Take it from me, there is no such thing as an affordable London hotel. A room for a night, maybe. But I was looking for safety, convenience and comfort for far less than $250 a night.
After surfing the web for hours, I had a midnight brainstorm. My schoolteacher son had booked a temporary stay in Venice, California through Airbnb, a website that matches “hosts” who have spare rooms or empty apartments with “guests.”
At first glance, Airbnb looked to me like a site for freewheeling hipsters, and I’ll admit it: Fearing rejection, I decided to up my chances by pretending to be a 30-something in search of a couch. Turns out that my imaginary online persona wasn’t necessary.
True, many of those offering to rent a couch, an airstream trailer or an entire apartment could be my grandchildren. But while scanning the host photos, I discovered that besides the techno musician-types and tattooed Millennials, there are also “mature” men and women with accommodations to let.
Airbnb: For Travelers, Not Tourists
What I found in less than an hour online – and for almost half the price of a hotel room – was a newly renovated flat with kitchenette in Bloomsbury, just doors away from Charles Dickens’ house.
Since that delightful week in London, I’ve stayed in Airbnb rooms and apartments in Bath, Paris and San Francisco, and I recently booked a cottage in Ashland, Oregon for a fall weekend of Shakespeare plays. Sure, I’d rather stay in a luxury hotel with room service and a spa and no stairs to climb, but my expense-account days are over. Plus, I’ve learned something new about myself: I really enjoy staying in a “real” neighborhood and being a traveler, not a tourist.
Peer-to-Peer Networking for Seniors
Peer-to-peer networking is a fast-growing trend: Increasing numbers are going online to rent regular people’s cars through sites like RelayRides, book stays through Airbnb or Couchsurfing, even find a backyard campsite at CampInMyGarden. In 2008, Airbnb was among the first to offer peer-to-peer accommodations. Today it has over 300,000 listings throughout the world.
The company declines to identify how many guests in the Airbnb “community” are seniors, but from talking with friends and hosts with whom I’ve stayed, there are plenty of spirited and adventurous older people like me who are catching the wave. For one reason, it makes travel more affordable. It’s also friendlier for those who travel solo.
One note: Short-term room rentals were recently declared illegal in New York City (click here to read about that), subjecting the landlord to serious fine. Local zoning laws in other parts of the countries put hosts in jeopardy, too. But if no one complains, says a report in the New York Times last year, law enforcement officers are unlikely to investigate (click here to read the NYT report).
Trust Makes It Work
That’s what Airbnb proclaims on it’s website, and over the years the site has evolved to build user confidence in the “community” of hosts and guests. Recently, for example, Airbnb initiated an identity verification system to help confirm that you are who you say you are. Also, each listing is rated for the accuracy of its profile, among other qualities.
The personal reviews by former guests are another check on the veracity of a listing’s slide show and its written description. Like reviews on the travel site TripAdvisor, positive experiences tend to outweigh negative ones, so practice reading between the lines. “Hot tub closes at 9” may mean the promised hot tub is in a nearby clubhouse, not just outside your door.
Hosts review guests after a stay, too, so prospective hosts can check out if you are the demanding visitor from hell or the guest they would gladly welcome.
How to Use The Site
Finding an accommodation is easier than booking a flight. Just enter the following:
- Where you want to go
- The dates of your stay
- The number of guests
Click Enter, and let your search begin.
Try the On-Site Help Videos
Being a rather impulsive type, I jumped right in and started clicking tabs, but I later learned that Airbnb’s Getting Started video is a terrific overview of how the site works; click here to watch it. For even more detailed how-to’s if you get stuck, see the video tutorials, like “How Do I Get Verified.”
Use the Tabs
Tabs pepper the listing’s page. I found these essential:
- Amenities gets to the nitty gritty: Free parking? Pet friendly? Real bed?
- House rules spell out check in/out times, minimum stay requirements, and special requests, like, “bring your own dog bed.”
- Street View offers a 360-degree view of the street where you’ll live. (Not available for all listings.)
- Host Bios are crucial for a good match-up, but can border on TMI ( too much information). Do I really care that the host was a corporate “story coach” with a talent for pine needle basketry? Probably not, but insights for a better match-up are in the details.
The really fun part Armchair traveling. My bucket list has seriously expanded now that I know where I’d spend a month in Rome and exactly which neighborhood in Istanbul would be a perfect stop-over on my way to Mumbai.
Warning If you have any latent, peeping Tom tendencies, the site’s slide shows are a serious time suck. Seeing how others organize their sweaters is captivating. No kidding! If reality TV is your nemesis, then Airbnb TV will be too.
Next week: Peer-to-Peer Travel Tips for Seniors