airbnb for long-term travel

August 14th, 2013 / by / in: hotels / 10 Responses


Airbnb vs Renting:

Before I went to Japan last December, I’d never used Airbnb before. I knew lots of people who had used it successfully for vacation rentals, but I was hesitant due to some of the bad things I’d heard of happening. (The fact that it’s illegal in NYC didn’t help my reluctance either.) Also, I like staying in hotels. I like fluffy towels and room service and coming back to a clean room.

But for an extended trip, a hotel wasn’t exactly a feasible solution. The cost aside, we wanted a bit more room than hotels usually afford (especially in Japan), and a kitchen to cook our own meals.

A short-term rental in Japan was an option, but renting in Japan comes with a lot of headaches and expenses. Renting in Japan generally involves paying a deposit of one month’s rent (which you are unlikely to get back), reikin or key money of one to two month’s rent, along with the first month’s rent. The key money is a “gift” to the landlord. Another option was a foreigner-friendly housing company like Leopalace or Sakura House, but we weren’t terribly fond of the places available with either or the idea of living surrounded solely by other foreigners.

So we turned to Airbnb.

Using Airbnb in Japan:

Airbnb isn’t very popular in Japan. When I first started searching for a place to stay in Tokyo on Airbnb over a year ago, there were less than 100 listings available under “Entire home/apartment.” Today, there’s over 300. (For comparison, there’s over 1000 “Entire home/apartment” listings for Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and a lot of other places in Europe.)

Our only requirements were that the apartment be well-located (for Tokyo that meant no Chiba or Saitama), have laundry facilities, and have reliable internet (which we both needed for work). We were hoping the cost would be the same or less per month than our rent in Toronto ($1700/month). $1700 a month works out to roughly $57 a night, but doesn’t include any utilities, cable, or internet (which Airbnb places pretty much always include). Other than Tokyo, we also stayed in Osaka for two months and in Seoul for a week. Here’s a breakdown of the costs at each place:

Located in: Tokyo, Japan
Cost per night: $51
Length of stay: 7 weeks
Total cost: $2499

Located in: Tokyo, Japan
Cost per night: $80
Length of stay: 3 weeks
Total cost: $1520

Located in: Osaka, Japan
Cost per night: $90
Length of stay: 2 weeks
Total cost: $1260

Located in: Osaka, Japan
Cost per night: $42
Length of stay: 6 weeks
Total cost: $1768

Located in: Seoul, South Korea
Cost per night: $72
Length of stay: 1 week
Total cost: $504

Located in: Tokyo, Japan
Cost per night: $72
Length of stay: 6 weeks
Total cost: $2664

6 months of rent in Toronto: $10,200
6 months of Airbnb: $10,215

The Result:

As you can see, some places were more expensive (usually shorter stays) and some places were less expensive (usually longer stays), but in the end it worked out to almost exactly the same amount as paying rent in Toronto. It’s actually slightly cheaper than our rent in Toronto, because again, the $1700/month is rent only, no utilities. For all the Airbnb rentals we stayed at, all the utilities were included and every place had cable and internet.

For the next three months, we’re staying in another Airbnb rental, this time in Toronto. This one is also cheaper than our rent was: $1500/month.

Obviously $1700/month gets you something very different in Toronto than in Tokyo. Our place in downtown Toronto was about 800 sq. feet: one bedroom with a den and  two bathrooms. In Tokyo, many of the places we stayed were under 300 sq feet. But $1700/month would also rent you an entire house in Detroit or a tiny studio in Manhattan. So it’s all relative, I guess.

If $1700/month seems like a lot, you could easily do this for less in other cities. Tokyo is an expensive city as far as housing costs go, and there are much, much cheaper Airbnb rentals available in other cities. (This place in Thailand for example, is only $1053 a month.)

This kind of makes me wonder why more people don’t use Airbnb as a longer-term housing solution. In order to rent in Toronto, most landlords require a copy of your credit report (low credit scores need not apply), proof of employment and salary, a letter of recommendation from your previous landlord(s), and references. To rent a place on Airbnb, all you need is a credit card.


Tips for Using Airbnb for Long-term Travel:

