Almost 2 years ago, we stored all our furnishings in Cuenca, Ecuador, and began traveling full-time. By the end of 2022, we’ll have visited 23 cities in 10 countries.
You might be thinking, “Gosh, those two must be fabulously wealthy!” Not even close. Believe it or not, we’re doing all this on our Social Security income.
To keep within our budget, we most often book private rooms through Airbnb. Perhaps you always stay in an entire place and aren’t aware this option exists.
To access it, first enter your location and dates, then click on the “Filters” tab.
Next, choose “private room” and begin combing through different properties for the one that best suits your needs. Use of the kitchen and common area is included. Your bathroom may be private or shared.
We’re always looking for a queen or king bed (Edd is 6’3”) and proximity to a grocery store, restaurants, and public transportation. A private bath and access to a washer and dryer score extra brownie points.
Our preference is to book private rooms in a property owned by a remote host. However, sometimes the combination of cost and availability necessitates staying in an extra bedroom in someone’s private residence.
Remote Host Vs. Staying In Someone’s Home
Since we typically stay in a location for a minimum of 2 weeks, our schedule is much different from most travelers who are in town for a shorter amount of time.
When we’ve been in a place with a remote host, we’ve gotten to briefly meet many interesting people from all over the world. But since we’re taking our time while our housemates are usually out early cramming as many activities into their short visit as possible, there has rarely been an issue with using the shared facilities, even the bathroom.
While not our first choice, staying in another person’s home can be a positive experience for two reasons: 1.) Your host has a wealth of “insider intel” about the area, and 2.) Anything that goes wrong will be quickly addressed because it’s the host’s problem as well as yours.
On the other hand, you’re parachuting into someone else’s world. While you know in advance what the place looks like from the photos on their Airbnb listing, you never know the habits and lifestyle of your host until you walk through the front door.
Is one better than the other? The answer is, It depends. Here are some of our most unexpected Airbnb experiences in both settings.
1. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
Have you vacationed in Tulum, Mexico? Picture blue skies, crystal clear water, powdery white sand, and upscale hotels and resorts.
That’s not where we stayed. We were in the backpacker town several miles away from the hotel zone where expats actually live and, boy, the Tulum we experienced was an eye-opener.
As opposed to the yoga studios, high-end boutiques, and fancy eateries along the beach, the town’s primary street is lined with souvenir shops, tequila stores, and modest restaurants.
Our Airbnb was in a gritty neighborhood a couple of blocks from the main drag. It was rustic but comfortable with AC and a private bath.
Until it wasn’t…
After a torrential downpour, we woke up in the middle of the night pouring sweat. Oh no, the power had gone out.
Having no idea how long this misery would last (it ended up being 15 hours!), the following morning we got resourceful and decided this was the perfect time to officially declare ourselves “digital nomads.”
We grabbed our computers, walked into town, and set up shop in a trendy cafe right alongside the coffee-sipping youngsters half our age.
2. Right Place At The Right Time
We were getting worried. Lake Chapala was to be our last stop of a 2.5-month adventure in Mexico. But as we traveled through the country, we kept looking at the Airbnb website for suitable accommodations without success.
One night, an amazing property popped up within our budget and we immediately booked it. When we met our hosts we learned that the couple were the new owners of this duplex property, and we were their very first guests. Our upstairs unit was not just a room — it was a beautifully decorated apartment overlooking a lovely pool!
During dinner the wife made and shared with us one evening, her husband told a story that solved a mystery. Seems when he was creating their Airbnb page he accidentally listed the property as a private room before realizing his error and changing it to an entire place.
It was during that brief time we were fortunate to be online to reserve it. Had he not made a mistake, we would have never known the place existed.
3. Two’s Company, Five’s Crowded
Our host in Mérida, Mexico, greets us warmly and shows us our room, which is right next to the entrance. It looks just like the photos. Big bed, 20’ ceilings, air-conditioning. Great!
She takes us through the rest of the house, and we quickly realize something individual pics normally don’t show — the overall layout. It’s like a bowling alley — long and narrow with the only bathroom all the way in the back.
This means we’ll have to walk through the entire living space every time nature calls or we want to shower.
Then we meet the rest of the family — her husband, teenage son, and chihuahua (which wasn’t mentioned in the description).
After the first few days of a 2-week stay we discover:
- Mérida is incredibly hot and humid, but small AC units are only in the bedrooms.
- This household never sleeps. Dad rises super early, Mom appears later, and the boy stays up every night playing video games until who knows when. Since the common areas are continuously occupied, we have no privacy except when sequestered in our bedroom.
- With five people using one tiny bathroom, you almost have to make an appointment.
You’re probably wondering, “Why didn’t you just leave?” The truth is, we should have. But understand we were brand new at all this, wanted it to work so much, and didn’t really understand our options.
Like getting Airbnb involved. More on that later.
4. In The Doghouse
Honestly, everything was great about our stay in Bordeaux, France. Our host was extremely kind, insisting on picking us up at the bus stop when we arrived so we wouldn’t get lost and taking us to the train station when we left.
The room and bath offered privacy from the rest of the apartment, and we enjoyed her plant-filled terrace overlooking the Bordeaux skyline.
Helene had a friend who came over regularly with her big golden retriever. After several visits, we apparently gained her trust and friendship, because one day the two of them announced they were off on an outing, and she asked if we’d mind watching her dog while they were gone.
Uh — sure.
We’ve read stories about Airbnb hosts asking guests to do chores, but dog sitting may be a first.
5. No Room At The Inn
Sometimes you can just feel it. The neighborhood looked a bit sketchy from the backseat of our Uber ride on the way to our Airbnb in Madrid, Spain.
The guy with a giant pet rat on his shoulder who let us in the building should have been a dead giveaway.
We walk into the apartment and — oh, my. Our host is a hoarder.
She tells us she has lived here for over 30 years, and it looks like she has never thrown away anything. Our bedroom and private bath are fine. But the rest of the place is a disaster.
Who-knows-what is piled everywhere. Drawers are so stuffed with, well, stuff that they can barely be opened. There’s literally nowhere to sit in this large apartment except a little breakfast table.
We’d gotten much more road savvy since Mérida, and we decided we were not staying in this place. Edd immediately contacted Airbnb, sent them pics, and basically said, “Get us out of here!”
Happy to report a representative was quick to respond and agreed that our accommodations were unacceptable. He sent other possibilities in our price range, refunded our payment, and issued a generous credit for a future stay.
We had to spend two uncomfortable nights there before using the credit to uplevel into a lovely studio apartment conveniently located in the city.
- Use Airbnb filters to zero in on the features that are important to you. In addition to the type of place, you can select everything from the price to a barbecue grill.
- Even if your potential host is remote, always send a message before booking and ask about something. Anything. The speed and tone of the response will give you valuable clues about what to expect once you are there.
- If you’re considering staying in someone’s home, ask how long the host has lived there. If it’s a long time, know that you’ll suddenly be in the orbit of someone with a very engrained routine.
- Airbnb has a special site for stays of a month or more. Discounts can be substantial, but, especially if the place you’re interested in has an empty calendar, don’t be shy about asking for an even better price.
- Contact Airbnb immediately if the listing you booked was substantially misrepresented. Be prepared to offer photographic evidence of your grievance. They want guests to be happy and will try to rectify an unsatisfactory situation.