Hotel booking is a huge industry, but I generally don’t use online booking as it doesn’t allow me to feel the ground up and also costs me a bit more than walking into a hotel and using good old bargaining skills. The only time I book a hotel is when I am arriving late in the night or there is a event taking place in the city that leads to a huge rush. Sometimes, you need to book, but not in hotels as they are very expensive in those cities.
I am talking about the developed world – Western Europe, the larger cities of Asia and North America. In most of these places, the hotels work out much expensive for a budget traveller and definitely a BIG NO for a backpacker. In such cases, it makes sense to look out for other options. 3 immediate options come to my mind. The first one is see if the hotel can host you free of cost (applies to a travel blogger). The second one is to leverage the couchsurfing community. But, this one works only for young people or solo travelers. If you are a couple or a traveler who likes his/her space, then Airbnb.com can be your interesting third option.
They allow you to either rent a full apartment, opt for a private room in an apartment, share a room with other people living in the house or opt for bed services, wherever available. Generally, such apartments are lower priced than hotels of similar standards. The positives of staying in an apartment is that it allows you to interact with a local family, stay in a residential area of town and not in the busy tourist district, get access to more space than you can get in a hotel.
However, there are some negatives too. Sometimes, residential areas can be far away from the tourist destinations. Similarly, it might be far away from shopping and eating joints. You have to be prudent of your decibel levels when you share a house with someone.
Recently, I got a fair idea of the Airbnb experience when I shared a room in a residential area of Hong Kong. The place was a house where I got to use one of their 2 bedrooms and had access to their television, kitchen, wi-fi, etc. The place was located in a plush neighborhood of Hong Kong. It was far away from the rest of Hong Kong, but the increase in space when compared to hotels, a good healthy breakfast offered by the house owner, lower cost when compared to the hotels, great access to the public transit system and the option of walking with locals everyday ensured that I had a great time in Hong Kong.
I really like the Airbnb concept and would be more than willing to try their properties in other cities the world over. If you have not tried them yet, you should give it a try. If you haven’t heard of them, you definitely need to look them up as they will help add quality while reducing the cost of your travels.