As more and more seniors take to the Internet, peer-to-peer travel is fast becoming an all-ages phenomenon. And that’s a good thing.
But whether you’re renting a Paris apartment on Airbnb for a week (click here to see our story about traveling with Airbnb.com), booking a single night on an air mattress closer to home courtesy of Couchsurfing.org (watch next week’s Senior Planet for a piece on Couchsurfing), or renting someone’s car via RelayRides.com, you should always ask questions about the accommodations before your make your request. That’s because once you’ve made your request, if the host accepts it, you’re committed.
Easy communication with a prospective host is one of the advantages of peer-to-peer home stays. Plus, you want to confirm that the impression you glean from the description matches the reality.
Here some suggestions from Airbnb-goers and Couchsurfers.
1. Location, location, location… where is it really? There’s an advantage to staying in a real neighborhood, but the “cute, folksy” neighborhood may be dicey after dark.
Linda Marsa, 64, stayed in a New Orleans studio for a week while researching a book. “The neighborhood was a little sketchy. I was glad my husband was with me.”
The “View of the Street,” available with some Airbnb listings, doesn’t convey this info. Yes, you can ask the host, but more impartial are friends – even friends of friends – who are familiar with the city.
2. Is your host comfortable with a senior guest? If he or she is a 20-something and you’re not, find a tactful way to acknowledge the fact if you’re couchsurfing or renting a room in someone’s home. I made a point of letting my host know that my partner and I were over 65 and that one of us was “82 but quite active.” I wanted the reassurance that my host was comfortable with grandma and grandpa sleeping over.
3. How will you get around? If you have a car, ask about parking. If you’re relying on pubic transportation, how far is the closest metro or bus? Do both run 24/7? How hard is it to get a taxi?
4. What’s the noise level? Will there be other guests next to you? Barking dogs? Construction next door?
5. What’s the size and condition of the bed? The listing profile often conveys whether you’ll be sleeping on a “real bed” and may specify its size. Confirm it. Beware of sofa beds and futons. I enjoyed my Paris stay, except for the bed – a futon that unfolded on the floor. With my aging joints, the struggle to get upright wasn’t pretty, and the futon was too difficult to fold and put away each day.
Science writer Elaine Fawcett, 46, says she once checked out within minutes of checking in to a San Diego room. “The sofa bed mattress was so thin, I felt the metal bars beneath it. ” Yes, she got most, but not all, of her money back.
6. How is the room furnished? Do you need a desk or a table? Bedside lamp? I could care less whether or not a room has a TV, but I’ve learned to ask next time if there’s a comfortable reading chair and a bright light.
7. Just how many stairs are there? In the Bath, UK, accommodation I booked through Airbnb, the “top floor of a Georgian townhouse” wording should have been a tip-off to ask for specifics, like how high is “top.” The five flights of stairs I had to climb was the answer.
8. How about your special needs? Think about any special needs you may have, like having to keep a medication refrigerated. If you have to make frequent trips to the bathroom at night, you may ask how far it is from your room and whether you have to share.
9. How private is it? What’s your preference: Total privacy, including a separate entrance? Or, at the other extreme, do you enjoy being part of a household? Ask about the exact location of your room in relation to family rooms. If you’re couchsurfing, you may be sleeping on an air mattress in the living room. Are you OK with that? Do you have to walk through your Airbnb hosts hallway to get your “studio.”
10. How much will it cost, really? Pay-for-accommodation sites like Airbnb post charges. However, pay attention to the “From” in light grey type before the bold-faced price. What you see may not be what you sign up for.
Also, check if there is a cleaning fee? As much as $90 dollars may be added to your bill if this is required. The Airbnb “service fee” will be extra, too.
11. What is your “Plan B.” This is a question to ask yourself. Have a list of alternative accommodations just in case. You may ask all nine of the questions above, but if you discover there’s a crying baby in the house or the bathroom doesn’t meet hygienic standards, you’ll want to withdraw, says veteran couchsurfer and Budapest marketing executive, Andras Foldvari, 60. “Make a good excuse like you have a stomach ache and don’t want to disturb your host,” he says.
It’s not so easy to change plans with Airbnb, because you pay for your stay in advance. You are allowed a refund, however, if your host does not meet the obligations listed in Policies. If you plan on Couchurfing, read that site’s policies before you go, so you know what your rights as guest are.
May all your surprises be pleasant ones!