Thinking of Staying at an Airbnb? Here’s 5 Reasons We Loved It and 5 Reasons We Didn’t

The world is not made for odd numbers. Stop lights only really work well when the intersection can be cut evenly across, usually in fours but six will still work (at least it seems a tad bit less confusing than having no street directly across from you). Walk into any restaurant as a party of five and you’re either forced to squeeze into a table meant for four or spread out, awkwardly I might add, across a table meant for six. Conversations can be jumbled, lopsided and no longer linear. And managing to find acceptable hotel rooms without spending oodles of money? Forget about it.

Exploring Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

When we set out to book rooms for our trip to Scotland, we were faced with the dreaded you-have-one-too-many-people-in-your-family situation. We couldn’t book a suite, as they’d only allow those rooms to go to a family of four. We could have booked two rooms, but then they couldn’t guarantee them connecting. I cannot imagine how that would’ve worked out if my husband and I were each confined to separate rooms early in the evening, cowering in the dark, afraid of startling sleeping children. Being stuck with the lights off, locked alone in a cold bathroom, both to avoid the searching eyes of little people and prevent making any sort of creeping noise (even a slight sock-footed shuffle) sort of takes the lifeblood right out of traveling to a certain degree.

Sure, the hotel room itself may not be the main reason that we’re out of our usual digs. It may not be what calls  us to travel, but for this traveling tribe, it’s still an important part of the experience. The big one would prefer we just stay in hotels every day; in fact, the scent of a hotel may rank as one of her favorite smells (but they just don’t seem to sell that fragrance as a candle, I’ve checked).

So, back to Scotland. We were stuck. We couldn’t find a hotel room to fit our perfectly numbered, beautifully balanced, little family. At least not one that also didn’t cost us a painful amount of dollars or a ridiculous number of points.

The biggest two littles getting ready to check out Edinburgh Castle.

Enter the Airbnb. We’ve never done it. No matter how many times we’ve gone here or there, we just haven’t (again, one of those reasons is we have enough hotel points to spend our dying days living in a hotel—granted, it wouldn’t be a luxury hotel, but still…you get where I’m going here). But faced with the fact that we had just scored some super cheap tickets to Scotland, we kind of had to figure something out. So we started hunting. I mean, we’d heard of other people doing it. And liking it. But we just didn’t have the motivation to figure it out ourselves. Until Scotland made us. And I’d say we’re quite glad it did.

Wondering what we thought the good and the bad were? Here’s a tidy little list to let you know.

PROS

  • Ambiance: I’m not so sure why exactly, but staying in an apartment, surrounded by people who make the building and area their permanent home added a bit of authenticity to our experience in Edinburgh. We felt as though we had been immersed in the culture to some degree rather than just observers of the culture (and this comes from just staying in an apartment that was along one of the most touristy stretches of the city). We did laundry in the laundry room of an apartment building. The scent of dinners cooking wafted through the stairwell. When we walked in, people weren’t there to cater to us; they were just coexisting with us.

    Our tiniest little making himself at home in our Airbnb.
  • Rooms: Our down time, the time that we spent not exploring the alleyways and twists and turns of the city, was more relaxing in the Airbnb. The little people had places to stretch their legs and places to curl up with a book. The ambiance of the apartment was more relaxing than the fairly generic and sterile atmosphere of most hotels (I have nothing against tranquil, yet modern, nature scenes in cool blues and cheap frames flung over hotel beds, but still, they’re hardly warm in their feel). It was like we were supposed to be there rather than just a place we were wasting time in until we could leave. Being in an Airbnb felt good, comfortable; it felt lived in. But not in a they-forgot-to-clean-the-hair-out-of-the-shower gross kind of way; more like “homey”. I mean, no one wants their crisp hotel room to really feel that “lived in” but an Airbnb, sure.
  • Cost: Beyond the actual cost per night of the accommodations, the one area where it seems pretty clear there is a savings on is food. Because we’re slow in the morning and we all get up and about at different paces, we ate most of our breakfasts in the apartment. Our host was kind enough to stock the kitchen with breakfast items before we arrived, and oh did we take advantage of them. Not only did we save money to some degree (a minimal amount because, truth be told, we usually get breakfast free at the hotels), we saved ourselves a bit of sanity, and that was the real clincher. We didn’t have the pain associated with listening to our little people complain because they were sooooo hungry and couldn’t wait for their siblings to get ready to go out to eat. No more trying to frantically wrangle a hungry herd out the door and to a restaurant, risking both life and limb. We just fed them as they woke. One at a time. There were few, if any, sharpened claws or gnashing teeth. It was a win win.

    The view towards Carlton Hill from the window of our Airbnb.
  • Location: Often our exact locations when traveling are dictated by where there is a hotel that suits our needs and the money or points we are willing to spend. So, though we may prefer to stay in a particular area of the city, we find ourselves, at times, outside of that area because that is where our preferred hotel chain is. But with Airbnb, our location is not decided by where a hotel happens to find a lovely, available space to build; instead, it is decided by us. It is where we chose it to be. Because Airbnbs are in a variety of locations, we have the opportunity to zero in on where we want to make our home base, which makes traveling with little people a bit easier because the location we stay in is more convenient to where it is we want to spend the majority of our time.

