Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thumbs up for Airbnb

When I used to travel with my young son, many years ago, his idea of a treat was to stay in the hotel room and order room service. Come to think of it, when we stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore a few years back when he was already working, that was still his favourite thing. I do love staying in hotels. There’s nothing like being pampered in a ritzy room with 1000-threadcount sheets on beds you don’t have to make, taking long, long baths with thick towels, pigging out on a sumptuous buffet spread at breakfast and lounging by the pool. I also like tiny b&bs that have lots of atmosphere, quirky furnishings and personalised service.

With prices of hotels and even b&bs becoming forbiddingly expensive in Europe, I started researching the possibility of staying in apartments instead when I headed to the continent a few months back. I had stayed in a professionally run apartment in Barcelona and Paris last year and found the experience rather pleasant. This time around, to make life simpler for myself, I decided to keep my search to Airbnb.

Some properties are in the loveliest districts
The website is easy to navigate and really comprehensive. I just searched under the city I was going to, and typed in my dates and budget. I could even search under different neighbourhoods. I looked at various neighbourhoods and different apartments from the ultra modern to quaint old-fashioned, in a range of prices and there lots to choose from.

I did read some reviews of Airbnb from other users, who complained that the site protected the rights of the owners of the properties more than the users like me. One couple had stayed in an apartment in San Francisco that was infested with bedbugs and couldn’t get a refund. Others complained that the property was nothing like what the pictures showed.

Because I had to pay upfront, I really had to take it on trust, and relied heavily on the reviews that others had left on the page after staying at the apartment. I could email the owner as well to ask any questions. My experience, in each of the places I stayed at, was pretty good, I’m glad to say.

It's great fun shopping in neighborhood markets
While I do miss staying in well-appointed hotels, the great value of staying at an Airbnb really can’t be beat. As the apartments I stayed in weren’t exactly in the middle of the city, I got to experience life in actual neighbourhoods where locals lived, shopped and worked. Often, there was a market just around the corner, and I had great fun shopping there or just stopping off for a coffee. 

The owners do provide directions to their properties, but even so, it took some looking and asking around before I found them. Duccio, my kind host in Florence, was obviously very house proud and did the apartment up beautifully with quirky flea market finds. Up a really steep flight of stairs, the studio apartment was light and airy, well furnished with a comfy bed, kitchen stuff and bathroom complete with washer and dryer. Best of all, it was scrupulously clean and free of any kind of bugs. Duccio even provided a typed-up file of places to dine in the neighbourhood.

Some properties are lovingly decorated
It's nice to hang out where the natives do


In Rome I spent each afternoon at the park in the Trastevere neighbourhood where I stayed, watching little kids play while their doting grandparents gathered round to chat. There was also a little bar where everyone hung out that served coffee, beer and spirits throughout the day. I could help myself to a beer from the fridge, sit outside and just watch the world go by.

At the end of my stay, I was asked for my comments by Airbnb, and the owners also gave their review of me. I wrote positive reviews, of course, and also received glowing praises for leaving the apartments clean and in good shape. I gather some people do treat the properties like hotels and possibly thrash the place.

Would I use Airbnb again? For sure, although I would carefully screen each property for negative comments. That’s the great thing about social media. Nothing can be hidden really, and like most everything in life, you get what you pay for. The clever, clever people at Airbnb have found a niche that they’re making a lot of money from, and providing a service that many people have found a boon.

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