It’s no secret that I love to home exchange for my travel lodging. I’ve stayed in lots of really nice homes over the past six years. Huge houses, properties with pools, places with stunning views, homes on the water (literally in one case). But it’s not always possible to find a house swap for all my travel desires. For short stays I supplement my home exchanging with free hotel stays using points. But when traveling with friends, or when I want access to a kitchen and larger space, I use Airbnb. After a recent stay in an Airbnb in Sedona I’ve been thinking about how my Airbnb experiences compare to my home exchange experiences.
Airbnb makes me frugal, and that’s not good for comfort
If it’s not obvious from this website, I’m pretty frugal. So when I’m looking for an Airbnb booking I immediately sort by price and look at the cheaper options. It turns out, the cheaper places are usually cheaper for a reason. I repeatedly have this experience (for instance in Colombia), but I guess it’s not bad enough to make me want to pay more.
For my recent Sedona trip I was unable to find a home swap. My friend and I decided against booking hotel rooms: we would get better value in an Airbnb where we could have separate bedrooms, and where we would have a living room to hang out in and a kitchen to prepare some meals. I was surprised to find few properties for less than $200 per night. I ended up booking one for $164/night (including taxes and fees) with two bedrooms and really good reviews.
The home description was accurate….but not what we expected. For instance, the host stated “Note: the loft has low ceilings, so may not be comfortable for taller adults.” Well I’m not particularly tall. But I had to crawl around in the loft. And it wasn’t really a bedroom, just a bed on the floor. The place was adequate. But it wasn’t at all comfortable for hanging out. And the kitchen was quite small and stocked with very few basic supplies. It had plenty of pots and pans, but I couldn’t even find ground pepper. This made cooking unappealing.
Primary homes are generally nicer
I’ve stayed in a lot of places that are rented out on Airbnb but also offered on home swap networks. These are more likely to be a match when I’m looking for a home exchange points stay. And I really appreciate that these places have more availability. But I’ve noticed that they are often not set up like a primary home. They aren’t as comfortable or as well stocked because no one actually lives there.
I love finding oils and spices, sauces and other cooking basics in the kitchens of my home exchange hosts. This makes it easy for me to buy groceries without having to invest in a whole bottle of olive oil, or full containers of spices, when I only need a tiny bit. Of course I will replace anything I use any significant amount of. But I feel confident my hosts don’t begrudge me the salt I use on my fried eggs.
Airbnb rentals, on the other hand, tend to stock very little in the kitchen. This isn’t surprising; the owner isn’t thinking about cooking supplies they won’t use. And in a second home it’s harder to ensure the food stays fresh.
I’ve only stayed in one primary home that was woefully understocked. Although well lived in, the kitchen in that condo looked like it was only used for tea drinking and pre-made meal storage. I did some cooking there and it was a challenge. I had to buy things like baking soda and dried basil. And actually never found a working spatula. But that’s the opposite of my experience in most primary homes.
Is Airbnb ever worth the cost?
I wouldn’t return to the Sedona place we rented. In fact I’d chose a shared hotel room over it. But overall I think there is really good value to be had in Airbnb, especially when traveling with multiple people. Peer-to-peer rental lodging like Airbnb and VRBO is never going to compete with home exchanges for me. But when I can’t find a home swap, it’s still a good option to explore.