This may be my most controversial post up to date as I will declare something that will be despised by many independent travelers and turn me into a less cool person immediately: I don’t like Airbnb. I would prefer staying at Hilton (even worse – probably even at Holiday Inn or Travelodge or Ibis) rather than staying at an Airbnb place. I prefer most of the hostels/hotels over an Airbnb apartment.
One of the main reasons I travel is to get disconnected from daily things, including the concept of feeling at home. So there is no point for me to stay at a place that still gives me the feeling of being at home but not even mine, someone else’s.
Authenticity is out in the open, not hidden in some stylish Airbnb place
Airbnb did great in terms of marketing itself as a cooler traveling choice, but is it really so? I always hear people starting their first sentence about any travel experience, noting that they stayed at an Airbnb place as if it is some kind of label ensuring that you had a “cool” or “authentic” travel experience. It is very common to hear the following travel remarks – “I want to feel local” and “I don’t want to feel like a tourist.” (well, if you want to feel local and not like a tourist, maybe you can try to just stay at home) and hotels particularly are treated as the killers of localness and authenticity. I definitely disagree with this proposition. Staying at a hotel/hostel vs. an Airbnb place is never the determining factor for me in terms of the element of the so-called “localness”. In my view, the authenticity of your travel experience has very little to do with your choice of accommodation.
I think the authenticity lies in very simple daily acts as opposed to some hidden Airbnb places that we all so desperately look for when traveling to prove that we are better at the game of traveling. Just play with your hours a little and match the rhythm of the city. That rhythm alone will guide you to the most authentic experiences.
Get out during the morning rush hour and join the locals hurrying to get their morning fix of coffee. You are lucky that you are not in a hurry to get anywhere, so you can just sit and observe the rhythm of the city. Compare Madrid to Istanbul during rush hour, and that comparison alone will give you so much insight into those different cultures and their distinct features. Even if you are very cool to book an old-style Japanese house in Tokyo (if you can find one!) through Airbnb, how can you claim to know Tokyo if you did not try to get in the subway when everyone tries to make it to their home and experience the rush hour craziness being handled in the most efficient and somehow gentle way?
Nothing, no hidden corner third-wave coffee shop or restaurant, gave me a better sense of Chinese culture until I walked into a park on a Sunday afternoon in Beijing and watched the locals singing together for hours. Authenticity is out there right in the open, not in a cool Airbnb place or in a hidden corner, both so glorified in the travel community.
The rhythm at the hotels greatly matches my traveling state of mind – temporariness
I also like the rhythm at the hotels, people coming in and going out, maybe a bar downstairs, and, more importantly, the feeling of being surrounded by all those people who are, for different reasons, away from their homes.
Everyone is transient at a hotel; nobody owns the place, and nobody is responsible (in a good or bad way) for the decoration choices at the hotel. I certainly need that level of detachment when I travel. Airbnb places give me the feeling of not feeling local but pretending to be local and being surrounded by someone else’s life choices. Detachment from the daily surroundings clears up my mind and almost opens a blank page for me to record all the things that I will encounter during my day while traveling with a more open and less distracted mind.
Traveling is better with surprises, but should those really be related to the place where you will sleep?
I also don’t like Airbnb due to the level of uncertainty that it inevitably involves. What If I do not like my Airbnb place? I need some peace of mind to better focus on the more enriching part of my travels. While unknowns and surprising occurrences are very valuable for a great travel experience, I don’t necessarily need the accommodation part of my trip to fuel those aspects. With Airbnb, you are always open to surprises – will the host be reasonable? Will the place be clean enough? How about the neighbors? With the hotels or hostels, you will have greater certainty with respect to these aspects, even though full control is never possible. It definitely does not hurt to get a good night’s sleep after a full day of touring around or settle quickly into your room when you first arrive at your destination.
Some hotels offer the best local experience that you can have
Also, there are some hotels that still give you the local feeling you want more than anywhere else. Take Ace Hotel in Portland as an example – the whole town seems to go there for drinks, lunch/dinner, or for the Stumptown coffee house attached to the hotel. Spending a couple of hours down at the lobby of Ace Hotel will give you a great insight into all of the “”interesting”” people of Portland (or Portlandia).
Similarly, Nobis Hotel in Stockholm is also a great place where people come for after-work drinks, etc., and the place gives you a sense of Swedish urban life. I like good, nice hotels (and more recently hostels, and those hostels in the Far East are just amazing!) – I really do (and that’s where I spend the bigger part of my travel budget), and the most important thing for me at a hotel is for the room to have a desk where I can set up my computer and photo download system, and that’s the only level of domesticity feeling that I need. I am so fond of hotels/hostels that I have an entire section dedicated to Sleep.
Airbnb v. Hotel Chelsea
Last but not least, I also don’tdon’t know any words written for an Airbnb place, whereas we can find numerous lyrics and book passages devoted to legendary hotels, such as the following lyrics about the now ancient-looking hotel in New York City by Leonard Cohen – “”I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel. You were famous; your heart was a legend“”. Who can claim that the hotel in Death in Venice by Thomas Mann is not the main feature of the story?
Hotels trigger stories. Airbnb, on the other hand, has a long way to go until it makes its way into meaningful lyrics or stories.