To Airbnb or not Airbnb?

Last updated 12:56 16/01/2014

TROP PETIT: Paris is notorious for apartments where you can't swing a rat, let alone its domesticated predator.

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It's the great family holiday dilemma. And it presents quite a challenge. Think of it as Ali v Foreman; David and Goliath; shopfront or online. When travelling overseas, do you stay in someone's home or a hotel room?

The latest new-kid-off-the-block to challenge the established hotel model is Airbnb.

This is how it works. Random people rent out their unused space while they're out of town - anything from apartments or rooms to treehouses or boats.

But it's become a victim of its success, the subject of legal action in New York City under the 2011 short-term rental law.

So, we thought we'd test it out. During our Griswold European Vacation, we stayed at three Airbnb properties and three hotels.

Entering the first apartment, in the dark and dodgy back streets of Rome, we were sceptical.

"Could you have chosen anywhere more creepy?" asked nine-year-old Taj.

After getting stuck in the elevator, we opened the door to reveal an apartment straight from a B-grade '70s film: cue the porno bass. Once we'd recovered from the shock, we realised it ticked all the boxes: three bedrooms, a kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and (sporadic) hot water.

Our next pick, in Florence, was larger, brighter, and, unfortunately, higher. After lugging our suitcases up four flights of stairs, hubby felt like Quasimodo.

Understandably, our expectations were low for the third location - Paris, notorious as it is for apartments where you can't swing a rat, let alone its domesticated predator.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find a two-storey, open-plan, modern penthouse in the Marais district, with two bathrooms, an office and children's toys.

"Welcome to Paris," the owners enthused before heading to Belgium for New Year's Eve, leaving bottles of champagne and bordeaux.

Yep, Airbnb is cheap and cheerful - but it can be hit and miss. As a family, it's terrific to be able to cook a meal, do the washing and spread out. (It's also fun to poke around in other people's stuff)

But it feels a little too much like home. How can you avoid the stress of keeping your own house tidy if you're busy worried about someone else's?

A hotel is more of a hands-off model. Internationally, you can't beat the Novotel on price, layout, and convenience.

The suites in London City South have a separate area with dining room, fold-out bed, toilet and TV for the kids, with a large bedroom and ensuite for the parents next door. (Truly, if you close your eyes, you can pretend they don't exist.)

Kids can have anything on the adults' menu at half-price. And there's a huge interactive screen in the foyer with maps, weather forecasts, and information.

Our next two hotels - Le Tsanteleina and Le M de Megeve in the French Alps - took it a step further, with the former boasting bathrobes for kids and the latter steamed salmon and vegies instead of nuggets and chips.

In the end, it comes down to cost. Going "off-piste" is cheaper. But, sometimes, you get what you pay for. Hotels are predictable. Reliable. Certain.

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Just remember to book online for the best deals. Then, the only dilemma is whether to start with white or red, continue with steak or fish, and finish with chocolate or cheese.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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