A // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A+ // Final Grade: A
Greenwich Village, NYC, October 2015: Family Trip
I hadn’t gone on a family trip, just the four Schwartaus without my brother’s or my significant other in……well, I can’t actually remember the last time. So getting the chance to visit my dad’s hometown with my immediate family was a treat. We spend the first night in a hotel suite in White Plains, where we attended the bar mitzvah of my dad’s best friend’s son, before heading over to a 2 bedroom first-floor apartment in the Village, mere blocks from where my dad grew up. The door handle was wonky (we all thought it was about to break), and there wasn’t a ton of space for four people; I would have chosen a place with 2 bathrooms and where my brother and I wouldn’t have to share a bed, but in this case the location was more important than anything and my dad couldn’t have found a better location.
Location: A+ // Communication: B+ // Quality of Accommodation: B+ // Final Grade: A-
New Orleans, November 2015: Friendsgiving
Opting to abandon our family on Thanksgiving, we went with three friends to New Orleans, which was new to four of the five of us. We needed to find 3 beds, 2 baths for 4 nights for a total of $1000 or less. And we wanted to be in an area of town that would be walkable. Not a short order, let me tell you. The first two places we found fell through, and one got cancelled entirely, leaving me to scramble to find a place a couple months before a major holiday. But I did find one, maxing out our budget, but it was fantastic! 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen big enough to cook in and a large open living area. This was my first experience sleeping on a Casper mattress, and it was so amazing that we bought one when we got home. The view left a lot to be desired, and the apartment had a musty smell about it, but the host met us in person (the first time that’s ever happened for us!) and showed us around the apartment and how to use stuff. Great location, good price. I’m surprised I can’t find the listing anymore.
Location: A- // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: B+ // Final Grade: A-
San Juan, February 2016: Vacation
When Southwest announced they offered flights to the Caribbean, I jumped on their low fares and booked us flights to escape the inevitable grey, wet February weather. We knew little about Puerto Rico but it didn’t matter; it was going to be warm. And after a crazy work project in January, I needed time away.
The AirBNB was simple, no frills but with wifi, hot water, AC in the bedroom and enough space for us. The concrete floors meant our feet were dirty all the time (I suggested they bring in some rugs), and the kitchenette left a lot to be desired (we actually bought some extra cups since there weren’t enough). But the host was friendly and mostly good with the communication (with four other properties, I got the impression that he was a bit overwhelmed), had his friend greet us personally. There was a shortage of towels (that got rectified the second to last day) and it took us a minute to figure out the door lock. But all of the negatives fell to the wayside because of the location. 5 minute walk to the beach. 5 restaurants steps from the apartment. And the Ocean Park neighborhood was safe and offered us a lot to see and taste.
Location: A+ // Communication: B- // Quality of Accommodation: B // Final Grade: B+
St. Petersburg, April 2016: Best friend’s sister’s wedding.
We needed a place that was near the wedding venue (Sunken Gardens) and near the main drag of downtown St. Pete for the after-party so we could stumble home easily. The location of this place could not have been better, the upstairs apartment of a cute little house in the parking lot of the Hollander hotel. Though the street was really loud, the hosts thoughtfully provided earplugs which did the trick! We met the hosts the first night on our way walking back from dinner, and they were just a delight; they introduced us to their dog, Cupid, and their indoor-outdoor cat, Richard Parker, who was such a lover! He joined us in our apartment the next day for several hours giving us snuggles and purrs. I wish every AirBNB came with a cat. I would definitely rent from these people again.
Location: A+ // Communication: A // Quality of Accommodation: A // Final Grade: A
Tips for First Time AirBNB Users:
- Search using “Entire Home” to ensure more privacy. This will cost more but the chances for awkward situations diminishes greatly.
- Search with specific dates, if you can.
- Move the map around and zoom in; search results change as the map does.
- Read the description. Don’t choose a place with few details; if the host can’t take the time to fill out a detailed profile and description, then do you think they’re going to put more effort into their actual property?
- Book a place that has a LOT of reviews. This means the host has experience and is not just some Joe Schmo renting out the basement in his house for the weekend.
- Read the reviews. People are honest in their AirBNB reviews, and hosts often respond to any complaints or negative comments. You can learn a lot about a place, the neighborhood and the host by reading the reviews.
- Don’t expect hotel cleanliness. 90% of the time, your AirBNB will be cleaner than your house is at the moment, but there might be some dust on the baseboards or a musty smell in the closet.
- Be respectful. While it is common for folks to buy places with the specific intention of renting them out, you must remember that many people rent out their actual domiciles. The books on the shelves are theirs; the clothes in the closet, they wear. And while AirBNB insures their hosts’ property, the hosts are not multi-million dollar hotel owners. Don’t trash their stuff. Treat the home with respect, better than you would treat your own.
- Leave honest feedback for your host. The sharing economy is based on community interaction. The only way for hosts to get better is to know what you liked and what could be improved. The feedback form provided by AirBNB gives you the opportunity to leave public feedback, private feedback only for the host, and private feedback only for AirBNB. Take advantage of it!
- Be adventurous! Unless you’re paying for a luxury apartment, you’re not going to get luxury accommodations, concierge service, or daily maid service. Remember that, aside from having more privacy and getting more space for your dollar, part of the appeal of using AirBNB is being among the people. You aren’t isolated in the world of the hotel, you don’t have to pass through a lobby to enter the real world. You won’t be catered to; instead, you have to cater to yourself. Walk down the street to the local bodega, hit up the loud locals’ bar on the corner, or hop on the subway instead of taking an Uber. Getting the most out of an AirBNB experience requires you to be bold, a little bit daring, and willing to try something new.
If you want to try it out, use this link to book your first AirBNB: www.airbnb.com/c/aschwartau?s=8