We aren’t big hotel people. They are usually way too expensive to use on long trips like ours. Lucky for us, there are a lot of other options such as hostels, camping, couch surfing and now, Airbnb.
If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, you really should. The concept is great. Got a spare room in your house that just sits empty all the time? Why not rent it out like a hotel room? Take some pictures, post them on the site, set a price and away you go. From a traveler’s perspective, this can be fantastic. It opens up a wealth of new accomodations that would never have been available previously. You can rent anything from a single bedroom right up to an entire villa, complete with butler and wait staff. While we haven’t tried the latter, we have done the former. Infact, since leaving Australia and traveling in Europe, Airbnb has been our preferrred route. So far we have stayed in a lovely old Victorian house in London, a shared apartment in Rome and a new upstart B&B in Rome.
Booking a place is a bit more tricky than booking a hotel room. Since owners don’t always keep their availability up to date, you will want to send a message through Airbnb to any prospective host. Most hosts will turn around very quickly with a yes/no answer to your inquiry. Airbnb also allows hosts to offer a particular rate so don’t feel that the advertised rate is the only one that’s possible. If you are staying for a bit longer, ask the host if they would give you a discount.
The site also operates with a review system. After you have stayed with a host, it’s always nice to give some feedback so the rest of the community has a feeling for how it was to stay there. Conversely, most hosts will review you, making it easier to get future rentals.
One of the greatest perks of Airbnb is that you can stay with hosts themselves, in their own places of residence, sometimes even using their own kitchen and laundry. Talk about living like a local. You can’t get a more intimate travel experience than that. When we stayed with the lovely Marco and Carolina in Rome, they took us out to an event they were hosting and took us on a tour of their new radio station. It was a great way to spend an evening and gave us a small peek into the life of a couple of Italians.
The site isn’t without its challenges. Making last minute appointments as we do is sometimes frustrating since some hosts don’t update their availability on the site and will reject your request emails right away. We have also had a few bugs on their iPhone application in which messages didn’t show up right away.
Beyond these little glitches, the site offers travelers a great way to engage in local travel and often at really good prices. It can be a great way to meet new people and interact with the places you are visiting in a way that a hotel just can’t or doesn’t want to offer. For your next trip, why not skip the big ticket hotels and look for a more local option. I think you’ll find it a more engaging and friendly way to travel.