Having started out in 2008 as a way to stay in a local’s guest room for short-term stays that were cheaper than a hotel, Airbnb and Vrbo have now taken the travel accommodation industry by storm. These days, you are now able to rent out whole apartments, houses, and vacation homes in addition to private rooms in someone’s home.
They’ve become so big that most people now consider these two platforms to be standard forms of accommodation and a lot of people these days don’t even stay in hotels anymore when they travel, opting to only go for Airbnb or Vrbo!
Airbnbs and Vrbos can have many advantages over your typical accommodation options, but they also have some differences that are important to know about. On this page, I will outline everything you need to know about using Airbnb and Vrbo for your accommodation when you travel so that you know exactly what to expect when you book yours!
Here are the top 7 things you need to know about Airbnb & Vrbo:
1. Each one serves a different purpose
Airbnb is like the catch-all accommodation platform. You can find almost everything from a couch in someone’s living room, to a private guest room in someone’s house or apartment, to their whole house or apartment to yourself, to unique spaces like a houseboat, treehouse, cave, castle, windmill, and shipping container!
You can sometimes even find makeshift hostels or guesthouses on Airbnb, but most people use it to find a private room or apartment for their trip.
Vrbo, on the other hand, is geared more towards vacation homes. You won’t find many guest rooms on Vrbo as they typically only allow complete properties to be listed on their platform. Vrbo literally stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner so it’s their specialty.
Expect to see villas, chalets, cabins, and the like, but you can also find private apartments and houses just like you would on Airbnb. A lot of the unique properties you’ll find on Airbnb can also be found on Vrbo so if that’s the type of experience you’re looking for, make sure to check out Vrbo as well.
You may have also heard of Homeaway. Homeaway is the same company as Vrbo and any listings you see on one site will also be available on the other one too. Vrbo is the more well-known site which is why I focus on it here.
2. They are generally cheaper than hotels
What made Airbnb successful in the beginning was the fact that it offered people a cheaper place to stay in when they traveled. Hotels in many parts of the world can be fairly pricey and make travel seem out of reach for some people, but Airbnb now makes it possible.
Obviously, there are listings that are still out of reach for many people, but the majority of the listings that you’ll see on Airbnb offer experiences that are just as good, if not better, than hotels at a lower price.
Vrbo’s prices also rival those of hotels and you can find many apartments and other vacation rentals for cheaper than places that you’d find on most booking sites. Budget travelers should bookmark these two sites if they’re looking for ways to travel on the cheap!
When I’m traveling to a new destination, I almost always check Airbnb and Vrbo because I know I’ll most likely find a cheaper price on one of these two sites than I would for any hotel.
3. Don't expect a hotel experience
What some people might not like about Airbnb and Vrbo is that they know they won’t be getting a hotel experience when staying in one.
A standard hotel stay is characterized by checking in at a front desk, being given a room with an ensuite bathroom and complimentary toiletries, getting your room cleaned on a daily basis, and being able to call reception anytime for any needs. Amenities will vary by hotel, but these features are pretty much guaranteed no matter which hotel you stay in. It’s a familiar experience every time.
When it comes to Airbnbs and Vrbos, your experience will vary every time and those 4 main hotel standards aren’t very common at all:
- Check-in is usually done by coordinating on the arrival time with the owner of the property you booked to make sure someone will be there to let you in
- You’re only guaranteed a private bathroom if you book a full apartment/house or a room that has one
- Toiletries aren’t often given out
- Daily room cleaning typically doesn’t happen
- There is no reception you can call anytime, but you can usually contact the owner if you need to.
It’s important to check what’s included in your Airbnb or Vrbo before booking it to know what to expect and what not to expect. But in general, you should not go into an Airbnb or Vrbo expecting a hotel experience with all the standard amenities and services.
3b. But that can also be a good thing
That being said, what an Airbnb or Vrbo may lack in hotel services, they make up for in other ways. The main thing Airbnbs and Vrbos can offer that hotels cannot is a home away from home experience. Staying in an apartment or house makes you feel less like you’re in a strange place and more like you haven’t left home.
You often get access to a kitchen so you can cook your own meals (another money-saver) and a living room where you can just feel comfortable in your own space. If you’re traveling with several different people, it’s also a great way to share the same space as well since hotels can only give you separate rooms. This can often work out to be cheaper for groups than multiple hotel rooms.
Another experience you can have is that of sharing a space with a local. When you book a guest room in a house or apartment in which the owner still lives, you will be staying in the same place as them meaning that you will be kinda like a guest in their home.
Some Airbnbs are also rented out as separate rooms instead of a whole unit meaning you might be sharing a space with other travelers too which is a great way to meet other people traveling.
When staying with the owner, you may simply share the space with them or you may also have a chance to spend a little time with them. I’ve made friends with some of my Airbnb hosts, but most stays are typically treated as a place to sleep and not much more.
But if you are looking for a more personalized experience with a local, you may be interested in Couchsurfing. Learn more about it in my Guide to Couchsurfing!
