My wife and I took a 10-day, three city, trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, and used AirBnB the entire time. As we talked to people about our trip and talked to other travelers, it was apparent that many people still don’t totally understand what AirBnB is all about.
Maybe I’ll start by explaining what AirBnB is, and assume that you are sufficiently comfortable navigating a smartphone and the internet, and are ok with providing a contact email, phone number, and credit card online for booking purposes to a website like AirBnB. If you’re not ok with any of this, please call your travel agent from your rotary phone and see if you can get a PanAm flight to your destination. I’m sure they’ll be able to help you.
AirBnB is a 4 year old company based in San Francisco. They allow people to rent extra beds they have in their homes, apartments, vacation homes, houseboats, and even tree houses. You can filter your preference to share a room, rent a room, or rent an entire place out, all at progressively more cost to you as the renter. The AirBnB website and iPhone/iPad app are really nice and easy to navigate, and allow you to search a city/area for your desired preference. It’s easy to filter by neighborhoods, price, availability dates, etc., and each place has a way to contact the host and look at reviews of their place by people who have rented from them previously.
Searching and Booking
The key portion of the site for me are the photos of the places. I focus on places with photos that have the “AirBnB” watermark, which means a third party contractor from AirBnB took the pictures, so I know someone else has seen inside. I also like to make sure there’s a picture of the sleeping area and the bathroom. I can tell the most about a place by the bathroom. I also like seeing pictures of the neighborhood or a picture of the building from the street. That gives me a good sense of the neighborhood.
Once you’ve got a place or two narrowed down, you contact the host. There’s a button on each listing to send the host a note, which is a closed contact system through the AirBnB site, and will alert you through email when they’ve responded. I usually provided a little information about myself, the reason for my trip, and a little about what I’m looking for. A sample of what I probably used recently:
“Hello XXXXX, My wife and I are traveling to XXXXX to take a little break from the kids and see your beautiful city. We’re looking for a clean place that’s conveniently located, and hoping your place is available during our dates. Can you let me know if it is available. Many thanks. – Mark”
Pretty short and sweet, but I think gives the host a quick snapshot of me and reason for trip. They’re supposed to respond within 24 hours (I’m not sure what AirBnB does if they don’t) and if is available they’ll ask me to “Book It”, which is another button on the website. The price is already listed there, so you’ve already filtered out for your price range.
Once they accept then you’re booked and charged through your credit card. I believe AirBnB makes their money by keeping a piece of the booking fee, but that isn’t any concern of yours because you know what your price is through the listing. I did notice that some list prices change depend on the dates select (like during Oktoberfest in Munich), while the site filters by the lowest listed price of the place. Just be aware, but not something to be alarmed about. You’ll also want to check each host’s cancellation policy, as I think they’re all different but should be clear in the details of their individual listing.
So you’re booked, and you’ve spent a fortune to get to your destination (hopefully not on PanAm), and now you’re ready to get into your place. AirBnB does a good job of sending you a reminder of your upcoming booking about a week prior, and making suggestions of what to work out with your host prior to arriving. Most host seem to work best through text messaging, so hopefully you’re ok with that communication medium. I usually send a quick text confirming my arrival time, and by what means I’ll be arriving inn their city (car, train, airport, etc.). That helps the host give you the best directions to their place, and one even offered to pick us up at the train station. They’ll also work out a way to get you into the place. Some will meet you personally, some will leave the keys with a local shop keeper. Either way, trust that they’ve done this before.
Once you get the keys, the place is yours. You’ll want to make sure they provide towels and sheets (all have for me, but good to confirm, particularly when visiting countries outside the US). It’s like you have your own little apartment or room (I’ve only rented full places, so I don’t know how it works when sharing a room or place with the host or others).
That’s it! Treat the place as you would your own, communicate with the host if there are any issues during your stay, leave the keys on the table when you’re done. All the hosts I’ve had were very helpful in guiding me around their neighborhoods or city, and all have been available via text 24/7 while I’ve been in their place. All in all, I’ve found it a great way to travel, and allowed me to get a flavor of the local community in ways I never would if I was staying in a touristy hotel.
Here are some pictures of the places we stayed. All very nice and I’d highly recommend.