Once you have your destination mapped out and you have the flight tickets ready, the next step would be to get yourself a place to stay. The in-thing nowadays is couchsurfing; travelling and staying in someone else’s apartment or sharing a room (couch). There are a number of websites that allow you to choose where and whom you want to stay with, among those Roomorama and my favourite — AirBnb.
I am not a fussy traveller and basically what I look for are: convenience, cost and cleanliness (in that particular order of importance). So for the trip to Europe, I chose to stay with AirBnb in Paris and also in Rome. The rest were hotels in Amsterdam and Munich, while I splurged for a stay in Venice since it was with my parents.
Convenience, cost and cleanliness
First of all, you need to sign up in order to proceed with any bookings and to interact with the owner. By signing up, you could also rent out your own apartment or rooms, so it is a two-way process once you have registered. Pop in the place you want to go, the dates and the number of people in your group, the website will do the rest. Then you can rearrange the suggestions given according to your taste, either by AirBnb’s recommendation, the cost or even according to the neighbourhood that you prefer.
In my case, I decided to rent a whole apartment, all to myself. I still prefer the privacy of having a place to stay without barging into someone else’s life. Although you can still choose to do otherwise. Having a local around to help you out is an advantage, he/she is probably a phone call away, they could always point you to certain places that they like and you could also hang out with them. Please remember that most of the house or room owners have their own lives, they probably have a 9-to-5 job, so they might take some time to reply you. If you have certain requests, either with the check in and check out times, or anything at all, try to have it settled via e-mail or through AirBnb’s own messaging system before making the plunge.
They probably have a 9-to-5 job, so it might take some time to get a reply
Be sure to check the amenities offered (free wi-fi, washing machine, towels), the size of the apartment and also the pictures provided by the homeowner. If you are pleased with what you see and what you will get, confirm the reservations with the homeowner. Once he/she has confirmed your booking, the amount is deducted from your credit card but will only be paid in full upon your actual rental date (I think). If you are still worried, let me assure you that AirBnb have safeguards in place to help you out with any errant homeowner, as long as you follow AirBnb’s instructions, which include, NO payment outside of the AirBnb system.
For the apartment in Paris, the homeowner, Danielle replied almost immediately to my queries and once I had everything confirmed, she followed up with an e-mail with details on how to get to her apartment and a Google Map of the various amenities and grocers around the area. In her apartment, she has laminated a few guides on how to use the home appliances since they are labelled in French.
The reviews of the apartments or rooms that you prefer should be taken into consideration. I found most of them to be quite insightful and pretty much spot-on. For example, in Rome, the reviews were about the leaky hot water tank above the sink, and guess what, we had a few drops of hot water on our heads while brushing our teeth!
The differences that I had between a rental and a hotel comes down to only a few essential issues.
1) Internet : It is easy to find free wi-fi among the rentals, as almost all hotels charge for Internet usage.
2) Laundry : Packing just 5 shirts for a 2-week trip, including smelly socks after one whole day of walking, it is a boon to have a washing machine and dryer available without any extra costs.
3) Budget : If you are on a tight budget, rentals with a kitchen or at least a microwave could go some way in helping out.
4) Locals : You will probably make a few friends along the way, probably share some experiences together.
5) Breakfast : Most hotels provide a free buffet style breakfast, which could help solve a few early morning woes for food.
6) Bookings : The concierge at the hotel could help out with certain restaurant or tour group bookings. Probably even hail a cab for you in times of need.
in my experience, both homeowners, Danielle (Paris) and Hernan (Rome) was virtually at the doorstep awaiting our arrival. Both of them gave a small tour of their respective apartments, showing us how to use the appliances before leaving us with their contact numbers in case we ran into trouble. The personal touch is something very much appreciated and I guess that is the main appeal of couchsurfing. We had to leave early for our train in Paris (6am), Danielle was quite trusting in allowing us to just leave the keys on the table, but probably that is because our deposit is still in her hands.
The personal touch is something very much appreciated and I guess that is the main appeal of couchsurfing
At the end of the day, using AirBnb is a great alternative for any traveller, but it is probably not for everyone, especially those that can’t do without room service or the various amenities attached to a hotel. You have to trust the comments and your own instincts when trying to get a place and be wary of the old ‘bait-and-switch’ tactics. Communicate as much as possible with the homeowner and try to get all the necessary details sorted about before you travel.
If you have an extra room (or couch) to spare, get listed and make some money!
I would definitely recommend that you should give AirBnb a go for your next trip and feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. Even if you aren’t going on a trip and you have an extra room (or a couch) to share, get listed and make some money on the side!