Airbnb is one of the most popular vacation rental websites and long-term rental booking platforms. The company has completely transformed the short-term rental marketplace, as well as deeply affecting the long-term rental property market. Whether you feel that Airbnb is a savior or a demon, you have more accommodation alternatives to choose from than ever before.
Airbnb’s vacation rental marketplace might be eating the travel world, but it is definitely not the only option available. Don’t get me wrong, I like staying in Airbnb properties. But also I like to broaden my horizons and experience new things. Airbnb used to be the alternative, but now it’s the corporate mainstream.
In discussions on Twitter, in forums, and among friends, I’ve always defended Airbnb. Although the service gets a lot of criticism, it has served many travelers well. Airbnb also has some aspects that no other service has been able to copy or improve on. After 8 years of using the service, it’s clear that it isn’t the same as it used to be. It seems Airbnb doesn’t care anymore. Did they ever? After all, the goal of a corporation is to maximize profits.
And then there’s the phenomenon known as Airbnb fees, which are bordering on ridiculous.
There is also the issue of investors buying up entire apartment blocks, evicting the tenants, and renting the properties out as short-term Airbnb assets. Many of the world’s most interesting cities have become shells of their former selves. Dublin, where I grew up, is nothing but coffee shops and Airbnbs. Although, I must admit I enjoy the coffee shops. To learn how Airbnb and horrible companies like Blackstone are sucking the lifeblood from cities and turning ordinary citizens into modern-day serfs, listen to the podcast Pushback Talks and watch the documentary Push.
During the pandemic, I stayed in a luxury suite in a 5-star hotel for a month for €1400 but I can’t claim any major travel hacking status. It just took a bit of research to see that businesses were crying out for customers after a year of lockdown. The regular price for the room was €600-800 a night, depending on the season.
The place was full of digital nomads. Many of them would probably be happy to never leave the hotel.
🤩 Did you know that Booking.com now offers a monthly stay search? I’ve been using Booking for most of my stays these days, partially because of several bad Airbnb experiences, and partially because I can book through British Airways or Turkish Airlines and get air miles/points at the same time. I’ve been happy with the results so far.
🤦 What has happened to Airbnb?
And it’s probably the most popular place to look for quirky places to stay. But it’s hardly the best place to feel like a local in a city. This is a myth perpetuated by the company.
And then there’s the endless problems with the service, the landlords, and the company itself.
To be honest, I’ve almost stopped using Airbnb rentals. The prices are high, the quality is dropping, and the regular vacation rentals are slowly being eaten up by corporate funds and real estate investment trusts.
Airbnb can leave you hanging like a forgotten suitcase at baggage claim.
I don’t want surprises or disappearing acts. I’m looking for good old-fashioned hospitality. And I think most people would trade that for some hipster, Instagram-friendly fakery.
When it comes to reliability, transparency, customer service, and flexibility, Booking.com emerges as a better option for most people. Booking offers a loyalty program called “Genius,” where frequent users can unlock special rewards, such as discounts, complimentary upgrades, and other exclusive offers.
You can also pay upfront or at the location in many cases. Cancellation options are more flexible than Airbnb’s options.
I complained about Airbnb on the internet and someone asked me (not in a nice way) what I think the company should do about my complaints. The truth is, I don’t think the company should do anything. Judging by the 6 Billion dollars of revenue in 2021, it seems to me that Airbnb is doing just fine. But I’m just looking at alternatives more often.
Hotels are missing a huge opportunity here. If they could offer long-term accommodation with kitchens, I’d never use Airbnb again. I’d pay more for this service too.
Finding alternatives to Airbnb and vacation homes (short-term and long-term rentals) is easy if you know where to look. Don’t settle for the ordinary. Here are some of the best Airbnb alternatives you should not overlook.
- Hotels – An underrated Opportunity in a Post-Airbnb Era
- Fairbnb – Communities & people over profit
- Booking – Worthy solution to Airbnb fatigue
- VRBO – Offering Vacation Rentals By Owner since 1995
- Anyplace – Professional choice for select cities
- House Carers – House sit a home for free
- TrustedHousesitters – The original pet lover's choice
- Nestpick – Budget choice for mid to long term rentals
- Monastery Stay – Explore Modern Monastic life
- Cruises – Combining Travel and Accommodation without increasing rents for locals
- House Exchange – Your Property is Your Passport
- Couchsurfing – Hospitality and Adventure Intersect for Budget Travelers
- Kibuttz Living – Work, Lodging, and Learning Opportunities
- Camping – The Outdoor Enthusiast's choice
- Happy Glamping – For Flashpackers & Instagram Fiends
- Minivan, Bus & Car Sleeping – For The Free Spirits
- Take The Train – Leverage Night Travel and Luxurious Buses for Economic Expeditions
- Barrel living – For Wine Lovers
Hotels – An underrated Opportunity in a Post-Airbnb Era
This might sound like a boring option, but hotels can offer a much better experience than Airbnb. And I think we’re going to see a resurgence in the popularity of hotels once people realize how damaging to local communities and economies Airbnb can be. But apart from this factor and the price factor (hotels are often cheaper than Airbnb), there are many other benefits to staying in a hotel.
