By Lizann Lightfoot
When our family plans a vacation, we rarely stay at a hotel. As a family of six, we would be required to rent two hotel rooms per night to stay at most locations, and that is way too expensive for a military family.
Instead, we have discovered a way to save money and get more space. We use Airbnb. This website allows families to rent rooms, apartments, or entire homes from individual owners. You can search for rental units in most cities across the US, and around the world.
Here’s how to make the most of Airbnb
Save money. During a PCS move, the government provides a per diem allowance for lodging based on mileage and family size. Since our family has six people, we need to rent two hotel rooms which could run about $300 total per night. We have rented Airbnb houses for around $100 to $150 per night which allows us to pocket a lot of extra cash during a PCS or save money on a vacation. Having a full-sized kitchen in the home can help save money on meals, too, since you won’t have to eat every meal at a restaurant.
Although Airbnb does not have an official military affiliation, you can always ask owners if they offer a military discount. You may be surprised by the number of veteran and military-affiliated families!
Tons of amenities. When we search for an Airbnb unit, we choose the amenities that are important to us. We usually find a house that includes a playroom for kids, separate bedrooms to put the baby to sleep earlier, and an outdoor private pool where everyone can relax. Family rentals always includes a kitchen, which is an important improvement over a hotel.
You can look for Airbnb locations that are pet-friendly, include free parking, are walking distance from a tourist attraction, or have a convenient location for your trip. We have found locations with rooftop gardens, backyard farms, and even a tower with panoramic views of the city–all at cheaper rates than local hotels!
Meet local experts. One of our favorite aspects of using Airbnb is that you usually meet the owner and can get their personal opinions about the area. Some people are concerned about renting from strangers, but we never felt that way. We have used Airbnb about a dozen times, and each owner was very friendly, cooperative, and eager to tell us about their city.
The site allows visitors to rate their owners, so you can stick with owners that have a high approval rating. Many provided us with maps, metro or bus tickets, and details for discounts on tourist attractions. Some left us gift baskets with local treats and a personalized note. And all of them answered our questions about when to visit, where to go, and how to get there easily. We enjoyed making personal connections with owners instead of interacting with hotel staff.
Perfect for families stationed overseas. When we were stationed in Europe, we used Airbnb to travel to historic cities in several different countries. You can experience more of the local culture and flavor if you stay at Airbnb locations. We found that most Airbnb owners speak English, and we were able to email them ahead of time to get detailed directions about the location, how to get there, and where to park. Hosts always answered our questions patiently and showed us how to use everything, so we felt like we were not alone. In addition, we received these welcome gestures from international hosts:
- In Ireland, the owners let us visit their dairy farm so the kids could watch the cows’ morning milking.
- In Portugal, the host invited us to his mother’s house for cakes and port wine tasting.
- In Granada, Spain, the owner filled the kitchen with fresh grapes, tomatoes, and oranges from his home garden. When we needed a taxi ride, he called his friend and set it up for us.
- On the Mediterranean, the owner (who was in the TV industry) told us which beaches to visit to see the most movie stars. He also told us which bars were best for viewing the World Cup.
- In Toledo, Spain, when the owner learned that we were celebrating our anniversary, she brought us a gift basket of wine and pastries from the local bakery.
- In Lisbon, Portugal, the owner stopped by with food and gifts for the kids on Christmas Eve! We still have the Portuguese storybook she gave them.
When you are planning your family’s summer vacation or next PCS move, visit the Airbnb website and see if there is a rental unit available in your city. Your family could save money, have more space, and make a memorable connection with your local hosts.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.