Airbnb has become a global name many people recognize but for those of you who do not know much about booking rooms this way here is a brief introduction. It started with some young guys who had a place to share for those needing a place to sleep when on the road. An air mattress would do for spare beds (thus the “air” part of the name). Now bookings include everything from sofa surfing to houseboats and tree houses. Mostly the places we look for are guest rooms, apartments, and cottages on the same property as where the host lives. We like to pick the brains of our hosts.
One of the attractive features about this type of booking is that you can not only check out where you are staying with lots of pictures, but you can check out the hosts as well. After you have stayed at a place, you are asked to write a review of your experience. The hosts also write reviews about YOU as a guest so everyone is vetted both ways. Your personal email address is not used and neither is theirs. Dave is the one doing the bookings for us and he is very thorough. He reads all the reviews and uses Google Earth to check out the town and neighborhood.
Staying with local people changes your whole perspective on travel. It makes your vacation a journey. Each host(ess) adds a layer of local color and depth that never would have been there had you stayed in a RV or in a motel.
Folks who are hosting in this way have to love people and trust them to come into their homes and their lives. Yet they are not “out there” the way a traditional B and Bs are. There are no signs in the yard, no advertisements of their accommodations and no attempt to make the living space “cute” with Victorian dolls and doilies.
Because we used airbnb in New Zealand, when we remember Auckland we will include in that memory our hostess and her dog Lucy. We will remember little daily notes to “sleep well” and the bottle of wine awaiting us when we arrived. Roturua will be thought of as experiencing a kind of family reunion with a lamb dinner and nice New Zealand beer. Our hosts there let us use their spacious guest room. We never would have discovered the local Blue Lake and redwood forest without them. And we got to teach them how to make a dirty martini. Napier had us sharing cocktail hour with our hosts and recounting our bucket lists. Our Wellington hostess drove us up a complex system of roads to views from Mt Victoria then dropped us and our luggage off at the ferry. Tasman had us sharing another dinner with our hosts and a writer friend of theirs and lots of tips about marketing, fund raising, and publishing. And at our last airbnb stay we lived with a couple and shared meals and TV viewing while cheering on South Africa against New Zealand in the ICC cricket tournament. (New Zealand won by a close margin and the cheers went up around the neighborhood.)
Most memorable was our stay in Fox Glacier where we had four days of sightseeing but also playtime with four year old Emma and two year old Thais. I got a little girl fix of coloring, playing with my earrings and bracelets, and a trip to the laundry. I got a big chuckle as I looked out my bedroom door and saw Thais giving me the special request of “Let me in” but licking the window!
Airbnb hosts are travelers themselves and seem to know what the traveler wants and what they like to talk about. The ones we met on this trip have been doing it for about a year or less. I think we benefited from that as they are still not jaded by any bad experiences. They all talk about the amazing people they have met. Hopefully, we give back a fraction of what they give to us in terms of travel needs, desires, and issues.
Our spaces have been varied both here and elsewhere in the world. We’ve stayed in guest rooms with a bathroom down the hall or guest rooms with bathroom en suite. We’ve often stayed in “in law” suites or little cottages on the property. Without fail, our places have been stocked with everything we need (except, a few times, without enough hangers). They are always clean and neat. (However, in New Zealand there are rarely screens on the windows so you will get bugs both living and dead). Many places offer their laundry facilities for us to use.
The host has a fridge full of breakfast items exclusively for us or we share the kitchen and help ourselves to what is there for breakfast. If no breakfast is provided that is mentioned in the description before booking.
After spending a few hours with these lovely folks you begin to love the way they talk, their ideas about all facets of life and what they think about Americans, Germans or Asians. You learn that there is a mild rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis and between the North Islanders and the South Islanders. And you get a big thrill when they say Maoris put wet “sex” (sacks) on top of their pit roasts. Would you really get that much information from other travelers over breakfast at the Hampton Inn?
Chain hotels are fine on road trips when you can’t know where you will be at the end of the afternoon. You can pull in, register at the office, and plop for the night. You don’t need or want an airbnb experience then.
When we had New Zealand on our bucket list I never pictured that getting to know people would be such an important part of my memories. Now I can’t separate any of the journey from the people who make it such a pleasure.