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Staying At Some Of The Most Unconventional Places In The World

Suites submerged under the sea, Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse, and a repurposed plane in Loire are among the unusual places fulfilling fantasies.

The balloon house from up floating in the sky above a seaside town.
There are more than 170,000 unique types of accommodation listed on Airbnb. Illustration by Maryam Salim

In May 2024, Airbnb announced its summer release. And if the ruler of offbeat stays’ latest feature, Icons, tells us anything, travelers want to stay at unconventional places and have authentic experiences.

Instead of sheets folded into hospital corners and formulaic resort layouts, novelty stays adhere to Brian Chesky’s (CEO and co-founder of Airbnb) statement, “As life becomes increasingly digital, we’re focused on bringing more magic into the real world.”

And in fact, these alternative places to stay are mostly inspired by nostalgia and make-believe.

Raw materials and landscapes are accommodating

Shacks used by fishermen to store their boats in Ibiza.
The fishermen’s huts lining Ibiza’s many inlets are remnants of the island’s fishing tradition. A novelty among tourists, interest in the modest structures merits plenty of guided tours. Credit: Unsplash/Petar Lazarevic

Maybe it comes from a primal need to find shelter in inhospitable places. Or a wholesome wish to have nothing separating you from nature other than nature itself.

But people want to sleep in treehouses, be pampered in caves, and feel like Hemingwayesque fishermen living in exhausted shacks.

Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, South Africa

Although they’re not exactly kitted out with our ancestors’ leaf bedding and finger-traced artwork, the Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve cave suites still connect visitors with the natural world.

The Little Black Shack, Great Mackerel Beach, Australia

Usually associated with fishermen hauling llaüts up parallel sleepers and a basic living space that smells like fishing gear, coastal cabins are now for romantic getaways.

Ingrid and Jamie’s Little Black Shack supplies all the upcycled, hardwood, and maritime-themed finishes every somewhat fictive two-night stay needs.

Pleasant Bay Lookout, Bellingham, Washington, US

Something about resting your head in the trees appeals to wanderlusters.

Is it the Tarzan undertones or the thrilling reality of being exposed for a change?

Regardless, marketed as a place to practice “‘La Dolce Far Niente – The sweetness of doing nothing,” Pleasant Bay Lookout is for hanging your clothes on branches and untimed staring out at the Salish Sea.

Unconventional places in the sea

Coral in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Engineering continues to evolve and cater to the traveler’s search for the unusual. Credit: Unsplash/Marek Okon

Sometimes standing on a balcony and seeing the turquoise waters and waves stir from a distance isn’t enough.

Fortunately, boats often come with beds, and architects have even managed to design two-level, underwater hotels.

Reefsuites, Australia

At Reefsuites in Australia, guests stay in a premium suite and are immersed in the world of the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s a wondrous and safe bet, especially if you identify with the 64% of American travelers preferring to stay at places practicing sustainability.

Reefsuites actively encourages coral growth and replanted more than 4000 pieces.

The Underwater Room at The Manta Resort, Pemba Island, Tanzania

The Manta Resort is an East African paradise with a not-so-secret sub-aquatic oasis. Unpack your suitcase in the Indian Ocean while silver shoals of fish shimmer and swim by the floating room.

Keep it professional

Immersive experiences allow us to pretend for a while and feel part of the imaginary.

In many ways, it’s like living out a dream.

From practicing your skills at pulling pints to pretending you’re an isolated lighthouse keeper, these unconventional places offer a true escape from reality.

White Hart Inn, Lincolnshire Wolds, UK

On top of offering a unique place to sleep, places like White Hart Inn are redefining classic ideas for parties and other get-togethers. Credit: Airbnb/Richard

After 500 years of service, White Hart Inn was transformed into an Airbnb.

Wannabe pub owners can get a taste of what it’s like to stand behind the bar and man the taps.

It has a wood-burning stove, billiards, darts, and beer pumps—everything you need for the traditional pub experience in a picturesque part of England.

Plane in Saint Michel chef Chef, France

While you won’t be taxiing passengers to and from an airport terminal, spending the night on a plane is a quirky way to channel your inner pilot.

This unusual stay comes with a bedroom, kitchen, TV, and washing machine—certainly a first-class upgrade compared to the low-cost carriers.

Sitka Lighthouse, Alaska

A beacon for sailors, the lighthouse is a fascinating structure.

Not only because of its tower and powerful lamp, but it connotes the tempests, stormy emotions, pangs of loneliness, and mundane work that come with its hazardous location.

Although things are definitely less grim at this charming lighthouse in Sitka, you can still get a sense of fanciful seclusion because it’s built on a private island.

Icons – a category for dreamers

An image of Barbie's DreamHouse mansion, all pink with a pool at the front.
Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse. Credit: Hogwash Studios

Airbnb describes Icons as “a new category of extraordinary experiences hosted by the world’s greatest icons across music, film, television, art, sports, and more.” It is the culmination of over five years of the company offering special stays and experiences. And this launch comes as no surprise.

People want to stay in Chris Rowan’s Silence of the Lambs house. Barbie Core and the influence of Greta Gerwig’s box office hit, made Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse one of the most popular Airbnb stays. And a one-night stay at the house from Home Alone was on a lot of people’s accommodation wishlists.

Included on the list of 2024 “extraordinary experiences” is a Disney and Pixar-inspired stay at Carl Fredricksen’s balloon house. And sleeping under the same Beaux-Arts style roof as paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Morisot is made possible by a stay in the clock room at the Musée d’Orsay.

Where does this leave traditional accommodation?

The exterior of a Holiday Inn hotel.
According to SiteMinder, 68% of travelers still choose hotels over Airbnb listings. Credit: Unsplash/Lidia Stawinska

Ultimately, unchanged. It’s difficult to compete with the consistency and generational reign of hotels and other similar types of accommodation. Unconventional places to stay like bubble hotels and renovated buses are fun for the occasional whim.

Written By

Hi there! My name is Anna-Maya and I'm from Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in English Studies, I moved to Barcelona to discover a different pace of life. Writing, good company, food, and travel, in that order, form my list of priorities.

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