The tricky part of AirBnB

03:34, May 22 2013
HOME STAY: You don't have to stay in hostels or hotels when you travel any more. You can go for something cheaper and homier.

There are plenty of ways you could describe Alex, but I'm going to go with "interesting".

At least, that's how his profile made him sound.

Alex was a Beatles fan, you could tell by the Fab Four poster pasted on his kitchen wall. Oh, and the fact that the headline on his Airbnb entry was: "I love the Beatles!"

He was also a keen musician if the guitar in one of the photos and the speaker system in another were anything to go by.

Like I said, interesting. His apartment sounded interesting, too. Most people lead the little description of their place with something about the area of town it's in or the number of bedrooms it has.

Alex's was a simple one-liner: "Funky in a good way."


That got me over the line. Well, that and I had few other choices.

I was heading to the Swedish port town of Gothenburg, by all accounts a funky place in its own right, full of record stores and hip cafes.

It wasn't, however, cheap. Nowhere in Sweden is cheap. The most basic hotel can set you back €100 ($158). So for Gothenburg I'd decided to think outside the box.

See, you don't have to stay in hostels or hotels when you travel any more. You can go for something cheaper and homier.

Some people opt for couch surfing, dossing on the sofas of generous fellow travellers for the cost of providing interesting conversation.

Others use websites such as Airbnb, hiring people's spare rooms and/or entire apartments or houses around the world.

I'd done it plenty of times. I'd already stayed in a top-floor flat in Berlin, in a two-bedder in Seville, in a lovely room in Amsterdam and what was basically a penthouse suite in Barcelona.

All had worked out spectacularly - they'd been exactly like the photos on the website and had cost less than a pokey hotel room.

So I was confident in Alex, even though his Airbnb entry was on the quirkier side. According to Alex, I'd have access to the "adventure room" during my stay. I'd be surrounded by "vintage furniture".

I'd be staying in "an area quickly becoming a haven for Gothenburg's young, emerging artists".

And - here's the clincher - Alex promised I could "SLEEP IN AS LONG AS YOU WANT!"

He added: "Unlike every hotel in the civilised world, we will not wake you up." Awesome. Also, unlike every hotel in Gothenburg, he was going to charge only €44 a night for me to sleep in his spare room, cook in his kitchen and relax in his adventure room. So I paid my money and signed up.

The arrival is always the trickiest part of an Airbnb stay. Given it's not a hotel, there's no 24-hour reception, so an appointment has to be made with the probably-non-English-speaking owner to collect keys and be shown around.

This was going to prove a particular problem in Alex's case, because he was on holiday in the US and had been for the past three months.

Fortunately, one of his previous tenants was still in Gothenburg and still had her key, so she'd be able to do the handover.

I met Stephanie on a typically cold, grey Gothenburg afternoon, a light drizzle falling on our faces as we found each other near the central train station.

"How long are you staying with Alex?" Stephanie asked.

"Two nights."

"Oh," she said, looking slightly dubious. "That should be enough."

We said our goodbyes and I jumped on the tram to Alex's place, alighting in a fairly drab neighbourhood of uniform apartment blocks and quiet streets.

I had a feeling already that this area was becoming a haven for only one of Gothenburg's young, emerging artists: Alex.

Around a corner and across a small clearing I found the door I was looking for, although as Alex hadn't specified his apartment number I had to try the key in a few different doors before I found the right one.

I swung it open and discovered that Alex's place was, as promised, funky. Although not in a good way. More in a dirty, hasn't-been-aired-since-Stephanie-left way.

The beds (or, rather, the mattresses on the floor) were slept in, the kitchen was messy and Alex was showing a real estate agent's flair with his description of the furniture as "vintage". I'd say "old".

The "adventure room", it turned out, was actually Alex's bedroom, leading me to question what sort of adventure most of his guests got involved in.

As Alex was on another continent, I'd sadly never find out.

Of course I'd paid my money by now, so for better or worse this would be my abode for the next two nights. I cleaned up the kitchen, ran the bed sheets through the wash and tried to enjoy myself as best I could.

On the bright side, I reasoned, with no one else living here, I really could sleep in as long as I wanted.

Have you ever used AirBnB, couch surfed, or otherwise stayed in a stranger's home while travelling? What was your experience like? Post a comment below.

Sydney Morning Herald