Airbnb is great in theory: stay in someone’s luxurious home for a price half that of the local low-end hotel. I was grateful for it when I needed somewhere to stay while I was looking for an apartment and didn’t want to impose on friends for too long, and I admit the potential for some affordably awesome experiential travel through the site. That being said, I also see how booking services like Airbnb might fuel the housing crisis in desirable cities. Plenty of these accommodations are not part of someone’s home but have been bought exclusively for use as overpriced short-term rentals, which are governed by fewer of the regulations faced by hotels and skirt the demands and profit limitations posed by long-term tenants. I believe Airbnb should be more strictly regulated and wish tourists would think more carefully when booking. The cynic in me thinks people probably won’t be critical of Airbnb unless it affects their own housing market and they start getting priced out of their own cities.
Affordable housing issues aside, there’s also a kind of unpredictability inherent to staying in many Airbnbs that I find annoying. Normally I enjoy unpredictability, and don’t like to plan my travels too carefully. This preference only holds, though, when I have the flexibility to make last-minute changes. Airbnb involves other people to an extent that can make adaptation difficult. You can’t easily skedaddle if you’re worried about insulting someone whose favorite hobby is to watch their Airbnb guests sleep, or if you need to make sure you get a deposit back, or even if you’ve got to consider the logistics of returning keys. For those who enjoy the social element of crashing with strangers, Airbnb tends to be less personal than Couchsurfing. It’s a business transaction, minus the convenience of the customer service available to you at more “official” accommodation.
Still, if you put the image of the pinkish Airbnb monster gorging on affordable housing out of your mind and just think about it in its most idealistic form– people with extra space and a desire to pad their income connecting with people looking for someplace interesting and relatively cheap to stay– it’s obviously a nice travel tool. Airbnb also helps fuel the competition between hotels in popular destinations, which makes last-minute deals at nice, centrally-located hotels and B&Bs easier to snag (for example, on booking.com). And, perhaps because they recognize a trending preference for a more personal experience, some of these more traditional accommodations have begun to offer free daily drink/appetizer socials. I like when social interaction with strangers is facilitated but not obligatory.
When it comes to this kind of casually personal, social experience, though, hostels are still tough to beat. The hostel remains the real oddball of the accommodation scene, as far as my friends and acquaintances are concerned, because none of them seems to realize just how great it can be to stay in one (even if, like me, you are on the older side of the stereotypical hostel demographic). I’ll admit that in the last couple of years my comfort level with “party hostels” has plummeted, and I now gladly pay a little more to avoid having to sleep in a 20-person dorm room/buffet of disgusting and socially inappropriate human behavior. In fact, “boutique” (here used about as obnoxiously as “artisanal,” to denote a higher-end feel in lieu of the historically more institutional, no-frills vibed) hostels have all the character and cross-cultural potential of an Airbnb but with the added customer service convenience of a hotel. Some hostels have an age limit (minimum and/or maximum), but this is becoming less common, and many offer everything from completely private rooms to massive bunkbed-filled people-storage-warehouses. I’ve crossed paths with too many interesting people to count and even begun real, long-term friendships at hostels. It saddens me to notice that people seem increasingly insular in hostel common areas, spaces once so conducive to conversation and connection between travelers, because they’ve got their faces buried in their phones.
Notwithstanding phone isolation frustration, I personally prefer a unique or family-run hotel or a higher-end hostel to an Airbnb, especially when there is little to no price difference. In my next post, I’ll reminisce about some of the best places I’ve stayed. Maybe you can go and check up on them for me! And in the meantime, please be discerning when Airbnb-ing; think about how you would feel if you were looking for an apartment and realized $200/night Airbnbs were making it impossible to find something affordable.