In San Francisco peer-to-peer sharing is a way of life. When I need to use a car, I login to Zipcar, a carsharing club and reserve one. Need a ride home after a night painting the town red? I use Lyft or SideCar, on-demand ridesharing services that connect passengers with drivers who are looking to earn a little extra money while shuttling people around town.
So, when I began planning a trip to Europe, the idea of using Airbnb to stay in someone else’s home did not seem that strange of a concept. But what I have realized is that while the sharing economy might be the social norm in big cities like San Francisco, it is not as pervasive in the suburbs or rural areas where these services have yet to emerge. As such, there is still a healthy dose of skepticism.
I am hear to tell you why I love Airbnb and think you should push aside any reservations and give it a try.
Airbnb’s collaborative consumption model has effectively democratized travel for the masses. With lodging at any price point, it is easy to find suitable housing no matter what your budget. When I set out to plan a solo trip across Europe, I knew that I would have to be smart about where I spent my funds. After all, the romance and history of places like Rome doesn’t come cheap. Typically, a mid-range hotel that is centrally located in the city will cost you between $150-300 a night. With Airbnb I was able to stay in a highly desirable area between Piazza Navona and Campo D’Fiori for just $50 a night. This was a huge cost savings that I was able to apply to additional activities and enjoying nicer meals out.
You get a more authentic experience
Think about where the most popular hotels are in your city. Are those the areas that you would recommend people visit? Personally, I pity the person who visits San Francisco and only manages to see Fisherman’s Wharf, but it is a scenario I hear often. Hotels tend to be relegated to tourists areas, and visitors’ movements don’t usually extend very far from where they are staying. With Airbnb you are staying where people live, so you are going to the places where they shop and the restaurants where they dine. Also, staying and/or renting from locals essentially gives you a personal concierge. My host in Rome knew I was a foodie, so she had lots of recommendations and maps lined up for me upon my arrival.
A lot of the apprehension around Airbnb that I hear is whether it is safe. Part of the reason Airbnb works so well is that the community is self-monitoring – meaning that guests can rate hosts and vice versa. Being a productive member of the community means providing constructive feedback – something that most take very seriously. As a result, I was able to get opinions from my peers about the hosts; their homes; and what the surrounding area was like. After narrowing the field, I exchanged messages with the prospective hosts to determine whether it would be a good fit for both parties. For me, the priorities were having a central location and a host with flexible house rules – something I was able to determine well before I got on the plane.
All of my Airbnb experiences have surpassed my expectations. In each location I paid well below market price for lodging, and I certainly wasn’t roughing it. In search of old world charm, I stayed in buildings steeped in history that offered far more than the oft-sterile hotel room. I wasn’t sure what I would think about renting a room and staying with people, so I primarily rented entire apartments and only stayed with hosts in one location. Considering how little time I actually spent at the apartment, I would opt to rent more rooms next time. I found the experience of staying with locals to be rewarding, and I love knowing that I have this connection to these people half across the world. (We even exchanged Christmas cards this past year.)
I believe that travel is important for shaping our worldly views. It adds depth and tolerance to our character. My experience traveling across Europe was richer because of the people who welcomed me into their homes. And such a trip was possible because of the barriers that services like Airbnb help eliminate.