We don’t have a home. Or a “home base.” We retired early to travel, and now we continuously live in Airbnb rentals.
Right after I was laid off from my old job in San Diego, I took a vacation to decompress and think about what the hell I was going to do next. I went to one of my favorite places on the planet – Tulum, Mexico. I booked a stay in the town through Airbnb and it was the first time I had used that sharing economy service. I didn’t know it back then, in March 2015, that within the next year, Airbnb would practically become home on our budget travel lifestyle in early retirement.
The monthly discount offered by some owners is the big reason we mostly use Airbnb. A second reason is the protection Airbnb offers to renters. In case something in a rental is really wrong, we have an avenue for recourse. The third reason: we have met some fantastic people!
Let’s look at the first reason – the monthly discount. Owners have the option of giving a discount for a longer stay, by the week and/or the by the month. Advantages for the owner to do this include a guaranteed income all month, a decrease in turn over, less wear and tear on a home, less hassle to outline rules, property idiosyncrasies and the like.
Sometimes the discount for a month-long stay for us renters can be as much as 50 percent! That has meant some of our rentals break down to just $15 dollars a night – way less than the cost of a hotel. We have found it necessary to book pretty far in advance in order to ensure an entire month is available.
Of course, some owners do not offer monthly discounts because they want a high turn over for higher payments. As budget, slow travelers in early retirement, we usually do not rent from that kind of owner.
The second reason we use Airbnb so often is because the service offers a little protection and some remediation in case things at a rental are not as promised when we arrive. However, although we have not had to use this yet, it does give us peace of mind to know that a month’s rent won’t be immediately sucked away forever if we find a place to be a dump.
To stack the deck in our favor, we rely heavily on reviews left by other tenants. Our best rentals have been with “super hosts” – but we’ve also had great experiences with regular hosts who have good reviews from other renters.
There has only been one place where we briefly stayed in Mexico that I wish had been a bit more detailed in the reviews. It was down the road from a bar with karaoke nights, and, well, let’s just say this early-riser couldn’t get to sleep before 1:00 a.m. most nights. But, the location was awesome (aside from karaoke nights), and the price was great, so it wasn’t a deal breaker.
That rental in Mexico near the bar is one we booked around the holiday season, and the selection of available apartments in that neighborhood in our price range was depleted by the time we booked it. That leads me to make an observation about selection availability.
When we started this, we were booking about two or three months ahead of a stay. We still can find wonderful rentals with that amount of time in advance, but the selection is much greater if we look several months ahead – as much as five or six months out.
It’s safe to say we’ve seen a steady increase in competition for large blocks of time over the last two years – especially around key holidays, such as Christmas and Easter week when the world goes on vacation. Selection, therefore, can sometimes be a problem.
People who book a weekend or a week also limit our selection. Sometimes we find a place we’d love to rent for a month, but somewhere during our desired block of time, two or three nights are already reserved by someone’s quick trip.
Another problem: booking way ahead of time limits our flexibility. For example, if we were to book a place for a month in Mexico City, but then changed our mind and wanted to go somewhere else, we would loose that rent payment. This is standard Airbnb policy when booking for a month or longer. (But the ultimate policy is up to the landlord.)
Now to that third reason Airbnb is our first choice: the fantastic people we have met! I can honestly say some of the owners have been among the kindest people we’ve met on our travels. Some of them have become friends, and if we were to return to their city – we would meet these people out for dinner or happy hour in a heartbeat.
When was the last time you got that benefit from a hotel? Hhhmmm… see what I mean?
Back to cost. To rent a hotel room 365 days a year would put an end to our early retired budget travel lifestyle real quick. Plus, we need a kitchen. We can’t afford to eat three squares a day in restaurants. We book stays with hotels when we have to.
Hostels generally don’t work for us, but we’ve used them for a night or two when we had to. First, we like our privacy. Second, hostels charge per person, which makes them more cost effective for single travelers. For two people, it can cost more than a night in an Airbnb place, or even a cheap hotel.
Airbnb is hands down the most cost effective service – even with “guest fees” at six to 12 percent. That covers the customer service benefit if we ever found ourselves in a jam, as mentioned earlier. Even with the fees, it beats VRBO, Flipkey, and other rental sites we’ve looked at. The only method that is more cost effective that I’m aware of, is to rent fully furnished apartments from local landlords outside of Airbnb with short-term leases. We’ve also done that, but I’ll save that story for another day.
Now, there is the argument that Airbnb has caused the gentrification of cities around the world and made it difficult for locals to find affordable housing. I thought that was worth a mention here, since I see this issue raised in several social media travel groups
Overpopulation is the greater underlying issue as to whether or not locals can afford decent housing. Too many people and lax urban planning are not things I can control.
I also cannot control what local owners do with their property. If an owner wants to rent living space in a city we want to visit with a monthly discount that fits our budget, and if we don’t rent it, someone else will. Landlords we have talked with tell us they feel foreigners make better tenants.
So, for now, unless or until something better comes along, we will continue to mostly use Airbnb to live in places around the world. Meanwhile, we are always mindful of the struggles of local people, and make appropriate donations whenever we can.
Below is just one example of an Airbnb rental where we stayed in Guatemala.