Travel light & easy

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 18 August 2018

More and more people are choosing online hospitality services like Airbnb to have a far richer experience in terms of stay and interaction with the locals. Besides, the affordability factor also appeals to travellers, finds out Ambika Shaligram

The months preceding the holiday seasons (May-June, October-November and December in India) see a flurry of activities amongst travellers — zeroing in on the destination, planning leaves, browsing for deals on hotel rooms, chalking out the itinerary etc. Relaxing, rejuvenating and making some ever-lasting memories with friends and family on your vacation, you want to make sure the 10 days or a week away from home are incredibly special. 

But as it happens, more often than not, the hotel, the services and your travel budget may not always work to your advantage. Also, a couple of days in a hotel room is fine, but if you are staying for a longer period, then the closed, cramped spaces may not be comfortable. The lack of space and budget considerations are two important reasons why people are looking for other options like holiday homes, bed and breakfast (bnb) utilities, let-ins etc to make their holiday more pleasant and enjoyable.  

The price factor

“When we planned a trip to Italy, we wanted two hotel rooms — for our sons and ourselves. But they proved to be expensive and that’s why we began looking for other options and learnt about Airbnb. During this trip we stayed in Tuscany, the town in which Galeli Galileo lived. In Rome, we were stayed some 100 metres away from St Peter’s Square in a 2.5 BHK apartment for INR 6,000 per night. If we had checked in to a nearby hotel, it would have cost more than INR 12,000,” says businessman Vishwas Mokashi. 

Smita Modani, who is currently based in Sweden, has used Airbnb facilities in Europe, and she emphasises that they turn out to be cheaper and an efficient option. Says she, “Recently, we hired a house in Belgium near Brussels. We were nine people in a group and we paid 200 euros (approx) per day for a five-bedroom house while hotel rooms would have cost us at least 500 euros. Our expenses were halved by 50 per cent!” 

A global product manager with an MNC, Saurabh Nanda was travelling on a budget in the Nordics region, with his family. “It was the first time that I had used Airbnb and I realised that choosing this service resulted in savings, even beyond the reduced room rates. Firstly, we could choose apartments close to the key sightseeing areas. Secondly, we could buy groceries and cook basic dinner at home because we could use utilities like gas stove or microwave. The fridge was also stocked with bread, butter and eggs,” he explains.  

Looking for comfort

In hotels, you enjoy getting pampered. But after a point, you want to do things your way, at your pace. So having a place all to yourself or your family is a good idea. A communications associate with an NGO, Rhea Pillai says, “My family and I travelled to Toronto and Montreal recently. We chose Airbnb because we preferred accommodation that was home-like and warm. Compared to the hotels in the area, it offered rooms that were well maintained, housed our entire family for a few days. It felt a lot more intimate and personal for sure.” 

Mokashi, who visited South Africa, recently, stayed at L’Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the country. “There were no hotels near the beach. But we got a five-bedroom house located right on the beach for INR 4,000 per day. My children played in the water, while I watched them from the balcony. When you are holidaying, you don’t feel like stepping out every evening. On some days, you want to stay in, order food, drink and chill. The bed and breakfast option allows you to do that,” he adds. 

Nanda, who booked an entire apartment for his family when they were travelling in Copenhagen, Helsinki and Bergen, wasn’t sure what to expect. Says he, “We were staying in someone else’s apartment for the first time, and we were not sure what to expect. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Staying in someone’s house while travelling gives us a glimpse of how people in a different land live. Small things, like how they have decorated their children’s bed, to seeing how they have done their kitchen, and the utensils they use for cooking, make for a far richer travel experience than staying in a hotel.”
 
“Booking a house or apartment which allows you to use the kitchen is a big help, more so if you are a vegetarian. You also have extra space like the drawing room, besides the bedroom, to move around,” points out Modani.

Kimberly Solomon, who used Airbnb services in India, was quite impressed with the services. “We were five of us on college students’ budget so staying at a hotel in Goa during peak season was almost impossible! But we got a three-bedroom apartment in a prime location and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We shared the premises with the owners and we are still in touch,” she informs.

What to look for 

Roopali Deshmukh, who lives in the USA, makes use of Airbnb services twice a year. “Our long distance trips are usually for 9-10 days and we try to plan it with as many places to visit as possible. Hence we try to look for an accommodation that is close to the places we want to see. My husband likes to drive around to different places so one important criterion is that the home must have its own parking space. In places like Europe, finding a parking space is a time-consuming task. WiFi services is also a must. Although, we always have data plan on our phones, WiFi makes life much easier,” she explains. 

Cleanliness comes next. Modani says that she found the quality of facilities in Europe (kitchen and bathrooms) very clean. The towels and beddings provided were as clean as those provided in the hotels. Deshmukh, however, had a bad experience in Granada, Spain. “We had booked a flat for one night. On reaching the place, we  found that the bedsheets were extremely dirty and there were no extra ones to replace them. It was also late in the night by the time we saw this, hence we couldn’t call the owner. We like to travel light, so naturally we weren’t carrying any bedsheets with us. Luckily, we had cotton panchas, we used those as sheets. We did write a review about this on Airbnb and gave the owner the lowest rating,” she says. 

Reviews and recommendations should therefore be your guide when it comes to choosing your accommodation. Personal reviews by previous occupants, pictures of the accommodation, property description etc will give you a fair idea of what to expect. “We did all of this, checked the rates, and eventually relied on our judgement. We also paid by card, so that was convenient,” adds Solomon. Deshmukh too goes by people’s reviews, stars the owner has earned and her gut feeling. 

“It’s important to commit only to Airbnb options that are well researched. This includes ratings of the apartment/ house, the neighbourhood and the owner. Safety can be an issue anywhere, so any place we stayed in were thoroughly researched. We knew exactly what we were getting into,” explains Pillai. 

It is based on complete trust. You get what is promised and people clearly inform if there are any problems in the place of stay or facilities. “Last weekend, I stayed in a house in a village where WiFi didn’t work as there was a light storm in the area. However, the owner provided his own mobile hotspot on the first day and then fixed routers the next day,” adds Modani.

Nanda has this advice for first-time Airbnb users, “Look for the rating details of the host. Always choose someone who has a high rating from a cleanliness perspective, and on location. Don’t trash your host’s home. They will also be rating you as guests, and getting a bad rating essentially means not getting good places to stay anymore!”

Solo travellers

If you are travelling with a big group, Airbnb options, home stays are fun because they add to the community experience. But is it safe when you are travelling solo? Says Pillai, “I haven’t availed Airbnb services when travelling alone, and would definitely tread carefully in doing so. Under those circumstances, a hotel would probably feel a lot safer.”

Modani thinks otherwise. “Europe is very safe for solo women travellers. Public transport is good. So I would not have any problem choosing an apartment or sharing a place. Moreover, in Europe, the owners provide complete privacy. In fact, they respect it. The people, I have met so far, have been nice, cooperative and friendly,” she says.
 
How about becoming a host and allowing guests to use her home? An enthusiastic Modani says, “I would like to host. I have lived in many different houses around here and many of them are very well decorated. I would like to provide a similar experience to others. It will also give me an opportunity to interact with many people of different cultural origins!”

So are you ready to host or be a guest? 

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