Exploring the up-and-coming contender in the lodging world
This past weekend, a friend and I embarked on a trip to Amsterdam, a charming city rich with soothing canals, steakhouses, and most notably, genial and open-minded Dutch people. Before setting off to the lowlands (Holland famously sits below sea-level), we found ourselves in a little traveler’s dilemma: it was days before our flight, and we had yet to find a place to stay.
We turned to a list of hostels, only to find that none of the viable options – listings with 10 comments or more and a rating above 88% – were available for consecutive nights. For the few nights that were available, the cost to share not only a bathroom, but also a bedroom with four other mystery guests came to an ungodly 25-35 euro per person. For the same price and less suffering, we could book a decent hotel, where we’d have at the least our own bathroom and clean towels. However, I had my own reservations about the latter alternative. Conventional in both décor and character, hotels are often located in tourist saturated or obscure areas. Not to mention you could always expect the same things from them: overly bleached sheets, suspiciously sterile bathrooms, “mini bars” that you can’t actually enjoy without paying for. Though they deliver consistency, hotels are predictable, and who likes that? Our prospects of finding a place to stay were ostensibly grim. But perhaps there was one more option: rent a stranger’s room.
I know, I know, the notion of renting a room from a stranger sounds a bit crazy, but the practice is much more common then you might think. Airbnb is a web-based tool dedicated to facilitating this process, enabling its community of users to list, find, and book private accommodations ranging from an individual’s extra room or an entire vacation home. The site allows travelers to review their hosts, and vice versa, a neat feature that ensures accountability among all its users. Remember that the risk goes both ways, and chances are that you’re not the only one hoping to steer clear of a loony. I had a fantastic experience with private renting on a spring break trip to Lisbon, where my boyfriend and I stayed at a bed and breakfast (B&B), a type of accommodation in which a host manages several private rooms and provides, as the name states, breakfast.
Within the Lisbon Story Guesthouse, where rooms are differentiated by creative themes, we had our own preview of Lisbon culture. Decorated with vivid colors, ornate lamps, and vintage stereos, our room “Fado” was inspired by the Portuguese genre of music it was named after. Competitively priced to the next hotel, our guesthouse came with a daily breakfast feast, helpful hosts, relaxing common areas, guidebooks, access to computers, and board games for rainy nights inside. I had completely overlooked our alternative options in planning for Amsterdam, forgetting that like with hotels and hostels, B&B’s and other private rooms too ranged from budget to ballin’. After sifting through several listings, we found a reasonable room only a bus ride away from the center for 45 euros a night (52 with the small AirBnB service fee), or 26 per person per night. Included in the price were our own room, bathroom, sheets, comforter, and clean towels. The room also had a sofa, kitchen, fridge, and microwave. Even after our check out, our friendly host let us leave our belongings in a locked storage space so we could travel comfortably for our remaining day in the city.
The perks of staying in a private room–whether it’s someone’s extra single or a part of a larger B&B service–are bountiful. Since most of the rooms actually belong to the people who list them, they are well kept and situated in areas where natives live. Our long days of walking through the mesmerizing streets of Amsterdam were met with deep and restful sleeps in our clean and homey room. Over the course of our stay, we learned what Dutch toilets looks like, how to use Amsterdam’s metro, and experienced shopping at a local Dutch supermarket—a true adventure in itself. More often than not, your host is familiar with the place you’re exploring and is ready to share with you useful tips and recommendations. It’s also nice to know that your money is going to a real person, someone you can see and talk to, instead of another overrated hotel conglomerate (excuse the San Francisco in me).
As with any accommodation, a little research will help ensure an enjoyable stay. In addition to Airbnb is TripAdvisor, another great, all-encompassing site for finding places to stay and things to do. The process of researching can even be fun; Airbnb’s new wish list feature allows users to favorite and share their dream destinations, turning the once tedious search for lodging into an engaging social networking activity. Of course, there are times when a neighborhood youth hostel or hotel may better suit your needs. For those traveling solo and looking to meet a group of likeminded travelers, hostels may be the more attractive option. And hotels, though many a time plain and predictable, do have their moments–cue your best friend’s birthday in Vegas. Like for all things, keep an open mind, and who knows, maybe the unique experience of staying in a private home might just be the highlight of your next vacation.