lets talk about lodging: AirBnB

In the first part of our alternative lodging series we looked at the old standby- Hostels.  Today we’ll consider something a bit newer- the AirBnB.  If you’d like to check out the site for yourself, go here.

So what IS AirBnB?

Short for Airbed and Breakfast, AirBnB was started in August 2008 in, you guessed it, San Francisco.  As the story goes, some friends needed a little extra cash flow to pay rent, and heard all the hotels in town were booked for a big conference.  Putting two and two together, for a few bucks the friends blew up the old air mattress and offered an airbed and and coffee to a stranded attendee.  Since then it has grown into a rather large web organization, spanning 19,000 cities in 192 countries, and connecting millions of people worldwide.

How does it work?

Log onto the website to search for available spaces in the city you’re traveling to, at the price point you can afford.  They have everything from couches to full houses, for one night or six months.  You can send a message to the host to chat with them before you book, if you want.  Book on the website, and AirBnB handles all the money transfers.

Pros

AirBnB is an interesting, inexpensive, and relatively stable, way to find interesting lodging and meet some locals.  Take the opportunity to live in a local home, and experience a side of the culture often inaccessible to tourists.  What are the subtle differences between the way they live and the way your own home is set up? Maybe you’ll like their way better and replace it with your own customs when you return home!  Also, it is often less expensive than a hotel with comparable services.  Also, often the home owner or other travelers are sharing the space with you.  Be friendly! This is a great way to meet a local, brimming with advice, or a fellow traveler to get lost around town with.

Cons

Like Hostels, there are a few areas to consider when booking with AirBnB. Look at the location closely, and consider services/amenities provided.  Do you have a private room? Does it lock?  What kind of kitchen access do you have? Often kitchen access is a perk not available in traditional lodging options.  Kitchens are another wonderful way to experience a culture in a more detailed way, and save money on food while doing so.  Wander down to the local market, pick up some ingredients you’ve never used before, and see what happens!  And most importantly, are there any time restrictions/requirements; such as being out by a certain time each morning, or home before a certain time each night.

Don’t be overly fearful of staying with strangers.  This organization is built on a system of trust, and you should come into it with an open mind.  That being said, trust your instincts and do your homework.  If you arrive to a flat and are uncomfortable with arrangements, you have the right to leave within the first 24 hours and AirBnB will refund you part or all of your payment.  Click here for more safety tips.

An AirBnB story

The first time I experienced AirBnB was in Austin, Texas, this summer (June 2011).  I was traveling home, after spending two months in Waxahachie, TX (a tiny little town south of Dallas); and I decided to stop in Austin for a few nights.  I really only needed somewhere to park my Jeep and crash at night, so I looked up listings on hostelworld.com.  As a rule, in the United States hostels are hard to find, expensive, and inconvenient. I was ecstatic to find a simple, close, listing for under $20 a night. I think it was $15.  Since I was booking for that night, I couldn’t use the online system, so I called the phone number provided and was greeted by a mild and friendly male voice.  After chatting for a moment we decided his “hostel” would be a good place to stay and he gave me directions to a coffee shop near by where we could meet.

Over coffee he explained that his “hostel” wasn’t one in the traditional sense (as if hostels are ever really traditional!), and went on to explain the AirBnB concept.  This was his apartment, that he renovated to fit more beds, because as a traveler he understood how hard it could be to find cheap, safe, lodging.  Plus, he loved the flow of travelers passing through, he loved his city, and he really loved showing it off to his new friends.

And that was that.  We went home, I dropped off my bag, and went out to explore the town. That night I met up with my host, and a second guest who had arrived, and we bar hopped up and down Sixth Street, ending up in a dueling piano bar in time to hear a heated rendition of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”  The next morning I awoke to the scent of expresso.  After coffee and a shower I hit the road , but not before saying good-bye to my new friends.  I was hooked.

If you’ll be staying in Austin, I highly recommend staying with AirBunk Austin.

This has been the second of our three part series on alternative lodging.  Getting ideas?

Check back soon for a look at Couchsurfing.org!

Cheers!

~Aeri

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