Short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnb
and Vrbo offer much that hotels can’t, such as authenticity and uniqueness. Yet these benefits come with some major downsides. Unpredictability and hit-or-miss property management means that travelers never know what to expect before walking in the door.
According to a survey commissioned by Airbnb in 2019, “functionality” (such as a working coffee maker) was more important than “thoughtfulness” (such as a hand-written welcome sign) for most travelers. Yet functionality is exactly where vacation rentals suffer in comparison to hotels.
Need more towels while staying at a resort? Call the front desk. Run out of toilet paper while staying at an Airbnb? Good luck.
From dull knives in the kitchen to crepe-paper-thin pillowcases, vacation rental amenities can be more miss than hit. That’s why packing your own fix-it kit can make all the difference. Here’s what to bring to avoid the worst Airbnb rental headaches.
For the bedroom
Despite all the hubbub on social media about hidden cameras in Airbnb properties, this remains a very rare problem. You probably don’t need to sweep your bedroom like a CIA agent.
Yet plenty of other horrors could await you in the bedroom, as seasoned travelers know well.
When flying to a destination, consider bringing:
Pillowcases. A pair of comfortable, clean pillowcases can improve one of the worst short-term rental offenses: thin linens.
Earplugs, for when it turns out that your “bedroom” is actually a partially walled-off section of the living room. Or it overlooks a freeway.
Carbon monoxide monitor. Airbnb includes this on the “amenities” list if your rental has one. If it doesn’t, consider bringing one for the bedroom.
If you’re driving instead of flying, you might consider also bringing:
A full set of sheets and pillows. Make sure to check the size of the bed beforehand (this is usually included in the listing).
House slippers. Despite that large “cleaning fee,” the floors of vacation rentals aren’t always spotless. Light house slippers can overcome the yuck factor.
Nightlight. Getting from the bedroom to the bathroom isn’t always easy (without turning all the lights on and disturbing a sleeping partner).
For the kitchen
Cooking food rather than eating out is a major plus for budget-conscious travelers. Indeed, access to a kitchen was the number one reason for choosing a vacation rental over a traditional hotel choice, according to a 2021 survey from ValuePenguin, a consumer research website.
But travel chefs beware: These kitchens can be true wildcards. The fridge might be completely bare, or it might house four different ketchups. You never know.
Here’s what to bring:
Oil, salt and pepper. Chances are a previous guest will have left one or two of these (or several dozen), but it’s basically impossible to cook without them.
A decent pan. Unless you’re a huge fan of scratched-off teflon, bringing your own frying pan can be a game-changer. (PSA to other guests: Don’t use metal utensils on nonstick pans!)
A decent knife. Chopping veggies for a house full of people with a dull, flimsy knife is no fun. Packing a knife is a pain, but worth it.
Coffee and maker. Bringing your Aeropress or pour-over setup is the surest way to avoid a coffee snob’s worst nightmare: Keurig machines.
For the bathroom, etc.
Unlike hotels, which offer everything you need and several things you might not, Airbnb bathrooms often include an old bottle of Suave hair conditioner and little else.
Don’t leave home without:
Shampoo, conditioner and soap. The property may be stocked with these, but they will probably be terrible.
Laundry pods. Airbnb hosts, unlike hotels, often wash everything with scented laundry detergent. If you find that offensive, bring your own detergent.
A towel. If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember to bring your own towel.
Other ways to avoid headaches
If packing all this sounds like a lot (and it is), there are other ways to avoid or mitigate some of the problems caused by a poorly stocked rental unit.
Search the reviews. Keywords such as “stocked” and “noise” can help identify problem areas.
Book an Airbnb Plus. These properties undergo more thorough vetting and tend to have better amenities. They are generally more expensive, however.
Ask the host. Not sure whether to bring your own shampoo? Ask the host what to expect. Most will reply quickly.
The bottom line
Airbnbs and other vacation rental alternatives provide an off-the-beaten-path choice to hotels. But sometimes the path is beaten for a reason. Hotels offer reliable amenities, unlike many vacation rentals.
Packing your own kit of essentials might seem like a burden, but it’s better than checking in and realizing that you need to run to Target for hand soap or a decent pillow. In fact, dedicated digital nomads might consider creating a standard grab-and-go kit to bring to every new vacation rental stay.
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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @samsambutdif.