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Seeing the world with Airbnb

Online ‘sharing economy’ provides lodging alternatives for travelers

Created date

September 21st, 2016
A sink and vanity in the bedroom gave the Aachen, Germany, flat a distinctly European feel.

A sink and vanity in the bedroom gave the Aachen, Germany, flat a distinctly European feel.

Earlier this year, my husband and I received an exciting Facebook message from our friends in Aachen, Germany. It read, “We are getting married! We hope you can join us for the celebration in July.” These friends were kind enough to travel to the U.S. for our wedding only two years earlier, so we sprang into action to see how we could make the trip with only a few months’ notice. Luckily, most of the arrangements proved fairly simple to make—except when it came to finding a place to stay.

As it turned out, the wedding shared a July weekend with the CHIO Aachen, one of the most famous international horse competitions in the world. I quickly discovered that this meant almost every hotel room in the city was already booked. After an exhaustive search, I realized that we’d either pay a fortune for a hotel in town or stay far outside of the city limits. Wanting neither, I started searching for other types of lodging.

The sharing economy to the rescue

The rise of the “sharing economy” has made my all-too-common predicament a much more manageable situation for travelers around the world. Companies like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO allow individuals to rent space—including bedrooms, apartments, condos, or entire homes—to travelers directly through their websites. In addition to competitive rates, guests can enjoy benefits they might not find in a traditional hotel room, such as full kitchens, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, outdoor space, and free parking. And because these apartments or homes are typically outside of tourist areas, guests feel more like they really live there, if only for a day or weekend. 

After searching a few other sites, I had the most luck with Airbnb. Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb currently boasts more than 2 million listings in 191 countries with more than 60 million guests. On their website, individuals (or hosts) list properties—including 1,400-plus castles—for travelers to rent. Hosts can list anything from a shared bedroom to a private villa, offering a range of options to users with all types of budgets. I certainly wasn’t looking for a castle, but I did want to find a private apartment where my husband and I would feel comfortable.

Narrowing down the options

After logging into my Airbnb account, I typed “Aachen, Germany” into the search bar at the top of the screen. Hundreds of properties loaded on the next page, along with several options to narrow the results. I selected my travel dates, number of guests, type of rental, and price range. Then, I clicked the “Filters” button and narrowed my search even more by choosing the types of amenities and number of bedrooms and bathrooms I preferred. With every selection, my results got closer and closer to the lodging I was looking for.

The website’s large, interactive map was incredibly helpful, since I was searching for a rental in a specific location. It was remarkably simple for me to zoom right into my desired destination and see what listings were available nearby. Because I knew where our friends lived in town, I was able to narrow the search area even further to be close to their apartments. 

No longer overwhelmed by so many choices, I browsed the rentals that remained, looking through photos and reading reviews posted by other travelers. I also checked to make sure the hosts were verified, which is prominently noted on their profile by a green check mark. I sent a handful of listings to my husband for his opinion, and we ultimately booked a pleasant one-bedroom apartment within walking distance of the town center and our friends’ apartments. We made our payment online through the site and received a confirmation email almost immediately.

Living like locals

I communicated with our host Patricia through the messaging platform on the Airbnb website, asking questions and clarifying schedules. Some hosts send welcome packets via the messaging platform with information, like instructions to open a lock box or the password for the Wi-Fi network, but our host was more informal. We arranged a casual meeting to pick up the keys, where she told us the check-out time was flexible and to leave the keys on the table when we left.

With that, we started our temporary residency in Aachen. The apartment looked just as it had in the photos on Airbnb, in the exact spot we’d seen it on the interactive map. Towels, sheets, televisions, hair dryer, iron, wireless Internet, and fully stocked kitchen were all available and functional, just as advertised. My husband and I were able to enjoy our vacation knowing we had a comfortable, relaxing, and affordable place to call home for a few days in Germany.