4. You can only make bookings using their platforms
Unlike hotels and other standard forms of accommodation, there is only one way to book an Airbnb or Vrbo and that is by using their websites to make the bookings. However, both platforms work in a similar fashion to hotel booking websites. You input your destination, dates, and number of guests and then click search.
How to book your stay:
If you’re using Airbnb, you may have to specify that you’re looking for “stays” since Airbnb also offers “experiences” and “adventures” in addition to accommodation. Airbnb lets you filter by type of place, letting you choose between a shared room, a private room, and the entire place.
Vrbo only offers entire places so that filter won’t be available. On both platforms, you can also filter by price, number of beds, bedrooms, bathrooms, and amenities, among other things.
Use the map to find a property that you like in a good location and click on it to get more information about it. Check out all the photos, the description the owner has added, the amenities that are included, the exact location of the property (hint: it’s the center of the circle that is shown to you), the house rules (if any), the cancellation policy (the less strict, the better), and of course, the reviews.
In general, you want to avoid a place with no reviews or bad reviews as well as places that are too far from the city or from public transport. If the photos aren’t very good, the property probably won’t be either. If there are too many house rules, you’re better off picking a different property since trying to follow all of them will just stress you out.
And the stricter the cancellation policy, the riskier it is to book that property as you won’t be able to get your money back if you change your mind. If the host has Superhost or Premier Partner status, that means they are very trustworthy and they have received many excellent reviews about their property.
Once you have found the property you want to book, click Reserve or Book Now and you will be taken to the booking screen where you can review the final details about your reservation. You are also given the option to pay the full amount now or pay in installments.
Once you’ve confirmed that everything looks good, you enter your card information and click Confirm to pay for your booking!
5. Reservations aren't always confirmed instantly
Unless the host has chosen to have automatic approval of guests (and many of them do these days), any booking you make on Airbnb or Vrbo will not be instantly confirmed.
Your booking is often treated as a request to stay in the room or property you want to book and the owner gets to review it before making the decision on whether or not they want to accept you as a guest.
You’ll want to make sure your profile represents you well and gives the host a good impression of you so that you’re more likely to have your booking request approved. Add a profile picture, a bio, and all of the verifications to put your best foot forward.
That being said, if your request doesn’t get approved for whatever reason, don’t take it personally because there are many reasons as to why a host might reject your request that don’t involve you. Simply move on and look for another place!
6. You'll need to coordinate with your host
Once your request does get approved, whether automatically or manually, you’ll have to coordinate with your host on the check-in procedure. Almost every host will ask you what time you will arrive so that they know when to expect you, but if they don’t, make a habit of telling them yourself anyways.
If you haven’t booked your transportation yet or you’re just not sure about the timing, give them a rough estimate. Try to make sure your arrival time is within their check-in period, but if you arrive super early or super late, let them know because they may still be able to accommodate you.
Some hosts will wait for you in the property, others will meet you in front at a specific time, others will leave a key hidden somewhere for you or with a neighbour or the staff of a nearby cafe, and others will simply send you a passcode which you can use to enter the residence without having to meet with anyone beforehand.
Sometimes it won’t be the host that meets you, but a friend, neighbour, or a property manager that they’ve hired for their listing. Regardless of how they do it, it’s important to ask about the check-in procedure so everything goes smoothly.
You can also ask the host about the best way to get to their property from the airport or train/bus station to save yourself trying to figure that out on your own. If you’re running late, inform your host. If you arrive in the city before the agreed-upon check-in time, you can sit in a nearby cafe while you wait or leave your luggage in a luggage locker somewhere in the city (usually found in train/bus stations) and go explore!
7. There is a little risk involved
Airbnb and Vrbo aren’t perfect and there are a few risks that you need to be aware of. The main one is that whereas a hotel is extremely unlikely to cancel your reservation, the odds that your Airbnb or Vrbo reservation will get cancelled are slightly higher.
Since you are renting a short-term space from another person on a platform that isn’t completely regulated, there isn’t anything that guarantees that the reservation you made has to be honored. If something comes up or the owner of the property simply changes their mind, they can cancel your reservation at any time.
That being said, Airbnb and Vrbo heavily discourage their hosts from cancelling reservations with harsh penalties for ones that do. If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you will receive a full refund and you can also get assistance from Airbnb or Vrbo to book a similar property if you need it.
Just remember that this rarely happens so don’t let it affect your choice to stay in an Airbnb or Vrbo, but it’s good to be aware of the risk.
Other ways that they can be risky include arriving at the place you booked and realizing that it looks nothing like the photos or that there is something wrong with the property that the host never told you about.
The best way to avoid getting into situations like this is to always read the reviews and never go with a listing that doesn’t have any reviews yet. See what previous guests have said to get an accurate picture of what to expect from your stay!
And that’s all there is to it!
I love using Airbnb and Vrbo for my accommodation when I travel because of the savings and home away from home experience they give me. As long as you’re aware of how it works and what to expect, you will have a good time!
Let me know about your Airbnb & Vrbo experiences in the comments below and if you’re interested in an even cheaper type of accommodation, check out my Guide to Hostels.