Home stay or hotel?

Caernarfon Castle, North Wales
So you want to stay in a castle through Airbnb? Yes, it’s possible. Just not in this one.

Airbnb and other home stay companies allow travellers to stay in frugal or fantastic accommodation all over the world. The concept opens up destinations to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it (yes, that’s me), and to people who want to engage with communities and cultures at a grassroots level. Is that you?

The idea of Airbnb is that you can have travellers staying in your spare room and earn a bit of extra cash. You should be there and play the good host, up to a point. Less than six years old, the company is already valued at around $US10 billion. There’s about a million properties listed worldwide now, in 33,000 cities. Home sharing for some extra income sounds great! But not everyone likes it.

Who hates Airbnb

Moteliers and hoteliers say it’s creating a black market economy and taking business away from… well… motels and hotels! The state of New York has been particularly vociferous, declaring most Airbnb rentals illegal. At issue are the number of apartments rented out while the owners or tenants are absent, a complaint also linked to FlipKey. New York still represents a major market for Airbnb.

New York skyline
Mixed blessing… NYC where Airbnb has critics

Newsweek reports that New York state law bars tenants and landlords from renting out their apartments for less than 30 days unless they’re living in the same unit. Airbnb believes the rules should change, while the city council wants the company to obey the law, which would greatly narrow Airbnb’s customer base.

Apartments are being used as holiday lets all year round, which decreases availability for long-term renters in cities already notorious for accommodation shortages, including Paris.

In Australia’s biggest city where Airbnb is growing, things haven’t gone smoothly either. In 2014 neighbourly tension reached boiling point in one Sydney apartment building, says the ABC.  Lawyers from the City of Sydney sent “illegal use of premises” letters to apartment owners in the Bridgeport building near Circular Quay, many of whom had been letting their apartments for short stays.

What’s to like about home stays?

If you’re travelling solo, it’s a lovely way to connect rather than talking to hotel walls. Staying in someone’s home, right away you get a close up and personal look at the new place you’ve chosen to visit. Cultural immersion is instantaneous. It’s informal and fun. Good hosts make you feel part of the household, without any first visit awkwardness. They also know how to give you space. Most Airbnb rooms are relatively cheap. Some are more expensive than hotels, but you’re also getting a cosy cultural experience and the benefit of local knowledge.

They’re affordable

The steep decline of the Australian dollar over the past 3 months makes us think twice about where we’ll go. Hotel bills for a whole family compromise travel plans. That’s where Airbnb and companies such as Flipkey, knock hotels off affordability. Relatives last year stayed in a New York apartment for 10 days with FlipKey and saved many hundreds of dollars. I paid only 19 euros a night through Airbnb in Barcelona. Workaway offers free accommodation worldwide in return for volunteer work – gardening, cleaning, cooking, child care and so on. There’s several sites in this genre, but this one looks to be the most polished.

Safety first

My only stipulation is that I stay with women hosts, a couple or with a family. I feel safer that way. Horror stories are not unknown. An Italian policeman accused of drugging and raping more than a dozen young women lured to his home via the travel-hosting website Couchsurfing is standing trial for the alleged rape of a 16-year-old Australian girl.

Gracia, Barcelona
Safe and scenic…. Gracia in Barcelona

My Airbnb experiences

In Barcelona my host Ana lived in a comfortable apartment in the family-friendly, hip yet traditional suburb of Gracia, close to major tourist attractions, public transport and great shopping. Gracia is safe to walk around at night, unlike other more central areas.

Ana's apartment
Light, airy, comfy… Ana’s apartment in Gracia

Ana and I hit it off right away. We discovered we had a lot in common. Like shopping! Ana knows everyone there is to know in cool Barcelona boutiques, so I got to meet her friends and explore some beautiful stores I’d probably never known about otherwise.

Jack Born and Ana Sanchez
Barcelona boutique owner Jack Born and his friend and mine… Airbnb host Ana

In the east coast Australian town of Port Macquarie, I stayed at the Sivana Bliss Retreat with Jaye and her husband. Jaye is a wonderful cook, her husband can tell entertaining yarns, and her yoga classes, as I discovered, were indeed blissful. $A64 a night, plus food. Cleaning fee is extra. I swam at nearby beaches and slept in an extremely comfortable bed with the distant roar of the sea an added attraction.

Jaye's yoga studio
Bliss… Jaye’s yoga studio
Vietnamese salad. Airbnb
Healthy… Vietnamese salad tops grilled salmon
Port Macquarie
Chill out… in Port Macquarie

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