Finding the ways to fill the time
The room had a normal hotel room’s features: Neatly folded towels and little cakes of soap on the bed. A table held a bowl of real fruit, and a hand-written card with the wi-fi password. Some hotels still have things like that, right?
We weren’t at a hotel however, but in someone’s house.
To reduce costs while traversing Australia, we utilised a mix of holiday accommodation: camping, budget hotels and, best of both with budget price and indoor comforts, Airbnb.
Our Nambucca Heads hosts eased us in. A couple our age, they used Airbnb while in America, loved it and had hosted several guests already. Both worked from home, so check-in was easy. We got the tour of the house: tea and coffee locations, a shelf for us in the fridge with a bowl of (freshly laid) eggs and a roll for breakfast. Our comfy room had the aforementioned fruit, towels and wi-fi password prepped. These guys were pros.
Though it has only been in existence since 2007, Airbnb has proved remarkably popular, already spreading to 186 countries. Though Australian choices exist mainly on the east coast and in cities, it is spreading further into regional centres.
Our Canberra host was an ex-firey and Airbnb virgin, and she wasn’t taking any chances with our safety. We were shown all the fire-exits before dinner and a glass of wine.
She admitted later, after said wine, that the weekend had been a stress of curtain rod hanging and room arrangement. Acceptance of cash for a service brings the possibility of unsatisfied customers, unlike Couchsurfing where ‘free’ might cancel out most judgements from the surfer.
Our final stay was over the Australia Day weekend, when most hotels were booked, ‘holiday surcharge’ augmented or next to a loud street party. Meanwhile, in the quiet Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds, we enjoyed three days exploring Italian terraced streets and hidden cafes. This was our longest stopover, and while there were days apart from our host, with just a quick ‘hey’, there were other afternoons of shared wine and cake and memories.
My list of tips for a smooth Airbnb experience:
Before check in: Details.
Profiles should have at least five relevant photos (ie of the house, not local tourist attractions) and a clear picture of the host. Avoid those who will only go as far as blurry self-portrait and a one sentence overview (gr8 place to visit).
What amenities are included? You might not know you really want wi-fi or a parking space until you see the little red-cross next to it.
Check the House Rules sections for any potentially clashing personal habits or schedules. Clarify anything uncertain, especially regarding smoking, pets or children.
Looking over the Calendar might seem obvious, but on several occasions after hours of painstaking determination of all the essential qualities of a house (wi-fi, ensuite bathroom), I would click ‘book’ only to find the hosts were away for the next two weeks.
Check all the fees – some include hefty cleaning and extra person costs to an otherwise reasonable rate.
What is your hosts level of refund strictness? Flexible gives you the ability to cancel a day in advance – which is helpful if dates are in doubt.
During the stay: Relax. But not like a rock-star.
Discuss before arrival what level of interaction you both feel comfortable with. Body-language cues eased us through most situations.
Some hosts are old hands, but often you will be the first. If on arrival they don’t instantly hand over the wi-fi password, cough up the teabags or tell you where to park don’t unleash that angst on their ratings later, just ask politely.
Most importantly, be safe. The feedback system will help make and break room choices, and you can stick to those with prior reviews, however, if you ever feel uneasy just leave.
After check-out: Tell us about it.
Be a good community member and leave honest, detailed reviews of your stay. The ones you love, you can share on other social networking sites.
Private feedback to the host can confess any small issues you felt nervous face to face, or send a more personal note of thanks.
We enjoyed our Airbnb experience and loved staying with all our hosts. They became part of the anecdotes of our trip in ways hotels usually don’t. We had the chance to enjoy affordable luxury which was especially welcome after stretches of camping.
With any luck more types of social-tourism will soon appear. The meeting of and caring for strangers increases our sense of connection and interdependence with others, encourages our trust in humanity and, most crucially, means a cheaper way to travel nice.