A corporate titan of the sharing economy, Airbnb has evolved well beyond the air mattresses on the floor of its early days.
If your taste in lodging runs to something more exciting than Hampton Inns and you don’t mind the occasional pet, futon, voodoo décor, or glassed-in aviary, then I highly recommend Airbnb to you.
My wife and I used the home-sharing option five times in five states last year and had positive experiences each time with only minor inconvenience. We were newbies a year ago when my retirement from full-time writing gave us a chance to take more trips. A corporate titan of the sharing economy, Airbnb has evolved well beyond the air mattresses on the floor of its early days.
There are more than 100 listings in greater Memphis, ranging from a room in Midtown for $21 to the entire Snowden House on Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas for $500 a night. Most are under $100. The hotel industry, legal eagles, tax collectors, and various busybodies have cracked down in New York and San Francisco, but Memphis seems to have escaped their notice for the most part, so far.
I like to walk the neighborhoods in the places I visit and talk to locals. Interviewing habits die hard. I scrutinize host profiles, guest reviews, and maps. And I hate paying $125 a night for a motel room where I spend as little time as possible. So Airbnb was made for me.
When my wife and my sister and I visited Tampa, we felt like we knew our hostess, Cathi, after talking to her for an hour at her funky bungalow 15 minutes from the airport. In a way, we did. She had been in Memphis a week earlier for the Blues Foundation awards and stayed at an Airbnb a few blocks from our house. A hiker and history buff, she had also taken one of my sister’s guided walks of San Francisco. These were remarkable coincidences, but Airbnb’s host profiles and pictures give you a decent chance of staying with someone with shared interests.
Cathi provided two rooms and a private bath for $68. She served coffee and fruit for breakfast with a steady stream of amusing anecdotes. Never rent to someone who says, “My request is a bit unusual” or “There’s just one thing.” Beware of professional ballplayers (the New York Yankees do their spring training in Tampa) or anyone who wants your whole house for an extended time at a rich price (possible porno movie). Avoid pets; as a guest she once let a dog out and spent most of her stay searching for it.
In St. Louis we stayed for two nights for $168 total in a comfortable one-bedroom apartment in Richmond Heights, close to some good restaurants and nice parks. We never saw our host, Richard, but his place lived up to its 63 four-star and five-star reviews.
In Santa Barbara, we stayed in a house in the hills with a swimming pool and a view of the ocean for $96 a night, snacks included. The hostess was a sweet older lady with several parrots and parakeets she kept in a glass-enclosed room covered floor to ceiling with newspapers. Not something you run into much at the Hampton, but we never heard a word out of them.
Planning a bike trip to Louisville and Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail in October, I booked a room with a woman named Janice with 122 positive reviews. When an accident forced me to cancel on short notice, she graciously refunded my $40 and invited me to come back another time.
In Nashville in November, we stayed two nights in a house south of the Green Hills neighborhood with a couple, their daughter, dog, and another renter. Close quarters all around, even at $48 a night, and my wife couldn’t sleep on the harder-than-advertised futon mattress. Hostess Karyn said she could get more but liked to rent to musicians and give them a break.
Positive reviews being the coin of the realm, I wrote one anyway but got nothing, good or bad, in return. Was this a case of “if you can’t say something nice . . . ” about a nosy ex-reporter? So be it. This road warrior has done, and put up with, worse things.