    In addition to having noise-proof (and locking, so little people can’t get to them) windows, our apartment opened onto Dunbar’s Close, a small, quiet, garden.
  • Contact: I’m sure that there are exceptions to this, but for this family, one of the aspects of the Airbnb that we appreciated was our host and his knowledge of the area and his responsiveness to our questions. Hurricane Ophelia was expected to hit Ireland and then travel across Scotland the evening before our arrival in Edinburgh. While US news was less focused on this event, we needed to get some info on it in order to see if it would impact us at all. We contacted Richard, our host, and he was quick to give us the updates and help us understand the weather warnings of the UK. Additionally, when we first arrived, he met us at the apartment, helped us bring our belongings up the third floor walk up, and then showed us where everything in the apartment was as well as recommended a few things our littles might like to do around the city. He also offered some ideas on where to stop on our three day road trip around Scotland. His availability was refreshing and his recommendations honest and appreciated.

CONS

  • Concierge: While Richard was a great host, there were still aspects of the traditional concierge that we sorely missed. After arriving at 9:30 a.m. in Edinburgh, this little tribe spent the day wandering around the city in an attempt to keep us all awake (the time change was a bit brutal on the little people…and, hence, on their grown ups). Finally, as the evening neared, we headed out to find a restaurant. But they were booked. Like all of them. And our little people are too little to eat in pubs. So we floundered about, and the hungry little people became hangry. Finally we found some mediocre Indian food to satisfy our needs. The thing is, if there were a concierge, finding even that mediocre Indian food wouldn’t have meant traipsing across the city, zigzagging from one side to the other. It would’ve been clear cut. Those immediate and timely questions we had would find an answer, something that the Airbnb couldn’t provide us.

    Our first day was spent exploring The Palace of Holyroodhouse, just two blocks from our apartment.
  • Responsibility: We’re not slobs. At least not really. Well, at least I’m not and I don’t tend to let my people be. When we stay in hotels we defer room service in attempt to be more “green,” so our expectations are not of having people waiting on us and cleaning behind us at every drop of a tissue. But in an Airbnb, there’s no real break from the habits of every day life. The mundane clean up of life is still largely on us. We washed our breakfast dishes every day. We took out the trash. We swept up our little people’s crumbs. It’s not as simple as coming and going and knowing those dirty diapers will magically disappear while we’re out exploring the world.

    Our little people, inevitably making a mess.
  • Stress: I lose things. Or really I misplace them. I am a huge advocate of the “everything has its place” idea and I strive to make certain that everything gets there (I have little people, so it’s really just a pipe dream). With that in mind, when I have a key to a hotel, or Airbnb in this case, I just put it in the place that seems to make the most sense. The problem is, that place changes all the time depending on my jacket, bag, pants, etc. This is less of a concern for me when it’s a hotel key that can be easily duplicated or where there’s a spare behind a desk that has a person to help twenty four hours a day. Airbnbs don’t have that though. So I always thought I lost the key. And when I did know where it was? I had to keep checking to make sure it was there. Again and again. I can’t even count the number of times my blood ran cold because I was certain I lost it, just to find it in a different pocket. If that key was lost, that’s it. We couldn’t go to the front desk and ask for help. We’d be stuck. Out in the Scottish rain. Feeling sad and probably a bit (scratch that–a lot) grumpy. It was so much stress–too much added responsibility. I simply could not handle being the key master. (And to be fair, I asked my other half if he felt the same stress, and he surely did. He said he checked on it in his pocket nearly every five minutes. So proof it’s not just my crazy that made me so paranoid.)

    Our host had children’s books out in the room for the littles, as well as movies for rainy days. (Not to mention high chairs, cribs, and extra crib sheets.)
  • Packing: Not all Airbnbs are cut from the same cloth. Not all hosts are cut from the same cloth. That means that we had to be prepared for anything we may need. I don’t normally travel with shampoo or condition. But I had to pack my own on this trip. Same with laundry detergent. Well, actually I didn’t have to as Richard, the wonderful host, had it all available, but I didn’t know. I didn’t even think to ask. I just assumed it was my responsibility. What I discovered is booking an AirBnB means asking more questions than usual. Will shampoo and soap be available to use? How safe is it for children? Do I need to bring plug covers? Is there a high chair? A crib? Or should I bring a portable one? You may find you need to pack more than usual, but ask so there’s no need to duplicate.
  • Planning: There’s just a crazy bunch of work that goes into securing the right Airbnb. Know where you want to stay. Research the city. Then find the Airbnb. This means that it’s not as simple as looking at a few traveler’s photos on Trip Advisor and hitting the submit button. It’s looking at maps to find what works in term of physical location. It’s reading reviews. It’s considering your life style and what will fit. It takes much longer to find the perfect Airbnb stay than it does to find a hotel that can easily satisfy your needs. For example, if you have young children, is a third floor walk up ok? Dragging strollers and little people up and down stairs can be tiresome and slow going. Is it in an area of town that can be noisy at night? Rowdy? Do the bedroom windows overlook this? I know I, for one, do not want my little people to still be awake at 11 p.m. because there are some people cutting loose a few doors down. And I certainly don’t want to hear it myself and be reminded of what I’m not doing. Need car parking near? Transportation? Laundry? A crib? Is there a high chair? The list goes on and on. It’s about prioritizing needs and matching them up. This can take some time and some patience. A bit more than is needed just to secure a room at a hotel where it can be easier to discern what it is your getting yourself booked into.

Every curse is a blessing. That’s what they say right? Well, I guess this applies to Airbnbs too. After this first experience, we’ll definitely use them again. But all the time? No. Not yet. Our current thoughts are that when it’s just our immediate tribe of five, we’ll stick to Airbnbs in cities, but if it’s just the five of us and we’re looking for luxury, a resort, a Kid’s Club (because I guess I’d be ok if my littles headed out to make some friends and left me so so so lonely sipping a fruity, paper umbrella laden drink by the pool), a bit of pampering, then we’ll stick to hotels. We’ll stay flexible. We’ll mix it up. Because really, that’s what keeps life interesting after all, isn’t it?