/ Travel & Leisure

Would you stay in a stranger’s apartment abroad?

Paper houses and people holding hands

Or, conversely, would you offer your own home to visiting tourists? It may sound like an idealist travel scheme for hippy types, but it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to travel for people of all ages.

I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Copenhagen. My accommodation was a beautifully furnished room in the apartment of a complete stranger. I paid £30 per night – a bargain in this notoriously expensive city. What’s more, I stayed in the heart of one of the most interesting neighbourhoods, and got some great tips for shopping and eating out from the lovely owner.

I booked the room through Airbnb, a ‘community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodation around the world’. It’s not the first time I’ve used this website; since signing up a couple of years’ ago, I’ve used it to rent places to stay – private rooms with the host present, as well as entire apartments whose owners are out of town – in New York, San Francisco and Lisbon.

These trips may not be doing any good for my carbon footprint, but travelling in this way is friendlier on the wallet than staying in hotels, and I’m culturally richer for it too. It’s become my preferred way of visiting a city.

The new way to travel – or make some extra cash

And I’m not alone. Since launching in 2008, Airbnb has massively expanded, and now lists thousands of accommodation options all over the world. Some of the homes offered are truly the stuff of dreams; others are bog-standard spaces that at least allow you to take a trip for a trifling sum.

I’ve often paid less than half what I would for a hotel room of a similar standard. I also love the fact that you can choose to stay in parts of town that you might not otherwise visit. And it’s been a great way to connect with local people.

The company has been so successful that New York hoteliers have been up in arms over the site. And several similar companies, such as Housetrip and HomeAway, have jumped on the bandwagon for this new way of travelling.

And, judging by the amount of people offering accommodation (there are 13,930 listings for places in the UK alone), it’s also a good option for homeowners to earn a little extra cash. I haven’t hired out my own London apartment, but several friends have when money is tight. Perhaps the phrase ‘the Englishman’s home is his castle’ is no longer quite so apt.

Are we all courting disaster?

Of course, staying in a stranger’s home – or inviting one into yours – requires some trust. However, all members have character references on their profile pages, and the sum you pay upfront remains in Airbnb’s account until you’re in the apartment/house to avoid fraud. And homeowners get automatic insurance, a measure introduced after a Californian woman’s home was ransacked by her guest. But the system by its nature isn’t foolproof, and requires a degree of faith.

Still, it’s this concept of trust that has amazed me. The first time I used the website, in New York City, the owner was at work when I arrived, and so left the keys in a neighbourhood coffee shop. This meant that I just walked into her apartment, complete with laptop on the table, having never met her. Was she naïve to let a stranger into her home in this way? Maybe. But it’s arguably the next step along the line from trusting what you read on tourist review sites, and makes for a more connected and economical way to travel.

Would you stay in a stranger’s apartment you’ve found on a website? And would you open your home to strangers to earn extra cash?


Airbnb has completely revolutionised the way I travel! I’ve stayed in so many amazing flats and met lots of amazing people. Have had one or two hiccups along the way but nothing too dramatic. I find it much better value than hotels too – you can rent an entire flat for much less than a tiny hotel room. I love discovering a neighbourhood I otherwise wouldn’t have visited, seeing how ‘real’ people live and feeling like a local in a foreign city.

Absolutely not, notwithstanding tender of
good or valuable consideration… it’s my
private domain and it’s strictly off-limits
to total strangers even with an in
payment up front.

Used to do it years ago as a student/ young adult – Found it cheap and interesting – Parents used to look after recipients of exchange – Would I do it at 82? No – I could not be bothered.

