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Can you use Airbnb and still be a sustainable traveler?

Can you use Airbnb and still be a sustainable traveler?

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My list said “publish something about the Wild Atlantic Way or the Val Miñor” but between Ophelia and the fires in Galicia, I don’t have the mood to write about neither of them. So I’ve decided to shift to Airbnb and how they are responsible for the damage of Venezia, Barcelona, Los Angeles… (or not)

For the last few months, I’ve read at many mass media and heard many people blame the collaborative economy for ruining cities and travel industries. But who is really to blame?

When Airbnb started 10 years ago, the idea behind it was great: getting together people from different parts of the world so they don’t only share a space but a local way of living. But with the years, this has turned renting way too expensive and locals out of touristic spots. Can we fix this?

Collaborative travel vs. Sustainability

I attended a Sustainability conference a few weeks ago in Ireland and, how ignore it? we also talked about the paintings in Barcelona and Palma against tourists. ¡Tourist go home! A shout to focus on the effects of massive tourism in the economies and way of living of the hosting communities.

But, even though media always puts the pressure on the platforms, non of the speakers were against the Airbnb model. One of them even promoted it as a way to immerse in the local culture and avoid the mass tourism that is killing places like the cliffs of Moher. It’s just a clue that shows that the problem is not only on the platform: Gentrification, lack of respect, drunk people jumping off balconies… maybe we should put the focus on cheap flights, tour operators or education?

If you take the WTO definition of Sustainable Tourism: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”,  collaborative tourism can be really sustainable. We just need to learn how.


9 ways to be a more sustainable traveler when you use Airbnb

1.-If you can, choose a shared room instead of a full flat

Sharing a home with a local is the origin and the most positive thing of Airbnb. It is the place where you can connect with the locals, share quality time (if you want) and discover unique neighbourhood as if you were living there.

It doesn’t mean that you cannot book a full flat and live a similar experience: some hosts can give you the best recommendations in the world (we didn’t meet our host in Kyoto but she recommended our favorite place there) but you will miss the interaction and you can lose perspective, living as you would do at your own house (in your country.)

2.-Don’t book what is managed by a company, a hostel or a guesthouse

You can find more hostels, bed & breakfast and even hotels at Airbnb. It is an alternative way for them to find new guests, but they truly damage the experience on Airbnb.

Other alien agents are real state companies and investors, people who manage dozens of flats at the same city (or even across a country). These agents are usually looking for profit instead of client experience or community growth. Of course, there are agencies that are trying to help independent owners to manage their flats more efficiently, but you will see those together with the host at their Airbnb profile, not as the hosts themselves.

And, sometimes one owner will have different rooms at the same house, those are usually fine (and many are superhosts!)

3.-Avoid immediate bookings, as long as you can

I am writing this right after sending a booking with immediate confirmation for London, but just because it is at a Superhost with great evaluations which follows all of the other recommendations and I’ve talked to the host before booking. But still, if I can choose between immediate bookings and booking requests, I prefer sending booking requests.

Why? Because it means that the owner takes its time to learn more about you and anyone who will be visiting their home, what their plans are and how to add plans or ideas for their visit. It also means that you will have to talk with the host way before you get on the plane and have the chance to ask about the area and get some recommendations there.

But you will have to get your profile updated, it will be like handing your business card and what will get your booking (together with what you write on your request, of course.)

4.-Avoid hosts that tells you “not to talk to neighbours” or “say you are a friend.”

It isn’t easy to know if an Airbnb host is breaking the law. Airbnb isn’t helpful either, saying that local laws and taxes are not their problem and put the blame on hosts (I have a different opinion, there are lots of things they can do, even if they don’t want to because it means less business…) But one way to see that they are not doing it right is if they try to hide you from the rest of the neighbourhood.

Sometimes, they write this so you don’t bother their neighbours, specially in old neighbourhoods where people don’t speak English, but if you see this at the apartment description or comments, it is a very bad sign.

5.-Avoid those Airbnb that don’t charge for additional people or allow you to book any amount of days

Almost every Airbnb host sets a maximum and a recommended occupancy, charging an extra for any person over the recommended amount for the extra cleaning and utilities. So if at a studio you can host up to 4 people but it is best for 2, they charge a little extra for the third and the fourth person.

But when you see magazines talking about how bad Airbnb is for neighbourhoods, they usually show tiny places that exceed their capacity. This is not sustainable and certainly not the spirit of a true Airbnb. So, avoid feeding these places, it is a way to tell the platform that these might be profitable, but we don’t want those as travelers.

Regarding the minimum and maximum stays, if you see a place that allows you to stay for only one night, it most probably means that the flat is managed as a hotel. You won’t live the local experience and the host won’t be able to show you anything in half a day. If you are only staying one night, book a hotel or hostel.

6.-Always go for those places that talk about their neighbourhood or promote local businesses

The best Airbnb hosts always have something in common: they love the city they live in and the know all the secrets of their neighbourhood. It is not enough to meet someone in London who tells you that you should visit the BigBen (you can read that anywhere. If you are looking for a local experience, you need someone who can show you around.

7.-Choose areas with “real people”

This is connected with the above point: if there is no local people living there, how can you live like a local? I don’t like cities that look like a movie set, so I always recommend looking for unique neighbourhoods when I chose and Airbnb.

Of course, at those cities and neighbourhoods where people has started to flee because the impact of Airbnb has made them too expensive to live there, I ignore Airbnb and choose a hotel. It is a good alternative to balance the impact and to stop the growth of this gentrification effect.

8.-Always investigate if there are hidden touristic taxes you should pay (and pay them)

It is hard to know if you are paying taxes as a tourist that uses the collaborative economy. Each city/country in the world manages touristic taxes differently and owners might include the city tax into the nightly rate, add it as a separate fee or email it afterwards because they will collect it in person (and some flats are not even legal).

Plus, different booking sites won’t help (Airbnb does things different in every city, so when they tell you that they cannot manage local taxes in Barcelona because it is technologically complex, they are doing it in at some cities.) This adds more frustration to all of us trying to make things right.

Don’t be a traveling pirate, if there is a local taxation for tourists, pay for it and request your invoice. You will find them in Barcelona, Balearic Islands, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Rome… (here a full list of places with an ecotax or tourist tax in Europe).

9.-If they recycle, reuse or have grow their own greens, thumbs up!

Not all of Airbnb flats are ecologically responsible, but many are into it. From those with their own kitchen-garden to those openly talking about recycling and waste management at their house rules.

If a family is conscious, you will feel it at their page. And no, I am not talking about the cheap ones that have coin-powered utilities (I’ve seen a few this week).


Airbnb can be a great way to travel and contribute to local economies, becoming a better traveler and person on your way. No, not everybody feels this as rewarding or comfortable as in a hotel, but if you dare to try, it will sure change the way you travel and see these sort of platforms and alternative accommodation.


Ready to try Airbnb?

If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet and want to put these recommendations into practice, you can sign up through my profile in Airbnb and they will give you a 25€ discount on your first booking (some conditions apply).


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