6 tips: Beginner's guide to Airbnb, an alternative to hotels
I had always wanted to try out Airbnb after reading about it on my friends’ Facebook travel posts over a year ago. I did not know exactly what it was, but was intrigued by the idea of staying in an actual home rather than the usual boxy hotel room.
I looked it up and learned that Airbnb is an apartment-sharing platform where home and apartment owners from various parts of the world “list” their residences for rent for short and long-term stays.
There are different residences to choose from: there are themed residences where famous artists/writers once lived; there are treehouses, boathouses, even remote islands for rent.
The idea appealed to me more and more and I had the chance to try it out last May when I traveled to Milan and Paris. I had to stop over Milan to comply with visa Schengen requirements (my visa was granted by the Italian Embassy so I either had to make Italy my first stop or stay there the longest) and was set to be in Paris for about a week. (READ: Applying for a visa? Keep these 5 tips in mind)
The hotel prices in Milan spike for weekend stays and it was difficult to find a centrally located hotel room in Paris for less than $100, so I thought it would be the perfect time to try out Airbnb, both as an experiment and as cost effective option.
In Milan, I was hosted by Domenico and Patrizia, an Italian couple who rented out their studio apartment in Gorla, Milan, and their studio apartment was wonderful!
It was designed by the couple’s son, who is an architect who made sure that everything was functional, funky and cozy all at the same time.
The best part, though, was meeting Domenico and Patrizia who welcomed me both to Milan and into their home. The fridge was stocked with yogurt, jam and fruits and the some biscuits. They had guidebooks and printed out maps of the area that contained important information about the nearest metro, places of interest and places to eat.
I did not realize that I did not do much research on Milan because it was really just going to be a pit stop for me, but the travel materials they had made it impossible for me not to want to go out and explore Milan.
Best of all, they helped me map out how long it would take me to get to the airport to catch my early morning flight to Paris and even called a cab for me to make sure I got to the train station without any glitches. That was a big help since English is not widely spoken in Milan.
Before I left, we took a selfie and Domenico told me, “When you are in Italy, this will be your home.” To a tired and jetlagged traveler, that was the best send-off.
My apartment in Paris was a small, cozy studio located just 3 blocks away from the metro and 5 minutes away from the Eiffel Tower. The location was excellent. The bed was a sofabed called a “click clack” because you just unfold it, but it was comfortable enough.
Overall, I loved my Airbnb experience and would try it again the next time I travel. I thought that it would be a better option to try in cities like Europe where hotel rooms are usually smaller, older and very expensive, but a couple of friends have tried it out in other countries and were all satisfied.
My friend, Andrea, who has tried Airbnb on different trips told me, “Each country has different cultural practices that may not be written in the listing. My experience has been somewhat amusing! For instance, in Japan (& Scandinavia), duvets are per person, even on a king bed. In Copenhagen, the telephone shower was attached to the sink faucet! I think these all add to the experience as a traveler.”
Andrea has since put up her own properties in Manila for listing on Airbnb.
Before you try out Airbnb, here are some things you should know and consider.
Aside from AirBnb, what are a few other options available in Manila?
1. There are various options to suit your budget
There are generally two types of accommodations to suit your traveling style and budget: private room, entire home or apartment.
For those traveling in groups or as a family, renting an entire apartment is more cost effective than renting out different hotel rooms. Be sure to check how many guests are allowed for the rate per night that is advertised.
Hosts will usually charge an extra fee for every guest in excess of what is allowed and will also stipulate a maximum number of guests.
If you’re renting a private room, if you are squeamish about bathroom arrangements, make sure to check if the room has its own bathroom.
2. You get a local feel with home amenities
You get to live like a local because listings are private residences owned by locals. You also get home amenities like a kitchen so you can cook if you feel like staying in.
A bonus for me was the washing machine in my apartment in Milan. For my transit stay there, I had been on the road for more than 10 days. It was a relief to get to wash my clothes and dry them on the apartment’s heater.
It’s safe: There are security checks to ensure the safety of both the guest and the host
Both hosts and guests need to register on Airbnb before they can post a listing or make a booking. Identification is verified through your email address, social media account (Facebook) and offline verification such as sending a passport so you’re sure that the person – both hosting and booking – are real people.
3. Know that it’s not a hotel
Don’t expect hotel service like a concierge or an everyday housekeeping service. You are living like a local and will have to clean up after yourself. Some guests offer a cleaning service after a certain number days for long staying guests so be sure to check with your host.
There’s no 24-hour check in like in a hotel so you will have to communicate with your host about arrival time (including delayed flights and such) and getting directions to finding the apartment.
It can get pretty costly on SMS, but you can take advantage of the Airbnb app which will allow you to communicate with your host via instant messaging.
Tip: Once you arrive, take advantage of the complimentary WiFi in the airport to keep your host updated about the status of your arrival and save on SMS fees.
4. All listings are different – so what are your priorities?
Read the list of inclusions and amenities carefully. There’s an easy to read checklist on each listing, so check what is important or a non-negotiable for you like a WiFi connection, or how near the place is to the public transportation.
Be sure to watch for other things, like if the apartment is located on a higher floor and if there is an available elevator in the building.
5. Booking is not always instant
Some listings offer instant booking (there’s a violator on the picture of the listing to make sure you know that this is an instant booking) where you can book and reserve at the same time as you would in a hotel.
For other listings, you will have to reserve and wait for your host to accept your reservation. Your host will have 24 hours to accept or reject your booking.
Payment is done via credit card, so you do not have to exchange cash with your host. Airbnb will add a booking fee to your booking which will show up in your final total before you book.
Your credit card will only be charged 24 hours after check in to give you time to change your mind just in case.
Be sure to check on your host’s cancellation policy before booking as this may vary from each guest.
6. Read the reviews
As you would with any online booking, read the reviews very carefully. Guests get to review both publicly and privately. Public reviews will appear on the reviews section of the listing and private reviews will be accessible only to Airbnb.
Get a feel of what the apartment and host are like by reading the reviews; it will be a major factor in deciding on which listing to book.
And the reviews go both ways, the hosts get to review the guests, too. I didn’t know this until I got a message on my Airbnb app showing the reviews from both Domenico and Patrizia and Milene.
It’s a great, discreet and respectful way of ensuring that the hosts make the guest feel at home and the guests in turn repay their hospitality with gratitude – and a tidied up apartment before leaving. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender issues. Seriously. She is also a regular contributor for Rappler apart from her DASH of SAS column, which is a spin off of her website, www.SexAndSensibilities.com (SAS). Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.