As has been the hot trend among millennials for a few years now, when my husband and I travel, we tend to lean towards short-term rentals as opposed to hotels. As hosts of two AirBNB rentals, we may be biased towards this style of travel. But while the monetary benefit of becoming hosts motivates us to fill as many bookings as possible, it’s the unique settings, interesting people, and awesome accommodations that, when it’s time to travel ourselves, prompts us to utilize the exact same service that we supply to others. We’ve used AirBNB all over the country and in Europe, and though we’ve had some interesting adventures, we’ve never had a bad experience. Maybe acting as hosts gives us more confidence to travel this way. We’re pretty normal people, and we have people stay with us. We would stay in either of our places! Do you know what kind of crazy stuff happens in hotel rooms?! Isn’t it less likely that those kinds of things would happen in someone’s personal rental?
Ok. Maybe yes, maybe no. But either way, we’ve found the benefit of these types of accommodations far outweighs the “risks.” Our AirBNB stays have been cheaper, in better locations, with nicer amenities than we would have had in a hotel. Never is this more apparent than when we travel with friends. Often times when travelling with a group, the best you can hope for is adjoining hotel rooms. You might all pile into one room for the night to cram on the beds and pass around room service pizza and plastic cups of wine, and if that’s your style, by all means continue. If you can pop for the suite upgrade and enjoy luxurious views at penthouse levels, good for you. To my taste, I’ll take a comfy living room with plush sofas, throw pillows, free WiFi and a fully functional kitchen all for the same price as a hotel any day of the week! These kinds of cozy accommodations are out there, and they’re not even that hard to find if you’re willing to scroll around, read some reviews, and break out of the traditional, hotel mode.
For the sake of this post, we’re going to talk about group rentals only. Though I’ve stayed in some excellent single room places, I think houses and guest suites are the primo way to stay if you’re travelling with a group. My main recommendation in booking for a group is to make sure to read the posting fully and understand what you’re getting, particularly in the way of bedrooms or sleeping arrangements. It’s not necessarily unusual to see places listed that “sleep 8” but only when two people share an air mattress and two more share the pull out sofa. Hosts are typically pretty forthcoming about this because they are required to list how the sleeping accommodations break down, but you may also want to check pictures and reviews to find out how rooms are arranged and what kind of experiences past renters had.
Case and point. Rental stay #1. Fern Hollow Cabin. Now before I launch into my Fern Hollow Cabin experience, let me preface. I’m recommending all of these places, some with caveats, others with none. My experience in each place was just that, an experience. Some were amazing, others were worth amazing stories. Depending on how you’re looking to travel, what kind of experience you’re looking to have, and where you’re looking to go, they all have some merit. I’ll make sure to denote the ones I would consider absolutely, 100% normal. But know in advance, not all of them get that designation! 😆
Back to Fern Hollow Cabin. Fern Hollow Cabin was the first vacation rental home I ever stayed in with a group. We were there for friend’s bachelorette party, and after finding the place, (which was a bit of a chore!) we set up “camp” at what was described by the owners as a “historic, solar-powered, eco cabin.” You might ask what that means? I wish someone would have asked what that meant before we went there! The cabin was built in 1853 and has been historically restored with the original woodwork and log fittings. It’s been furnished in antique appointments and textiles, and the “old-time” feeling has been well maintained throughout. There is running water in the kitchen, but it’s cold, and there is no indoor plumbing. Instead a composting toilet is available outside the cabin, along with a bucket of sawdust to “flush” with. You can imagine that nine girls found this arrangement…challenging.
More so than the physical accommodations, however, the real thing that made Fern Hollow Cabin unique was the people who ran it. We met Liz and Daniel as we first came up the driveway to the cabin, passing by their solar eco-house. They were, literally, children of the Earth. They walked barefoot through the yard wearing something I’d only seen in an old photo of Woodstock. They had retired early from their “real jobs” to travel the area leading campfire song conventions and spent most of their time tending their large garden, schooling their children, and studying herbalogy, midwifery and meditation. (If you told me they grew marijuana somewhere on their land it would not have shocked me!) They joined us later that night around our campfire by the cabin. Daniel brought a bongo, and they led us in some of their original songs. In the morning, Liz arrived at our cabin door with fresh, organic eggs and home milled pancake mix. She led us in a song to greet the dawn. “Wake at dawn with a winged heart, wake at dawn with a winged heart. Give thanks! Give thanks! Another day is dawning!” It was a rough morning. There were nine of us and only two beds in the cabin, so most of us had slept on the hardwood floor. We’d gone to bed late after much merriment, and had been woken up early by an insistent knocking at the backdoor. But somehow, you just can’t get upset at a woman standing in the doorway wearing a flowing muumuu, holding organic eggs, and singing to the sun.
Why would I recommend the cabin? Because it literally made for THE. BEST. STORY! We laughed about that stay for YEARS after it happened. We made mp3 recording to share of the songs we learned before we forgot them. Would I go back? Not with 9 people. Not unless I knew I was going to sleep in a bed or brought along my own air mattress! As I said, read the accommodation information! But what an experience. If you’re in northeast Iowa, or looking to just get away for a spell in a wacky, free love environment, this is one you’ve got to try!
