Travelling with friend or family is great. But I’m as happy as the proverbial Larry to go travelling solo if the timing or destination doesn’t suit everyone. My biggest grumble is the fact that the cost of hotel for the single traveller often means either staying in a basic or inconveniently located hotel or taking out a loan to pay the bill.
So this year, on an upcoming visit to several countries in Eastern Europe, I’m trying out AirBNB. Yes, I know it’s no great leap for womankind, others have been making use of the “disruptive” person-to-person business model for years. But it is a first for me.
The AirBNB site is bright, welcoming and easy to negotiate. In fact, trawling through the sometimes hundreds of different examples of accommodation available in each city was like taking a mini-tour. Essentially there are two main types available: a room in an apartment or house (usually also occupied by the person renting it out) often with shared facilities such as bathroom and kitchen, and a self-contained house/apartment in which I would be the only occupant although the host would be on hand for emergencies.
As you’d expect, prices vary wildly according to location, bedroom numbers, and amenities offered. Each entry is accompanied by a number of pictures, most interiors but some including “real” views from windows or external courtyards. There are also extensive details of what’s on offer (such as wi-fi, cooking facilities, number of beds, number of bedrooms etc.)
I made a point of trawling through the comments about each property (there can be hundreds) and particularly interested in any comments that indicated all was not as the picture or description maintained or which raised issues like the apartment was on the fourth floor and there was no life.
In the end, it was surprisingly easy. My top criteria were a safe location, particularly with access either directly to many of the city’s main attractions or access to good public transport. In one city I chose a self-contained apartment because I just fell in love with it and it seems to have everything I might possibly need, and more.
In the others I have selected to share not least because it would give me the chance to get a much better idea of a city by actually getting to know a resident rather than just the usual casual exchanges. One of the highlights in a recent stay in Helsinki was spending an evening, including dinner, with a local couple as part of the Meet the Finns programme.
On a couple of occasions I was spoiled for choice but then the booking gods stepped in and on both occasions I found that one of my two top options wasn’t available for the dates I wanted. Decision made.
One thing to note. When you open the site each of the properties has a per night price tag against it. But in some cases, this price only reflects the current month. The price for some properties changes dramatically according to the time of year. I wasted a fair bit of time at the beginning by going to what was (in January) my price range, only to discover when I clicked on May or June it had risen considerably. Problem is solved by always putting in the dates of your intended travel so it immediately shows on screen.
Some of the hosts, particularly those where you will be sharing accommodation, require new potential guests to complete a verification process which seems perfectly understandable. This includes providing government identification (such as passport or driving licence) plus some other form of proof like a Facebook page or Linked-in account through which you can confirm that you really are the person making the booking. I chose to upload a short video about myself which is then sent to AirBNB who give you the thumbs up (or not.)
Almost immediately after the booking was made I received not just official confirmation of the booking but a cheery email from my to-be host. One was accompanied by a very detailed list of local amenities and things to do. All require my arrival details so they can be on –hand to welcome me.
So far, so good. The idea of staying in the lovely local homes has definitely added to the usual sense of anticipation that accompanies the promise of a long holiday.