Admittedly, it can be nice to arrive in a new country and head right to that familiar brand-name hotel and enjoy the amenities that come along with it.  But let’s face it…sometimes that kind of experience lacks a bit of authenticity.

I recently decided to branch out on my trip to San Francisco and try a suggestion given to me by a band of wayfaring travelers I met in Norway: Airbnb. On this website you can review and book alternative lodging – namely rooms, apartments, or houses belonging to the people living in your destination city who put them up for rent!
An AirBnB listing from Ceredigion, United Kingdom.

The site works like a basic search engine: You input your city, check in/check out dates, and the type of lodging you are looking for (one room or an entire apartment or house). Once you click search, you can filter by neighborhood and price, among other things.

As you click on each individual listing, there are several tabs where you can view photos, a description of the lodging, its location on a map, and whether there is a full kitchen in which you can make your own meals. Furthermore, each listing includes square footage, whether Wifi or cable are available, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and additional information regarding the amenities of the particular property.  You’ll also find check in/check out times, deposit required, cleaning fees, and information regarding any public transportation that may be nearby. It’s most important to read reviews and ratings from other travelers who provide scores for important things such as cleanliness, location, host accessibility, etc. Most hosts have flexible check in and check out times and will work with you to arrange a meeting to deliver the keys.  This is especially helpful if you are arriving off the Red Eye or getting in late at night.

The best part about Airbnb? Some of the apartments and houses are lavish or huge or both and yet are a fraction of the cost of staying in a tiny hotel.  I certainly found this to be true in foreign countries, where folks put their places up for rent just to supplement their income when they are out of town.

The great thing about some of the listings is that you can book immediately and simply wait for a confirmation.  Once the host accepts the reservation, your card is charged, and the property is officially “yours” for those dates.  Some hosts, however, require you to send an inquiry about your specific dates, and the host will get back to you regarding availability.  The properties do have calendars, but some simply aren’t up-to-date to reflect actual availability.

There is a hitch, however: Hosts can cancel your reservation without notice.  Airbnb discourages such behavior by fining hosts who cancel after accepting a booking, and often suspending their account for a time.  They also give you extra money – anywhere from $50-$100 depending on the city – to help you find alternative arrangements, since often the remainder of available properties may be more expensive than your original booking.  If a host cancels too many times, they are removed from the site completely, so Airbnb does take steps to ensure that the people who list their properties aren’t leaving travelers in a bind.

Airbnb is still catching on, so you may not find a lot of properties in lesser known cities.  I think it is an excellent way to experience “local” living, especially if you are traveling internationally.  What could be better than renting a seaside apartment in Dubrovnik instead of staying in a hostel or stuffy hotel? Moreover, if you rent a place with a full kitchen, you can buy local meat and produce and prepare a traditional meal from that country, a great way to experience the place like a local.

Those wayfaring travelers I met in Norway stayed in a mountain/lakeside five-bedroom cottage with a hot tub .  I’m not sure it gets better than that!  So if you’re adventurous, consider this alternative next time you book a trip!