A second bachelorette party weekend brought me to rental stay #2, Stirling’s. Stirling’s may be one of the strangest homes I’ve ever stayed in on AirBNB, but it still gets a recommendation, so hang with me! The listing is described as a “private room in a farm stay.” I’m not sure what “farm” is being referred to, though the family did raise and breed dogs, so there were kennels all over the place. Do you call that a dog farm? I thought you just called that a kennel?
There were 14 girls along for the trip, and the listing was, first and foremost, appealing because of the number of sleeping accommodations is offered. The hosts listed 16+ guests could sleep comfortably in the rental…and we probably could have, if some of us would have been infants, toddlers, or child-sized adults. I first grew weary of the arrangements when I noticed that it seemed like, according to the post, there were a lot of beds crammed into each bedroom. Two queen beds, a single bed, and a toddler bed, is a lot of furniture in one space. It turned out, as you may have guessed, that many of the beds were bunk beds. Not that I’m opposed to bunk beds, but it’s unlikely that most bunk beds are safety rated for two grown women to share a top bunk! Some of the beds were also cubby lofts built into the walls, and another two or three were Harry Potter style “cupboard under the stairs” cots.
Beyond the bedding situation, there were a lot of other strange quirks about the place. There were baby footprints stamped above the light switches. There were swinging apparatuses in two of the bedrooms. The bedrooms locked from the outside. The hosts sons slept in a room right outside the rental portion of the house on the other side of a door that did not lock. A mouse joined our stay at 1:00am. The kitchen was decorated in wood paneling and horse plates. The livingroom was decorated in the Ten Commandments and relics of Christianity. There was a fair amount of the family’s personal stuff lying around the rental side of things. It didn’t feel particularly clean. We joked all weekend that it was the kind of situation in which horror movie plots thrives. Nothing of odd consequence happened to us during our stay, however.
You might be wondering why I’d ever go back to this place, and why I’d even consider recommending it. Three reasons: 1. Oh my goodness the stories! Like Fern Hollow Cabin, this one is just an experience! 2. The location. Though we didn’t get to enjoy it because it was kind of chilly and the whole situation was a bit strange, there was lake access at this house. You can fish from the pier, and though there wasn’t a larger boat dock, I’m sure you could also easily launch a canoe or kayaks from the shore. 3. The indoor pool and hot tub. Admittedly, you needed to access these through the host’s main house, and it was extremely awkward to walk through their kitchen and a bathroom to get into the pool house, but they were really cool about letting us use it at all hours of the day or night, and it seemed clean and well maintained. Don’t think you’re going to sleep more than about 8 people comfortably, and don’t set your expectations too high, and I’m confident you’ll have a great time.
If you think these places sound nuts, and you’re starting to doubt my ability to recommend a place to stay, then please, please, please hold on long enough to read my MUST STAY review! Rental stay #3 was a group stay for a wedding in Minneapolis. Described as “big and bright, best location among mansions,” this stay is the real reason that you should be looking on AirBNB for your group rentals!
Our group shared this upper level apartment over two nights this fall. Set in a historical neighborhood, the house provided a quiet place to go back to after the day’s events, with plenty of parking, a full kitchen, sitting areas, a real fireplace, and warm homemade chocolate chip cookies upon our arrival. The host, Martha, could not have been nicer, and her home was beautiful. Original woodwork and stained glass made for charming accents to a comfortably furnished, modernly updated rental space. The listing mentioned four bedrooms, though it was actually three and a sun room with a pull out sofa that could become its own bedroom space. If you looked past the fact that one of the walls of said space was a set of french doors that led into the second bedroom, it was fine and fully functional. There were heavy curtains to draw for privacy.
Did the place have its quirks? Sure. I think all places probably do. The floors squeaked something terrible, and many of the doors stuck in their frames. The shower situation in one of the bathrooms was a little crazy because of how the curtain was arranged, but it was fully functional! We almost smoked ourselves out of the kitchen trying to use the toaster. And the upstairs bedroom loft had a strange window that looked down into the kitchen. Would any of these things keep me from staying here again? Absolutely not. The location was perfect! This is the one I 100% recommend as completely normal! We had a great stay. If you have a group less than 8, you’ll have a great stay too! Book this rental, and enjoy a vacay with your friends!
If you’re willing to cut the cord on your cable…or swipt right on a dating app…then getting off Priceline and staying in a hosted rental should be no big deal! (Mom, I know those criteria don’t apply to you, but you should really be doing this anyway!) This isn’t the couch surfing of yesteryear, these are real homes, often nice homes, that not only provide you a place to stay, but often an experience to go along with it! And that’s all we should want out of vacation anyway, right!? An experience! Preferably one that goes beyond luke warm room service food and the possibility of bed bugs!
Have you had a good or bad AirBNB stay!? Let me know! Know a place I should definitely book? Tell me that too! Oh, and if you’re ever in Rochester, MN…check out our rentals: Cascade Creek Guest House, and Rhythm and Snooze.