I haven’t stayed at a hotel in more than two years. It’s not because I’ve been cruelly chained to my NYC apartment, but because I prefer a more “local” experience when I travel. Home exchanges, timeshares and short-term apartment rentals on Craigslist have existed for decades, but the experience was labor-intensive, paperwork-heavy and risky. With the launch of several innovative online platforms, the process is easier, safer and faster than ever. An online profile and credit card will book your “un-hotel” experience within minutes.
Airbnb has led the charge in the United States and expanded globally. Spread primarily through word of mouth, Airbnb has now reached the masses with paid search, extensive press and digital media campaigns. Their user interface works both ways. You can rent out your own property to guests, or search for a property within your desired destination. For example, let’s check out Tahiti. Below, the results page is sorted by price, from highest to lowest.
Each listing displays photos, property amenities, varied pricing (by date), a booking calendar and a profile on the hosts.
I’ve used Airbnb to reserve condos in Waikiki Beach and Hilton Head and full cabins in the Catskills and Poconos. While there’s been no maid turning down the bed at night or room service to alleviate midnight munchies, the sterile hotel room vibe is gone. With full kitchens, multiple bedrooms and outdoor space, you can bring your whole clan. My own experiences have been positive overall, and I love the opportunity of meeting new people. Sometimes the host’s decorating style can be a bit eclectic (especially in the mountains), but that’s part of the journey.
I’ve also rented out my apartment when away on vacation and always recommend the service to friends. Admittedly, people are antsy about having strangers sleep in their bed, touch their things, etc. My suggestion: Put your valuables in a safe, buy “guest bedding” and get over it. Once you receive the direct deposit transfer and realize you’ve just paid for your own vacation, you’ll be less wary.
A higher-end service with more amenities has emerged in New York and Brooklyn: OneFineStay. Launched in London, they have smartly expanded across the pond bringing their expertise and cutting-edge technology (they have a keyless App for check-in). Their properties are the ones you’re most likely to see in a four-page layout in Architectural Digest.
Why would assumed millionaires rent out their prestigious pads? Everyone has a price, and if you’re a global trotter with more than one home, having a two-week sublet cover your mortgage seems pretty wise. There’s a reason these homeowners own multiple properties. A listing like the below can command upwards of $1100/night. And while you might be thinking, “Ah, great event space!”, most of these properties require a minimum stay of at least 2-4 nights.
Here’s a screenshot of OneFineStay’s Sherlock App, which helps alleviate the stress of checking in guests (especially when their flights are delayed and they arrive at 2AM):
OneFineStay’s other amenities may include: an iPhone for calls and local exploring (helpful in a foreign city), personalized recommendations, airport transfers, a maid and a personal chef. Ummm, the good life.
With any successful launch, there are always a crop of copycats. Wimdu, based in Berlin is one of the larger competitors, with a sister site in China, Airizu. The founder has admitted to basically cloning Airbnb. Ya know, it’s just business. I’ve used Wimdu a few times and received German guests, but prefer Airbnb.
The most important elements to look for as both a renter and traveler are insurance, reliability and superior customer service. Both Airbnb and OneFineStay have insurance to cover damages within your home and 24/7 customer service. Airbnb has fairly addressed any issues I’ve had due to reservations and minimal damages. The other great advantage? So many of these properties are pet and kid-friendly! That’s hard to find in a hotel property.
So whether in need of a native experience or some extra income, I implore you to explore these sites. Airbnb and OneFineStay — you’ve made my DigiDay!