If a room is not available when you arrive at a hotel, you can usually leave your luggage at reception or in some transition area locker. This is generally not possible with Airbnb. If you arrive at, say, 10 am and the room becomes available at 3 pm, you’ll have to babysit your bags for five hours.
You can request a taxi from the hotel if you need one to get to the airport or for an excursion. There are sometimes Airbnb hosts who can help you, but since the platform has been taken over by corporate real estate funds, you’re often dealing with people who are uninterested in speaking to you – there is little personal touch and everything is automated for efficiency, meaning you’re on your own. I personally try to deal with taxi drivers as little as possible.
Some hotels even have free shuttles. Airbnb rentals rarely offer this.
A hotel’s price is usually the final price. The phenomenon that I call “Air Fees & Fees” means that you think you’re getting a bargain until you include the maintenance fee, cleaning fee, booking fee, admin fee, and miscellaneous can’t-figure-out-what-to-call-it random fees. The price adds up.
And then you’re expected to clean the place before you leave.
Next time, try a hotel.
The following is a boring tip that isn’t a hack, so nobody wants to hear it: join the hotel loyalty programs. The point bonuses may not be worth investing in unless you’re a business traveler or a frequent hotel guest, but loyalty programs offer other benefits and can offer better deals than booking and meta-search websites.
My favorite hotel chain is Hilton (not the flashiest brand, but above a crappy Airbnb or second-rate hotel) and I’ve had some great stays there. Join Hilton Honors if you want to earn points, check for deals, and generally get a better experience. It’s free, so why not? If you need to book a hotel, check out the Honors platform to see if you can get a better deal.
RatePunk is a game-changer for travel planning. Get cashback, cheaper alternatives to Airbnb, price change alerts, and comprehensive hotel ratings. Use the Chrome extension to get the cheapest hotel price, across all platforms.
“Marriott Homes” is an accommodation solution for long-term travelers looking for the conveniences of home with the luxuries of a hotel stay. This Airbnb alternative offers furnished apartment rentalsf where you can book extended stays in an apartment-style arrangement without sacrificing comfort or convenience. Marriott Homes properties are generally equipped with a fully functional kitchen, living areas, and amenities for a longer stay.
Fairbnb – Communities & people over profit
The Fairbnb cooperative promotes ethics in tourism, people over profit, and cooperation between travelers and locals. Founded in 2012, it is a community-powered tourism platform that donates 50% of its revenues to local community organizations.
In addition to counteracting negative impacts of mass tourism, Fairbnb aims to promote a circular economy by redistributing profits within communities. The platform fee funds 50% of community projects, enabling an equitable and sustainable tourism model.
Real estate investors are regarded with suspicion, and they stay away from large-scale tourism, which turns unique local cultures into moneymakers.
The following are some of the underlying principles that drive the company and show the stark contrast between its fair model and Airbnb’s terribly damaging business model (driving up housing prices, fragmenting communities, and making neighborhoods more challenging to manage):
- Responsible homesharing: Local authorities verify hosts and sustainability rules to protect communities from tourism side effects. Each “Local Node” works with local authorities to define sustainability rules, ensuring that every city doesn’t just turn into a postcard-perfect Airbnb playground.
- Solidarity and inclusion: Local communities define priority social projects for sustainable development, funded by tourism resources
- Welcome not dreaded: Not encouraging mass tourism, not an extractive corporation, and not for large real estate investors. You won’t find Fairbnb.coop where they’re not wanted. They set up camp only where communities welcome their approach to responsible tourism.
- People over profit: facilitate authentic and sustainable travel experiences and develop socially relevant projects within communities.
Check out Fairbnb.coop, the best Airbnb alternative for conscientious travelers.
Booking – Worthy solution to Airbnb fatigue
Long-term travelers might have turned their backs on traditional hotel rooms, but in recent years, longer hotel stays have become more popular. On Booking.com, guests can now book stays of more than 30 nights on the same reservation. The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly spurred on the move to remote work and people are now looking through booking portals for more than just short-term rentals.
