By Sun Lee Chang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Let’s face it — most of us are creatures of habit. So when my husband suggested we stay at an Airbnb for a recent and unexpected trip to Asia, I was more than a little hesitant. Who would want to give up fresh towels, concierge services, and those free little bottles of toiletries that come with a standard hotel room? Besides, having a warm body to complain to if a Wi-Fi connection isn’t working, or getting a taxi at an odd hour without having to hail one, is hard to give up.
Our last trip to Asia from the United States set us back quite a bit, after the cost of airfare for us and our kids, as well as the rather nice hotel we stayed at, along with an adjoining suite for my in-laws. My brothers had booked and stayed at Airbnb’s before in other parts of Asia, as well as Canada, and had mostly pleasant experiences with it. So saving a little money and trying something new seemed like a good idea. After all, the cost of a last minute hotel booking would likely have been pretty steep, so this appeared to be a viable and attractive option.
Airbnb’s website (www.airbnb.com) was fairly easy to navigate. We were looking for a house or apartment that we did not have to share with other travelers in Taiwan. It took longer for us to agree on the property than it took to actually book it and prepay for it. After perusing the website and comparing costs, amenities, and reviews against midrange hotels in the same area, we settled on a three bedroom, one bathroom apartment with easy access to restaurants and stores.
Based on the pictures posted on Airbnb’s website, the apartment we picked looked very clean and modern. Upon arrival, the air conditioner was turned off and it was much smaller than we expected. The camera probably made the apartment look a bit bigger than it actually is. Once the AC kicked in, we started to feel much better about the place. It was decorated with predominantly IKEA furniture, but was clean and comfortable. It even boasted a nice little kitchen where leftovers could be reheated and where we could prepare refreshments for a few family members in the area who dropped by for a short visit. The host even left us a small notebook full of tips on restaurants and attractions in the area.
We were pleasantly surprised by the fresh towels that the homeowner provided, as well as access to their in-unit washing machine. There were also a variety of free toiletries that other travelers probably left, as well as dishes and utensils in the kitchen, and a hair dryer in the bathroom. Instead of keys, there was a security code to enter on the door and it worked very efficiently. It was nice not to have to worry about digging out keys each time we went out. We did have to take out our own garbage, but that wasn’t so bad and made us more aware of not generating too much waste anyway.
We did lose access to the internet for a day during our stay, but that was quickly resolved once we contacted our host. Honestly, that could have happened at a hotel too, so it wasn’t a deal breaker. The host apologized and addressed the situation very quickly.
As we had paid for the Airbnb stay in advance, there was nothing else to do when we left except to clean up a little and lock the door. We relied heavily on reviews to choose the Airbnb and were surprised to learn that the hosts also posted a review of us (as guests) when we returned back to the States. They posted that we were nice and easy to communicate with. While I was a little surprised that hosts could post reviews about us, it makes sense since they are also opening up their homes to us.
While the “buyer beware” adage should be heeded, the pictures and reviews seemed quite reliable. We did not opt for the cheapest option, which probably was a good thing. When reviewing the available options, it appeared as though the price correlated quite closely to the attractiveness and desirability of the property. That said, even our midrange choice of Airbnb was quite a bit less expensive than a comparable square footage hotel suite. To that I say, Airbnb is worth a try if you are willing to give up the predictability of a hotel room. And the best part, the substantial savings over a traditional hotel suite allowed us to indulge more on eating out and shopping! ■
Sun Lee Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.