A Tale of Two Airbnb Stays

A Tale of Two Airbnb Stays

My Experience:

When planning our recent trip to England, I had to find accommodations in three different parts of the country:  Northumberland, Yorkshire, and London.  There is no shortage of places to stay in London, but Northumberland and Yorkshire proved to be more challenging.  Our planned destinations were all over the place, and we were not hitting any of the bigger cities, like York.

I got on Airbnb to see what I could find.  I had never used Airbnb before and I was more than a little leery.  Questions of cleanliness, privacy, and truth in advertising kept running through  my head. Then again, I reasoned, those issues were just as risky with booking a hotel. I forged ahead and began searching.

The thing about staying in a hotel on a family vacation is that your child is in the bed next to yours, no more than a few feet away. Unless you cough up big bucks for a suite, you won’t get the sort of privacy that you would in a multi-bedroom house or apartment. So, step one was selecting a two bedroom minimum with the entire house/apartment at our disposal.

And, since we’re going to live like a resident, we might as well pick a really nice location. I have spent most of my life in tidewater Maryland, so I am naturally inclined to want to be near the water. While I didn’t make a waterfront view a search term, it turned out that every property on my short list had a view of either the North Sea or a river. And why not? A waterfront view is a luxury I can’t afford to make mortgage payments for, but I can afford it for a few nights.

I had a strong favorite for the Yorkshire locations, but not so with the properties near our Northumberland destinations. I showed Hubs & our daughter what I had narrowed it down to, and asked them to choose. They selected this modern apartment in South Shields, UK.

I could not have asked for a better first experience with Airbnb. The immaculately clean apartment was well appointed with little necessities that we might have forgotten (Q-tips, shampoo, even a couple of diapers for those traveling with small children). The hosts had left us snacks, a bottle of wine, and even milk in the fridge. The welcome packet of instructions told us everything we could possibly want to know. It included the names, addresses, and hours of grocery stores, hospitals, gas stations, and so on.

The view was, as the listing promised, amazing.  From the living room window we could see the North Sea, a large grassy area for sports, a lighthouse, and far to the left, the ruins of Tynemouth Priory. The immediate neighborhood included a small grocery store within walking distance. Our first morning there, Hubs got up early, walked to the store to buy a freshly made baguette, and came back to make breakfast. The next morning I got up and walked out to the beach, then came back and fixed breakfast while watching people walk their dogs outside.

For the second leg of our journey, in Yorkshire, I chose a charming little 200-year old cottage that overlooked the harbor in the picturesque town of Staithes. I had fallen in love with it the moment I saw it because it reminded me of Port Isaac in Cornwall, which is pretty much my most favorite place on the planet.

I’ve already written about my experience in Staithes… suffice it to say that it was a bit of a let-down. The cottage was indeed charming, but it was not comfortable. There was a pervasive fish smell in the second floor hallway and steps to the third floor. We never did discover the source. The charming decor featured local items, but the furniture was neither comfortable nor practical. The washer/dryer (which we had hoped to use) was buried under a mound of miscellaneous items in a storage closet.

What did I learn?

Airbnb Tips for a Perfect Stay

  1. If possible, stay at a property that is also someone’s home for at least part of the year. If it’s strictly a rental property, it may not have “all the comforts of home” simply because it isn’t a home.
  2. Do not become emotionally attached to a place.  Do not invent fantasy scenarios in your head. (I’ll have coffee on the terrace every morning while watching the sun rise, for instance). Your risk of being disappointed increases in direct proportion to your level of expectation.
  3. Be sure to read the reviews of people who have stayed there previously.  I was skeptical of the “Amazing Sea Views” at our South Shields Airbnb. I didn’t think that the photos really represented what I would call an amazing view.  However, several people who stayed there also commented on the great view. I figured it was a case of poor photography rather than false advertising. Happily, that was indeed the case.
  4. Consider your parking accommodations if you will be driving. If we had known that we would be parking at the top of a hill in Staithes and hiking down to the cottage every time we went somewhere, we might have booked elsewhere. Because when you’re tired from sightseeing and being on your feet all day, there is nothing you want to do less than walk down a steep incline. Except, perhaps, walking up that same hill. Other properties may require you to park on the street.  Still others may have no dedicated parking space at all.
  5. Likewise, consider internet access and/or cellular phone service. In Staithes, there is virtually no cell phone service at all. This was not a major issue for us, as we had no need to call anyone. It could have presented a problem for a local, though.
  6. If you’re on the fence, consider your budget. Believe it or not, Airbnb can be much less expensive than staying at a hotel. In addition to paying a lower nightly rate (for more space!), we also had the ability to prepare our meals rather than dining out, which saved us a lot.  Plus it was nice to not have to rush out first thing in the morning because we were hungry.
  7. Communicate with the host(s). Feel free to ask the host of the property any questions you may have, either before or after you book.  Not all hosts will be as thorough with providing information as my South Shields host. However, most are happy to answer any questions you may have and will respond quickly.
  8. Consider the location in its entirety, beyond the four walls of the space you’re renting.  If I had known that Staithes had no good restaurants, nor any grocery store to speak of, I might not have considered staying there. In all likelihood, I would have booked in a more practical location instead.
  9. Look at the photos in the listing carefully. If the photos in the listing feature tourist attractions and/or scenery more than the actual property, it’s a red flag for me.  I’ve already decided on the area I’m traveling to – I don’t need to see pictures of that.  I want to know what the host is offering me as far as potential accommodations.
  10. Read the property description thoroughly. Very thoroughly.  I would recommend reading it at least twice and asking yourself if the pictures match the written description. Has the description addressed all of your questions? If not, ask the host before you book.

Airbnb can be an amazing way to add to your travel experience.  It will give you a non-touristy look at the place you’re visiting, while also giving you more space.  My daughter loved having her own room so much that she asked if we could do vacation with Airbnb from now on and never stay in a hotel again.  I highly recommend Airbnb as an alternative to expensive, cramped hotel rooms.

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