On my recent trip to New York, I found myself crashing in the apartment of a local artist in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. Her place was clean, central to the neighborhood, and had all of the perqs I required: free wi-fi and air conditioning. I could use her kitchen if I wanted (I didn’t), and I had to share a bathroom with her. Ok, I was admittedly not thrilled about sharing a bathroom with a stranger, but it was neat and clean, and was never occupied when I needed to use it. Plus, the decor at Sunny’s place is a sort of thrift store chic that appealed to my eccentric side. You’re not going to find a statue of Mary draped in Mardi Gras beads and capped with devil’s horns in many hotel rooms.
All this is not as random as it might seem. You see, I found Sunny Chapman‘s place via the website Airbnb, which is sort of a paid version of CouchSurfing (a website that lists free places to stay in a limitless amount of cities around the world). I had grand designs to do some CouchSurfing in Italy, but I didn’t (maybe next trip), and stumbled upon Airbnb while looking for a cheap place to stay in NYC. It’s a nice compromise between a free couch and an expensive hotel room, with the added benefit of staying with a local.
I found that my experience was not much different than staying at a “bona fide” bed and breakfast where the hosts are more engaged in your day-to-day experience than at a hotel.
Airbnb, like Couch Surfing, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. lists reviews of the host and property by previous guests, which is ultimately what tipped me over the edge in feeling comfortable enough to take the plunge to stay in a stranger’s home. Well, that, and the affordable price point appealed to my rapidly shrinking budget. You pay for your room online at the time of your reservation (credit cards accepted), but the host doesn’t receive the payment until your stay is completed. In my case, my host requested a $75 key deposit on top of the room fee, which she refunded within 24 hours of my check out.
When I think back on my best travel memories, they all have the same thing in common, and that is the opportunity to spend time with the natives. What better way to do that then by staying in one of their homes? You best behave yourself, though. Airbnb hosts have the capability to review their guests, too.
Have you tried Airbnb or CouchSurfing? I’d love to hear about it.