Three months ago, while living on the organic farm of a Gujarati family in the buffer zone of Gir National Park, I realised that Airbnb has changed the way I travel. I spent my days sampling homemade Saurashtrian dishes, driving with my hosts in search of Asiatic lions, and swapping hair-raising wildlife stories on moonlit nights.
The warmth of my host family made me feel right at home, but Airbnb is a two-way exchange. You have to be a good guest to transform your accommodation into a memorable travel experience. Here’s what I’ve learned from over two years of using Airbnb:
Airbnb is not about scoring a cheap room; it’s about living with a local host at their residence. Don’t expect facilities like housekeeping or room service—but expect to feel at home wherever in the world you are. That’s exactly why I loved my 500-year-old, colonial-style Airbnb in Colombo: breakfast under an old mango tree, sleeping under high ceilings privy to the lives of multiple generations of writers and dancers, and meeting hosts who quickly turned into friends.
Airbnb hosts are regular people with plans, too. Inform them in advance about your time of arrival (no 24×7 reception desk, remember?), dietary needs, and anything else you might require during your stay.
Building relationships with the locals I meet along the way is the essence of why I travel—and Airbnb is perfect for that. I got along so well with my artistic Italian host in Umbria that he invited me to join his friends at their traditional stone home, for a lazy Sunday brunch of focaccia pizzas—a sneak peek into the dreamy Italian way of life! Spend time getting to know your host (and vice versa), stay open to unexpected adventure.
Occasionally, one hears stories of guests who have ruined a host’s Airbnb experience—throwing a party without the host’s permission, stealing valuables, flirting with the host… remember you’re sharing their personal space. Be the kind of guest you’d want to entertain in your own house.
Remember that your host is a local, and is likely to have great restaurant recommendations. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. Photo: Matthias Ripp/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Unlike a standard hotel, an Airbnb host has never tried to sell me an overpriced tour or taxi ride. They are most often keen explorers who know their neighborhoods inside-out. Recommendations from my Airbnb hosts have led me to the only vegan restaurant in Quito, Ecuador, a kayaking trip against mist-covered volcanoes in Nicaragua, and to secret islands in Goa.
Can you smoke at home? Is it okay to invite friends over? Can you use the host’s kitchen? Are pets okay? Many Airbnb hosts are willing to accommodate your needs; go over the house rules as emailed to you when you book an Airbnb. When in doubt, ask.
quit her corporate job for a nomadic life over three years ago. She has hitchhiked through northern Romania, lived in a nunnery in Ladakh and boarded down a volcano in Nicaragua. She tweets as @shivya.
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