Like Uber and Lyft, Airbnb offers an alternative for those of us who love to travel but can’t afford the rising cost of hotels and resorts.
In fact, my fondest travel memories come from non-traditional accommodations. I once used helpx.net to stay for free in exchange for working in a cafe and bookstore on a small island off County Kerry, Ireland.
People asked me often how I manage to make these things work with mounds of student loans looming over my life every second of the day. I’m willing to give up the comforts of a plush bed with room service and get to meet other travelers and go off the traditional tourism path.
So finding Airbnb was fate. Instead of resort fees and fancy restaurants, you rent a room with a local family or you may rent an entire furnished place. Some places offer free breakfast (vegan and vegetarian options might be available) or tips, maps, and laundry services.
The app and website are easy to search. You can narrow your search using filters based on price, # of beds, # of rooms, or limit your search to entire places for rent (those usually cost more). The best feature on the website and app is that you can go to the map view and move around on the map to limit your results. This means you might not like the options in your first search, but you can drag the map and find new areas and places to stay that might be a mile outside of your original source.
I’ve used Airbnb on three occasions. I’m going to compare price options and share a little about my experiences. However, I won’t share contact details or addresses to respect privacy of my hosts who have all provided great experiences.
When we began to look at places to stay in Memphis, I was surprised at the cost. Most hotels were $120 to $200 or more plus $20 to park everyday. We only needed three or four nights, but we were on a tight budget regardless. We wanted to be close to downtown Memphis and Beale Street, but we didn’t want to worry constantly about parking.
So we decided to check Airbnb. We opted to stay outside of downtown Memphis but didn’t want to go far. We were within eight miles of Beale Street and the main attractions and paid about $55 per night with all fees included. We were treated everyday with a delicious vegetarian breakfast, other travelers to chat with, and a nice place to stay in a more residential area.
At the end of the trip, we were quite happy with our decision to use Airbnb. In fact, we were pretty sure that staying at hotels would be out of the question for a long while. One year later…
Miami Beach, FL
While planning a trip to the Florida Keys, we had a later flight and realized that our drive to the keys would be dark if we went straight from the airport. So we decided to split our days between the Keys and Miami. Although I had traveled a lot to Miami and the fiance has been there too, there were still things I wanted to check out.
Our criteria for finding a place includes wanting to be within walking distance to the beach, be able to park our rental car near our sleeping spot, have restaurants within walking distance, and a bed to crash on!
South Beach sounded ideal except we weren’t interested in partying at night clubs and being around drunk tourists. So we looked a little north to Miami Beach. Still right on the beachfront, still part of Miami, but with more residential and local populations.
Searching hotels on Miami Beach will get you prices from $139 to $379 per night (average $213 according to Expedia). That doesn’t include the cost of parking or potential resort fees (make sure you watch for lose especially in Vegas or at beach resorts). Now Airbnb will have prices in that range and above if you wanted to pay that much.
We ended up booking a room for $168 for two nights (or $84 per night) including all fees. Personally, this was a great compromise. We were able to park in the area, walk to the beach and restaurants, and we still had access to Miami area attractions (the traffic is another story, however).
So we left Miami Beach, and we headed to the Florida Keys. If I was shocked at the hotel prices in the Miami area, then I wasn’t prepared to learn how much a hotel in Key West wants to charge! Hotels run between $120 and $605 a night (with an average of $213 per night).
The cheaper hotels are more motels without beachfront access and are older places that have some questionable reviews and feedback. Then if you do the research, you’ll find out that Key West isn’t great for beaches. They have them, but they are small, man-made beaches. There are bigger beaches on Lake Michigan in Chicago.
So we decided to stay within 30 minutes of Key West but near Bahia Honda State Park. This allowed us to spend a day in Key West, a day at the state park, and on the drive down, we stopped to snorkel in one of the upper keys.
If you wanted to spend your entire time in Key West but book on Airbnb, I’d suggest booking early to get a good price. We were looking at places for a while, but by the time we were ready to book, the places in Key West were out of our budget.
Staying 30 minutes north of Key West, we paid around $320 for three nights including all fees. We had a private room to ourselves and access to a backyard pool which made for nice late night conversation and hanging out.
Again, I am avoiding revealing too much information to respect my hosts’ privacy. So any pictures here are just screen shots of searches done on my phone. I did not stay at any of those listings, they are for demonstration purposes only.
One concern people have when I recommend Airbnb is what if the host is a crazy person? Well, guests leave reviews and feedback for their hosts. The host doesn’t get paid until after you check out and leave, assuming there are no complaints or major issues.
From the three experiences we have had on Airbnb, I feel pretty comfortable recommending the website. Next year, I’d like to use our points and fly to Jamaica. I’m already scouting the great listings on Airbnb in hopes of a good deal!
If you missed my previous post, I also reviewed the Key Lime Pie slices while in the Florida Keys. Check it out! What apps and websites do you use for travel planning? Leave a comment because I’m a travel enthusiast, always looking for the next adventure.