One Country, Two Weeks, Three Airbnbs

Living in San Francisco I constantly hear about startups and new technologies that are “transforming,” “revolutionizing” or (my favorite buzzword) “disrupting” an industry. It’s an exciting time to be here, but I’ve found that there’s a sort of tech blindness that develops when immersed in so much “disruption.” I often forget (and definitely take for granted) what an extraordinary time and place I’m living in, even as I’m riding in a Lyft, ordering groceries for delivery on Instacart, and Venmo-ing a friend for a restaurant tab all at the same time. Recently, however, I had an impactful experience that reignited my appreciation for new technology and its ability to shake up an existing industry. The disrupting technology? Airbnb.

This spring I spent two weeks on vacation in Italy. In planning the trip with my husband one of the first decisions we had to make was a big one: hotels or Airbnb? We’d both stayed in Airbnbs a few times before for short weekend trips, but had never planned a big vacation relying solely on the service. After comparing prices (more on that later) and availability, and after I fell in love with a specific apartment in Florence, we decided to go for it and book our entire trip on Airbnb. We booked three apartments in three different cities, all of which surpassed our expectations. Looking back, these apartments are at the top of my “favorite things about the trip” list (along with pizza and wine of course). Airbnb changed the way I travel and truly enhanced my experience abroad. Here’s how:

View from our apartment in Rome

View from our apartment in Rome

Local Experience

Funny coincidence: Airbnb launched their “Live There” campaign while we were in Italy. So while the campaign didn’t affect my decision to book apartments on Airbnb instead of hotels, it conveys precisely what I loved about the experience. Staying in apartment buildings inhabited by local residents provided a glimpse into everyday Italian life that wouldn’t have been possible in a hotel. I loved smelling the dinner being prepared by the family next door, seeing the neighbor’s cat on the roof outside the window, exchanging “ciao’s” in the staircase while coming and going.

Having Airbnb hosts was another great perk that enabled local insight. We were able to meet our hosts in person at all three apartments and each of them provided recommendations for their favorite restaurants, cafes, parks, and things to do. Their recommendations were often for lesser known establishments outside of touristy areas where no one spoke much English, giving us a chance to practice speaking Italian and observe local life. We definitely did plenty of touristy things while in Italy (I’m not delusional), but overall felt we had a more authentic experience staying in apartments among locals rather than in hotels with other tourists.

CinqueTerre

Terrace in Cinque Terre

Space

An obvious benefit to booking a full apartment instead of a hotel room is space. Most hotel rooms are relatively small with room for only a bed, bathroom, and small table if you’re lucky. Normally that doesn’t bother me since I don’t travel to new places to hang out in my hotel room, but it can feel tight after a few days. In Italy we stayed four nights in each city, which was enough to enjoy some downtime in the mornings and afternoons. It was great to be able to read in the living room, cook breakfast in the kitchen, dine at a table, and enjoy happy hour on the balcony. Speaking of balconies, we had some great ones. While it’s possible to request a view or “ocean facing” room at a hotel, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Views and outdoor spaces are features that we look for specifically in accommodations, and booking through Airbnb allowed to choose them specifically.

Our kitchen in Florence

Our kitchen in Florence

Cost

To be fair, I didn’t perform a thorough side-by-side analysis of hotel vs. Airbnb costs in Italy so I can’t speak as an authority on the topic. However in comparing hotels and Airbnb listings in the three areas we visited, Airbnb was less expensive on average and provided much more space for the price. Additionally, staying in full apartments allowed for cost savings in other areas, like being able to cook meals in our kitchen or enjoy happy hour on our own balcony. I think it’s worth noting that hotels do have additional services and luxuries built into their costs, such as daily cleaning/linen service, so it can be a matter of preference and priority. In our case Airbnb proved a better financial option for our personal wants and needs.

In recounting the trip to others and reflecting on it personally, our three Italian apartments and the Airbnb experience stuck out in my mind. How amazing to be able to connect with someone across the world, easily communicate with them, securely provide them payment, and then stay in their home while exploring a new place. While this is no longer a new and novel concept, my experience using Airbnb abroad gave me a renewed appreciation for technology and its ability to improve existing models.

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