If you haven’t heard of it Air BnB is a website and business whereby people rent out their spare rooms to weary travelers making themselves a little extra pocket money and giving impoverished holiday makers a cheaper, nicer place to stay. It’s attracted some criticism though as hoteliers complain they are stealing their business and denting the local tourist-based economy. And people are getting quite savvy about utilizing their spare space and the website is shifting from a place for regular people to advertise their spare rooms to a way for people to advertise their unregistered guest houses (without having to pay the appropriate taxes in some cases).
After signing up for the site and creating your profile you can search by location for a shared room (why?), private room, or entire property. It’s easier, I think, to find somewhere for one person or two sharing a double bed. You can specify the number of people and the number of beds you are searching for but when I recently searched for three beds it brought up numerous places with one double bed and a sofa. It seems to be up to the person posting to specify the beds not Air BnB to verify it so you need to read through it carefully to make sure you’re getting what you want. Also people offering their rooms have varying ‘house rules’ for things like smoking, pets, and other things they not want you to do. It is, for some unfathomable, reason the etiquette to contact the person before you apply for a room. I don’t really understand why you can’t just book it, they can still decline you but most of them like you to email first but not all of them reply!
When we were in America this year we stayed in 9 different places; three motels, two hotels, and the rest was through Air BnB. In places like New York where it gets crazy expensive we were able to get a good deal on a double room in someone’s apartment in a good location rather than a horrible hostel or overpriced hotel. In Pahrump, ( a town equidistant from Death Valley and Las Vegas) we got a bungalow with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom to ourselves for about £83 for two people, for two nights. That includes the Air BnB fee you, unfortunately, have to pay. A hotel of the same price would have been no where near as nice or spacious, and would have been hard to find in the area.
We definitely had good experiences with Air BnB but it wasn’t without problems; our biggest problem was in New York trying to meet our host to get the keys to his apartment. We were very tired after flying, and walking around New York all day, then we got totally confused on the subway and were running 30mins behind, but our phones weren’t working abroad properly and we couldn’t get in touch with him. When we got to his office we couldn’t figure out how to get in! We sat outside feeling pathetic until someone came out and helped us. In LA were had been told that there was parking but it turned out there was only one spot in the garage and another visitor was using it already so we had a few issues with parking while we were there.
There can also be a strange feeling of being in someone else’s house and not quite being able to relax the way you can in a private hotel room. In San Francisco, we had our own entrance so we could come and go as we pleased but in Los Angeles we found our host using the living room most of the time meaning we always had to walk past her and make small talk.
I think as long as you go in with your eyes open, do your research, and communicate with your host in advance it can be a really positive experience. However, as it grows bigger and inevitably attracts more criticism I will be keeping an eye on it.