After long days conducting archaeological fieldwork, I have taken shelter in a range of different forms of lodging ranging from tents to multi-room suites (FYI: I think tents are great for camping but not for work. Knowing you have to work the next day spoils the novelty of sleeping in a tent. Also, sleeping in an RV is not camping). Temporary lodging is where an archaeologist lives, sleeps and works while away from home. Temporary lodging is also where we operate side hustles and hobbies. The Succinct Research Blog was launched from a hotel room over 6 years ago. The post you are currently reading was written from an Airbnb over several evenings after fieldwork.
I have been thinking about what sort of lodging is best for archaeological field crews for a few years now. There are so many different types of short-term rentals available today and I’ve noticed that cultural resource management companies are increasingly choosing to house field crews in Airbnb-type rental homes instead of hotels. From what I’ve heard, field crews have mixed feelings about this. I also have mixed feelings.
Each cultural resource management archaeologist has different needs while in the field and I believe there is no ideal field lodging situation that will meet every archaeologist’s needs except for one’s own home. Nevertheless, we all have to find some sort of shelter at night, whether we provide it ourselves or our companies/clients make the reservations. Neither Airbnb nor hotels are perfect but they’re the prevailing lodging options for CRMers in the United States.
My feelings about the most optimal type of lodging have changed over the years but I have come to realize the advantages and drawbacks for Airbnb’s or hotels for archaeological field lodgings.
Airbnb/VRBO/Short-Term Home Rentals
DEFINITION: In this blog post, the term “Airbnb” refers to any sort of short-term rental home regardless of which corporation or property manager from which the dwelling is rented. Condo, townhouse, apartment, single-family home, ect. is not important for the following conversation. The key to this definition is the fact that these sort of lodgings have rooms commonly found in North American homes—kitchen, bedroom(s), bathroom(s), living room/den, and other rooms.
UBIQUITY: Temporary home rentals are common in urban areas but are rare in remote locals.
DENSITY: Again, cities are riven with Airbnbs (except where prohibited). In the countryside, it is difficult to find an Airbnb.
Archaeologists commonly rent Airbnbs for several reasons:
- Cheaper: Airbnbs are popular in CRM archaeology because they tend to be cheaper than hotels. Cultural resource companies are making the switch because they can house numerous employees in a home more easily than they can in a hotel. Additionally, companies can pull other “cost saving” shenanigans like withholding per diem or food allowance (because you have a kitchen so you can provision it yourself just like you would at home, which means you don’t HAVE to eat at a restaurant.)
- Variety: Hotels are fairly straightforward—an assortment of rectangular rooms within a larger building that can be rented temporarily. Each hotel room can house 1+ archaeologists, so the company will need to reserve several rooms for larger crews. Airbnbs come in an array of different configurations which makes it easier for the company to find a house that works best for the crew.
- The “Local” Experience: This always seems like a misnomer because I usually limp in from the field too tired to experience any of the local venues, but living in residential neighborhoods provides the chance to visit local shops, restaurants, bars, and amenities like other locals.
- More like home: This also seems inaccurate since nowhere seems more like home than the home I live in (except, perhaps, for my mom’s house). The homey feel of Airbnbs is attractive to some archaeologists. Airbnbs are definitely not like hotels and can be more comfortable.
- You can Cook Like at Home: You may have to buy all the supplies, but most Airbnbs have fully functional kitchens so you can enjoy home-style meals while on the road.
Despite these advantages, housing CRMers in Airbnbs is not without drawbacks.
- Operated by Amateurs: This is the biggest downside to Airbnbs. Most Airbnb owners are not in the hospitality industry. They are normal people who have decided it’s more lucrative to rent out their houses by the night than it is to rent it by the month. Because they are not professionals, I frequently find myself in suboptimal spaces that make me feel like I’m overpaying for what I get, especially when I know this place would rent for a fraction of the nightly price if it were occupied through a 12-month lease. Broken fixtures, cheap remodels, shoddy internet, no air conditioning, and dilapidated facilities are common in Airbnbs. And, there is no facility manager to whom you can report broken stuff so you could be held liable for broken things that you did not do. Staying in an Airbnb feels like crashing with your in-laws except the owners don’t want you to use “too much” air conditioning or electricity because they’re too poor to be able to afford it.
