Tech Savvy: Booking, there's an app for that
When it comes to putting together your warm-weather winter getaway, the costs can quickly add up. Airfare, lodging, food and other entertainment expenses can make you think twice about taking a trip. Thankfully, there's a way to save a little mon...
When it comes to putting together your warm-weather winter getaway, the costs can quickly add up.
Airfare, lodging, food and other entertainment expenses can make you think twice about taking a trip. Thankfully, there's a way to save a little money on lodging for your next trip, weekend getaway or overnight stay.
Airbnb, founded in 2008, allows someone to turn an extra bedroom or their entire home into a short-term rental or lodging option for travelers. Simply put, you allow strangers to crash at your place in exchange for money.
If that sounds strange, scary or weird, don't worry, you're not alone. Airbnb isn't for everyone, but many people have found success using the online marketplace.
I've used Airbnb once, when my girlfriend and I took a weekend trip to Chicago last June. On a side note, don't go to Chicago in June, as it can be insanely, oppressively hot. If you do go, make sure your accommodations have air conditioning.
We decided to go to Chicago because I had never been there and the airfare was very affordable. When it came to deciding where to stay, we both agreed we'd be spending more time exploring the city than in our lodging, so we didn't want to spend too much on it. Instead, we'd rather spend that on entertainment or food.
The hotel rooms in Chicago were outside our price range, so we turned to Airbnb. We focused on a couple neighborhoods and were able to find an affordable place to stay. We found a studio apartment which we booked for $95 per night for 2 nights. After a $23 service fee and $31 in local and state lodging taxes, the total came to $244. I'm confident we would have paid at least $120 per night before taxes for a hotel room, which we would have hardly been in.
I messaged our host through the Airbnb app about when we would be arriving and leaving. She let us into her place when we got to Chicago, explained some things about the apartment, then turned the keys over to us. It went smoothly and was only slightly awkward, in a first-date kind of way.
You can provide feedback on your host after your visit, which helps identify good hosts and bad hosts, kind of like feedback on Ebay identifies good sellers and bad sellers. Hosts also provide feedback on guests, and I'm proud to say our host gave my girlfriend and I a stellar review.
How it works
While you're looking at places to stay on Airbnb, you get the general location of a place, but not the exact address. A small circle hovers over the place on a map, but you don't get the actual address unless you book the place, for safety purposes.
You can use Airbnb's website or mobile app to book lodging. Both the website and app are easy to use and navigate. It functions similar to other travel websites where you can search multiple airfare options at once. You enter where you'd like to go, how many people are going, when you'd like to go, how long you're staying and away you go.
If you're looking for something in a major city like New York City, Chicago, or Minneapolis, you can narrow down your search to different neighborhoods, like Lakeview in Chicago. This is helpful if you want to stay in a certain neighborhood that's near specific attractions you'd like to see.
You're then directed to a list of options which you can narrow based on price and amenities like air conditioning and Wi-Fi availability. An interactive map shows you where your options are, so you can also pick a place based on location. Each listing features interior photos of the place, so you can see what it looks like before you get there.
Once you've booked a place, you can message the host within the app to set up check in and check out times. Like I mentioned above, at this point, you can also get the address of the place you're staying at, so you can plan the rest of your trip.
You pay for the lodging within the app, so there's no credit card information or cash exchanged. Airbnb also calculates its own fees for the booking, as well as any local lodging taxes that apply.
Airbnb also offers the option to book "experiences" for your trip, which encompasses pretty much anything. It's like paying for a guided tour, except these experiences range from photography, dancing, shopping, crafting and more, including a wide variety of tours.
Why it works
Airbnb appeals to me as a lodging option because of the opportunity to visit and place and experience a resident's viewpoint of it. Instead of staying at a hotel, which depending on the location you visit, is just surrounded by other hotels, you get to stay in a neighborhood someone else has chosen to live in. For this reason, a good host on Airbnb also can serve as a defacto travel expert for the place you're visiting. You can ask them for recommendations on attractions, restaurants, bars and transportation, knowing the recommendations they give carry the approval of their personal experience.
Now that I've used Airbnb, I find myself from time to time checking out areas I haven't visited or even have plans to visit, just to see what options there are. I'd imagine the motivation for doing this is similar to what motivates people to look at home listings, even if they're not moving or buying a home. There's just a general curiosity about the places where people live, and browsing Airbnb helps scratch that itch.
My girlfriend and I want to take more trips to different places in the U.S., and based on our experiences with Airbnb in Chicago, I'm confident we'll turn to the service again in the future. We got what we were looking for at a good price and had a good experience. Overall, I'd give my Airbnb experience, and the service in general, three spare bedrooms in a stranger's home out of five.