A friend wrote to me the other day, asking me about my opinions on Airbnb — Is it safe? Is it fun? Do you recommend it? Do you have to interact with people?
All good questions, and I had similar misgivings when I heard about the concept several years ago. I tried out the site myself on a trip to Bali with a few friends in 2013.
It was the first time I ever booked an apartment — or I guess, in this case, a kickass villa — and we were blown away by the affordability, quick check-in, outdoor spa shower, and location. It was hardly a look at “real local life” in Indonesia, but it was a fantastic first dip into the world of rentals.
Over the years, I’ve rented apartments in several cities, including New York, Melbourne, Sydney and London — but I never really got a feeling of “shared culture” from this sharing economy business. It’s one thing to live like a local, and another thing to meet the people who actually live in a place.
Many travelers may be either overjoyed — or perhaps disappointed — to learn that there’s usually no more interaction than checking in at a hotel. And while some hosts will email you recommendations ahead of time for coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, in my experience, most just treat it like a business. One time, we literally stayed inside a nearly empty apartment in a hotel and picked up the keys from the mailbox.
One thing’s for sure, though: the sharing economy is not going anywhere. It has been proliferating within the travel industry with a slew of new companies such as Vayable, which recommends travel experiences by local insiders; DogVacay dog-sitter finder; and Kinkbnb, which is exactly what it sounds like.
But back to to answering those questions…
Is it safe? Seems safe to me — the peer reviews are effective, but I wouldn’t stay at a flat that was never reviewed before.
Is it fun? Depends what you consider fun. If you want to interact with people while you’re in town, then book a shared apartment, a hostel or sign up for Couchsurfing. However, those who really do just want to peek under the hood of a city will probably love it.
Do you have to interact with people? No, not really, unless you choose to stay in a shared flat. The hosts of most private apartments seem just as happy to get on their way.
Do you recommend it? It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s ideal for young people who want to save a bit of money, see a less touristy side of the city, or just have a different experience. Although you might miss all those free hotel amenities…
Does it exist in Asia? Yep, it’s all over — Bangkok, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong — you name it.