Staying with Airbnb
Like meeting people? Like a deal? An online service makes travelers guests in private homes.
A stone cottage in the United Kingdom is one of the homes offered on Airbnb.
Apparently, hotels are so 20th century.
These days, people are staying anywhere but. They’re renting vacation homes through VRBO and HomeAway. They’re house-sitting at Caretaker.org. They’re staying for free at HomeExchange.com, Servas.org and Couchsurfing.org.
Now, we have Airbnb.com, whose slogan is “Travel like a human.’’
According to the three young San Francisco men who founded the site in 2007, after renting an air bed to a desperate conventioneer, “Boring hotel rooms are a thing of the past — smart travelers know the best experiences come by staying with local people.’’
Airbnb is like Couchsurfing, except guests pay. And it’s like B&Bs, where guests stay in their hosts’ homes and can expect hospitality far beyond anything provided by a hotel clerk.
It’s most like B&Bs, actually. Air beds are hard to find on the Airbnb web site. Instead, it features a castle in
France, a tree house in California, a hilltop manor in Marrakech, a yacht in South Carolina.
But if you look beyond the glossy slide show, you will see quite a few homes offered by ordinary people. People like my neighbors, Andrew and Christine.
Minneapolis has a fast-growing selection of Airbnb homes, and one of them is on the next block. It turns out that Andrew and Christine have been hosts for years on Warmshowers.org, which provides free accommodations for tourists who arrive by bicycle, and they signed up for Airbnb “on a whim.’’
So far, the couple like it, and their guests have liked them: Of their five guests in the first 10 months, three posted reviews that speak glowing of their freshly baked scones, sense of décor, conversational skills and hospitality.
Christine likens their home to a European pension or B&B – “the B&Bs in the States are way too cutesy for
me,’’ she says.
“Our guests get the same treatment we get,’’ she says. “If I bake fresh scones, they get fresh scones. If we get freshly cut flowers from the garden, they get freshly cut flowers. We like having people around — the more, the merrier.’’
Andrew and Christine use the extra cash for little splurges — they charge $65 for the first floor of their 1923 Arts and Crafts bungalow facing parkland along the Mississippi River — and they rent only when they feel like it.
“If we happen to be in town, and if they look interesting and we’re not doing anything, then sure,’’ Andrew says.
Financial transactions go through Airbnb, which charges the host 3 percent and the guests 6 to 12 percent above the rent. Would-be guests can message hosts with questions, then book the room; the host has 32 hours to decline or accept.
The money isn’t released to the host until 24 to 48 hours after guests have checked in, giving them protection if the accommodations aren’t as advertised.
But Andrew and Christine offer yet another option: free accommodations in return for services.
“I keep waiting for an architect to come and help me build out my basement,’’ Andrew says.
Since the couple said several of their guests have been parents in town to settle their freshmen children at local colleges, it gave me an idea.
I have to take my son to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., in August, and I need a place to stay while I
attend the parent orientation. I'd also like to find out more about the town, between the Bay Area and Sacramento.
So I checked Airbnb for hosts in Stockton and found Kristin’s Lair, a private bedroom with bath not far from the university. There were photos of the home and the hosts, Kristin and Scott, and a video scan of the street where they live.
I signed onto the site, providing a photo and short description of myself, then messaged Scott to see if the room was
available. Five minutes later, I got a text message from Scott through the site: "Looking forward to meeting you.''
“I will try to think of special things to do until your visit,'' he wrote. "Safe travels and let us know if we can be of help. ‘’
My cost? $50 per night plus an $18 fee, for a total of $158. Sounds as if it’ll be a lot more interesting than a Days Inn.
Update on Airbnb
In June 2011, the home of an Airbnb host in San Francisco was methodically plundered and trashed, revealing gaps in Airbnb's security policies.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky vowed to make safety
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