All about Airbnb

Anyone who has been backpacking or budget travelling in the past few years has probably heard of Couchsurfing, a network of over 3 million users who can sleep, free of charge, on a couch (or bed, room etc.) offered by other members of the Couchsurfing network. It’s a great idea for backpackers who aren’t fussy about where they sleep and who want to get to know a local or two. There’s no obligation to offer accommodation if you’re a user, and there are loads of people who use it simply as a networking tool to meet other travellers rather than staying at a stranger’s house. Brendan and I briefly considered Couchsurfing, but it’s really not our style of travelling – we like to make our own way around, and the idea of being stuck with strangers in a dirty house on a dirty couch (I’m not saying this is what happens when Couchsurfing, it’s just our fear) is not our idea of a good time, even if it is free.

When I read this article by Frugal Traveler, a travel blogger whose judgement I trust, I was intrigued by the concept of Airbnb whose tagline ‘travel like a human‘ immediately gave it the edge over Couchsurfing that I was looking for. I also liked that you could choose to rent a bed, a room or an entire apartment depending on what the host was offering, but often at a much cheaper price than a hotel or B&B. I signed up and toyed with booking an apartment in New York City for our trip there in August 2010 and our stop in Reykjavik on the way to London, but we never seemed to find anything that we liked which was also available at the time we needed.

When booking our holiday to France, we decided to check Airbnb for our 3 night stay in Montpellier and found an apartment close to the town centre that was available and (most importantly to me) was owned by a host with good reviews from other users. I know it’s a horrible thing to admit, but as a general rule I don’t trust people. Strangers especially. So I wasn’t about to stay in someone’s apartment who I knew absolutely nothing about…instead, I chose someone who had rented his apartment on Airbnb before and received a number of positive reviews. Our experience was fantastic; his apartment was exactly how he had described it, he was super friendly and helpful, and we had our own space for 3 nights at about half the cost of any decent hotel or B&B.

A few days after I got home from our holiday, I read this awful article written by an Airbnb host whose house had been absolutely destroyed by the people renting it from her. It was heartbreaking to read and I was tempted to remove myself from the Airbnb community immediately, despite my recent positive experience, until I received an email with this statement from the company’s CEO this morning. I have to say, it’s nice to hear a company say the words “we have really screwed things up”; whether it was the fault of Airbnb or not they were not prepared for such a crisis, but to hear them admit it and detail the changes that they have implemented to make their community safer and more user-friendly is admirable. I would still recommend Airbnb for travellers; not just budget travellers either, as there are plenty of luxurious or unusual places to choose from too, but as with any online community, it’s so important to be safe, take every precaution possible, and follow your instincts.

Have you ever Couchsurfed or used Airbnb before? What is your opinion on such online travel communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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