Air BnB: Live Like A Local
CONTRIBUTED BY LOUISE DUPUY
One of the most exciting things about going away is getting to know the locale. Exploring winding streets, eating the native specialties, and just really immersing yourself in the culture. Where you stay can play a key role in this, and I’m here to offer you an alternative to hotels: Air BnB.
What is Air BnB?
It’s an online marketplace where locals from the world over offer up rooms and houses for holiday/vacation rentals. Founded in 2008, and with headquarters in San Francisco, it boasts an impressive 1,500,000 listings, in 34,000 cities, and 191 countries, so you’re definitely spoilt for choice.
How does it work?
It’s actually pretty simple. Both its website and smartphone app are set up in a similar way to most accommodation websites. I’ve included a user guide to help you out. The website version is pretty extensive and offers a lot of options to narrow your choices. The mobile version is much more simplified, but it’s a great on the go tool for keeping up with listings and making last minute bookings.
Here’s a little step by step to help you out.
First, decide where you want to go and enter it in the search box. Add dates and number of guests, and click “search”.
Check out the plethora of listings, narrowing your search by room type, price, and area (the website version has an interactive map to help). For this example, I chose a week to stay in Tokyo. Use the slider to change prices (this is per night), tick the boxes of preferred accommodation (do you want just a room, or an entire house/apartment?), and hover over the map to choose the desired area (for example, Shinjuku).
The fun part is looking at all the fascinating listings that come up. Click on one to find out more about the property and the host. It’ll tell you what type of accommodation it is (room, shared room, apartment, house), amenities (air conditioning, wifi, laundry facilities, bathroom facilities), minimum booking (some places have a minimum amount of nights you can stay before booking, such as 2 or 3), price per night/total price, and if it’s “instant book” (some places require host approval before you can book. This is a relatively short process. Once you get approval, it’ll show up in your messages, and you’ll be able to book from there.
Each picture on the main page has a little heart in the right-hand corner. This allows you to add the desired property to a “wish list’. As you can see from my screenshot, I save anything I like based on the place I am visiting. It can also be done from the property specifics (there’s a button at the bottom right). This is a feature you can also use and access on the mobile app too. Very handy.
Found the one for you? Perfect! Let’s book! As you can see, the “book’ feature is pretty simple. It gives you a breakdown of your stay, including the total price. I have it in Yen, but you can change it to any currency you desire. This listing is “instant book”, so I don’t need to wait for host approval, I can just have it on the spot!
Once you’ve booked, if you are a new user, it’ll ask for some details to set up an account. After this, you will receive confirmations and messages from the host direct to your account. Be sure to link it to a valid email address, and you’ll also get emails of confirmations and messages, great if you forget to log in and check your account like I do! Also, the mobile app will alert you to these things too, as well as prompt you when your stay is getting close. Here is what your profile will look like:
At the top, you can see it has a tab for trips (this is a record of recently booked trips), messages (confirmed bookings and host messages), help, and a little tab with your name and photo, which takes you directly to your profile. Air BnB prefers all guests and hosts to have a photo of themselves on their profiles, so there is some transparency. Remember, this isn’t a hotel. You are staying in the home of another person! The profile itself will contain all your reviews (both the ones you give and the one’s hosts give about you), personal details (email address and phone numbers are hidden, but it usually gives your location; for example the town or city you live in, however, you set it up with what you want people to see), and your wish lists are here for easy access.
6. Get packing!
You’re all set! Yay! Time to drag out the passports, guide books and suitcase, it’s time for an adventure!
Air BnB can be very rewarding. It’s a great way to really “live like a local”. Most hosts are friendly and welcoming, and it can be a great way to learn things you wouldn’t if you stayed in a hotel. I stayed in an Air BnB when I first came to Okinawa, in Okinawa City. The host and his wife were very helpful, calling taxis, helping with local transport, and introducing me to local delights such as food and festivals. It was a wonderful experience.
This also brings me neatly to my next point. Remember you are in the personal space of someone else. Treat it with the respect you would treat your own home. Follow the rules, and behave in a courteous manner. Imagine if it were you playing host (something you can sign up to do too, there’s a link at the top of the website called “become a host”), how would you like your guests to behave?
Do your research. Just because it’s on Air BnB, doesn’t mean it’s automatically wonderful. Like anywhere, there are good and bad places. When looking at a listing, check the photos. If there are many, it’s a good sign the host isn’t hiding anything. One or two, or even none, is a little suspicious. Read the host introduction. This will give you an insight into the type of person they are. Is it warm and friendly? Or does it just list clinical details like location and amenities? Lastly, read the reviews of other travelers. This is by far the best advice. They won’t pull punches on a place. If it’s good, a lot of the reviews will reflect this. If it isn’t, you’ll soon know. Of course, you will get reviews that are unfairly biased, but read a decent amount so you can get a good idea of what it’s like (I’d recommend reading at least 5-10 if the place has that or more).
Lastly, contribute. After your stay, leave an honest review of the place and its host. This will help other travelers decide if it’s what they are looking for, and it also helps the host know what they did well and what can be improved to make their property more appealing.
And just enjoy! I met some wonderful people through Air BnB, some of whom are friends of mine to this day! Swap the swanky hotel for the spare room of a sweet family, and discover a slice of the world you never knew existed.
Ready to give it a go? Find it here: www.airbnb.com