If you’re travel minded – and chances are, if you’re reading Just About Travel, then you are – it’s hard to imagine life without Airbnb, aka the San Francisco-based Airbnb room/house letting website which has been valued at $10 billion.
In six short years, it’s changed the way we travel offering both travellers and tourists a characterful, affordable alternative to staying in an overpriced bland, beige hotel room. (Sure pre Airbnb there was Couch Surfing but, for those of us over 30, sleeping on a stranger’s sofa was never going to hold much appeal even if it did/does mean saving money).
Financial rewards aside, staying in Airbnb accommodation also helps you to meet real life residents of your destination du jour and brings you closer to the local culture. I’ve enjoyed some great conversations and experiences abroad, all thanks to the kindness of strangers (my Airbnb hosts).
Back on home soil, Airbnb has proved a revelation in another respect. I’ve rented out my one bedroom west London flat on a fortnightly basis throughout the summer to help ease the cash flow problems I face as a freelance journalist during July and August, when work is invariably quiet. I’ve booked solo travellers (Kate from Amsterdam), middle aged Antipodeans (Merv and Sue) enthusiastic students (the lovely Maria), young couples (Melanie and David from Tel Aviv) and newly weds (Zola and hubby) in for odd nights and long weekends, as a way of making some money to meet my monthly mortgage repayments.
Of course Airbnb-ing isn’t without its problems – not every guest has been great (here’s looking at you Harsh) and I end up having to stay in my Mum’s spare room (which as a 33 year old former expat can be challenging) once I’ve handed over the keys to strangers. Crucially though Airbnb has kept the wolf from the door without the hassle and commitment of renting out my pad on a permanent basis (from past experience, I know that work will pick up again in September). For this reason alone, the non stop laundry, cleaning and croissant buying has been worth it.
But it’s not just lowly paid London hacks like myself who are using Airbnb as a cash spinner. All my 30 something friends are at it – from shop assistants to lawyers alike. My best mate Maz, a medic, regularly rents out her spare room in Oval. Surely as a (decently paid) doctor she doesn’t need to? (What hope is there for the rest of us, if even our generously salaried GPs are forced to sublet?)
Thankfully for anyone still clinging to the dream of getting onto the property ladder in London, Maz doesn’t do it out of necessity but because she’d like a new Nespressso machine. Then there’s the Himalayan hiking holiday that she and her boyfriend would like to book, not to mention tickets to The Book of Mormon and a table at Chiltern Firehouse… For Maz, and many of my contemporaries, such experiences (just about) justify the bother of finding yet another new face at the breakfast table in the morning.
But while our reasons for relying on Airbnb may vary, one thing is clear: for Generation X, the San Francisco site has certainly helped make life, in these grim, economic times, suite once again.