Got a sense of adventure and want an inexpensive getaway? Then you might want to consider Airbnb.com or similar websites that provide an interesting alternative to hotels. The crux: you’re staying in an individual’s home, and subject to all of that person’s peculiarities or perks.
You might have roommates, in the form of a cat, dog, chickens, or the hosts themselves. Accommodations range from a futon in the host’s living room to an entire home or even island. You can book a castle in Ireland or a chateau in France.
Perhaps most important, you can book a cheap vacation. Sándor Lau has traveled the world using sites such as Airbnb.com, and he’s hosted dozens of travelers at his duplex in Eugene, too.
“I had spent most of my 20s and 30s traveling around the world, and some of my best experiences were staying at people’s houses,” he said. “I’ve had great experiences with my guests. I had someone from Hong Kong, someone from Germany, people from the U.K. and all over the United States.”
Before accepting a guest, Lau asks for a photo and a paragraph or two about the person to make sure that they’re genuine. He also sets out rules for people who stay in his home.
“I make it very clear in my listings that I have expectations of guests,” he said. “I ask them to write a paragraph about themselves, why they’re coming to Eugene.
“My experience is that people are even more transparent on the Internet,” he continued. “You can spot a dodgy person from a great distance online.”
Lau’s home (the “Bamboo Retreat”) is one of about 100 Airbnb listings in Eugene. Portland offers 900, Bend has 130, and in Seattle there are over 1,000. Benefits range from staying in a part of town where there aren’t any hotels to enjoying the expertise of a local who can point you to the best sights and restaurants. Many listings offer yards, hot tubs, or decks; most include access to a full kitchen.
“People like having a real kitchen, not a little hotel kitchen,” Lau commented. “They like staying with people who can give them advice about where to go.”
According to Lau, Airbnb.com deals with the financial side of things (your host won’t be getting your credit card number) and provides excellent customer service. Guests are also charged a fairly hefty deposit to make sure that they leave the rentals in great shape—an important fact for Lau, who earlier this month had seven foreign exchange students book his duplex for a barbeque. They left it in excellent shape, he noted.
Experiences range from good to bad, and certainly depend on the cost of the rental and your ability to judge a place from previous reviews. An undiscerning guest can end up in a hellhole, and many hosts are operating illegally (read The New York Times article “A Warning for Hosts of Airbnb Travelers” for more).
Among his positive experiences, using Wimdu.com (the European equivalent of Airbnb), Lau was able to book an entire apartment for $75 a night in Hong Kong—plus the host hooked him up with rides, beer and steak upon his return from a hike, and a hot breakfast on his last morning. Lau’s also experienced the downside of budget traveling. On a recent trip to Phoenix, he landed in an unclean home where the host’s roommate reported the illegal use of Airbnb to the landlord. Lau was kicked out and had to find a new place—the host was evicted, too. Still, things worked out.
“Airbnb actually paid for my booking at the other place,” he noted.
If you host, make sure you own the place you’re renting out. And if you decide to travel with Airbnb or a similar site, read the reviews.
“It’s like so many other social networks; it’s a community and it’s based on trust,” Lau noted. “That one dodgy booking I had, they had zero reviews. That should have been a red flag.”
To learn more, visit Airbnb.com or similar sites: HomeAway.com; VRBO.com; HouseTrip.com; Wimdu.com.
by Jen Matteis