During my last trip, a friend introduced me to Airbnb. An alternative accommodation option somewhere between a hotel and couchsurfing, the basic premise is that people with a spare room in their house rent it out to people looking for accommodation in their city.
With unique options to choose from, a room, an apartment, my friend rented a treehouse in Costa Rica, Airbnb offers a different accommodation experience, sometimes with the help of a local to share their inside knowledge.
As a solo backpacker on a limited budget, hostels were still a far more economical option. But towards the end of my trip travelling in Texas, they were harder to come by than in other places. When I needed somewhere to stay in Houston for a night, I decided it might be finally time to give Airbnb a go. My friend recommended the person she stayed with there, but they had no availability, so I picked another user with a lot of positive reviews that seemed to be in a convenient area. It was a quick stopover, so I needed somewhere close to the Megabus station. After a bit of correspondence about how to get to the house and an easy online payment it was all sorted.
My stay in Houston was one night between an impulsive trip to San Francisco and going back to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I took an early morning flight from San Francisco to Dallas, then a bus from Dallas to Houston. By the time I arrived there, it was after 7pm and I had spent the whole day travelling. I had a 7am bus the next morning, and feeling pretty exhausted I was planning to have an early night.
My Airbnb host, William, wasn’t home when I arrived but his roommate let me in. I had showered and was starting to think about sleep when he arrived, and threw a curveball to my plans of an early night by asking if I wanted to join them for drinks with some of his family members who were in town for a wedding. It was a nice offer, and I only had one night to see some of Houston, so I pushed my tiredness aside and said yes.
A little while later, we were driving somewhere I couldn’t find on a map if my life depended on it. I’ve always been a fan of the notion that hanging out with locals gives you insight to a city that you can’t get otherwise, and that night was one of the best examples I’ve experienced. I don’t know much about Houston, other than downtown is the business district and not really the place to go at night. We went to a street in a completely different location with a few bars and restaurants.
The place we went was fairly small and not crowded, and had a chilled vibe. William’s family were incredibly welcoming, and not at all phased by having a random Australian traveller along for the ride. We talked about a lot of things, but the one thing that sticks out was Colombia and travel which morphed into a discussion about Pablo Escobar. They were fascinated to hear I had travelled there alone, and that it wasn’t as dangerous as the general perception people have.
It’s common to meet people from different worlds and backgrounds and share stories when travelling, but more often than not they are other travellers in hostels. Meeting locals can be harder, and it occurred to me at some point when we were chatting in that bar that I never would have meet any those people if it wasn’t for Airbnb. I didn’t see much at all of Houston, but it was a better night than I could have ever imagined.
After the bar we got tacos from the restaurant next door, then headed back. I still got a relatively early night, and was up in time for bus the next morning. William drove me to the bus stop and took me for coffee and doughnuts on the the way. I have to admit, I was pretty spoiled!
My friend who recommended that I try Airbnb told me she has had some great experiences and some that were just good. I have only used it that one time, and William set the bar very high. It might not always be at that level, but Airbnb is a good alternative to a hotel if you are looking to meet new people and get some local tips about a city.
Visit www.airbnb.com for more information.