If I had to take one of those ‘What’s Your Travel Personality?’ Tests, (there’s got to be one) my result would be Culture Vulture. From researching nearby opera performances to trying out supermarket instant-noodle brands, I’m all about the ‘authentic experience’. This is why AirBnb’s ‘Live There’ motto spoke to me. It sounded like an exciting thought; to have a place you can call ‘home’ in a new city, if even for a few days, and to live it up like a local. However, as with all things new, I was also a slight skeptical. After all, who doesn’t love a good hotel, with their breakfast buffets and not having to worry about locking yourself out of your room?
This summer we took a family trip to Europe and decided to give sharing economy a whirl. Our itinerary: Vienna-Wachau-Salzburg-Innsbruck-Munich-Prague. 14 days. 6 stops. 5 AirBnbs.
The rules to the game of having a good experience are pretty simple. Research thoroughly, read the reviews, check basic amenities/ security/accessibility, communicate regularly with the host, voice concerns and requirements if any. Personally, we couldn’t have been more grateful that we did.
Every home came with its own distinct character. Some were Pinterest-friendly modern pads and some bordered on the whimsical. Some told compelling stories of migration, of owners who had left familiar shores for greener pastures. Like a certain Henrietta from the charming village of Emmersdorf. But more on that later.
Here are 5 experiences I would have missed out on had I not stayed in AirBnb and why I would recommend it to all travelers.
1. Breathtaking Locations: Where hotels shouldn’t be an option
There is a 300 year-old house in unbelievably picturesque Emmersdorf of Wachau Valley Austria, with the most magnificent view of the Danube River a few meters from the bedroom window. Come dusk, the view escalates to a magical experience, worthy of inspiring its own ‘Starry Nights’. The window looks down into an adorable bougainvillea garden, its winding creepers on the stone walls. This nondescript village is yet to be put on the global tourist map, although being straight out of a Hobbit fairytale dream. In walks Henrietta, who opens the doors to her home (underground wine cellar included) and allows us to partake in this delicious strip of heaven; all the while munching on her garden strawberries.
2. Local flavor: Accessing communities otherwise unavailable
Staying in someone’s home feels like living a day in the life of the inhabitants: making breakfast and having it on the patio, watching people going about their daily chores, kids skateboarding and cafes opening shutters. Watching the neighborhood come alive is best witnessed while living in the midst of it. We were even visited by the neighbor’s cat in Innsbruck to whom I offered some Camembert expecting him to like it (he didn’t). Our home in Prague had local wines and beer to offer, and graciously let us enjoy the minibar ‘on the house’. The owner in Munich, an amateur chef, let us privy to his concoctions of preserves and spice jars, allowing us to play a game of ‘sniff to guess the ingredients’.
3. Slice of Life: Glimpse into hobbies and home décor
Ever seen a Viking Buddha? A bed which lights up like in a sci-fi movie? Eerie black-and-white photographs of children adorning a mantelpiece? Some people have funky interior decoration and some interesting pastimes. Our home owner in Munich had an impressive wine gallery, which we later realized was a bottle collection since they were mostly empty. He also left a ton of post-it messages around, and the bathroom revealed some sort of shampoo fetish.Homes let on more than we realize, and it’s always fun to look for hints people leave around, displaying their personalities in a unique way.
4. Sharing stories: The ‘What Brings you here?’ question
Navneet, our home owner in Vienna, moved there from Delhi during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, after the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi. The riots saw over a thousand Sikh families migrate back to Punjab and outside the country. Now, more than three decades later, he lives with his parents in Vienna, and is visited by his sister’s family in Amsterdam. We were invited to an impromptu family reunion on our first day there, but had to politely decline since we were exhausted from our travels. Henrietta and her husband, of aforementioned fame, who live in the centuries-old house in Wachau Valley, are migrants from Hungary, and speak a smattering of English and German. On the pretext of borrowing an onion, I followed her into her house (a part of it is let out to AirBnb) and entered Alice’s rabbit hole into Wonderland. Among lace curtains, tea-cozies and tapestry, she asked me about India, what I do, and whether I plan to get married or not. I guess us women are the same everywhere.
5. Supermarket dinners: For the holiday chef in you
Whether you’re one of those who don’t understand the concept of cooking on holiday, or one who comes back with local sauces and spices in your suitcase, you would know that supermarkets provide the ultimate culture trip. Since walking down aisles of wines, cheeses, breads and dips give me the immense recreational pleasure I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m among the crazy few to fall in the latter category. Exploring neighborhood supermarkets became a custom for each of our stays; and making at least one meal in our kitchen, wine glass in hand, assembling whatever local tidbits we had managed to pick up during the day, became one of our more memorable suppers, if not just economical.
But most importantly, AirBnb allows us to open up to strangers in a foreign land, trust each other a little more and cooperate with one another for a great experience. It adds that personal touch to a holiday, that though admittedly may be a gamble, will give you something to reminisce about long after. So once in a while, ditch the infinity pool and the hot towels, and find yourself that perfect home, for an authentic experience.