If you travel somewhere you have never been, wouldn’t it be nice to stay with local people as opposed to an isolated and sterile hotel experience? Go where the locals go and see the place with their eyes? And even pay less than staying at a hotel? Meet Airbnb.
In a nutshell, Airbnb gives people the opportunity to either rent out some sort of ‘space’ they have available (from a couch to a villa to a freakin’ castle) for a particular amount of time for a set price a night. Booking and payment is processed through the Airbnb website, where the company keeps a certain percentage of the total amount as revenue. After the stay, both the host as well as the guest are encouraged to leave a review of each others experience during the duration of the stay. Through this ‘credibility’ rating, subsequent hosts and guests can see how the experience with that particular user went for other people.
I had heard about Airbnb a couple of months ago through a NYT article and immediately thought: “Man, this is a great idea”. Not so much because of the fact that it gives me the opportunity to stay somewhere much cheaper compared to staying at a hotel, but also because of it’s social aspect. More than any other service out there, I feel that Airbnb caters towards the idea that people are inherently good and want to offer whatever space they have available to others—and, of course, to meet new people. This is, of course, not true for everyone, some probably see it as ‘just’ another way of renting some sort of property and, in the end, make money. But certainly the people that I decided to stay with for my trip to Houston, Texas are not in it for the money. They are in it for the people.
In the heart of Texas
I had never been to Texas, so I decided that I wanna go some time in spring, just to avoid the unbearable summer heat. I picked Houston as my destination, because I had heard some good things from friends who had recently visited. I booked my flights for an extended weekend at the beginning of April, and the tickets amounted to 480 dollars already.
Since I was not interested in spending too much on my trip, I decided to check out Airbnb. After entering my travel dates, Arturo and Adrianna popped up as the first item in the recommended search results. They had a spare room to offer, with a private bathroom, for 35 dollars a night, as well as a bunch of glamorous reviews from other people who had previously stayed with them. From the description, the seemed like a genuinely nice couple, doing everything to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Exactly what I was looking for.
The booking experience was very smooth and straight forward. Immediately afterwards I got contacted by my hosts, giving me some suggestions as to what there is to do in Houston, which I found really nice and helpful. Airbnb itself provides you with the option to print out a ‘summary’ of your arrangements, together with contact numbers and the address of the host you are staying with. And if something goes horribly wrong, Airbnb has a contact email and phone number you can use as a last resort.
NASA, Astros and local food
Immediately after arrival I felt very welcomed in Arturo and Adrianna’s house, with their room providing more than enough space for one person. Based on their recommendations, I went to take the Level 9 Tour at the Houston Space Center on Friday, they took me out to dinner twice (which was really great) and I even got invited to come along to a game of the Houston Astros. How nice is that? I was overwhelmed by so much kindness and hospitality.
I returned back to California Sunday night and reflecting on my stay, I could not have picked a better place for my first Airbnb experience. In all honesty, I was a little concerned at the beginning and did not really know what to expect, but it turns out that this was unjustified. It will actually be hard to top that experience on any future bookings it might do through this service.
I have done a few trips in the past where I had stayed at hotels (which, in a way are all the same) and (mostly) went to the usual touristy spots. But with Airbnb, you got the unique opportunity to see the place from a truly local perspective, which I find makes the travel experience much richer, more interesting and fulfilling. Especially if you happen to stay with such great people like Arturo and Adrianna.
“Airbnb – travel like a human”. They did not pick that tagline by chance.