Most travelers have heard about airbnb — that alternative to traditional lodging choices where you can get rooms in private homes or apartments, or even rent a whole place from anyone who has space to rent. Actually, there are even less traditional options available from them, including treehouses, camping sites, rooftops, etc. Just about any sort of space someone might think to rent is available. Also, if you feeling like settling in for a month or two, or even longer, airbnb is a great way to find a good rental. However, I’d recommend getting a room for a night or two and extending if it is the place you want so you don’t risk getting locked in to an uncomfortable situation. I usually don’t book for more than two nights online.
But airbnb in India — is it safe? Several people have asked me that, which I find a bit puzzling. Why would it be less safe here than anywhere else? Indians tend to be wonderful hosts.
Anyway, my experience with airbnb has been an overwhelmingly positive one in India and abroad. Mostly I’ve used the service in India. 8 of the 10 places I’ve stayed in India were very good or excellent. I’ve never had a bad experience. The other two were good, but one turned out to be farther out than I realized and the other one was on a really busy road that was noisy all night long. I could have avoided both by checking the maps more carefully. The hosts were really nice, though, and I would have liked to get to know them better.
Airbnb usually ends up being substantially cheaper than comparable rooms in a hotel. One place that I got for less than Rs1,000 was as good as a 4-star hotel, with kitchen access and a gym in the basement, not to mention a washing machine, free wifi and a 24-hour guard on duty. And it was spotlessly clean, well-decorated and had good air-con. And the hosts invited me for a Dipavali celebration. The location was hard to find, but everything else about it was so good that I could easily overlook that.
Not that there aren’t some crummy places out there; obviously there are, especially since it doesn’t take much to put up a listing. That’s why I always take the time to read the full description and profile and reviews and check the map. And I look at the photos with a discriminating eye. I avoid places with sketchy descriptions, inadequate photos, and with very few reviews and no real profile. However, the last place I stayed (which ended up being wonderful) was new listing that I had a good feeling about in spite of having no reviews yet. As it seemed to be an established guest house, I looked for and found reviews for it on other sites, then went back and booked it on airbnb. I never ignore the feeling I get when I look at a listing. If I have doubts, I move on to something else.
I always email the host before entering my credit card info to make sure they have availability on the dates I need. Many people don’t update their calendars regularly and this has been the cause of a lot of complaints. They put a hold on your card, which can be a major inconvenience if the host doesn’t respond. It’s just better to check before trying to book. I always ask some other questions, as well. How the host responds question is another important factor to consider.
Compared to hotels and traditional guest houses (although there are also those on airbnb), I would say I’ve had better luck with airbnb. I felt safe in every place I have stayed, and that hasn’t always been the case with hotels.
Be sure to read through everything before booking. There are different cancellation options that listers can choose; they may have house rules that you’ll want to know about; and do check the amenities. The easiest thing is to narrow your search with the amenities you want. If you want Internet access or the use of a kitchen, you can include that in your search.
Obviously, some people rent out their places to fund their travel. Good idea . . . but if you are going to rent your place when you aren’t there, make sure there is someone you trust to keep an eye on things. Be careful who you rent to. It’s best if they have a good photo, full profile and, unless you are running a regular guest house or hotel or are there all the time, a reasonable amount of positive feedback. I wouldn’t even think of renting out anything without a responsible person around. There’s just too much risk.
Although I’ve been happy with airbnb myself, I’ve seen complaints about their customer service. Whether you are a traveler or a host, you need to consider each situation carefully and not just impulsively go ahead without really considering the details.