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?