Admittedly it can be nice to arrive in a new country and head right to that familiar brand name hotel and enjoy the amenities that come along with it. But let’s face it…sometimes that kind of experience lacks a bit of authenticity.
I recently decided to branch out on my trip to San Francisco and try a suggestion given to me by a band of wayfaring travelers I met in Norway. On a website called AirBnB, you can review and book alternative lodging – namely the rooms, apartments, or houses belonging to people who live there and put them up for rent!
The site works like a basic search engine: you input your city, check in/check out dates and the type of lodging you are looking for (one room or an entire apartment or house) and once you click search, you can filter by neighborhood and price, among other things.
As you click on each individual listing, there are several tabs where you can view photos, a description of the lodging, view its location on a map, whether there is a full kitchen in which you can make your own meals, and most importantly, read reviews and ratings from other travelers, who provide scores for important things such as cleanliness, location, host accessibility, etc. Further, each listing has square footage, whether Wifi/cable are available, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and additional information regarding the amenities of the particular property. You’ll also find “Check in/Check out” times, deposit required, cleaning fees, and information regarding any public transportation that may be nearby.
Most hosts have a flexible check in and check out time, and will work with you to arrange a meeting to deliver the keys. This is especially helpful if you are arriving off the Red Eye or getting in late at night.
The best part about AirBnB? Some of the apartments and houses are lavish or huge or both, and yet are a fraction of the cost of staying in a tiny hotel. I found this to be even more so in foreign countries, where folks put their places up for rent when they’ll be out of town just to supplement income.
The great thing about some of the listings is that you can book immediately, and simply wait for a confirmation. Once the host accepts the reservation, your card is charged and the property is officially “yours” for those dates. Some hosts, however, require you to send an inquiry about your specific dates and the host will get back to you regarding availability. The properties do have calendars, but some simply aren’t up to date to reflect actual availability.
There is a hitch, however: hosts can cancel your reservation without notice. AirBnB discourages such behavior by fining hosts who cancel after accepting a booking, and often suspending their account for a time. They also give you extra money – anywhere from $50-$100 depending on the city – to help you find alternative arrangements, since often the remainder of available properties may be more expensive than your original booking. If a host cancels too many times, they are removed from the site completely, so AirBnB does take steps to ensure that the people who list their properties aren’t constantly screwing over travelers.
AirBnB is still catching on, so you may not find a lot of properties in lesser known cities. I think it is an excellent way to experience “local” living, especially if you are traveling internationally. What could be better than renting a seaside apartment in Dubrovnik instead of staying in a hostel or stuffy hotel? Moreover, if you rent a place with a full kitchen, you can buy local meat and produce and prepare a traditional meal from that country, a great way to experience the place like a local.
Those wayfaring travelers I met in Norway stayed in a mountain/lakeside 5 bedroom cottage with a hot tub . I’m not sure it gets better than that! So if you’re adventurous, consider this alternative next time you are booking a trip!