Travel with kids can be expensive, especially if you choose prime family holiday destinations in large cities. That’s where Airbnb has found their niche. The website provides access to small and more unique accommodation options that can allow you to stay in places that have full facilities (just like a house) but without costing a fortune – because you stay in other people’s homes. No, this is not just a service for backpackers. Airbnb actually has family friendly accommodation and can be a clever and cost effective way to travel with kids too. Two suitcases&strollers mums tell us their experiences using Airbnb with kids.

How It Works

Airbnb specialises in allowing homeowners to advertise their spaces on the website to prospective travellers. If the idea of a holiday with kids cooped up in a hotel doesn’t appeal, this is a good alternative. In 192 countries and over 34,000 cities around the world, Airbnb offers everything from houseboats to castles to entire houses to just a room, depending on your needs.

Every property chooses their own prices, but because you are not dealing with large hotel overheads, often the costs are far cheaper than booking through the traditional channels. The website has a forum where guests can post reviews so you can read about other people’s experiences.

Airbnb also secures the payment for you so you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash and has a cancellation policy in place to protect you from property owners who might decide to change their minds.

Airbnb for Families

The idea of staying in a stranger’s home works well if you are a penny-pinching backpacker, but can it really work for families travelling with children? Absolutely, say two suitcases&strollers mums.

For a start, Airbnb provides a unique chance to live as the locals do, says Alissa Cuthbert (mother of a then 8-month-old and three-year-old) who used the website throughout Italy, including to book a stay at a goat farm near Lake Como. “We needed accommodation for 3 adults and 2 children as my mother-in-law was travelling with us so we could all be together in a large space at a more affordable price. Plus we wanted to experience more of the culture which often hotels don't allow you to do. Hotels are pretty much the same all over the world and you could be at home still for all you know,” she says. “The owners are always lovely as they enjoy meeting people from other places and this means you get to experience more of the local culture even if you are only there for a short time.” 

Ilana Rosenzweig has two kids aged 9 and 6 and used Airbnb to book accommodation in Bali, Indonesia. She was also travelling with elderly parents and wanted something comfortable that wouldn’t be too expensive. “The accommodations we got were a lot more cost effective than booking at a hotel. When traveling with kids, it is much easier to have a house so that when they go to sleep you are not stuck sitting in a dark room.”

But there were disadvantages to staying in a private property versus a hotel or resort, she acknowledges. “You don't have staff to take care of helping you make plans. You need to be more self-sufficient. But, the trade off is less expense for more space.  For us, having a house when travelling with three generations meant my husband and I could go out to dinner after the kids and my parents were asleep. We did not have the worry of leaving the children with a strange sitter or my parents having to stay awake with them in a dark hotel room until we returned.”

[For more travel tips on travelling with grandparents, see the suitcases&strollers story here.

There are also small glitches you need to be aware of that apply to staying in any private home. For Ilana it was flailing air conditioning and hot water that didn’t always work. For Alissa, some of the properties were more difficult to find than she expected because they weren’t signposted or the directions on the site were not clear.

But having full facilities can be an advantage that makes those inconveniences worthwhile. “Having a kitchen is great to be able to eat breakfast quickly and with less expense,” says Ilana. “I find it frustrating when travelling if you have to spend an hour or so on breakfast that the kids may or may not be very interested in. The kitchen is very helpful with picky eaters too.

[For more travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.] 

Checklist of Things To Ask

Since Airbnb is not a hotel group and you will be dealing directly with individual homeowners, make sure you plan in advance to ensure you know exactly what you are getting before you arrive. Here is a checklist of questions to ask to ensure a smooth holiday with kids.

·  Will keys be provided so you can enter and exit as you wish?

·  What are the check in and check out times? While Airbnb does have a standard policy, it’s worthwhile double checking with the homeowner what their expectations are.

·  If you are travelling with toddlers, is the property child-proofed? If not, what are the things you will need to look out for?

·  Ask about accessibility and ease of entrance and exit to the property, especially if you will have strollers and a lot of luggage to move.

·  Will the fridge and kitchen be stocked with any food items? If yes, what are these so you can plan around them.

·  If it seems like your accommodation may be in a remote location, ask for very specific and clear directions of how to get there.

For other accommodation booking websites specifically targeting families traveling with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here

For other quirky family-friendly accommodation ideas that kids (and parents) will love, see the suitcases&strollers stories on the British Isles, Germany, Underwater Hotels and the Kirkenes Snowhotel.