These days, I’m using Booking much more for long-term stays in hotels and apartment rentals. Thanks to Airbnb’s poor service, the ridiculous cleaning fees, strict cancellation policies, and the laundry list of chores that hosts expect guests to perform, Booking is looking better all the time. There’s a lot less friction and the prices can be much lower too.
Booking has a decent rewards program and also works with airlines like Turkish Airlines so you can get air miles and points with every booking. Most of the major hotel chains are on the platform and you can often get cheaper prices on Booking than you can by going direct.
VRBO – Offering Vacation Rentals By Owner since 1995
VRBO doesn’t do anything radically different from Airbnb. It’s similar to Airbnb in its core offering but it does offer a different inventory and the potential for better prices. The Colorado company started long before Airbnb was even a concept back in 1995, which makes it one of the internet’s old-timers. VRBO is aimed at vacation rentals and less at digital nomads.
You won’t find shared spaces or treehouses on the platform but it tends to have a higher trust level than Airbnb.
Anyplace – Professional choice for select cities
Anyplace’s headline is “Live Anywhere”, but it should include the subtitle “as long as it’s one of only four cities in the US”
Anyplace launched in 2017 and is the first long-term stay rental platform for remote workers, digital nomads, and creatives. The platform offer accommodations for 1 month or more in unique houses, condos, private villas, boutique hotels, coworking spaces, beach bungalows, and other cool properties.
Anyplace is designed for remote workers, a fast-growing work demographic, so you can expect fast wifi, an area to work, and an atmosphere that’s conducive to getting stuff done.
House Carers – House sit a home for free
“Caring” for a property while the property owner is away is a fantastic way to experience a property that you might otherwise feel is out of your reach. Homeowners rent their properties to other users of the platform – complete with wide-screen tv, walk-in wardrobes, jacuzzis, massage parlors, steam rooms, and home cinemas. It sounds like it shouldn’t work but work it does —99.99% of people are honest and genuine (anyone who travels will know this) and there are systems in place to deter the crazy ones.
The important thing is to treat the house like it’s your own, thus helping the site to continue providing house-sitting opportunities. It’s a fantastic resource and I really wish it a lot of success. The sharing economy lives on.
Two other alternatives to check out are TrustedHouseSitters and HouseSit Match, both of which are aimed at pet lovers. You must be able to take care of pets. It goes without saying that if you don’t love animals this isn’t an option for you. But like Airbnb, it’s a great way to experience house and apartment living, as opposed to hotel accommodation.
TrustedHousesitters (yes, that’s all one word) is the largest network of house sitters and pet carers in the world. Pet-sitting opportunities are available in 50 countries around the world through TrustedHousesitters. You can look through the available listings at your leisure, apply for those that catch your eye, and set up interviews with the homeowners themselves to discuss. And the bonus is that you get an Airbnb alternative (or better) that’s 100% free. Stay in a nice place, with the company of pets, without spending a penny.
Nestpick – Budget choice for mid to long term rentals
Get a furnished apartment in over 3,000 cities worldwide. Nestpick is popular in Europe, especially with students and people who need long-term apartments in major cities. Prices can be a lot lower than Airbnb. Filter based on building amenities and other features that suit your exact needs and preferences.
Aimed at students and expats who demand lower prices for quality apartments, Nestpick is a good option for people who take the time to search the platform for hidden gems.
Monastery Stay – Explore Modern Monastic life
Go Full Monk with A Monastery Stay! Sleeping in a monastery might not be top of your bucket list but it’s a viable solution. And you might find it’s a highlight of your trip. Monasteries were once a common accommodation option. Long-distance travelers would often look for monasteries that would take them in for the night.
Monasteries can be found in most European countries and payment is based on donation or fixed price. Beds can be private or dormitory-based so there are options for every budget. For booking in Italy, in particular, check out MonasteryStays.
Cruises – Combining Travel and Accommodation without increasing rents for locals
Have you ever considered combining your accommodation with your mode of transportation? Many people perceive cruises as a way for older people to travel. However this form of travel is one of the travel industry’s biggest revenue generators, and there are cruises for everyone. It’s a matter of choosing the right one.
Another myth is that cruises are expensive. Check out the CruiseSheet website for discount prices on repositioning cruises, last-minute cruise deals, and other ridiculously low-priced adventures.
Go To Sea is a cruise aggregator with exclusive benefits on spa treatments, excursions and other perks.
MSC Cruises offer a wide choice of destinations with discount rates and on-board credits all year.
