For the 50+ Traveler

In 2018, Airbnb announced that people over 60 had overtaken millennials as their fastest-growing demographic of users. Many boomers are in tune with Airbnb’s philosophy “to create a world in which anyone can belong anywhere.” Such travelers crave authentic experiences that put them in contact with locals rather than chain-style, cookie-cutter hotels.

For those boomers who have not yet tried Airbnb, here are some reasons these less traditional accommodations are worth considering.

1. You Can Travel More For Less

Airbnbs are generally more affordable than hotels and offer discounts on weekly and monthly stays, meaning that boomers can travel longer for less. Imagine living in a Parisian apartment for a few weeks with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and mornings spent strolling alongside the Seine before sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe, rather than a whirlwind weekend in Paris where you only get to photo-bomb the Eiffel Tower and queue for the Mona Lisa.

Airbnbs also multiply your travel options. My last Airbnb was in Hawaii, where I was breaking a 17-hour flight to Australia from the United States. I could have flown straight through, but Airbnb listed a private poolside cabana with exclusive use of the pool and magnificent views over Honolulu’s skyline for only $100 a night, so a stopover made perfect sense. Booking the two legs as separate trips also saved money on the overall flight.

2. The Prices Are Transparent

With Airbnb, you normally pay a tax plus a one-time cleaning fee. Hotel payments, particularly in some parts of the U.S., are not as clear cut. You might think that you’ve bagged a good price, but when you arrive, you discover additional taxes, resort fees, and hefty parking costs. Ouch!

The writer's Airbnb in Edinburgh, Scotland.

3. You’ve Got Options

Airbnb began in 2002 when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia offered air-mattress stays in their San Francisco apartment during a conference -- hence the company’s name, Airbnb. What started as a couple of young men trying to pay the rent grew into a $31 billion dollar business.

Some boomers assume that Airbnb always involves sharing spaces, but that’s not true. These days, Airbnb lists everything from city apartments with fully equipped kitchens and washing machines to entire homes perfect for multigenerational stays. They recently introduced Airbnb Luxe, offering high-end villas and vacation homes with top-tier services including private chefs. And for those who still love hotels, Airbnb lists unique rooms in boutique hotels.

If you do choose a shared accommodation, many are still quite private. You can book a room with an ensuite bathroom, a separate floor in a multilevel home, a basement apartment with its own entrance, a cottage on a larger estate, a backyard Airstream, or even a moored yacht.

4. Airbnbs Can Be Sanctuaries

In the post-coronavirus world, some wish to continue social distancing measures, and Airbnb offers private lodgings including a huge number of apartments with keypad entry. In these, you won’t be brushing up against other guests in hotel corridors or touching a doorman’s hand as you tip. For complete sanctuary, you can even book a private island!

5. You’ll Have Genuine Interactions

Personally, I choose places where I will meet my host. Airbnb attracts creative people with a flair for homemaking and decorating who love to travel and enjoy hosting those who share their love for exploring the world. And more and more seniors are hosting, especially women. As a solo traveler, I relish the engaging conversations I have had with such women. Some I remain in contact with years later.

Even the young couple I stayed with in Bletchley in the United Kingdom asked me to join them for their evening meal. They were Sikhs, and the Indian food was amazing, so I think the cultural exchange was very much in my favor.

The writer's Airbnb in Victoria, British Columbia.

6. You’ll Get Local Tips

Hotel concierges often have a vested interest in promoting hotel restaurants or expensive day tours. Airbnb hosts recommend places they frequent themselves. Most hosts leave lists, but the best hosts tailor their recommendations to your needs.

My host in Victoria, British Columbia, jotted down the name of the only coffee shop he knew might suit my tastes. “You’re from Melbourne,” he said. “I’ve been there, and I know how obsessed you all are with your coffee.”

7. You’ll Get To Live Like A Local

One of the best aspects of the Airbnb experience is that you get to live like a local. On a visit to New York, I stayed in a condominium in the vibrant East Village, a block away from the subway. There was a 24-hour doorman, and fellow residents included Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. While the room was New York snug, there was a rooftop with a deck, a pool, and a barbecue, and I wasn’t paying New York hotel prices as I had on the first night I arrived.

