The Airbnb Experience

JakartaAirBNB

I need to start this post with a little disclaimer, I’m a newbie when it comes to Airbnb I have used the app five times and booked five places to stay over the past sixty days. What follows is my experience with using this service, some suggestions and my tips for you on using Airbnb.

Airbnb was started by a couple of guys who couldn’t pay their rent but had some space in their apartment so bought an air bed and offered it to paying travelers. This was to help them pay rent so I was under the impression that I would be staying in people’s homes or possibly the equivalent of a shed at the bottom of the garden. The experience I was looking for was to meet local people and get good local information whilst helping a local earn some extra cash. I had attempted to use Couchsurfing however when I requested to stay somewhere I didn’t get a reply, I have my thoughts on why but really don’t know exactly. It’s a possibility that I was approaching the whole Couchsurfing concept wrong as I would only contact one person at once to find a place to sleep.

So I opted to use Airbnb from what I had read and heard about, this was to be a good way of meeting locals and keeping costs to a minimum. I downloaded the app which I found easy to use as long as you have an Internet connection. I would have liked to see the itinerary at least being available offline. I linked my PayPal account to the app which gave me the option of instant booking. Solving the problem I had with Couchsurfing as I then had a confirmation from my chosen place of rest.

So I was all set up and ready to go although I didn’t use the service straight away as I was heading to Thailand and knew that I could easily find a place to stay there, or so I thought. Prior to coming to Asia I had set off from my home town on a bicycle and had traveled 1000 km to Amsterdam. During that journey I wild camped and slept anywhere I could to keep costs down. So I wasn’t looking for luxury accommodation, just somewhere I could sleep. I headed to Asia because I wasn’t enjoying the cycling, especially with Europe’s poor weather at the time. I locked my bicycle in a car park at Amsterdam Airport and flew to Bangkok.

My first night in Bangkok I slept in the airport which was remarkably easy to do and fairly comfortable, especially as I had taken some of my camping gear with me. A ¾ self inflating mat is a must in anyone’s travel bag as you can get comfy in places other people wouldn’t even try.

Whilst I was in Koh Lanta I decided to travel further afield and booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had never been but had heard good things about this vibrant city which was home to the Petronas Towers, unbeknown to me at the time it was also going to be the F1 Malaysian Gran Prix.

I fired up the app and searched for my first ever Airbnb I made my choice based on price and opted to book 3 nights for a private room in an apartment within 10 min walk of Diamai metro station. I booked using the app and received a confirmation within minutes. I had done it, I had booked my first ever Airbnb.

The experience was nerve racking, what if the host was an axe murderer, what if it was dirty, what if… kept coming to mind. It wasn’t long before my fears were put to rest and I stayed in my first Airbnb, the host was magnificent, friendly, helpful and didn’t bother me at all. As I was a little nervous I stayed in my room, rather than sit in the lounge where my host would be when not at work. Zobran who was my host kept in contact prior to my arrival and even arranged to meet me when I arrived. Luckily for me within 10 minutes of getting off the metro and turning into the street which I had been guided to Zobran appeared on his moped. He had popped out of worked to ensure I found the place okay and to show me round.

The apartment was on the 5th floor and had 3 bedrooms, I soon figured out that Zobran shared the house with other people and when he had an Airbnb guest staying he would move out of his bedroom and sleep in the lounge. I calculated that if Zobran split his rent 3 ways then having a paying guest would help him meet his obligations and no doubt allow him to save for his own place. I assumed that the other occupants agreed to this arrangement and may have also benefited in some way. The room was ideal it had a double bed and was on suite, so I didn’t worry about waking anyone up if I needed the loo in the middle of the night. The room was air conditioned and very clean, although the decor was dated it was perfect for my needs. Zobran even allowed me to connect to his WiFi network. So my first experience was a success.

The second Airbnb was completely different I wasn’t nervous that was for sure. It was to be a single room with toilet and shower down the hall. The first problem I encountered was actually finding the place. Maybe I hadn’t read the information provided by Airbnb correctly but there was no indication of a place to stay at all. When I checked the Airbnb app I was a little worried to see a new review post from someone else trying to contact the host. The review stated that they had tried to email the host but had received no reply and wanted a refund. My heart sank, had I been scammed?

Apparently not, I asked at a corner Indian restaurant if they knew of the venue and it turned out that they were the venue. The first impression was a little worrying as they had no record of my booking and said they had rooms. I was concerned because was there a possibility that it wasn’t my Airbnb and I was about to get conned into paying again. After ten minutes of people going back and forth and a few phone calls it turns out that the Airbnb venue was having problems with their emails and the host apologies for the wait and showed me to my room.