If you upload a photo onto facebook or a video onto youtube, you potentially share it with millions of strangers- surely that’s no less an intrusion into your life than someone paying to sleep in your flat when you’re away? I’ve stayed in a couple of apartments through the website which have been full of personal photos, books and albums etc. I didn’t feel like I was intruding, in fact it felt like I was getting to know someone- a priviledge, and a really positive experience.
I think in our throw-away society (and our global recession), modern attitudes to sharing possessions are changing. There’s a similar website through which someone can pay for, and rent your car for a day- they drive it round and drop it back outside your house when theyve finished.. Maybe it is a naive trust; I’m not sure how often the service is exploited/ items stolen, but I doubt the website would be so successful if this was happening a lot.
So yes, I would rent out my flat, and if someone wants to rifle through my smalls drawers, then fine. At least I’ll make some cash out of it.

PETER says:
26 November 2012

I rented my apartment in northern portugal via airbnb this your for the first time and it all worked very well. Will use them from now on..

Randolph says:
4 February 2013

I’ve heard a lot of things about airbnb, my friend told me about it when she heard my plan about boutique london, she ask me to book in… I said I’ll give it a try but not deciding yet.

Fin says:
1 March 2014

Just used airbnb for the first time in Berlin and in Milan and will certainly use again. One of the flats appeared not to be in permanent / regular use by its owner but was perfectly fitted out for our use. No hassle at all in booking, arranging entry etc.

One interesting aspect was that our original Berlin booking was cancelled by the owner a few weeks beforehand due to some issues with the building. Airbnb gave us a 10% uplift on our original cost of booking allowing us to rent a more expensive place. In the end we found a suitable place for around the same cost, but I thought it was a good marketing approach.

My wife & I stayed in a lot of airbnb this last 3 years and overall it has been great. What is unique is that both the host and the guests review each other…. then the reviews go public, which is very useful for the host. However our last experience in Amsterdam didn’t work well and I posted negative comments like poor communication (2 months to reply to my query), smelly smoked up flat, wrong address, but it is of no use because the host hasn’t made comments in order to ovoid the review to be public. However he sent me an email that he would reimburse me. Fair enough but how do we warn future potential guests?

I am a regular user of AirB&B and have had some very cost effective experiences all over the World. Naturally you get what you pay for and this often depends upon the location. It is most important that as a user you build up a good profile of yourself, just like your credit rating it’s there to be seen. Being constructive in your posted critique is not a good idea, there are opportunities to inform your host privately of any items that you feel requiring addressing. This is an excellent method of home owners making fiscal gain from an asset not being used. and as most travellers really only need a safe comfortable bed with clean facilities then this is the best solution. Very few offer breakfast, although some do offer a Continental style with add lib tea / coffee and the opportunity to make it yourself. Don’t expect a TV in your room, but WiFi is the norm so you can watch what you like. My Daughter has a Maisonette in a popular South Coast location in the AirB&B scheme and earns about £1800 per calendar Month, not bad income, for changing the linen and general housework. She is very proud of her reviews and reacts to any comment and does make improvements based upon these observations.

It is interesting that in certain locations the income could far exceed the tax-free allowance under the Rent a Room scheme which allows you to earn up to £7,500 a year from letting out furnished accommodation in your home. With high-charge accommodation, the more weeks that the accommodation is let the lower the overall nett weekly return so some careful calculation is required to pick the optimum charge rate for the intended period of letting. With the highest rates and the longest letting periods it is probably still worthwhile after tax but in the middle there is some financial quicksand to negotiate. Single people who use this facility could also lose their entitlement to the single person council tax discount. Bearing in mind that the availability of the accommodation is in the public domain it is probably a good idea to declare it to the authorities at the outset.

I have just used AirBnB for several stops on a trip in Canada. Overall it was a positive experience, though it does pay to read the description carefully, for what it doesn’t say as well as what it does, and of course the review comments are very useful.

One major complaint I have though is the AirBnB practice of billing you in the the currency of your credit card.and applying a poor conversion rate and 3% conversion charge on top. This is compulsory (you used to be able to choose the currency you were billed in but this was removed recently). There is no way to be billed in local currency and take advantage of one of the credit cards that provide fee-free conversion.

Effectively this means that I was charged 4 to 5% on top of the advertised price. Does this break any trading standards rules? Surely it amounts to sharp practice at best and fraud at worst. Subject for a Which campaign?