Honeymoon Chronicles: AirBnB

For our trip to Europe, we had a lot of decisions to make – such as where to visit, how to get there, and so on. One of the bigger decisions was deciding where to stay. Rather than go with hotels, hostels, or camping, we decided to try something completely new to us – AirBnB.

AirBnB Explained

AirBnB is quite simple – you’re traveling and need a place to stay, but you don’t want to stay in a hotel. Individuals list their apartments, private rooms, or couches on the site and you can browse the listings to find what suits your needs.

Another way I’d explain the concept of AirBnB is to utilize the idea of home-swapping – where you and someone at your destination swap living spaces for a set period of time. The difference, however, is that a full home swap isn’t necessary. The video clip below from the movie “The Holiday” gives a fun (yet not entirely realistic) example of the home-swap concept. Obviously, for more specific information about how AirBnB works, check out the AirBnb website.

Our Criteria

There are a lot of really fantastic places listed on AirBnB by some rather fantastic people. On the flip side, there are also a lot of…well…not so great listings as well. As mentioned prior, listings on the site are for 1) entire apartments, 2) a private room, or 3) a couch to crash on. When it came time for Tammi and I to decide on where to stay – seeking out apartments, mind you – we looked primarily at the following as our deciding criteria:

Pictures / Description – “You only get one chance to make a first impression” and the first thing one sees when searching through the listings are photos. What does the place look like? Is this a place in which we would feel comfortable actually living for an extended period of time? Is it welcoming or does it make us cringe? Are there multiple photos or is it a one photo and floor plan? Additionally, there should be a decent description of the property. Does the description match the photos? What is the neighborhood like?

Amenities – We really weren’t super picky here, but we did have three non-negotiables that needed to be met in order for a listing to move forward.

  • Washer – Backpacking our way through this trip means packing as minimalists. No dryer is fine – clothes can air dry after a wash. No washer, though, could smell…er, spell, disaster.
  • WiFi – Tammi was just offered a new position prior to our departure from the states, so she needs to be able to keep in touch – especially with her school year starting quickly upon our return. Additionally, I’m still searching for a new position myself (higher ed, non-profits, etc). So yes, we should be disconnected for this trip, but it just wasn’t feasible. However, we’ve managed to keep our online time to late evenings and travel days, allowing us to really enjoy our trip to the fullest. Another plus of having access to wifi in the apartments? It has made uploading photos to our Dropbox backup much easier!
  • Bed Size – Honeymoon jokes aside, we wanted beds that we could both easily sleep in without a fear of 1) smothering the other or 2) falling out on to the floor because of a tiny little bed.

Distance from Public Transport – Our travel through Europe is via train, so we needed to find listings that are close enough to public transport to make our trip a little easier. We’ve defined public transport, in most cases, as a metro line (subway). In other cases – such as our stops in Amsterdam & Munich – it was more a question of how far the apartment is from the central train station.

Overall Cost – We could have easily stayed in nice hotels the entire trip. However, by using AirBnB, we actually ended up SAVING money. I’m not going to go into great detail on the particulars, but know that on average, we saved probably close to $50-100/location by avoiding hotels. Plus, this gave us the added bonus of actually living like locals for a few days.

…and finally, Reviews – It should come as no surprise that we looked for places with positive reviews. We wanted to stay in places where people had positive experiences and had great things to say. No reviews at all? Thanks, but no thanks.

Our Experience (so far)

We’re still on our trip – currently on the train from Berlin to Munich – and thus far our experience has been great. Our hosts have been fantastic about responding quickly to our messages and, in some cases, have been good about checking in with us in advance of our arrival. A few of our hosts have even surprised us with a bottle of bubbly in the fridge – their way of congratulating us on our marriage!

Your AirBnB experience might differ from ours, and that’s okay. We’ve enjoyed it and would recommend giving it a shot – even if you just use it for a weekend getaway in the states.

Until next time…

Three’s Company

Don’t be confused. This post has nothing to do with the once popular television show of the same name. However, it does have everything to do with the number three.

Two weeks ago, I began what I refer to as “3 trips in 3 weeks” (or #3t3w for my Twitter friends). It started with a trip out west to visit my mom, followed by a trip to Oklahoma for the annual Bedlam football game between Oklahoma State and OU. I’m actually completing this post on the aircraft back to North Carolina as we speak and, by the way, Oklahoma State won 44-10. The end of #3t3w is next weekend for a graduation celebration. While the first two trips have been great, and I am sure the third will be as well, I have picked up a few travel tips (3 to be exact) to share which have made my own trips much easier and enjoyable.

    TIP 1–Forget Checking a Bag

Unless you are planning to be traveling for more than 5 days at a given time, you can likely get by with just a carry-on sized bag or combination of large carry-on (check at the gate) and a smaller one (take on the plane). How is this helpful? First, it helps you avoid the need (or want) to overpack. I am notorious for packing more than I’ll actually use on a trip. However, when using just a carry-on, I definitely getting better at identifying essentials. Secondly, utilizing only carry-on luggage will help you avoid paying obnoxious bag fees AND/OR almost guarantee that you will never come close to going over the “50 pound” rule. Third, and finally, a carry-on bag is with you throughout the trip. With the possible exception of waiting in the jetway for a few moments to retrieve your bag (remember, you may have checked it gateside), you can grab your bag and head to your connecting flight or straight to the exit. How about that – 3 tips within one tip.

    TIP 2–Download Apps Dedicated to Travel

Depending on the platform (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc), you should be able to download some type of travel related apps to help keep you organized for your trip. Of course, this tip is useless if you’re still using that Zach Morris phone from the mid 90’s. Keeping with this post, I would recommend 3 in particular. The first app I would recommend is TripIt. It’s not perfect, but this app scans your email (once set-up) for travel related content and then places all necessary information in one convenient location, which is also available offline. The #2 app I’d recommend is actually a tie between Wi-Fi Finder and AroundMe. Wi-Fi Finder does exactly what it says, locating paid and free wi-fi locations. You can also download the compete database for offline use. AroundMe is a great app to highlight the most searched for services in a given area, especially if you have never been to your destination or want to try something different. Finally, the final app I would recommend is the app for whatever the airline you happen to be utilizing for your trip. Some carriers, such as Delta, allow for check-in right from the app. Better yet, there is a digital boarding pass, which can be scanned at security as well as at the gate. I used this app today and found that it worked quite well. Hey Delta, how about that for positive review. You’re welcome.

*break from writing -landing to catch connecting flight*

    TIP 3–Do Your Homework

There is nothing worse than not knowing your way around, especially in a new city. The same can be said for amusement parks, visiting your great aunt Rose’s house, and airports. Case in point: a gentleman a few rows behind me on my connecting flight, who flew into the airport we just left for the first time ever, was extraordinarily grumpy because people could not answer his questions in the terminal. I feel for the staff in the terminal more than the gentleman on my flight because he could have easily done his homework about the airport ahead of time and avoided his frustration. While I am almost certain there is more to the story that I am reporting, it presents valuable advice – do your homework, know your options, and be patient. Hey look, another set of 3.

Well, at least for this trip, this ends my dive into “travel blogging”. Regardless of where your travel plans take you, enjoy the journey and safe travels.