Aaaaaaand we’re back! Who knew that graduate school (me) and working for a start-up (Rebecca) would be so time consuming and pull us away from our beloved blog for so long. I can only speak for myself, but reentering the academic world after an 8-year hiatus threw more challenges and curveballs my way than I ever could have imagined. BUT, the good news is, we have some semblance of our lives back and we’re ready to share some great new content with you all! Thanks for hanging in there (and if you left us, thinking we abandoned TIRL, hopefully we can entice you back as the months go on).
Throughout my first year of business school I’ve had a ton fun sharing tech tips and advice with everyone I meet in New Orleans, and pushing my love of gizmos and gadgets on my classmates. Hopefully they’ve found it more useful than annoying. While I love ALL things tech, we strive to bring you topics that make real-life “stuff” easier and more fun, so there was a site that I found especially useful during my recent international Spring Break travels and therefore felt it was blog-worthy.
As a quick aside, outside of meeting new people, expanding my professional network and building a new skillset, another big plus of being a student again is time off. And I don’t mean the kind of time off where you’re tethered to your laptop or your cell phone, constantly stressed about missing meetings and trying to figure out what you can possibly bring back for the poor co-worker that covered for you, to make up for dumping a week or two worth of work on his/her plate. No, this is REAL time off. Carefree, no-stress, leave your iPhone charger at home, time off. And it is GLORIOUS. Does it offset the debt I will be in post-grad school? Probably not. But it IS a fantastic perk of student life, and something I appreciate even more after working for five years with 15-20 “vacation” days a year.
So all this said, my MBA class was lucky enough to have an international business class in Athens that butted-up against our Spring Break week, allowing us to travel before and afterwards to various countries throughout Europe. Many of us wanted to travel as a Tulane posse, so we put our heads together and started to brainstorm. After what seemed like endless discussions over which countries to visit, a large group of us settled on visiting Istanbul, Turkey before our week in Athens. It is relatively close to Greece, most of us had never been and (despite some of the recent protests) I had heard great things about the food, culture and people. Once we decided on our destination we had to coordinate flights and accommodations, so to try to move the process along I immediately started looking for housing options for me and a group of six of my girlfriends.
I had not done much traveling abroad where I had to actually book the accommodations myself (I love relying on my “trip-planner” friends to take charge here), so I started to research the different options we had while first and foremost considering cost since being poor students meant tight budgets. Hotels seems like an obvious option, but then I recalled a service called Airbnb which I had considered using on a trip to Amsterdam with Rebecca and her husband. I had heard a lot about it, but had never used it myself, so figured I’d give it a try. It turned out to be a great decision and we ended up using the service for our Istanbul accommodations, as well as housing in Budapest and Vienna which we visited after Greece.
How I Use It
So what exactly is Airbnb? Well, according to its website, it is a “trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world,” and I think that sums it up quite nicely. Essentially it’s like booking a hotel online, except instead of hotels you’re browsing through listings of people’s personal apartments or rental properties. You’re able to view pictures, read reviews and communicate directly with your potential "host" via text message and/or email. Another nice thing is that you don’t even have to create an Airbnb account -- you can simply log-in with your Facebook account if you want to avoid creating yet ANOTHER login that you have to write down and remember. I actually advise doing this as a new user because if a host can click to your Facebook page it can serve as a nice “screening” tool (even if they can’t view your profile). A friendly profile picture that signals to the host that you are not crazed serial killer can go a long way. And if you DO look like a crazed serial killer in your Facebook profile pic maybe it’s time to reconsider that choice.
There are three main ways that users (you) can utilize Airbnb:
Traveling and need a place to stay?
This is how I’ve used Airbnb so far. You simply enter the city you are traveling to and then you can browse travel dates to see what is available in a variety of sizes and price ranges.
Moving to a new city and not quite sure which neighborhood you want to live in?