- Range of Quality: Temporary home rental companies exercise very little quality control over the properties in their network. They could enforce standards but they don’t. I can’t tell you how many times an Airbnb owner has misrepresented their property. The pictures always look good, but you can never be sure. Amenities are frequently overstated. Properties are not always in good shape. It is too easy to get catfished. Caveat emptor.
- Not Really Like Home: When you live in an Airbnb you have to provision the place yourself. I understand you will only be living there temporarily, but the setting of being in an Airbnb motivates many of us to try and make it like home which means buying a bunch of stuff like detergent, dish soap, catsup, and Tupperware that you wouldn’t buy while staying in a hotel. All of that adds up.
- You Have to Clean it Yourself: This isn’t a deal breaker since an adult should be keeping a clean home, but having access to housekeeping is a luxury you get in a hotel that doesn’t happen at an Airbnb. You frequently have to buy all the cleaning supplies yourself and Airbnb owners expect you to clean their house for the next renter.
- Shady happenings: I have an acquaintance who’s rental property got destroyed because some Airbnb renters in the same condo complex threw a wild party and one of the partygoers on methamphetamines destroyed his tenant’s property. I rented an Airbnb in San Diego where I had to throw away a grip of hypodermic needles hidden under the bathroom sink before my kids discovered them. A CRMer I know stayed in an Airbnb in Arizona where the owner forgot to close or even lock the door of their fully stocked gun safe in the garage. They just put a paper sign on the unlocked garage door that said “Keep Out.” Airbnbs are used for shady happenings that probably violate many company HASPs.
- Whack Check-In/Refund Shenanigans and Extra Charges: Checking into an Airbnb can be like running a Tough Mudder. Texting back and forth with a property owner who’s still at work and trying to hustle to their property to give you the key is annoying. Having an owner totally ghost you when you’re trying to get your room is even worse. Because the owners are amateurs, they also do whatever they can to pinch pennies like charging people for using “too much” electricity, internet, or water. It’s also hard to get your money back from an Airbnb because of the cancellation rules. In the event of a conflict, you have to go through a soulless corporate call center or email inbox. They already have your money so it’s up to you to wrestle it out of their hands.
- Whack Internet Shenanigans: On one finger, I can count the Airbnbs I’ve stayed at that had quality internet (You can guess which one). You can forget downloading huge CRM reports using the Airbnb’s internet. This is annoying when you’re staying in a house with 5 other people all trying to access the same modem and router with multiple devices. It can stall a project when the crew chiefs can’t do all the #freearchaeology and #digitalarchaeology at night after fieldwork that is necessary to keep the project moving forward.
- Real life MTV’s Road Rules: What could be more fun than digging all day with your co-workers in the middle of the scorching desert? I know. Spending 20 nights in a row with them in the same house. Remember when MTV launched the first few seasons of Road Rules? Remember how you watched with rapt attention as normal people argued, haggled, and lived drama-drenched lives? Well, guess what happens when you have four or five archaeologists who spend 10 hours busting their asses together in the field only to get to “chill out” with each other back at an apartment for the next 14 hours?
- Potential for Discrimination Complaints: Even though we are in the 21st century, some people haven’t gotten the hint about sexual harassment and discrimination. Most can keep it together while they’re in the field (except for certain SAA members), but, at night after the beer starts flowing, stupid stuff is said or done. The chances for this increase as you increase the number of boarders staying in the same dwelling and increase the length of the stay in an Airbnb. I’m not going to pretend like this won’t happen in a hotel room, but it’s more likely in a Airbnb shared with a bunch of other people who simply work together. Especially, in a mixed gender house. You can escape to your room in a hotel. You can’t do that in an Airbnb even if each person has their own room.
BTW: You shouldn’t have to hide in your room to escape discrimination or harassment regardless of the lodging situation. If this is happening to you in the field, please take action and report this to your supervisor, company’s HR and, if you don’t get an adequate response, go higher in the corporate food chain or take legal action.
