Content warning: This post discusses unauthorized surveillance and sexual assault.
In this post, I’m going to try to tackle the age-old question of finding a cheap booking option. When Airbnb first came on the market, it seemed like an awesome idea. Live like a local, in a local’s home.
But, as we’ve seen time and time again, Airbnb just can’t deliver. It’s pushing long-time residents out of their homes, leaving travelers stranded thanks to last-minute cancellations, and the reports of sexual assault and video taping should be taken very seriously.
I think the appeal is gone. I remember some of the best stays while I was traveling were at Airbnbs. I stayed with a mom and her daughter in Copenhagen and by the end of my stay, felt like family. A mom and her son hosted me in a quiet, sweet neighborhood just outside of Amsterdam.
But now, I worry that I won’t be able to find experiences like that anymore. The stories above and more have left me with a sour taste in my mouth regarding the company.
So where does that leave travelers? I myself have hopped onto the hostel train. I think hostels are a great, inexpensive option to replace Airbnbs. Dorm rooms are usually just a few dollars a night, and you can even find a private room with an ensuite for much less than a hotel.
But beyond that, there are more reasons to avoid Airbnbs. So below, I’ve listed my arguments for choosing a hostel booking over an Airbnb.
Airbnbs vs. Hostels
1. Hostels have what Airbnbs don’t
Let’s start with free breakfast. It’s a small thing, but it’ll get us started. Hostels have free breakfast and with Airbnb, it’s not a guarantee.
Hostels have also really shaped up. I’ve stayed at ones with bars, free walking tours, nightly activities and pasta dinners. It’s a fun way to meet fellow travelers. Not to mention, you can ask the employees for some good local recommendations.
2. Airbnb is killing local real estate
Barcelona is a prime example of Airbnb gone wrong: real estate investors buy up property solely to list it on Airbnb. They’re not locals, they’re not even living in these properties. Instead, they drive up costs and push people out of their homes.
Hostels don’t have this problem. They aren’t a potential house/apartment, they’re a budget hotel building. Adding to that, they can generate jobs given that you’ll always need people to run the front desk, clean the rooms, book the stays, etc. Airbnbs can be a one-person show.
3. Last-minute cancellations
There are endless stories of Airbnb hosts cancelling reservations at the last minute. This puts travelers in a bind. Unlike with hotels, a host isn’t necessarily obligated to help you find other accommodations. In fact, you may not even get a reason for the cancellation.
If you’re traveling to a major destination (Paris, Cape Town, etc), especially during peak season, you may have to eat the extra costs when finding a new place.
4. The Airbnb hidden camera issue
Multiple guests have reported finding a video camera in their Airbnb rooms.
From one such example…
“At about 8 or 9 p.m., he went out for dinner; by the time he got home, his hosts had gone to bed in the room adjacent to his, and he prepared to do the same.
That was when he saw the light. Two small, black, rectangular boxes were stacked next to an outlet on the far side of the guest room, both facing the bed. From afar, they looked like phone chargers. But when Vest got closer, he realized they were cameras, and they were recording.
He quickly got dressed, grabbed his belongings, and pocketed the cameras’ memory cards as evidence. Then panic set in: It was almost midnight, and he was alone in the home of someone whose name he didn’t even know, apparently being recorded. What’s more, his host could have been watching as he discovered the cameras.”
Terrifying, right?! In a situation with a hotel or hostel (heaven forbid) there would be a chain of command. Complain to corporate. Raise hell.
With Airbnb? Your host… who is also the one secretly recording you.
5. The terrifying prevalence of sexual assault
Reading these stories is heartbreaking. Their fear is palpable. And the recourse? Very little. Airbnb is a huge organization tracking properties all over the world. They have spread themselves too thin and have put people’s lives in danger as a result.
This is, of course, not to say that hostels are guilt free. But your options for help and escape from a dangerous situation are much better than a place owned by a stranger.
If you absolutely have to stay in an Airbnb...
Sometimes you’re just out of options, and an Airbnb is your best bet. In this case, here are some tips that will hopefully help you find a local host and stay safe.
1. Look for a spare room, not a whole home
This will likely ensure that a local is living in his/her/they’re home, and just using the service to make a little extra income with a spare bedroom.
2. Check for hidden cameras
3. Have an exit plan
Make sure a friend or family member knows where you’ll be. Research transportation methods in case you need to leave the property suddenly. And have a backup stay option in mind, just in case.
4. Lock your doors
5. Trust your gut
If something doesn’t feel right, that’s all you need to know. Your intuition is picking up on something, so trust it! Find another place to stay. You don’t owe anyone an explanation if you’re feeling unsafe.
I hope this post helped covered some of the problems with Airbnbs. If I missed anything, feel free to leave a comment below!