Why I'm Addicted to Airbnb.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Last week I rolled over in bed to see the sun rising over the horizon, shocking pink against a pale blue sea, stretching out for miles. The little town below hadn't quite woken up yet so after hitting the snooze button a few times, I flopped a blanket over my shoulders and shuffled into the hallway to make a cup of coffee. After flipping on the kettle I nosed my way through a large glass jar of custard cream biscuits (this was a holiday after all) and shifted through the large selection of teas out of curiosity. I brought my coffee back in to my powder blue room and sat at the window taking in the view of St. Ives, while the fluffy bright orange house cat meowed at my feet and persisted for a back scratch.

And this, y'all, is exactly what I love about Airbnb. Before moving to England, I had never so much as clicked on the website. It was something I had heard of, but the idea of going and staying at a stranger's home sounded completely insane. After getting more into reading blogs and travel websites, it seemed to keep cropping up. Last January I decided to treat myself for wrapping up my term papers and the most chaotic Christmas break ever with a weekend trip to Brighton. My friends were all out of town and I was feeling a bit of "me" time anyway, so I was going solo. I had gone on countless day trips around the UK at this point but had yet to stay overnight anywhere by myself or at a place that wasn't a hotel. The hotel prices made my grad student budget groan and the look of the hostels made me scrunch my nose, so curiosity took over and I had a peek at what Airbnb had to offer. 

Still skeptical, I made an account and was prompted with pages regarding Airbnb safety and emergency numbers, as well as being required to enter verified identification in order to complete my profile. After typing in Brighton as my destination of choice, narrowing down the price range per night to something that suited me and giving a big tick to the wifi as a required amenity, I began scrolling. I scrolled for hours looking at the picturesque interiors and reading review after review with people saying nothing but great things. Eventually I stumbled on Eric's home in Hove, weighed my options, and bit the bullet. 

I had a ton of second thoughts leading up to my visit, regardless of how much confidence I seemingly had when casually telling my parents of my plans - "Oh yeah I'm going out of town for a few days, staying with some man I've never met. No really, it's cool."

After a long train journey from West to East, I walked down the quiet street, lined with whitewashed homes and the seaside calling me at the end of the road, and nervously buzzed the flat when I arrived to the correct house. Eric welcomed me like we had known each other for years, happily chatting me through the house, answering any questions I had, and making sure I had everything I needed - plus a cup of tea, this is England after all! He popped out to leave for work and I sat in the living room a bit in awe of how good to be true the whole thing felt. I was staying at an adorably quirky Brighton home with my own equally adorable private room for a shocking £40 a night and I could even SEE the SEA from my window. My room had blankets, a picnic basket, wellies, and a laminated booklet of Eric's suggestions for local food. 

Being my first experience setting up camp in someone else's home, I tip toed lightly regarding snapping photos of the quirky interior - but trust me when I say the photos on the listing are as true as can be. As much as I could have stayed there forever, I went outside and arrived at the pebble beach in mere minutes, and had this rainbow display to my left on my stroll towards the Brighton Pier. 

I had such a good experience in Brighton that I was convinced I had just a bit of good luck. I had another solo trip in May, this time to Edinburgh, and I gave the website another go - this time with a bit more confidence. 

After a speedy flight up the length of Great Britain, I hopped on a bus following Rebecca's directions to her flat. Lighting struck twice when it came to interior design, clearly! I seem to be attracted to the impeccably eclectic homes. Rebecca and her partner so welcoming and easy to talk to that once again, I felt like I was just chatting with an old friend and staying for the weekend. My visit overlapped with a visit from two of their friends (from the states, coincidentally!), and one night when they were making dinner they invited me to join them and after much of my protesting to the idea of crashing a friend reunion, had an great meal and chatted for hours. 

From there, you could say I was hooked on this whole Airbnb thing. 

A lot of traveling involves the uncomfortable feeling of the unknown and sterile budget hotels do little to help this. Airbnb does the best of both worlds: little details that give the home that "home" feeling alongside the comforts of being a guest - photos with smiling faces, duvets picked out by real people and not companies, and a normal, often really cool human being there to help you out but also leave you to your own devices. As a major plus, I've found that it's the cheapest option in many cases. Yep, even compared to hostels! Unless you're talking about staying in a 12-room mixed hostel with bunkbeds, in which case I'm a bit too old, and definitely a bit too easily irritated for. 

I realised last week that I've accidentally started a little collection of window views from some of my Airbnb stays - and kicking myself for missing a few great ones! Seriously people, you can't beat some of the views I've had.....

In June, Rach and I stayed at Solveig's place with a lookout onto a quintessentially Parisian street.... 

Being the home of a book editor, the apartment was absolutely bursting with manuscripts and books of every sort. If that isn't enough to make it a dreamy French home, we could even see the tip of the Eiffel Tower glittering at night!

Onto Verona, where we stayed at Michele and AnnaChiaria's home...or should I say we stayed near their home - as we had the place to ourselves! A studio roof loft in the most Italian place ever - their actual apartment that they stayed in was a floor below. With everything and more we needed all in one place, by the time we left we felt like fully fledged Italians...what do you mean we don't actually live here?

A few weeks ago when my friend JD visited we opted for an Airbnb for our night in London instead of hotel so we could spend money elsewhere - namely on cupcakes and champagne, and oh MAN was that a good call. I can't find the listing for this one since it was booked through Jess's account, but if I stumble across it again I'll definitely link it! This was a family home near Primrose Hill - and I'm talking not even a 15 minute walk away. High-ceilings, wooden floors, and chickens in the back garden with fresh eggs to boot, I was sad to say goodbye to this place. There was a selection of DVDs alongside the television in our room, and we dozed off to Notting Hill - party animals. I know this post has been a nonstop list of "cute/adorable/eclectic" homes but C'MON - look at that kitchen!

A photo posted by Jay Dee Photography (@jessicadoherty7) on
I know the thought of staying in a stranger's home is a bit weird - but I honestly think once you go Airbnb, you don't go back. Here's a few of my tips to finding your perfect home away from home...

1. Read all the reviews and the host's profile thoroughly. Although, remember that every host has to start somewhere. A small number of reviews isn't necessarily a warning sign, especially if they're all positive!
2. Google Map search the area and get a feel for the surroundings - how to get to/from the airport, what local transport options there are, see how long it is to the centre of town or if there are a handful of good restaurants nearby. 
3. Share the address, host name, and their contact info with a friend or family member who isn't with you. It'll make you feel better to know that someone else is aware of where you are and who you're staying with.
4. Know what you're looking for. A bathtub? Family home or a single person? The whole house to yourself? Smack dab in the middle of the city or in the suburbs? Options are out there! 
5. Once you've picked or booked a place, create a rapport with the host immediately. Have each other's contact info and ask any question that pops in your head. Most importantly, make sure you know how to get to their home and the process of gaining entry (buzzer, key in a lock box, etc) and what time you can arrive.
6. Don't stress. Airbnb hosts have seen it all. Delayed plane, needing to leave luggage, etc. Just ask! They have always been happy to accommodate anything I've run into. 
7. You get reviewed too. So be a kind and considerate guest :)

Have you ever used Airbnb? What have your experiences been like? Send me links to any favourite stays! 

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