On my recent trip to the Philippines, I spent a night in Manila at a charming vintage Spanish villa, complete with high ceilings, old hardwood floors and tasteful antiques. It sat in a quiet bylane of a typical Pinoy barangay (neighborhood). During the day, mellow instrumental music wafted in from the large windows, and down on the streets, boys from the neighborhood played basketball, aiming for makeshift hoops. In the evenings, jeepneys and tricycles, the heartbeat of the Manila Metropolis, moved in organized chaos on the narrow roads, much like in India, soliciting passengers at every corner. This is how I like to travel.
Experiential luxury and sampling the way locals live, without busting my budget. And that’s why I’ve become an Airbnb convert.
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It makes it easy to find local and experiential accommodations
For the uninitiated, Airbnb is a network for locals across the world to offer a room or their entire house, for short-term rental to travellers. The rentals are somewhat midway between homestays and BnBs; you aren’t expected to mingle too much with your hosts or find the amenities (think room service, fancy toiletries) of a modern hotel. What you can expect though, is a non-touristy flavor of local life and a luxury stay with character.
Take my time at Coco’s Garden in Manila for instance. I wouldn’t trade my charming room overlooking a green neighborhood, an ultra-fast Wifi connection, a fully equipped kitchen for light cooking, and the chance to be in the middle of the local action, for a drab hotel room in the city.
It has something for your budget in an expensive city
I recently confessed that the more I travel, the more I find myself unwilling to compromise a good standard of living while travelling, despite my love for off the beaten path accommodations that allow me to interact with locals (Read: Confessions of an Indian Nomad: 7 Months on). And in expensive cities like Adelaide, Barcelona and Istanbul, where a boutique hotel could cost you upwards of 80 Euros, I’ve found indulgent Airbnb rentals for half the price, in local neighborhoods that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
Australia is one of the most expensive places I’ve travelled to recently, and I needed to stay in Adelaide on my last day to make my morning flight. It turned out that my date clashed with the weekend of Adelaide’s famous car rally, and the few hotels that did fall within my budget were sold out. Private rooms and even dorms in hostels were gone. Spending the night at the tiny Adelaide airport was looking like the most feasible option, but Airbnb came to my rescue.
I ended up staying in a gorgeous suburban neighborhood by the River Torrens at Bryan’s place, and found quite the perfect way to cap off a memorable trip – a fun evening at a neighborhood pub, and chatting the night away with my friendly hosts (Read: 10 Unforgettable Moments in South Australia). I was also only a 10-minute drive from the airport, which my hosts generously offered to drop me to, saving me a fortune on early morning cab fares!
You gradually learn how to make the right choices
I’ll be honest – I resisted Airbnb for the longest time because my first two experiences were a little disappointing. The first in the old town of Barcelona, where I landed up at a house whose heating had broken down during an unexpected cold wave. The second was in Istanbul, when we landed in a tiny studio (described as spacious by the host), where even turning without hitting our bags or each other was a challenge!
In retrospect, I know why I made these questionable choices; I didn’t take their reviews as seriously as I should have. Airbnb only allows you to review destinations that you’ve booked from your profile, and the reviews of other travellers are often far more reliable than the descriptions offered by some of the hosts.
It works for impulsive travellers like me
As someone who likes to travel with complete freedom, I hate booking flights and accommodations more than a day or two in advance. I like to change my plans, stay longer in a place that inspires me, or impulsively decide to head to a place I know nothing about. Many of these impulsive decisions need to be routed through expensive cities, and even if just for a night, I would rather pay a little more for an experience I’m going to remember, rather than shack up in a characterless room I can’t wait to get out of.
A friend recently told me she booked a room on a yacht via Airbnb in Hong Kong, but since no one else was booked on the same day, they managed to have the entire yacht to themselves, affording an experience that only millionaires otherwise do!
Who knows what treasures await you on the roads paved by Airbnb?
Have you tried, or would you like to try, Airbnb?
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This post was written in collaboration with Airbnb. Tweet them @airbnb_in.
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.