8. You Can Easily Pinpoint Your Perfect Stay

You can search the Airbnb site by dates, price range, and type of place you wish to book (entire place or private room). You can narrow your search further by ticking boxes for requirements such as no steps, a well-lit path, accessible parking, pets allowed, or an English-speaking host. There is not much that you need to leave to chance.

The writer's Airbnb in Edinburgh, Scotland.

9. There’s A Wishlist Feature

Many of us are dreaming about travel 24/7, but circumstances or restrictions have put those dreams on hold. The Wishlist feature on the Airbnb site is like a Pinterest board for travel junkies where you can gather appealing options for when the time is right. Go ahead and save one of Airbnb’s 1,400 listed castles, a treehouse, a yurt, a log cabin, a lighthouse, or even a windmill.

10. The Company Takes Care Of Its Guests

Many of us are reevaluating the companies we patronize based on how they treated us during the pandemic. Airbnb quickly established a blanket policy offering immediate refunds. I’d booked a five-day city apartment for my grown-up children who were coming over from the U.S. As things became increasingly uncertain, they canceled their trip. I contacted the host, and within 24 hours, I received an understanding message and a full credit back to my account. This was in stark contrast to a prepaid hotel stay I’d booked, which I could only rebook for a future date.

One of the Airbnb rooms the writer has stayed in.

11. Cleanliness Counts

Even when staying in five-star hotels in the coming months, many of us will be wiping down door handles and light switches just in case. So it’s reassuring that Airbnb has rolled out an enhanced cleaning initiative in the U.S. and is extending it to other countries. The initiative was developed with guidance from Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General, as well as companies that help set standards for cleanliness in the hospitality and medical hygiene industries. Recommendations cover cleaning supplies, sanitization techniques, and room-by-room instructions. Airbnbs strictly adhering to these protocols will be clearly listed. To keep up to date with guest protection measures, visit Airbnb’s website.

Tips For Booking An Airbnb You’re Sure To Love

In the early days, I made a few rookie mistakes when choosing Airbnbs, but these days I pretty much always have first-rate stays. Here are some tips for booking an Airbnb that will exceed your expectations.

Start early. Great Airbnbs book quickly, so book as early as you can.

Look for five-star ratings. Guests are not reviewing a chain hotel, but someone’s home, and if they’ve met the owner, they tend to be kinder. But even a 4.5-star average indicates that some guests have found a place wanting.

Note review lengths. Five-star reviews with one-word comments reveal little except that the stay met a guest’s requirements. Memorable stays and great hosts produce effusive, rave reviews.

Evaluate whether the negative reviews are fair. If you are not bringing your car, does it matter if someone else couldn’t find street parking? How fair is it to give a place a bad review because of the color of the sheets or the bad weather?

Read between the lines. Read the most recent reviews, but skim-read others, looking for repeated comments. Constant mentions of a noisy fridge might mean that the owner hasn’t bothered to fix it. Lots of guests mentioning that the place is on top of a hill may indicate that after a long day of sightseeing, you might find the hike up that hill taxing.

Message the host. A good host will answer 90 percent of messages within 24 hours.

Check the host’s profile. They often mention their profession or hobbies. These are indicators of whether this is someone you will like and whether their local tips will align with your values. Look for Superhosts, a coveted title given to great hosts.

Note whether breakfast is available. When a host offers a cooked breakfast, it tells you that they are someone who likes meeting their guests.

Note whether you’ll be checking in with a keypad. Keypads often indicate that the hosts won’t interact much with their guests. This may or may not suit you.

Double-check the location. Airbnb maps show the approximate location of a listing; you’ll receive the exact address after booking. Since location is so important, message the host for more precise details or use search terms such as “close to the Louvre” to weed out unsuitable options.

Consider suburbs. Downtown is often just a commercial center, whereas suburbs are where people live. But inner-ring suburbs from which you can walk to town are usually best. University districts offer good cafes, cheap restaurants, and frequent transport options. Locations farther out work if you have your own transportation or there are quick transport services. I was spoiled with my first Airbnb experience -- $60 a night and a 10-minute ride into central London.

Leave useful reviews. When you mention the great little cafe across the road or the pleasant walk through the nearby park, you pave the way for others to have great stays. Airbnb started as a sharing, caring community, and as boomer travelers, we can help keep it that way.