Cruisepanda is a brand-new competitor to Cruisesheet and I love the slick, modern interface. Follow the CruisePanda account on Twitter for daily updates.
For over two decades, Cruisedirect has provided customers with cruise deals, so there are a seemingly endless number of options available.
Combine your accommodation with travel from one place to another. Do it in style!
House Exchange – Your Property is Your Passport
If you own property and don’t mind lending it out while you’re away then you could use a house swapping service to save money. Swap your home for someone else’s place at your destination.
Nightswapping is a home exchange service that lets you contact homeowners in your target destination and provides insurance to both parties. For each night you allow someone to book your property you get one ‘free’ night which you can use on your travels. The site has an Airbnb feel to it and they appear to be focussing heavily on Facebook ads and other advertising streams to gain traction.
Couchsurfing – Hospitality and Adventure Intersect for Budget Travelers
Couchsurfing is one of the oldest sites on this list (founded in 2003) and has helped millions of friendly travelers find somewhere to sleep for the night (or longer). ‘Friendly’ is the keyword here as introverts and weirdos will not endear themselves to the host. The site uses a rating system to vet guests and hosts. Difficult couch surfers will soon find their ratings/feedback statistics somewhat below par. Of course, if you like having weirdos sleep on our couch then you know how to find them, and everyone is happy.
In theory, Couchsurfing is designed for travelers with a smaller budget and for hosts to meet new people from around the world.
Travelers ask to book with a host that is offering a couch or spare room for a period of time. The host reads the traveler’s profile and decides whether or not to allow this possibly smelly, potentially psychotic person to stay at their place.
It’s all good fun and can be a great way to make friends and for everyone to benefit from the sharing economy. It works most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally, Couchsurfing.com receives backlash on internet forums for being almost ‘Tinder for travelers’. Many users of the site have used the service to organize dates á la Tinder, prompting a call for a reanalysis of the company’s focus.
Couchsurfing began as a non-profit organization in 2003, changed to a profit-driven business and raised funds in 2011, but has remained unprofitable. It is still a great option for finding accommodation and meeting people so I recommend checking it out.
Kibuttz Living – Work, Lodging, and Learning Opportunities
Staying on a Kibbutz isn’t for everyone. But if you are able-bodied and can commit to a few months, living on a kibbutz in Israel could be a life-changing travel experience. Many people think of a kibbutz as something resembling a peasant farm with people slaving in the hot sun to receive their nighttime meal of cold soup. I’ve seen Kibbutzim with swimming pools and restaurants and all the other mod cons you might expect from a resort. But the focus is on work in exchange for lodging and study options.
It can be a great way to meet a really diverse group of people and immerse yourself in another culture.
Camping – The Outdoor Enthusiast’s choice
Don’t forget camping as a low-cost alternative for the more adventurous. Nature-lovers will relish the opportunity to be close to the ground (literally) and there’s nothing like stepping out of your tent to the sound of birds and the rustle of leaves. Depending on the campground you choose you may step out of your tent to the sound of screaming kids and blasting music but there are a huge number of campgrounds all over the US and Europe in particular so lack of choice is not an issue.
Happy Glamping – For Flashpackers & Instagram Fiends
Glamping? It’s a mixture of Glam and Camping. Obvious, right? When stylish hipsters, the outdoors, and travel come together the result is glamping. When more extreme hipsters get involved the result is Treehouse Glamping. Yes, you can relax in style on a campsite but you can also live stylishly suspended in the trees. Just like you did as a kid, but with a comfy bed.
Expect to see more ‘conkers’ to rent in the near future. Conker Living is a new living space concept that has grabbed people’s attention. Think of it as a sort of space-age glamping Airbnb alternative. Designed as a sort of garden building, conker living pods are perfect for the digital nomad, adventurous, low-maintenance traveling types
If you want to live like a wealthy hobbit then head to New Zealand and check out Underhill. The outdoor bath is a nice touch. Not having to pitch a tent is even better.
Get ‘rustic’ by staying in a Yurt in Utah. A yurt is a large tent traditionally used by Mongolian nomads. Up to 9 people can stay in these glamour tents in Escalante.
Treehouse Glamping in the UK isn’t cheap but it’s definitely an alternative to Airbnb. Brocklock Treehouse Eco Retreat in Durham is very popular and it’s easy to see why. The facade gives the impression of some kind of wooden water tank. Inside you’ve got all the mod cons from subtle lighting to a comfortable bed and bath.
Check out Glamping Hub for a large collection of Glamping grounds.
