Why I Don’t Stay in AirBnBs: Learning to Travel Responsibly and Respectfully

AirBnB is a huge world-wide travel phenomenon. Unpopular opinion: I don’t stay in AirBnBs.

I’m all for what AirBnb set out to be: a way to get closer to local life when you travel. Staying with a host and getting advice for things to see that you’d never have seen otherwise. That’s awesome! It’s at the heart of why I travel – learning what life looks like across the globe.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what the platform looks like anymore. Because of that, I don’t stay in AirBnbs.

Overtourism

Overtourism is a huge problem in major world cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice. There are many factors that contribute, and AirBnB is one of them. When a city plans for tourism, they use the number of hotel rooms to make decisions about infrastructure and tourism campaigns. Because tourists stay in AirBnBs in addition to hotel rooms, cities are overrun.

Graffiti "mass tourism = human pollution"
I have seen graffiti like this all over Europe. It’s opened my eyes to an issue I hadn’t thought much about before, so I’m learning all that I can about responsible, respectful travel.

This makes everything less fun, for tourists and locals alike. Venice now requires a day pass for tourists, and locals have to show their ID to get into their own neighbourhoods. Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, Granada’s Alhambra, and Paris’s Louvre, among others, have timed tickets you must buy well in advance in an effort to stem the tide. Amsterdam launched a tourism campaign promoting outer districts in an effort to reduce the amount of tourists in the city center.

Just the other day in Valencia, I was riding my bike home with groceries, and it took me twice as long, because two huge bike tour groups were clogging the bike lane and making lots of stops. I get that they want to see this beautiful city, but the groups were too big which made my trip home take twice as long. It made me think about when I’m a tourist and how I can be respectful of the locals who just want to get home with their groceries.

Pushes Locals Out of Their Own Cities

Lisbon street overcrowded with tourists
Lisbon’s historic Baixa district isn’t much fun because the streets are packed with people who aren’t Portuguese

When an apartment or house is on AirBnB, a local can’t live there. Lisbon is a perfect example of this. When I was there, I learned that almost no locals live in the central Baixa district. We stayed in a hostel in that district and it was BONKERS with tourists. It took away from the historic charm of the area and that really bummed us out. We didn’t go to Portugal to walk around with a bunch of people from not Portugal.

It also drives rent up in these areas. I don’t own a home, so in Seattle and in Valencia, it was extremely hard to find affordable housing. I’m a teacher, so I can’t afford much of a rent payment to begin with, and when AirBnB takes up rental inventory, rents go up, and locals who aren’t in high-earning industries like tech, law, or medicine suffer.

Hotels Are Good for Local Economies

Hotel room with bed, nightstand, and lamp
A lot of employees are required to make sure your hotel room is perfect. Those jobs contribute to their community in a positive way

Hotels are good for local economies for a couple of reasons. First, they are huge employers. They have jobs for people from all walks of life, from the single mom who is making ends meet to the college graduate who studied hospitality. When there isn’t as much of a demand for hotels in an area because tourists stay in AirBnBs, jobs are lost.

Additionally, they are great for revenue. Many cities charge tourist taxes, and those are typically levied through hotel stays. This money is put back into the city for things like infrastructure which makes the city more attractive and livable and that results in all kinds of other positive benefits.

Hotel and Hostel Stays Are Fun 

I think hotel and hostel stays are fun. Lounging around in the hotel robe and slippers. Sharing a breakfast table with fellow travellers in the hostel kitchen and telling stories from the road. Getting tips and advice from front desk staff. All of this contributes to the special magic staying in hotels and hostels offer.

Three-tier tray of sandwiches and tarts for afternoon tea in London
We had vegan afternoon tea at our hotel in London, and it felt special to have that on site.

Hostels feel local most of the time, and are run by people who are passionate about their hometown and want to share it with the world. This can be harder to find in a hotel, so while we stay in big chains sometimes, we try to look for locally owned boutique hotels. In Barcelona, we stayed in an eco boutique hotel, and in London we stayed in a boutique hotel with a vegan restaurant. Both added immensely to our experiences there.

Real Estate Corporations Own Many AirBnBs

When AirBnB started up, it was local people offering their extra space to people to stay in. Now a bunch of the houses and apartments are owned by real estate companies. While it makes a stay feel professionally handled, it just isn’t something I’m interested in. They buy up a bunch of property across a city and contribute to the housing crisis I explained a few paragraphs up. I noticed this trend in the past few years staying in AirBnBs across the US. It takes the “homey” feel of staying in AirBnBs and makes it feel corporate, which is the opposite of what I want when I travel.

Where I Stay Instead

Two strangers talking over coffee
Talking with fellow travellers is one of the best parts of staying in a hostel

As I mentioned, we look for boutique hotels and hostels so our money goes to locals. People who go into the hospitality industry are passionate about their city, and want to share it. We’ve found nothing but warm welcomes and have felt like family. I get the exact same experience as people are looking for on AirBnB, but without the drawbacks.

Exceptions to This Rule

There is one exception to this rule: when we can tell an accommodation on AirBnB is a part of someone’s property. For example, we stayed in a pool house in San Diego, a garage apartment in Redmond, Oregon outside of Bend, and a detached mother-in-law guesthouse in Tofino, Canada. These were awesome stays where we were contributing to a family’s economy and helping their overall annual income. I’m super into that.

Traveling is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. We see how things are done in other places and it helps us break down the walls people try to put up between groups of people. As Brene Brown says, “People are hard to hate up close.”

That said, travel can be really damaging for local people and economies. As I travel and learn more and more, I try to make the most responsible decisions as possible. Observing what AirBnB is doing to cities, I have chosen not to stay in them.

What do you think? Is there something about AirBnB that I’ve missed? Do you stay in them or not? Let’s learn from each other in the comments!

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