Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, chances are you’ve at least considered renting an Airbnb instead of getting a hotel room when traveling to a new city. Why? Unlike many traditional travel accommodations, an Airbnb allows guests to truly experience a city’s neighborhoods and get a taste of what it might be like to live in the community – and not just visit.
Although Airbnbs are typically homes or apartments, they can also be as grand as castles and as modest as tents. Price points also vary from next to nothing to more than your mortgage (however, most of the listings fall somewhere in between). Travelers can reserve an entire home or apartment, but private and shared rooms are also popular choices, especially for young people just passing through.
There’s basically something for everyone, and the trend has caught on in more than 34,000 cities and nearly 200 countries. In addition, more than 60 million people have booked Airbnbs since the company was founded in 2008, and new digs are added to the current database of more than 2 million worldwide listings daily.
Airbnb Has Changed the Way I Travel
Full disclosure: I’m a huge Airbnb fan. My husband and I first tried it out on a vacation to Panama City, Fla., in 2013, and we’ve been hooked ever since. Most recently, we stayed in an Airbnb in Asheville, N.C., and we loved the experience.
While we were interested in a home close to the downtown area that was at least semi-attractive, we were most tuned into the reviews – something else that sets Airbnb apart from some of its competitors. Each time someone rents out an Airbnb, they have the opportunity to leave a public review on the listing page, and they’re asked to rate things like communication with the host, cleanliness, accuracy of listing description and location.
These reviews matter; they are often the deciding factor in whether a traveler will book a place or not, so it’s no surprise Airbnb hosts are typically on top of their game. Many (like our Asheville host) will even go the extra mile to ensure you enjoy your stay. For example, our host left us a hand-written note that welcomed us to the city and wished us a happy time, and two delicious cupcakes were waiting for us in the kitchen. She supplied a variety of coffee choices and creamer, plus shampoo, conditioner and soap in the bathroom.
Even though those little touches weren’t exactly necessary, they definitely enhanced our stay, and we’ve already left a review telling other travelers how positive our experience was. I could be wrong, but I don’t think big-name hotels are quite as concerned with my satisfaction – after all, they don’t have reviews on their homepages spelling out the pros and the cons of guests’ stays.
In addition to the hosts’ extra attention to detail, I also appreciate the way I get to know a piece of a city by staying in an Airbnb, which would really come in handy if I was interested in relocating. Unlike hotels, Airbnbs give travelers the opportunity to get a feel for a specific neighborhood, and after being there just a few days, I usually know the answer to a few important questions: Is this a family-friendly area? Does it seem safe? Are the residents quiet at night? Is it convenient to things I need/want regularly, like gas stations, grocery stores and coffee shops? You get the gist. Staying in a hotel just cannot provide the same insight into a community, and it’s one of the biggest reasons Airbnb has completely changed the travel and relocation game.
My Asheville Airbnb Experience
As I mentioned above, my husband and I recently rented an Airbnb close to downtown Asheville. It was situated in a residential area between the Five Points and Woolsey neighborhoods, and there were several conveniences – including dining spots, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s – within easy walking distance. Although the downtown district was less than a mile away (0.8 of a mile, according to our GPS), we chose to drive or get an Uber rather than walk, mostly due to our fear of getting soaked by the pop-up rain showers that were fairly frequent during our visit.
We’ll probably try to stay a bit closer to downtown or find a place in the hip, up-and-coming West Asheville neighborhood during future trips to the city, but this particular Airbnb was perfect for us as Asheville first-timers. It’s attached to the host’s home as well as another Airbnbs the host rents out, so we had several opportunities to ask for advice on where to go and what to do. As a result, we discovered a few places off the beaten path that we weren’t aware of, such as the nearby city of Montreat, N.C., and its amazing hiking trails.
Am I ready to move to Asheville after this trip? No, but that’s only because I love my current home (Nashville, Tenn.) too much to leave for good. However, my husband and I were amazed at how friendly the locals were, and at how quickly we could go from the heart of downtown to a remote-feeling trail nestled on the side of a mountain. Plus, the food was amazing (Cúrate is completely worthy of all the hype it gets, by the way), and we enjoyed perusing the dozens of locally owned shops downtown.
In short, we loved Asheville. Sure, we might have also fallen for the city had we not rented an Airbnb, but staying in a residential area helped us get a more realistic sense of what it would be like to live in the community, and it helped us connect with locals in a way that probably wouldn't have been possible if we'd opted for a hotel. We’ll definitely be back – after we reserve another Airbnb, of course.