- Not Designed for Business Travelers: I don’t care what internet lifestyle bloggers say– Airbnbs are not designed for corporate business travel. No business center. No copier. No space for tribal consultants or corporate CEOs to have meetings. Dysfunctional internet that makes it hard to hold webinars or conference calls. Airbnbs do not cut it for any business besides the minimalist, internet lifestyle businesspeople.
- Trashing Local Housing Economies: Finally, Airbnbs are making rental apartments scarce in many communities. Local people can’t live in neighborhoods where Airbnbs have taken a significant number of dwellings off the housing market. This is why many cities have made temporary rentals illegal.
At the end of the day, Airbnbs are best for long field projects (i.e. a month long or so). They are more cost-effective and have the potential for providing a semblance of home. You may hate all your co-workers after living with them for a month in the field, but you won’t hate the fact that the $2,000 your company saved by housing you in an Airbnb was a main reason why they got the compliance contract in the first place.
DEFINITION: In this blog post, I use the term “hotel” to mean any temporary multi-family lodging facility with several small dwelling units in the same or several adjacent buildings. Oftentimes, hotel rooms are single-room quarters without kitchens, living rooms, or separate bedrooms (I consider multi-room hotel units “suites” which is something a CRMer will rarely experience in the field). Despite the insidious practice of “double-bunking” (i.e. housing more than one CRMer in the same one-room hotel living space), hotel rooms are designed for one to two people or a small family. A hotel is intended to be a place to sleep at night with a few extra amenities.
UBIQUITY: Some form of hotel can be found in almost every settlement in the United States.
DENSITY: Hotels are most common in certain parts of town, like by the freeways, but are not usually found in residential areas. This means a CRMer’s experience of a city is limited to a view of Interstate-84 and the truck stop right off Exit 54.
Hotels have long been a mainstay of CRM. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of staying in a hotel for fieldwork:
- Costs just as much as Airbnb (or only slightly more): I know CRM is an industry that operates on dollars (I mean Washingtons) and cents (I mean Lincolns), but sometimes companies aren’t even saving a justifiable amount of money when your company chooses an Airbnb over a hotel. Renting an Airbnb in Salt Lake isn’t much cheaper than several other hotel options. Go online and check it out for yourself.
- Good Possibility for CRM Archaeology’s “Holy Trinity”: Free breakfast, internet, and mini-fridge is what I call the “Holy Trinity” of CRM Archaeology fieldwork. Happy crew, productive crew. And there’s nothing that makes a crew happier than free food, free food storage, and free entertainment.
- Room Cleaning Service: This is pretty bougie but having access to room cleaning is another benefit of staying in a hotel.
- Amenities: In addition to the Holy Trinity, many affordable hotels also have a pool/hot tub, workout room, off-street parking lot, business center (a.k.a. scanner/copier), meeting rooms, and quality internet.
- Run by Professionals: This is the biggest strength of a hotel—they are run by professionals in the hospitality industry. Hotels have straightforward check-in procedures, refunds, cancellations, and reservation adjustments. They actually have fine print that you can read stipulating their business practices should you have a complaint, need to adjust your reservation, or need a cancellation. It may not look like it at some of the more “rustic,” remote hotels but these facilities are operated by people who know what they’re doing and are 100% invested in providing services so you will pay them money.
- Solitude: Unless you work for the most bottom-feeding CRM company (or, there aren’t enough rooms in the local area), you are going to get your own room. This means you can actually get some mental health time away from the rest of the crew after work. Believe me, I’ve been on projects where sitting alone in an air conditioned hotel room in the middle of nowhere after work was the best part of the whole project.
- Can be More Expensive: I’m not going to lie. Most of the time, hotels are more expensive than a civilian renting out their house for a month. Hotels have to make payroll, pay for supplies, and maintain their facilities. This doesn’t come cheap. My favorite fieldwork hotel chain (Holiday Inn Express) is almost always more expensive than an Airbnb.
- Not Like Home: You don’t have a kitchen. A mini-fridge is not a real fridge. Your quarters are a 20-by-20—foot room with a shower, toilet, and sink. Unless you live in California’s Bay Area, this is not going to be like your home.
