AirBnB is not new, in fact it’s been around since 2008. We know people who have used the service and had glowing reviews; and others who did not fare as well (there are some horror stories). In the past, we’ve always opted to stay at a Starwood hotel because our status gave us upgrades and other perks. This year, however, that status has expired which was the perfect opportunity for us to venture out of our bubble and try something new.
What is AirBnB: It is an online marketplace that enables people to list, find, and rent apartments, houses, or even rooms for a small processing fee. With over 2 million listings in 191 countries, there will something that fits everyone’s need – be it a castle or an air mattress inside a convenience store. The places are often rented out by owners as a way to supplement their income. Given the demand, it has grown to be a lucrative business.
How It Works: Similar to booking a hotel, you go online and enter in the city, check in date, and number of guests and browse through the selection. You can filter to select either ‘entire house’, ‘private room’, or ‘shared room’. Some places charge additional cleaning fees and deposits. Make sure you read through all the information before booking.
Controversy: In certain cities, like New York, short term rentals are illegal unless the renter is present for the duration. There are some valid concerns that AirBnB apartments are posing a threat to the already expensive and unaffordable New York housing market. Each city is different, so make sure you do some research prior to booking a place.
On our trip to Portugal, we decided to book two AirBnB apartments, one in Lisbon and one in Porto. It was our first time so we did not know what to expect, but we quickly learned that not all AirBnB are created equal. Read on below for our reviews and impressions:
In Porto we rented a one bedroom apartment from an owner in the heart of the city. Before arrival, she promptly answered all my questions, and there were a lot of them, because as I said, it was my first time. She even sent us a helpful attachment that gave directions from the airport to the city. One of the options was getting picked up by her friend for a fee. It was about what we would have paid for a taxi, so we decided to do that and skip the hassle. It turned out to be a great decision because when we arrived, it was raining cats and dogs.
The apartment is centrally located, within walking distance to all the attractions – right across the street from the Sao Bento station, which make it easy to get around. Sonia, the friend, drove us to the house and showed us around. The whole complex was recently renovated, so everything inside was new and modern. Walking in the door, we were greeted by the large open concept living room/dinning area. We were immediately attracted to the floor to ceiling windows that open out to a wrap around balcony, providing a lot of natural light.
A few steps up was the fully loaded kitchen that came with a large fridge and freezer, convection oven, dishwasher, utensils, and a fully stocked pantry. There was even a french press and a variety of tea and coffee. The owner really thought of everything. On our first day, we went to the nearby grocery store to buy fresh produce, pastries and wine to make our meals. Every morning we woke up and had a leisurely breakfast in the nook. Sitting there basking in the morning sun while sipping tea and listening to soft music drifting up from the plaza below was heavenly.
The bedroom was located down a few steps, away from the noisy communal area. Aside from the obvious pluses, the place also had Wi-FI, TV, music and games in case you were bored at night. It also came with a washer and laundry detergent, which I am happy to say, we made full use of. This amazing apartment only cost us about $116 per night, after taxes and fees.
The apartment really felt like a home away from home, it was perfect in every way. In fact, I loved it so much, I wanted to move to Porto and live there forever. It was a great first AirBnB experience, and made me question why I hadn’t been doing this earlier. It also spoiled me for all other places that came after.
Pro Tip: If you rent an apartment in Porto, be sure to visit the Mercado do Bolhão on your first day to pick up some fresh eggs, prosciutto, olives and wine so you can have them for breakfast for the rest of your stay.
After our incredible experience in Porto, we were excited to get to Lisbon to see our new apartment. Unfortunately, it did not live up to our expectations. The apartment was located high up near São Jorge Castle, giving us an amazing view of the city which we could enjoy from our big balcony, but that’s about where the positives ended. The apartment was situated in a small alleyway where the only access was on foot through multiple flights of stairs making it very challenging to transport our luggage up and down. It wouldn’t have been so terrible if we knew ahead of time and packed accordingly. Getting there, we were told that the apartment was not ready and we had to wait outside under the boiling sun while it was being cleaned, even though we had agreed on an earlier arrival time.
Once we settled in, we found out that the studio apartment itself was not much better. The makeshift bathroom was made out of a converted closet. The poor sewage system left a strong smell that emitting from the drains, and permeated the rest of the living quarters. The walls were paper thin, so we could hear people in the upstairs apartment moving around.
Those were the negatives, the positives were obviously the big balcony and the gorgeous view. The place also had a kitchen that came equipped with dishes and cutlery, a small fridge and a toaster. We also found a complimentary bottle of wine that we drank out on the terrace while enjoying the view.
This apartment cost us about $126.5 per night, after taxes and fees. Even with all the negatives, it was not a bad place to stay once you adjusted your expectations. Since we spent most of the day out exploring the city, the smell didn’t really bother us too much.
After having been through two very different AirBnB experiences I feel that I would definitely give it another try. The first place exceeded my expectations and I’ve been singing its praises to everyone I know, recommending it to all my friends and family. The second place was a bit of a let down, and I would probably not be back. But overall, I think AirBnB is a good alternative to the regular hotel options.