Airbnb has you covered here with Airbnb Sublets. I’ve moved and/or relocated to new cities six times over the past seven years, and if you have the luxury of not needing to take the plunge and immediately rent something long-term, sublets are a great way to explore a new city and figure out exactly where you want to live with minimal commitment. Sublets can be very difficult to find though, so it’s worth checking out this feature of Airbnb if this is an option you’re interested in.
Want to be a host and rent/sublet your place?
If you have extra space you want to rent while you’re home, or you want to rent out your entire place while you’re out of town, Airbnb gives you an incredibly easy way to monetize your space and showcase it to an audience of millions of people. If you’re renting it to tourists and travelers (like what my group did in Istanbul), Airbnb is excellent for that. Additionally, as mentioned above, the site has a section for subletting your place for months at a time. For instance, many of my classmates took summer internships outside of New Orleans, so Airbnb gave them a way to recoup the rent they would have otherwise lost over 2-3 months if their places sat vacant. Of course, you should check with your landlord first to make sure subletting is ok, but if it is, this is a quick and safe way to find a reliable short-term tenant.
A classmate who is in Arkansas for the summer subleased her place to a nice young family that had to relocate to New Orleans before they had time to look for a long-term rental or home to purchase. One recommendation this classmate offered was that if Airbnb hasn’t quite caught on in your city yet and you’re trying to rent your place, cross-promote it on Facebook, Twitter or Craigslist to access more eyeballs. She didn’t have much luck just listing it on the site, but got a hit almost immediately once people could discover and link to it from other locations.
Why I Love It
- To be there or not to be there - some Airbnb-ers are super-friendly people that are always looking to make new friends, stay with a local while traveling abroad, or rent out a room in their spacious or overpriced apartment. You can rent from someone that will be on site while you stay there, or rent a place all for yourself. Some may think the idea of staying in an apartment with a stranger is a tad odd - but hey, to each their own!
- Price points for all budgets - stay in your very own castle for a cool $7,800/night, slum it in someone’s backyard treehouse for less than the cost of a nice steak dinner -- and everything in-between.
- Hosts are handy - when traveling in a foreign country it can be incredibly helpful to have a native host who speaks that country’s language, is familiar with the city’s neighborhoods, can give you a list of phenomenal and little-known local eateries and provide you with do’s, don’ts, must-sees and can-miss sites and attractions. Our host in Istanbul helped us arrange transportation from the airport, met us with the keys even though we arrived much later than expected and gave us tips throughout our stay.
- Reasonable fees - of course Airbnb has to make money somehow, and it does this through fees tacked on to each reservation. As a traveler, you will pay a 6-12% service fee depending on the total reservation cost (I think ours ended up being about $40). The higher the total cost of the reservation, the lower the fee. As a host you can list your property for free, but you will be charged a 3% fee which helps airbnb cover the cost of processing the payment. Since most travelers book with a credit card, this is right in line with traditional credit card transaction fees. Overall I found the fee to be reasonable considering the site’s ease of use, the peace of mind we got from knowing our booking came with a secure, money-back guarantee and the great service we received from our host.
- Safe and reliable - Airbnb is a legitimate online marketplace and it feels that way. I felt completely comfortable booking online and paying through the site, and nothing about it ever felt “sketchy” or dangerous. While there may be a “horror story” here and there, the site wouldn’t be as popular as it is if that were the norm rather than the exception. Airbnb also gives hosts the option to have renters sign actual contracts depending on what each individual property might require (this would all be stated in the listing). The site and its operators seem to go out of their way to make sure hosts and travelers transact in harmony, which is much appreciated when traveling thousands of miles from home, or renting out your place to a virtual stranger. The site also gives hosts the option to set a cancellation policy, and you are able to view it upfront before booking. In our case, our host offered a full-refund up to the day before travel which was pretty amazing.
