Have you thought about renting someone’s home or apartment instead of booking a hotel room the next time you travel to a big city? If you’re one of the 60 million people who has booked a home, apartment, castle, houseboat or villa through Airbnb, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Airbnb has turned the hospitality industry on its head and is attracting travelers looking to avoid expensive hotel and resort fees.

We had a few questions about how it works and suspect you might too. Here’s what we discovered.

(Note two terms to be familiar with—a guest is someone who rents an Airbnb and a host is the owner of the property.)

Do I have to share accommodations with someone else?
No, unless you want to. The options are limitless, it seems. You can rent one room or an entire house. You can even rent a castle or a houseboat. Each opportunity is unique so it’s important to read all of the details in each host’s profile to clearly understand if you’re sharing space with the host or another renter or if it’s completely empty and all yours for the entire stay.

Where are Airbnbs located mostly?
There are 2 million host listings in 190+ countries out there today. For obvious reasons, many are in highly popular tourist areas or areas with large special events such as SXSW in Austin or the World Cup in Brazil.

Why would I want to rent vs. stay in a hotel?
The cost, in most cases, is much cheaper. And, Airbnb touts the benefits of living as a local—often in a trendy neighborhood—and discovering amazing places you may not have been able to afford otherwise. You’re also staying in a home with amenities (think washer/dryer, private pools, multiple bedrooms, backyards, etc.) versus your standard hotel room.

How do I know it’s safe?
Airbnb provides safety tips for hosts as well as guests but there are clearly risks. While most reports say the good experiences far outnumber the bad, you should still use caution and do your research. Guests are encouraged to review all host profiles and reviews carefully. It also recommends paying and communicating through Airbnb so all communication is tracked and documented. Other sources recommend the guest(s) share the host’s address with another family member or friend before they leave and to make sure cell phones have international service when traveling abroad.

Are there competitors to Airbnb?
There are but they certainly have not gained the attention and experienced the growth that Airbnb has. VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) is one of them. It boasts over one million listings. HomeAway (which now owns VRBO) is also very similar although both focus more on homes that property owners use for less than half of the year (typically vacation or second-home rentals). There is also something called Couchsurfing that literally connects you with a free stay on a couch. We say “no, thank you” to that option but we know there may be folks out there who are willing to give it a try.

Do your own research
We highly recommend you do your own research before considering an Airbnb rental. If you’re not a go-with-the-flow type of traveler, a traditional hotel room is probably better suited for you. Airbnb has certainly changed the hospitality industry and it has been interesting to watch its growth soar.

We would love to know if you’ve given Airbnb or others a try. Share with us on Facebook!