Social media not only transforms the way we communicate but also changes the way we travel. Or more precisely, where we stay during our travel. Hotels and hostels are still common choices, but the rising popularity of Airbnb, a social network enabling users to rent, loan and lease their space and properties, demonstrates that more and more people, especially in the US and Australia, are inclined to stay in apartments and spare rooms offered by some local hosts, rather than in traditional hotels and hostels.
Airbnb, founded in 2008, describes itself a ‘trusted community market place’ connecting people to unique travel experiences. There are two kinds of users in Airbnb: those who find and rent properties (The Booking) and those who offer space and answer guest enquiries (The Host).
Thus, the whole Airbnb system is built on the notion of trust: after all, you are sharing the house, the lodging and the property with a stranger. Airbnb tries to minimise risk and unreliability by requiring its users to verify accounts either by linking their Airbnb profile to their Facebook or LinkedIn page or by scanning their state-issued identification card. Despite so, like any sharing system on the Internet, Airbnb still pretty much relies on trust between users.
I never knew about Airbnb until this winter – when my sister booked a lodge in Hobart through Airbnb. She told me that the process of booking was simple and straightforward. She trusted the owners of the house we would stay in Hobart, just as they trusted us, willing to leave their big lodge in our hands.
We stayed one night in the house, which resided in a hill and was about seven kilometers away from the city center of Hobart. We did not have a chance to meet the house’s owners, as they were currently on a trip to Europe. It was their son-in-law who greeted and handled us the key.
We, nevertheless, learned a lot about the owners of Number 33 – as we call the beautiful lodge – through the decoration and furniture inside the place. This is also the most appealing aspect of staying in a host’s house. A rented lodge is not only where to sleep and rest, like we do in hotels, but also where we can explore and have fun. I found it a great pleasure to wander around the place, observe how it is embellished, and how the decoration reflects the lifestyle, personality and habit of the owners. It was like being a historian or an archeologist, or a detective collecting documents and evidences in order to make deductions about a thing, a person, or an event.
The owners of the house must love travelling and collecting stuff. This is evident in the profusion of souvenirs scattered over the place: dolls, cups, CDs, masks, spoons, cups, posters, china, pictures, and stamps, all of which are made either in Tasmania or in different places in the world. Either of them must also be an artist, as I found many paintings hang on the wall, and even a greater number of incomplete ones in the attic. Either of them must also be a chef, or at least love cooking, which is reflected in their cosy, warm and bright kitchen remarked for its variety of herbs, spices and utensils. There are also many cookbooks around the house, while the garden is impressive with multifarious kinds of herbs, vegetable and fruits, such as tomatoes and onions. From their collection of wine, CDs and books, I can see that they prefer an organic lifestyle, and want to make their house an artwork itself. Their house, is, as my auntie comments, ‘is a gallery as interesting as the MONA (Museum of Old and New Arts)”. Well, perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration, but certainly living in a rented lodge is indeed like visiting a museum, in which you have a chance to engage in a world that is totally different from yours.
Another reason I really felt comfortable with Number 33 was its hominess and cosiness. Especially in the kitchen area, which was swum in morning sunlight. I had a lot of cosy memories with my family in this room: we chuckled, made jokes, and enjoyed life as much as we can. The following day, we stayed in a normal hotel, and though we did have fun, I notice that we could not have the same cosy atmosphere as we did at Number 33.
Travelling is not just about visiting tourist places or buying souvenirs. To understand a place well, we need to interact with the locals, and sometimes live like the locals. That is why I always try to avoid tours, but usually use internships or volunteer programs to travel, for in this way I can stay with local hosts. But now, I think I have discovered another option, which is to use Internet and social media to rent accommodation during my travel. It would make travelling much more unique, personal and insightful.