- Review me - As with any online marketplace (think eBay) transparency is key. Hosts want to know that they aren’t renting their property to someone that is going to trash the place or steal personal belongings, and a traveler wants to make sure that the “beautiful loft in a safe neighborhood” is not in fact a rat-infested corner unit in a crack-house. To assure quality on both sides of the transaction, Airbnb relies on individual user reviews. Following our trip, our host in Istanbul left a nice review for me, ensuring that the next time I use the service, someone will feel comfortable renting their space to me. In turn, I left a nice review for him so that others will know what a wonderful experience we had and feel safe staying in one of his properties.
- Easy payment - paying for my reservation was incredibly easy. While I chose to pay via credit card, Paypal seems to be another option that is accepted fairly widely. Payment options may vary depending on the country or listing, so it’s best to check this before you get your mind set on renting a particular place. Our place in Budapest required a security deposit, our place in Istanbul did not. Prior to paying for a reservation, you actually submit a “request” to rent a host’s property. Once a host accepts (or rejects) you, your payment is processed. Technically, I believe Airbnb holds your payment in its system until 24-hours after check-in, but the charge showed up on my credit card as soon as I booked the reservation.
- Easy communication - Airbnb makes it very easy to stay in touch with your host leading up to and throughout your stay. We asked our hosts all sorts of questions (does the apartment have Wi-Fi, do we need to bring our own towels), and you’re able to send those messages/questions through the desktop site, mobile site or via text message (if you opt in). The text message alerts come in quite handy and give you status updates of new messages, reservation requests and more. When you verify your mobile phone number by SMS text message, a confirmation code is sent for you to input in your Airbnb account. This is all done through Airbnb's system, so no actual phone numbers are exchanged. Our host in Istanbul was extremely responsive and being able to contact him via text message allowed us to make changes on the fly when we needed to adjust our airport pick-up or when we needed advice on where to find a good Turkish bakery :)
- Mobile Access - Airbnb has a nice mobile app for iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and Android. This made it really easy for us to keep in touch with our hosts as soon as we landed at the airport and when we were roaming around the city.
- Unique experiences - booking our housing through Airbnb let us see a very different side of Istanbul and Budapest than we would have if we had booked rooms in a local hotel. Our Istanbul apartment was very central within the “Old City” and walking distance to small local markets and all of the popular tourist attractions. We also got a nice taste of the incredible number of CATS that roam the streets of Istanbul. Note to future travelers, when you hear screeching noises in the middle of the night, it is not small children being kidnapped (which was a horrifying thought I had the first couple of nights), it is simply the dozens and DOZENS of feral cats that inhabit every inch of the city (see pic below). Where is Bob Barker when we need him. In Budapest, we were in the heart of District V in a beautiful, open loft-like rental in a historical building that had been completely redone on the inside -- something we would have never been able to experience if we had stayed in a hotel.
- Airbnb has you covered (almost) everywhere - 34,000 cities, 192 countries and growing. What more can I say. Wherever you may be traveling, I highly recommend checking out Airbnb to see if there are listings in that city!
Personally, if Airbnb offers listings and availability in a city I’m visiting (and it’s not a one night stopover where a cheap hotel room might make more sense), I don’t plan to book accommodations through any other site. I recently read a tech article where the author stated that “if you can provide something that is not easily accessible, at a lower cost than traditional options, then you’ve hit the jackpot,” and I thought this insight was spot-on. The perfect example being Airbnb offering apartments in NYC at lower rental prices than hotels. Airbnb is especially cost-effective for group travel and saved my group hundreds of dollars versus booking multiple hotel rooms. Plus, why stay in a boring, expensive hotel with other tourists when you can experience something truly unique by immersing yourself in the local community of whatever city or country you’re traveling in.
And as a plug for our amazing host in Turkey, visit his listing here if you’re planning a trip to Istanbul in the near future!
Find Airbnb’s FAQs here in case you want to learn more.
Here are a few photos from my trip…happy and safe travels!
|Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece Hungarian Bathhouse on a balmy 40 degree afternoon|
|Turkish Spice Market Blue Mosque in Istanbul|