The room was exactly as the photo on Airbnb and had air conditioning and a view of the street below. As expected along the hall was 2 toilets, 2 sinks and 3 shower cubicles. The sinks were actually in the hallway, 1 toilet had a shower in and the cubicles didn’t have anywhere to put your clothes. I soon figured out that a system was required, I would clean my teeth and shave in the sink, then take everything back to my room. To shower I would go to the shower cubicle in my swimming shorts, flip flops carrying my towel and soap. On the second night I heard rustling coming from my waste paper basket and on inspection discovered I had a mouse in my room. The mouse disappeared through a hole in the wall which I then managed to block with a piece of plastic. I stayed here for 13 nights and apart from the mouse was comfy and happy. The main difference was that this was a commercial property advertising on Airbnb, I got the impression they were trying to fly under the radar with fire and hygiene standards. They had no signage, they had no fire equipment and they had mice.

Airbnb number 3 was, well weird! I flew to Jakarta for 3 days based on seeing Jakarta on YouTube. It seemed a lot of people don’t like Jakarta but some do and I wanted to find out for myself. So you are not kept in suspense, I hated it. The accommodation was extremely difficult to find the taxi driver had to ask 3 different people and when we did find it you would not have expected it to be somewhere you would stay, it certainly wasn’t someone’s home. It had dark blue concertina shutters outside, like the ones you get at a back street garage. I asked a guy who was standing outside if it was my Airbnb, he didn’t speak a word of English but we managed to communicate. It turned out he was the housekeeper and I was to follow him. I must say he was a very helpful and pleasant chap but the accommodation was above an industrial units down a back alley. I had to climb 3 flights of stairs to what can only be described as a secret hostel. From outside you would not know this place existed. The room was as described on the Airbnb website and was clean, comfy with air conditioning. Extra facilities were provided that I wasn’t expecting like free coffee, drinking water and the use of a kitchen. Once again this was a commercial property with no obvious fire equipment, cleanliness and hygiene were better than my last Airbnb as the housekeeper was always around and cleaning something.

Airbnb number 4 was brilliant hospitality, again very difficult to find as the taxi driver had to call them for directions. It was also in the wrong part of the island and far away from any interesting sights, which of course was my fault as I should have research Bali better. The room was clean, decorated well and the bed was extremely comfy. The host at this Airbnb went well over the top to ensure I had a good stay, he was only 23 and ran the place for his dad. I got breakfast in my room, my laundry done and a lift back to the airport. Unfortunately again this was a commercial property with no fire equipment.

Airbnb number 5, which I am at now, sat in bed typing this, is in the best location every and was extremely easy to find. I am on the 5th floor, single room, no window, on suite and air conditioning which is always on and freezing. The air conditioning is for the whole floor and can not be adjusted in the room. Up to now everything is good, here the bed is comfy and there is access to hot water for coffee and free drinking water. However it is a commercial property the first to have fire equipment, that’s probably because it’s a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

You may have already guessed at my conclusion. I thought Airbnb was basically living with a local, whether that being in a spare room like Zobran or an out building. I even understand that some people use Airbnb to rent a whole apartment or a whole house when the original occupants aren’t there. What bothers me is from my experience Airbnb is a way for unlicensed, unregulated businesses to cut corners. It’s possible that some places, like the one I’m in now offer rooms on Airbnb because it’s the in thing for backpackers. It is definitely another avenue to advertise accommodation and improve occupancy but at what cost. In the event of a fire what would happen in those places I stayed where there is no fire equipment or fire escape, what about hygiene and I dread to think of the security side of things.

So here’s my tips for using Airbnb

Always search Google, Expedia and other sites before booking as a local won’t advertise on a commercial booking site. Commercial sites can be cheaper than Airbnb because there is a service charge. Also booking direct can be cheaper, if you don’t mind booking a commercial property.

Read all the reviews.

Book accommodation in line with your itinerary (near transport hubs or close to sights)

Be prepared to have a plan B

Have an emergency plan in place.

New York have recently banned people from advertising on Airbnb and renting out rooms etc. There is an argument that it’s for tax reasons and the local authorities want in on the money side of things. I see why people are upset, if I was struggling to pay my rent and had a spare room or an airbed then I would certainly appreciate the extra cash but for commercial properties to be reckless with people’s lives just to make more money is wrong. So after my last Airbnb I still wonder what if……


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About John Holt

John Holt has worked in the travel industry for over 14 years and comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor for his practical and candid talks on travel destinations. Spending 18 months as a "Local Interest Specialist" for a leading tour operator John has become known as having more practical information than Google.

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