- Not Connected to City: The kind of hotels CRMers stay in are not usually in a vibrant, central district. We usually choose hotels in a commercial park, along freeway, outside the city center. This makes it hard to enjoy what a city has to offer after work.
- No Way to Cook (almost): Restaurant food is not the same as some home cookin’. If you’re lucky, you will receive some per diem or food allowance but you won’t really be able to buy the kind of groceries that you can use to cook healthy, savory meals in your hotel room.
(NOTE: When staying in a hotel room, please never do the following—use your coffee machine to make ramen, grill cheese sandwiches using the iron, or use a camp stove inside the hotel. You are fu*king up the hotel’s amenities when you do this. Other lodgers use the iron and coffee pot even though you don’t. Also, you might burn the place down.)
At the end of the day, staying in a hotel is best for short field projects (a couple of weeks). It can get pretty depressing and restricting living in such a small space for weeks on end. And, this is usually more expensive than renting an Airbnb so your company probably wouldn’t do this unless it was the only option.
Which one is better?
Today, the only way I’d stay in an Airbnb over a Holiday Inn Express while doing fieldwork is if the Express was way more expensive or the town I’m visiting didn’t have an Holiday Inn Express. Even though I prefer hotels, I frequently have to resort to Airbnbs to house field crews on long projects because they are cheaper, are a closer replica of home, and make logistics easier. I do what I can to ease tensions by:
- Only using an Airbnb when there is no other feasible option.
- Providing food allowances, per diem, or buying a bunch of food. (Actually, there is no way you can ease the tension that arises when your company doesn’t pay per diem while you’re out on a field project. It doesn’t matter how many frozen pizzas the crew chief buys. It always feels like you’ve been cheated.)
- Renting several apartments in the same complex. This gives folks a chance to swap rooms if they don’t like their roommates
- Assuring each person has their own room even if there are two beds in it
- Arranging same-sex rooms (This isn’t perfect but it does help).
- Respecting privacy and making sure privacy can happen (i.e. telling rowdy partiers to go outside or to the bar with that sh*t)
None of this makes up for the fact that Airbnbs foment interpersonal strain unlike hotel rooms. It also doesn’t make up for the fact that every dollar spent on an Airbnb is one dollar less for quality field hotels like Holiday Inn Express (BTW: This blog receives no compensation for acknowledging Holiday Inn Express. I just like that place when I’m on the road. Ask my wife.) The Gig Economy has democratized field lodging in such a way that makes it even more onerous to be away from home. Also, when you stay at an Airbnb, you are basically jacking up the rent in that town, making it even harder for the folks who live there after your project is done. Think about that the next time you’re trying to use your CRM salary to find a place to rent in your own town.
I’m sure there are dozens of you out there who feel differently but I know there are also a lot of people who can understand where I’m coming from when it comes to archaeology fieldwork lodging. It may also seem like I’m coming down on Airbnbs but I have stayed in a lot of places as an archaeologist and I’ve had more problems with lodging while staying in an Airbnb than in a hotel.
Tents are the worst, then Airbnbs, then hotels. The best place is your own home.
What do you think? Which one is better– Airbnb or hotels? Write a comment below or send me an email.
Having trouble finding work in cultural resource management archaeology? Still blindly mailing out resumes and waiting for a response? Has your archaeology career plateaued and you don’t know what to do about it? Download a copy of the new book “Becoming an Archaeologist: Crafting a Career in Cultural Resource Management” Click here to learn more.
Check out Succinct Research’s contribution to Blogging Archaeology. Full of amazing information about how blogging is revolutionizing archaeology publishing. For a limited time you can GRAB A COPY FOR FREE!!!! Click Here
“Resume-Writing for Archaeologists” is now available on Amazon.com. Click Here and get detailed instructions on how you can land a job in CRM archaeology today!
Small Archaeology Project Management is now on the Kindle Store. Over 300 copies were sold in the first month! Click Here and see what the buzz is all about.
Join the Succinct Research email list and receive additional information on the CRM and heritage conservation field.
Get killer information about the CRM archaeology industry and historic preservation.