Saturday, August 16, 2014

UK Trip: Setting off, and a Review of Airbnb

5:45 am at Kelowna International Airport
The first day of travel is always a crazy mix of excitement, fatigue, and worry that you forgot something important. There is entirely too much sitting and waiting, or standing in long lines, not to mention the disruption to normal eating patterns.  It can be and exhilarating but exhausting day!

On July 4, the date of departure for our 3 week trip to the UK, Erik and I were up at 4:00 am to catch our 1 hour flight  Vancouver, followed by a five hour layover while we waited for our afternoon flight to London.  Happily, we were flying to Gatwick Airport this trip which, in my opinion, is a much nicer and more efficient airport than that zoo they call Heathrow.

We were to arrive at 7 am London time (11pm our body time), and since it would be too early to check into a hotel, we opted to immediately catch a train to Glasgow.  We hoped to be able to doze a little on the five hour train ride  and arrive at our "flat" by late afternoon.

As always, it was a long day that involving several forms of transportation: car, two airplanes, three trains, the London tube, and a little walking. I was only able to catch a few unsettled hours of sleep on the train, so by the time we picked up some groceries, had eaten a light meal, and crawled into bed around 8 pm in Glasgow, we had been awake for about 28 hours and we were completely exhausted.

However, as tired as we were, we were very happy with our accommodations. Instead of staying in a tiny hotel room downtown, we were able to book a one bedroom flat through Airbnb in a quiet neighbourhood for about the same price. Our flat was only 3 km from the downtown core, right on the bus route. Having a kitchen meant we could buy some groceries and eat at "home" once in awhile which saved us money and time, and we had more space to spread out and relax when we were tired of touring.

We used several sites to reserve accommodations for our trip (primarily or direct from the vendor), but this was the first time using Airbnb and we were very happy with the entire process.  If you've never checked it out or are hesitant to try it, here are a few things I have gleaned so far.

A Few Suggestions for using Airbnb:

* Set up your account and complete as many of the verification procedures as you can.  Your privacy is ensured so although you may include phone number and driver's licence info etc, the details are hidden from the public.  Take the time to write up a description of you (and your spouse/family) and include a closeup photo. People are much more likely to rent to you if they have an idea of what you are like.

* Always read the description and look at the photos of the place you want to rent carefully to ensure you are getting exactly what you want.

* Read all the vendor's reviews. Be cautious if they don't have any reviews. If they have any bad reviews, consider whether the complainers are similar to you.  I have occasionally seen people complain about things that would never bother me, so not all bad reviews are necessarily something to worry about.

* Check the vendor's verifications - the more, the better.

* If you can get an address, check google street view and 'walk' around the neighbourhood to see what it's like. If even if you don't have the exact address, you can still check out the area.

* Check to see if there is transportation, grocery stores, restaurants etc nearby.

* Find out what their cancellation policy is. Airbnb has several levels of cancellation - can you live with that?

* Check to see if the unit is available on any other site (i.e. their own personal site) for a better price. Sometimes it's cheaper to rent directly from the vendor if they have their own site and avoid any additional fees.

* Send the owner a message to ask for more info or to find out if the nights you want are indeed available (even if the calendar says they are available).

When it's time to leave:

* Clean up the place before you leave as if it were your own home. Take out garbage, wash dishes, tidy up etc.

* Leave an online review as soon as you can. The vendors will leave you a review as well. Neither of you gets to see the others' review until they are both completed. Then both reviews will be posted on the website at the same time. Getting a good review as a renter lets other vendors feel more confident about renting to you.

* Send the vendor a private message if you have any suggestions that will help them in the future - these are things you don't feel are big enough issues to complain about publicly.

Finally, if you decide to try Airbnb, use this link to sign up and you and I both will receive a discount ($27 each I think?) on your first reservation. Not a bad deal.