I Let My Kids Pick Our Airbnbs, and I Can’t Believe How Well It Worked

published Jul 20, 2023
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young girl at home playing with tablet or ipad wearing yellow headphones
Credit: Johner Images/Getty Images/Johner RF

As a mom who spent her pre-parenting days backpacking a couple of continents, when remote work and virtual learning became the new norm, I was eager to pack my bags and get my children out into the world, and into some super-cool stays. Only one of our three kiddos is school-age (and has a flexible school schedule), so when virtual learning began, my husband and I seized an opportunity to educate our kids from the road. We handed our house keys over to sitters and spent 18 months traveling south on the Pan American Highway, visiting nine countries along the way.

At first, I loved using my ultra-organized skill set to search for unique properties that would comfortably fit our family of five while also offering an immersive experience. But always being on the planning side eventually felt more like a burden than a blessing. I’d been reserving Airbnbs for a solid year — scouring rentals for the right price, rating, and ambiance — and the process was losing its luster. I knew I had to hand over the reins if I wanted the magic and momentum to last. 

So I asked my little nomads what they wanted. It turned out, they had some incredible ideas of their own — and it made my job easier.

How We Let Our Kids Choose Our Airbnbs

When it comes to booking a homestay, we have some non-negotiables as a family: Two bedrooms, strong Wi-Fi, in budget, and we should always try for a place with a washing machine and a parking spot. When it became clear, somewhere around our 20th rental, that our kids had cultivated some of their own preferences — excitedly pointing out a triple bunk bed, or requesting a spot with a balcony so they could have virtual class outside — we decided to let them take the reins on choosing our upcoming Airbnbs

So we shared our must-haves with them to set the filters for their search, including a max price and filling in the length of the stay. Then, we typed in our upcoming location, and let the kids loose to explore and dream. When we began this experiment, Airbnb had just launched its “categories” feature, so housing types were now grouped by icons (like a palm tree for coastal retreats), making it easier for our pre-readers who only wanted to be beachside to select their hotspots. Plus, the touchscreen laptop meant the world was literally at their fingertips, without troublesome tech. 

Credit: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

What We Learned from Letting Our Kids Pick

Booking Airbnbs provided organic lessons in finances, geography, language, and, most importantly, adaptability. Once in Guatemala, when some unexpected road closures prevented us from reaching our destination, despite some initial grumbling, the kids were the first to hop on the rental site and reroute us to a city that turned out to be surprisingly fun! 

Around this time, I realized I could intentionally work the logistics of lodging into their worldschooling and it became the perfect way to engage our children (even the 3-year-old!) in the incredible journey we were on. Bonus: The kids also learned quickly that getting everything they wanted simply wasn’t possible — especially with competing interests — but that they could find a balance from one place to the next. Sharing a bunk in one home seemed a fair trade for a luxurious canopy bed in the next spot. 

Best parts? It allowed us as parents to dive deeper into what inspires our children, and they found things to love about the world all on their own. It was the epitome of self-led learning. We’ve since returned home and our trips are a bit more local these days, but I don’t plan a stay without consulting our tiny experience experts first. 

Here Are Our Kids’ Top 10 Airbnb Picks

With the grown-ups’ ground rules, a bit of added flexibility from us in terms of style, and the creative imaginations of childhood, we wound up in the most amazing homes.

  • This “Heidi” themed cottage on El Salvador’s Ruta de las Flores has a dedicated kids’ space, a bonfire for roasting marshmallows, and a delicious breakfast even the pickiest eaters will love.
  • This “fairy” stay in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, beckons kids to wander the serene, fruitful gardens surrounding the home.
  • This “jungle” retreat on Lake Arenal in Costa Rica is immersed in pristine rainforest with tons of wildlife on your doorstep and unparalleled sunsets.
  • This “royal” chalet near Honduras’ capital, with its stunning architecture and expansive valley vistas, had the kids roaming around in full castle mode.
  • With 360-degree rooftop views of four volcanoes and an open air living room theater, this Antigua, Guatemala, house kept the kids erupting with excitement.
  • Take the family canoeing on a beautiful crater lake from this shorefront home on Coatepeque, El Salvador. We loved ending the day with a dip in the infinity-style plunge pool.
  • If art and recycling got together to make a house, it would look like this: a remarkable example of what’s possible in contemporary construction on a hilltop in Valparaiso, Chile.
  • This “pirate” lodge, located on the Pacific coast in remote and rugged Chanaral, Chile, is a geographical playground, and still the backdrop to our children’s wildest adventure stories.
  • This dome home with a wood-fired hot tub is in the hills of Vicuña, Chile, a town known for its stargazing. This homestay has incredible night views and is just a short trip from Mamalluca Observatory.
  • This Peruvian beachfront condo not only boasts ocean scenery, but the towering sands just outside the back door also ensured that dune climbing became our kids’ new favorite activity.