  • If you’re looking for a long-term stay, be sure to mention it in your messages to the person renting the place. Ask if they have a monthly rate or a discount for staying for more than a month. Tell them what you’d be willing to spend for a long-term stay. Almost always, they will be willing to negotiate a cheaper rate for a longer stay. It’s much more convenient for the host to have one person stay for three months than booking 17 different people for the same time period. They won’t have to spend nearly as much time ironing out the logistics, or as much time cleaning the place, and this is often worth a steep discount. For example, the place we stayed in Osaka was $100 a night but only $1300 a month. The host explained that it was a lot more work for him when people only stayed one or two nights, so this made sense.
  • Make sure you’re only looking at “Entire home/apartment” listings. These are the ones where you have the entire house or apartment to yourself. For short-term travel, sharing a place with your host might be fine, but you probably don’t want this for a long-term stay.
  • Check Airbnb every day religiously. Especially for somewhere like Tokyo that doesn’t have as many listings as other cities. New places pop up all the time, and one way to get a good deal is to stay at a newly-listed place. You’re taking a bit more of a risk to stay at a place with no reviews, but it often translates into a cheaper rate. Doing this always worked out well for me, but Airbnb does have a lot of safety policies in place if you’re worried.
  • Trust your gut feeling about a place. If the host seems weird or sketchy, don’t book it. You’re going to be staying at the place for a while, so if it seems too good to be true, the host is pressuring you to make a decision, or something just seems iffy, move on. Every host that we stayed with has been great, but there have definitely been places that I rejected after my initial contact with the host. Pay attention to how the host communicates — bad communication before your stay (not responding quickly, not answering your questions, or being evasive) will likely lead to bad communication during your stay.
  • Keep in mind that not all Airbnb places are created equal and there will be some initial set-up costs for each place you stay. For example, we like to cook, and although every apartment we stayed at had a kitchen and dishes, we often needed to buy small items like tongs or scissors. We could have brought them with us as we travelled, but we tended to leave them — the items we needed would change at each place, we were trying to travel lightly, and we figured the next people could use them anyway. Other initial set-up costs usually included cleaning supplies, toiletries, and food items like condiments and spices.
  • You don’t have to do this, but I almost always gave a gift to the host from Canada. We met some really cool people through Airbnb. We had meals and drinks with many of them and were invited to some of their homes, so it only seemed appropriate to give gifts. (Whether you want to give a gift at the beginning of the stay or at the end is up to you.) If you happen to be Canadian and in Tokyo, I highly recommend Heavenly Vines in Ebisu — they stock only Canadian wines, which make perfect gifts for hosts and saves you from having to haul wine or other gifts in your suitcase.
  • If you have an issue with the place you’re staying, say something. Don’t wait until the end and just leave a bad review. The host should be able to resolve it. We had some issues with internet connections and laundry through our travels, but they were all quickly and easily resolved after talking to the host.
  • Make sure you actually read the listing before you book it. If you need a place that includes laundry, or a stove, or a tv, make sure the place includes it before you arrive and start complaining. I’ve seen a lot of reviews on Airbnb where the guests are upset that the place didn’t include something like a dvd player, but the listing clearly states what is included and what is not. Sometimes if there’s something you need that’s not included (say, a hair dryer), the host will be able to provide it if you let them know in advance.
  • Bring your own towels. Okay, this isn’t 100% necessary, but we found it to be helpful. The quality of towels varied from place to place, and one place we stayed didn’t even supply towels. We bought some microfiber towels when we arrived and brought them with us for the entire trip. They’re not plush like hotel towels, but they take up very little space in a suitcase and they dry insanely fast, so they’re perfect for travelling. And sometimes, it’s nice to just have your own towel.
  • If receiving mail is important to you, ask about the mail situation beforehand. At some places we had easy access to the mailbox, and at others the mail was checked by the host. It wasn’t too much of an issue for us, because we had set our mail in Toronto to forward to a mail scanning service. (They receive your mail, scan it, and email you your mail as a PDF.) I recommend this if you’re doing any kind of long-term travel, Airbnb or otherwise.
  • This is probably really obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway: keep the place clean. Be a nice guest. It’s not a hotel and no one is cleaning up after you. Treat the place like you actually live there. Yes, there is a cleaning fee and the host will clean up after you leave, but try to leave the place in the same condition you found it. Spending the morning before you check out sweeping and vacuuming and taking out the garbage won’t take very long and the host will be happy. (This will also help to ensure you get a good review!)

So that’s my rather long entry about long-term travel with Airbnb. I have spent the last nine months of my life living in Airbnb rentals, and I’ve survived. More than survived — it’s been fun and I’ve meet some great people. It’s taught me a lot about living minimally and and what you actually need in your life on a day-to-day basis (answer: much less than you think). If I wasn’t back in Toronto indefinitely, I could keep doing this forever. (Maybe someday I will!)

10 Comments to airbnb for long-term travel

  • […] Airbnb in Japan (it’s cheaper than you think) […]

  • MJuwaidi says: Hi, I already have booked a slot here for 2 weeks. I booked it out of impulsed and its my first time travelling anywhere alone. I am really afraid of what’s gonna happened when I reached to my destination. What happened if I didn’t made it through( Unable to go in ), will my luggage get stolen and such? I hope you are able to reply to me soon. Thank you so much for this

    • melissa says:

      Ummm… what? Your luggage is unlikely to get stolen. But if you’re really paranoid about it, I’d suggest not using Airbnb.

  • bobbi says:

    Thanks for the article; we are heading to Seoul in April for 2-3 months, and I was wondering about using airbnb. If you recommend the apartment in Seoul you used, please feel free to drop me an email with the listing number (or just respond here). We work online and so we need reliable internet and studios are too crowded for 2 laptops with external monitors, so we need at least a 1-bedroom or possibly a loft. Thanks again for posting this info!

    • melissa says:

      The place I stayed is probably too small for you then. But I find that internet is generally very reliable and very fast in Seoul (way more so than in North America or Japan) so that shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Wifey says:

    We’ve been using airbnb for short travels in the States and had no real issues with it. I think we’ll do the same in Japan; glad to hear you’ve had experience with it there!

    • melissa says:

      Yes! We had very good experiences in Japan and a lot of our hosts were amazing. We’re actually going back to stay with one in March.

  • Fred says:

    > because we had set our mail in Toronto to forward to a mail scanning service.

    What service? Thanks!

    • melissa says:

      I didn’t mention the specific service, because I don’t recommend them. They’re in Vancouver, and I really wish I could have found a place in Toronto that does mail scanning.

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