In the past four months, we have stayed in seven places via the AirBNB online service. For those not familiar, airbnb.com is a database of private homes and apartments where you can arrange to stay as an alternative to traditional hotels.
The most unusual place we’ve stayed is on a houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam. In the evening, we wave through the window at people on the canal cruise ships as we sit in our “stateroom” (which is also our bedroom and kitchen – the whole place is about 10 feet x 12 feet, plus ensuite bathroom).
We’ve also stayed several nights in a very modernly decorated condo in downtown Montreal – walking distance to ICAO HQ where I was attending a conference, at about half the cost of the nearby hotels; a garage apartment, painted lavender and next to a babbling brook, in a semi-rural town outside Boston; a spartan one-room flat but adjacent to the very lively Alter Markt in Cologne, Germany; another garage apartment outside Geneva, Switzerland, almost at lake’s edge – and we were their first guest!
The most idyllic place was the converted farmhouse in a tiny village in Andorra, the independent principality high in the Pyrenees Mountains where we spent the first stage of our honeymoon (and where we plan to go back for a writing retreat next spring). Mountains, mountain springs, hiking trails, a couple of local restaurants, (even a little golf course!), and all within a short drive of the bustling central city of the small country. http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2014/07/honeymoon-sweet.html
The one place that wasn’t entirely great, and it was my fault for not reading the description more carefully, was the loft in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead of having the whole carriage house to ourselves, which I thought would be the case, we ended up in a couple’s private home using their loft. Did not realize the loft had no privacy from the floor below – the staircase was an open spiral and there was no door we could close. Also, we did not realize there was Zero parking, not only on the property but anywhere nearby – ended up parking in an expensive garage that was a metro ride and a good walk away. At any rate, the host couple was very pleasant and non-intrusive.
Not only did we save a good bit of money by staying in BNBs, we avoided the sterility of chain hotels, and met some interesting people along the way. The Andorra farmhouse is owned by a young man whose family settled the first farm in the area. The Cologne studio is looked after by a young woman from Hungary who recently went to the Kurdish area of Iraq to teach physical fitness and physiotherapy. The gentleman outside Boston has been quite involved in community theatre.
We would encourage you to consider airbnb for your future travels … with these caveats. If you want total privacy, check the “filter” that designates “entire home/apt.” Some people rent rooms or even shared rooms in their own homes or apartments, and you could end up sharing bathroom and other facilities. We also prefer that a place have WiFi access. If you are on extended travel, look for places that have washer and dryer. When checking “Amenities,” make sure you mouse-over the header, such as “Essentials,” which sometimes provides a pop up box showing more detail. Also, pay attention to the security deposit - some hosts ask a rather steep amount, and it could tie up your credit card funds.
Connect with your future host frequently so you can get to know them, and they you, and so you are on the same page about arranging for the key etc. (We won’t mention that I got the apartment number wrong in Boston, and we walked in on a med student whose door was open: http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2014/09/whos-that-woman-in-our-bed.html).
Of course, location is often the most important factor. In Boston, we wanted to be close to D-L’s daughter. In Stuttgart and Cologne, we wanted to be close to the train station. In Amsterdam, we were near both my conference site and some key museums for D-L’s writing research.
Are you taking a chance on a bad experience? Of course. But how many bad experiences have you had at supposedly reputable hotels which are unresponsive to your frustration? And paid twice as much for your angst?
AirBNB is something between staying with a friend and staying in a small non-chain hotel. Sometimes the hosts may even become friends.
We did stay in one small hotel in Stuttgart. The airBNB location we would have preferred was not available those nights, and the other locations were inconvenient. So I found a family-run hotel (http://www.zur-weinsteige.de/) within a reasonable metro ride of the main train station, and the hotel was absolutely delightful.
After a month on the road, and two more weeks to go, we’re more than ready to get home to Argeles-sur-mer.
Then we’re going to try another travel experience – housesitting and dogsitting – again, staying in the home of a stranger, also arranged through a website (trustedhousesitters.com). This one’s in Ireland, where I’ve never been before, and for the three weeks we’re there it’ll probably be more workdays than playdays. But it costs nothing for the accommodations; all we need to do is get there – so a small airfare and train fare, and we have another memorable holiday experience. And meet some new friends who we hope to stay connected with for years to come.
D-L has posted multiple blogs about our BNB stays: