Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I love Airbnb

I first discovered Airbnb about three years ago and now it's become my first choice of accommodation.  So many friends and acquaintances have questioned why I would want to live in a stranger's home that I decided I just had to write about it. 

Why?  First of all the price...it CAN be much cheaper than staying in a hotel or guest house. Not always...there are very expensive options as well....it ranges from cheap as dirt (perhaps not what I would want to stay at...one place in London I viewed on line had no shower or tub...um...as one who takes a shower every day...no thanks!!!)  As well, you have the opportunity to keep food in their fridge and cook if you like - especially important on an extended trip...saves money. Secondly...the people...you actually get to live and stay with locals (although admittedly they aren't always around).  Yes you can do that in a guest house but they don't always have the time to chat with you.  I know not everyone is into meeting the locals on a trip but to me it is one of the huge benefits of travel.  After nearly 40 years of travel I know what I want and that is to meet and talk to the locals and get a sense of how they live.  Also the hosts can recommend local restaurants, tell you about public transit, their favourite places to visit- I can only recall one place where they did NOT have a file folder filled with all of the above and more.  It just makes for a much more fulfilling experience for me.

The beauty of airbnb is that you can rent a whole apartment for yourself and your family/friends  (obviously a much less personal experience but works if you travel in a larger group and/or are not into living with anybody) or you can rent a room in someone's home.

Sometimes breakfast is provided and sometimes it isn't - don't expect a cooked full English as you will be disappointed.  It is usually a continental breakfast such as cereal, toast, coffe and (perhaps) juice that you fix yourself.  This way you have the freedom of getting up when you want - and if you wish, going out to get your own.  

Hosts are verified by airbnb so you won't be moving into a crack den or house of ill repute - they are checked out.   Guests usually review each time they stay (I am not too good on that I must admit - must improve!) so you will see reviews and get a good idea of what staying in that particular place is all about.   When you stay in an airbnb establishment you get reviewed as well so the hosts know they are getting a guest who (hopefully) will treat their home like their own.  I'm happy to say I have wonderful reviews.(lucky they can't see my own place right now!!!)

So here they are...some of my favourite airbnb places....make yourself comfortable and pour yourself a glass of coffee, tea or wine and revisit some of my favourite places.  I hope by the end of this I will have convinced you to try airbnb just once  I'm sure you will be hooked! 

My first airbnb experience was in Paris...I stayed in a room in a flat in the Montmartre district.  My host was away but the petsitter was living in.   Poor Simon did buy me breakfast food but I preferred to go to the local cafe and have a croissant or pain au chocolate and a cafe au lait.  I mean... really...I am in Paris...I'm going to have cereal? C'mon!

Pros:  Staying in a Paris flat...in Montmartre....
Cons:   Staying in a Paris flat ...the tenants above sounded like they were bowling in their flat, lack of heating (one electric heater) ; getting locked out of the flat due to quirky keys.  Parisian flats sound romantic but they do have their issues...

Would I do it again?  Yes please!!! Even better, if I could live in AND pet sit Sadie!!! 

I basically had my own little living area although shared the kitchen and bathroom with the pet sitter.  This was actually the host's room and the petsitter was in the guest room.  So I was lucky to get more space.

The sleeping area.....

Sadie and I having a "girls night in". 
    I loved my three full days over New Years in Paris which included attending the ballet Cinderella one evening - magical!.  The host was an American living in Paris who was addicted to travel in India - she was there while I was in Paris.  I wish I could have met her as I think we would have had a lot to talk about.  She had a string of small ceramic elephants in her flat that I fell in love with - and I found the same set in an Indian shop in Camden market in London so they now hang in my "flat" in Regina!  See, airbnb even influences home decor choices!!!

Just over a month after arriving home from my Christmas/New Years trip to Europe it was off to sunny Orange County, California and Austin, Texas for two weeks.  (I called it Winter holiday part 1 and 2)  Why Austin?  It's a state capital!  I fell in love with this quirky and liberal enclave in red neck Texas.  I proudly wear my "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirt.  Where else do you see this at the baggage carousels?

The second I saw these I knew I was going to love this town!
While in Austin I stayed at a place in the Barton Springs area of town.  The host wasn't there for most of my stay however her dad was staying there looking after her dogs so he greeted me and gave me the keys.  I had half the house...bedroom, kitchen, dining area, cozy living room.  I loved it.  Please excuse the blurry photos...I have no idea why I didn't trash these and take more...forgive me...

All sorts of material on Austin was on the coffee table

Because I was here such a short time (two full days) I did not cook in but I was left a full cupboard so I did make coffee in the morning. 

Very comfy bed

Lots of books to read if I wished.
Ah Austin....I will come back..I fell in love....hard.  San Antonio (I had an early childhood obsession for Davy Crockett - yes I wore a coon skin cap...) and Galveston (for reasons unknown...) call to me so I will definitely include a re-visit to this quirky wonderful city - hopefully in better weather so I can take advantage of  more of the food trucks and once again stay in this delightful home. 

I guess the next airbnb place was later on in the year (gosh I traveled a lot in 2012!!!) when I visited the midwest...dogsitting for a friend as well as knocking off some state capitals......sometimes when you stay in airbnb places you don't sleep in a real bed but a sofa bed....in some instances in the living room...not for everyone I admit but when you travel as much as I do you look for in expensive.  I did this in Indianapolis with the sweetest couple ever.

A pull out couch - comfortable and worked for me. 

The house I stayed in and the cute couple who hosted me
 I enjoyed my time with Chris and Carolina despite it being one less day than I had planned due to missing the bus.   They picked me up at the Greyhound station and we got on so well.  I needed extra special treatment for those few days as I had just found out via text message that my uncle had died. (my US cell phone could not be called from Canada) and they gave it to me. I asked them about local specialties and they told me about breaded pork tenderloin.  And with that they said we have to take you to the best place - so off we drove..and drove....but we got there and I treated us all to a pork tenderloin sandwich.  That was above and beyond the call of hosts and while I did not have the privacy of my own room (although they went up to bed early and I was up and showered before they even came down) they more than made up for it in just being so kind.

The next memorable airbnb experiences were in Scotland...one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh.  Glasgow stands out due to the kindness of the hosts.   I stayed in the trendy West End - having one bedroom of a two bedroom flat with David and Sringya.  Once again they gave me all sorts of information about the area and their favourite places.  Close to the subway station...a two minute walk to the beautiful Botanical Garden.  Well it was perfect for me.


The view from my bedroom window

View of the street where I stayed - a quiet street just off the main road
I thought I had taken a picture of the room but I guess not but suffice to say it was huge with a very comfy bed.  Just looking at my pictures makes me want to go back to Glasgow and this flat - and soon!!!

After our walk on the Great Glen Way we headed to Edinburgh for a few days.  I shared with two of my travel mates Robynn and June on different dates - when one left for home another arrived.  I enjoyed my time at Rebecca's.  She was renovating her house so it was a bit chaotic but on the bright side very reasonable in cost.

One of the twin beds in our room - there is my suitcase however.  Lots of room for two people to spread out.

I managed a photo of this table before it got covered!!! 

My bed.  Comfy
I can't speak for the others but I enjoyed my time at Becky's place.  In the evenings we sat at her huge wooden table in the living area with cups of tea or bottles of wine and set the world right whether it was with Becky herself or her university student lodger Rachel.  After eating out for a while it was fun to be able to pick up some ready meals, salads, fruit, etc. and create our own meals. 

I told you this was a long post!!!  Time to top up the cup or glass!

On the way back from the United Kingdom last year I stopped in Iceland and stayed with Michael and his dog Rosa in a flat near the harbour in Reykjavik.  The bedroom was small I must admit but I didn't spend much time in it either.  Michael directed me to a reasonable supermarket where I was able to purchase food for breakfast...including the wonderful Icelandic yogurt like deliciousness called Skyr.  I was literally steps from the harbour and a five minute walk (or less) to the downtown area.  And bonus time:  there was a resident dog.  I love staying in places that have pets - especially dogs!. (if they have pets it is clearly stated in the description)  


This where I stayed in Reykjavik - Michaels flat was on the main floor, right side. 

Rosa being a bit of a naughty girl while dad was away...this was the living room

kitchen - there was a table to eat at. 

The last two airbnb's I stayed at were in New Orleans and New York respectively. 

My friend June and I stayed at a shotgun house in the 7th ward of New Orleans that we both fell in love with.  It was very reasonably priced and the host was a sweetheart and so helpful and even gave us a ride to the half marathon we took part in.  We had the first half or 2/3 of the house with a separate entrance sleeping area for each of us as well as a big kitchen and bathroom of our own.  Similar to where I stayed in Austin.  We loved staying in a down to earth residential area. It wouldn't be for everybody but for adventurous souls like ourselves it was absolutely perfect.  I would go back in a heartbeat.   We happily made our breakfast every morning and also snacks in the evening.

This house could have accommodated up to 7 people - three beds and a sofa


Well equipped kitchen

Yes we even did laundry with laundry detergent supplied...

We loved this place - complete with swing on the porch.  


Next up was New York - for three nights I stayed in East Harlem with Nancy. (I then moved on to a hotel in midtown to be closer to the Beatlefest I was in town to attend)  It was handy as I was able to take a local bus in from LaGuardia rather than a more expensive shuttle being as it was in the northern end of Manhatten.  Nancy had two dogs - one friendly and one not so friendly but as they both looked alike I tended to avoid both.  A bit frustrating for a dog mad person like me.  This was definitely a unique place to stay - Nancy was a strict vegan and allowed no animals products in her house.  Luckily she ignored my leather running shoes and I quiet scoffed the pralines (lots of cream i those babies) in my room.  Oops..my secret is out..I must admit I felt like a naughty child doing this.  Still, Nancy was interesting to talk to and I learned a lot from her.  East Harlem was a very interesting area and I wish I had had more opportunities to explore the area and over into Harlem as well however the weather was definitely a negative factor.  Wet miserable snow that created huge puddles at intersections that made walking around quite difficult.  Nancy also provided a healthy breakfast which I took advantage of a couple of times but when you are in New York...well my default is bagels for breakfast!  However

My usual mess...a small room but it did the trick. 

Nancy and the boys.  I didn't use the living room at all as I came home mainly to sleep - I was in New York!

Outside the building



Okay...that's it for now...(just wait until next year!!) as you can see I have stayed in a variety of places.  I know some people will say "no way" and others maybe a bit intrigued.  Airbnb goes from the very cheap to the very expensive and luxurious.  As a budget traveler I tend to go for cheap but clean. I love the fact that I have stayed in East Harlem, in the 7th ward of New Orleans and other areas that tourists don't tend to go.  It's nice to get away from the tourists...yes even if I am one myself...

I don't always stay in airbnb - it just depends on the situation.  Time of arrival:  When I stop over in Iceland on the way to the UK this December I am actually staying at a tourist guest house.  My reasons?  I am arriving early in the morning and by the time I get to the city it will be at a time when people go to work. (as most airbnb hosts do)  I want to be able to store my luggage and do a bit of exploration before crashing (and I mean crashing) for the evening so I need a place that I know will be accessible to me.  Location....not traveling with a car 99% of the time I need to be close to downtown or at least public transit.  In most big cities there is a variety of options however you have to be choosier in smaller or more rural areas.  Privacy:  Sometime I just want the privacy of a hotel room.  And sometimes I actually splurge and stay somewhere nice like the Yellow Submarine room of the Wanderlust hotel in Singapore.  Staying in cheaper accommodations lets me have this luxury which is especially welcome on longer trips. 

As a mostly solo traveler airbnb is perfect for me - it might not be for everyone.  Suggestions for researching a place to stay on airbnb:

1)  Ensure there are reviews. (and positive of course) and read them all.  You will learn a lot not only about the host but about the area.   I know this is tough for airbnb hosts starting out and as a petsitter starting out internationally I find the same thing.  Any new job seeker...how you can have experience if no one will give it to you?  So I get it....but I still err on the side of caution and go with a well reviewed host.

2)Description  - ensure the place is what you want - everything they have on offer is listed by an icon or in the description.  Also there are usually a lot of pictures (I would avoid staying at a place where they only have a picture of just the outside of the house or of locations around the area and not the residence itself - a good host has pictures of both) if it's a good place and in my experience they are accurate. 

3) Location - look for information on bus routes.  Most hosts list them.  Look up the area on google maps.  You don't want to be stuck in an area that does not have public transit if you don't have a car.

4)  The gender of the host may have an impact.  If you are a single woman you may not feel comfortable staying with a single man.  I used to be squeamish but as long as they've got good reviews (and I pay attention to female reviewers on this one) I no longer have a problem with this.

So that's it.  I hope you enjoyed this and that you will give it a try.  There will be lots more airbnb "second homes" in my life in 2015 so stay tuned.  Here's the link so why not go and have a browse!


Friday, September 26, 2014

An unplanned day in Chicago

In an earlier post I was heading off on the public bus to Hartford airport.  A two dollar trip to the airport?  Count me in especially as I had loads of time   I checked in and all was well until we were informed the incoming flight to Chicago was delayed.  So delayed in fact that I would have about 15 minutes between flights.  Eek!  I talked to the gate agent and she agreed it was too close especially when my next flight was at another end of the building.  So she first started booking me for overnight in Harford, 6 a.m. to Washington DC. then Toronto then home.  UGH!  I said can't I just go to Chicago and stay over...then I jokingly said "Paul McCartney is playing Chicago tomorrow night...could I possibly fly out Thursday morning".  She just gave me a "look" over her glasses - well you can't blame a gal for trying right?  I did manage to talk her into an evening flight out of Chicago.  They gave me three food vouchers and overnight in a hotel...I must confess I have bitched about United but they really came through for me. 

The flight went well and instead of madly dashing around the airport I collected my luggage and called the hotel number I had been given by the agent.  I got picked up by the Intercontinental van and off we went.  I walked in in my jean capris and felt sorely out of place but oh well..I soon got over it.   I took the elevator up to my room and here it was...

Beautiful!!! 
For someone who travels on a budget this was indeed a thrill.  I know some people stay in places like this all the time but not me.  I would rather take more trips and stay in cheaper cosier places than take one big trip and spend it on fancy hotels.  When I do stay in one it makes it extra special and exciting - especially on someone else's dime!!! 

I had a great sleep and in the morning I went down for breakfast.  I used all my vouchers on the breakfast buffet as it wasn't cheap but I knew it would hold me for a while.   The complimentary shuttle then drove me to the metro station...ha ha.  Well he meant to but forgot he was taking me to the metro and got into the wrong lane so dropped me off along the highway.  There were sidewalks but no where to cross - the lights did not coordinate for cars or people going straight across. (it took a couple of light changes before the light bulb went on in my head about that..)  So I had to dash across but luckily there was a boulevard half way.  Anyway I made it to the subway station and then fought with the machine to give me a ten dollar day pass.  Finally I got on the train and off we went to downtown Chicago. 


I got off at the Jackson station and proceeded to walk down towards the lake front.  First stop...Millennium park to see the Crown fountain...I never get tired of this place.  It was a beautiful July day and lots of children were playing in the water and shrieking their heads off with delight. 



One day I am going to let that guy "spit" on me too! 
Then it was on to Cloudgate...known locally as "the Bean".  Another sculpture I never get tired of...just so many ways you can photograph it!!! 



Looking up from the centre - so neat.


Then I walked through the park and down to the lakefront...normally I would do the 11 km walk here but I was too tired and too hot!!! 




A lovely walk! 
Next up was this beautiful fountain - I hadn't seen it in a few years as I believe it was being renovated the last time....the Buckingham fountain. 



After all that walking it was time for lunch so off I went to Giordano's for some stuffed pizza.  After all if it's good enough for this fellow it's good enough for me!!!



oooey gooey deliciousness
Stuffed with cheese with the sauce on top.   The small pizza with a salad and a pop was less than ten dollaras on a lunch special - can't be beat!!! 

I then headed out to find the nearest Garretts...the best popcorn EVER.  I had the Chicago mix which was caramel corn & cheese corn.  I got a HUGE bag - it barely fit into my backpack.  I did share...a bit....


Stunning architecture

Chicago river

Under the "el" 
 Sadly it was time to get back on the train to O'Hare but what a wonderful unexpected day in downtown Chicago. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A day at the Vancouver Aquarium

Nowadays visiting an aquarium or zoo seems to be a controversial thing to do.  (I am not even going to comment on that as it would be a blog post of its own)  When Julie said she wanted to visit the Vancouver Aquarium I advised her to do that the day after I left or else I'd do something else while she was there.  So I am sure she was quite surprised when we were discussing what to do on our last full day together and I said to her "why don't we go to the aquarium?".   It was a great day out and I make NO apologies for it.  This is a facility that rescues sea mammals & is active in local and international conservation.  While I don't approve of circuses who use live animals and I don't support zoos or aquariums that use the animals solely as entertainment I do think this one is a good one and my conscience felt clear.  The aquarium is in Stanley Park and has been renovated since I was there fifteen years ago. 

So come along while we meet the various finned, furred and feathered residents of the aquarium.

Who doesn't love penguins? 


Photos of rescued sea lions who were nursed back to health and released into the ocean

Love the names!


Beluga whales- so beautiful!!! 


We then enjoyed the dolphin show. 



 And we got to see the sealions do their thing as well - this one was a real sassy dude.


Wally the sea otter -one of the cutest things on this planet!!





Scarlet Ibis in the Amazon section - aren't they gorgeous? 


.  All in all a great day out!!  Would I go again?  Probably not but I've learned that "never say never".