Minivan, Bus & Car Sleeping – For The Free Spirits
I once lived in the back of a Toyota Corolla for 4 months, while traveling around New Zealand’s North and South Islands. New Zealand and Australia, in particular, are excellent countries for this type of travel as they are under-populated countries with amazing places to visit. Traffic is not a big problem, roads are good and camping in parks and campgrounds is well catered for.
Backpackerboard offers good advice on buying a car or van to travel around. You could also rent a Motorhome instead of buying a car and selling it again. Check out the EuropeByCamper blog for some great articles on Motorhome travel across Europe.
Living out of a car or a van while traveling a foreign country is a very liberating experience and can work out a lot cheaper in the end. It’s a good long-term strategy for saving money while you travel in your own country or around the world. Special places to stay don’t have to be fixed locations.
Take The Train – Leverage Night Travel and Luxurious Buses for Economic Expeditions
If you are looking to save money on accommodation at any opportunity then choosing night flights and overnight buses are viable options if you travel a lot. You might not get the best sleep, particularly on a flight, but long-distance buses in many parts of the world can be quite luxurious and with lie-flat beds costing a fraction of a seat on a plane there’s a good chance you will emerge refreshed after a long night of travel.
Trains are also a great option and Europe has a really well-developed (if slightly expensive) rail network. Check out the excellent Seat 61 site for a comprehensive guide to European Rail travel.
The best site for booking trains in France, Italy, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Hungary is Save A Train.
Need info on trains, planes, and automobiles? Rome2Rio is one of the best transport finding sites on the internet and it’s an excellent way to find out your long-distance bus options. It will also provide prices for flights so you can compare the relative costs and then decide on options. The beautiful interface is also very user-friendly.
Barrel living – For Wine Lovers
Do you enjoy wine? Do you love to travel? Would you like to wake up in a hotel shaped like a wine barrel, on a vineyard, by a river, in rural Portugal?
Well, you can. Quinta Da Pacheca is a working winery in the region of Douro that offers a full wine experience. There’s a restaurant, wine tasting room, hotel, and of course, the wine barrels, tastefully decorated for sleeping and relaxing.
The Problem with Airbnb
The problem with Airbnb, the San Francisco business started in 2008, is that costs have risen quickly to outpace hotel prices. These days so many travelers depend so much on Airbnb for vacation rentals that they’ve forgotten what a hotel costs (hint: often less than an Airbnb these days). They keep paying higher prices for someone’s spare room – or at least that’s how it used to be. Airbnb has moved on from the sharing economy model.
Airbnb rental prices are no longer a selling point. Add in the cleaning fee, service fee, booking fee, and other miscellaneous (hidden) costs and your bargain Airbnb price can easily be more than a good hotel, especially for short-term vacation rentals. Even the novelty of renting an apartment has worn off. In fact, Millenials prefer hotels to Airbnb.
News of customers’ bad experiences on Airbnb seems to surface every now and again. Viral blog posts about hosts spying on customers, problems with refunds, and apartments that are misrepresented or don’t even exist only harm the tech company’s profile even further. This leaves the door open for Airbnb competitors, some of whom are well worth taking a look at for your next trip.
But there are alternatives to Airbnb and hotels that you might not know about. If you’re looking for an exciting place to sleep at night or a cool spot to hang out during the day, try some of these unusual vacation homes.
To Airbnb or not Airbnb, that is the question
As a regular user of the Airbnb service, I benefit from the seamless process of booking an apartment in another country. This process is open to abuse
Media outlets love to play the giant slayer, and as soon as they’ve finished championing a new startup, they begin the process of bringing it down by highlighting the bad stuff. The platform is no stranger to scams, but I’m not sure if it’s any better elsewhere.
Residents of cities like Prague are rebelling against overtourism and the lack of housing for locals. Airbnb is a target is most of these cases.
Is Airbnb the culprit? There are other services that use the “sharing economy” but Airbnb is the biggest target for the ire of locals.
- More on Airbnb Statistics: Usage, Demographics, and Revenue Growth
- Airbnb Statistics by iProperty Management
Airbnb’s problem is that it bills itself as a way of connecting strangers to locals. In practice, this rarely happens. Visitors rent apartments, sometimes managed by people that oversee hundreds of apartments. There are special keycard locks on the doors, so the property owner or manager doesn’t need to meet you when you arrive. By using Airbnb, you could complete a stay in a city without speaking to another person.
Now that Airbnb has dropped its affiliate program (almost silently, ruffling the feathers of bloggers the world over), you will probably see the service being recommended less on travel blogs. That’s just the way it is—don’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially on travel blogs.