Though Airbnb began in 2008, it wasn’t until September 2023 when I stayed at an Airbnb. Most people know I am a fan of the four and five-star hotels – the comfort of staying where you just slip into a space fully designed to cater to your preferences when on the road. But a short-term stay at someone else’s home, condo, guest house or even guest room, that allows you to truly experience your stay like a local.
Sometimes when on the road, I’ll drive past homes in cozy neighborhoods. I’ve often fantasized what it’s like to live there. I’ve also walked along the streets of cobblestone in old established cities and glancing up: What is going on in the lives of the people who actually live upstairs and behind those exterior walls and windows?
My first Airbnb experience was in Ashville, NC. I booked a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit that served as the second floor. The home was built into the slope of a hill, so I was able to step outside to a back outdoor patio.
The Airbnb unit was in an established neighborhood that was actually just a matter of blocks to the center of town. Still, unfamiliar with the roads and parks, we opted to drive places during that stay.
I went on the weekend just after Labor Day and the intent of the road trip was to experience the Carolinas. I flew into Ashville Airport, which was quite easy to navigate and only 15 minutes to downtown Ashville. They were in the process of expanding the airport, so it was a matter of taking the airstairs off the plane and greeted by the Carolina sun. A friend from the Carolinas met me the airport and our road trip began.
After an afternoon of microbrew tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Mills River Taproom (which is super close to the airport) and more sightseeing, including a quick circling of the city, we entered the address into our maps app and followed the directions.
It felt nice to be in a car and make our way to a house. Once we pulled into the guest parking spot, we made our way upstairs, entered the security code to access the unit and went inside.
Our Airbnb had a split floorplan with bedrooms and bathrooms on each side and an open living room and kitchen in the center – along with access to the covered patio in the back.
The home was clean and had all the supplies you’d expect. And the owners had a binder with information about the home, the area and a bottle of wine sitting on the counter to greet us.
Even though most of us only spend a little bit of time where we’re staying when on the road, it was still nice to have a space where we knew it was only ourselves – no lobby guests, etc.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m the biggest fan of hotel lobbies, their restaurants and bars, and the people who are staying there and even the locals who take advantage of the amenities. But this was an opportunity to finally check a bucket list item: to have my first Airbnb experience.
Did it have the fancy bathrooms I am used to? No. But they were efficient (and I brought my own products). Did it have the designer king-sized beds, sheets and feathered pillows I love? No. But the bedrooms were efficient and did the job. Did it have room service or a shop downstairs to grab what I forgot? No. But I was able to go to a nearby store if I needed something (I didn’t).
What it did have was the warmth of a private home – a caring environment that the owners spent their time and effort to offer hospitality and make some money in the process. You have to respect and like that. The price was right and the owners were pleasant when interacting with me during the booking and prior to arrival.
When booking my stay, I wondered how well the real experience would match the advertised details. Will it be clean? Will it be noisy? Will I get locked out? Will the air conditioning or heating work? I guess the best thing to do is to review the description of the home and then check the reviews. It also helps to check out how “authentic” the owners come across. Or how patient and understanding the individuals are who manage the property for the owner, if they have hired others.
Clearly, I’m a newbie as an Airbnb critic. But I do have to say that my first Airbnb experience was nice. I won’t always use a home rental service like this, but I know it’s an option. I had a chance to feel like a local. And that really marks travel success.
Tell me about your first Airbnb experience.