I was in France the first time I tried Airbnb. I was hesitant at first. Would I like the place? How would check-in work? Would I feel pampered and spoiled like I do at a nice hotel? I was soon to discover that the Airbnb experience gave me all I had always had in a hotel, but with so much more. It gave me comfort and security. It gave me a feeling of home.
The Montmarte Studio was the quintessential french apartment in the heart of one of the most sought after neighborhoods in Paris. At only $70 a night, I was anxious. Could something so cheap (in a city where hotels go for hundreds of dollars a night) be safe? Would I be disappointed? Upon arrival, I could see my worries were for naught. The area was lovely, filled with bistros and cafes and the famous lamp-lit stairways leading to the Moulin Rouge. I messaged the owner, Boris, from outside the apartment. True to his word, he was only moments away, finishing his morning espresso and an eclair at the patisserie across the street. He grabbed my bags and helped me into the elevator. As is the case with many elevators in Paris, it was antique and had only room for one. “I’ll see you on the top floor!” he said and away he went with my bags. As I ascended, the elevator creaking and jolting, I passed marble staircases, intricate tile floors and Parisian carpets. At the top, Boris was just arriving at the foot of the steps with my bag. He welcomed me into his home, showed me a quick tour and gave me the keys. He would be traveling to the South of France for a week or so with his daughter. So, the place was all mine. Just like that, I was home.
It was an instant feeling of familiarity, one I had never had traveling. This was a home, my home, for the duration of my stay. The bookshelves were stocked. The loft was decorated with little touches of whimsy from travels to places I had yet to see. Boris had a daughter, named Louisiane, and her little room was tucked up into the back of the attic. Her Babar poster and weathered ballet slippers added a sweet, touch. A small glimpse into the life of a little French girl. The windows at the top of the apartment lifted up and offered a breathtaking view of the Sacre Coeur. On the main floor, a tiny balcony jutted out over the smokestacks and tiled roofs of Montmartre. Miles and miles of homes, filled with local French families, stretched out before me. In that moment, as I opened a bottle of wine and cheese I picked up at the fromagerie down the street, I felt one with them. I felt like I belonged. A feeling I have never had when staying at a hotel.
The next time I tried Airbnb, I was in England in a small little village just outside of Glastonbury. Pear Tree Farm was a fairy tale place in the middle of the countryside. A husband and wife team, Annabelle from France and her husband from London, retired from city life with their two daughters and bought a farm, intending to live off of the land. Upon my arrival, they showed me to my little cottage. Tucked behind the main farm, it offered a lot of privacy and felt like my own little place in the world. The ice box, no refrigerator, was filled with fresh eggs, milk and cheese, all gathered from the farm animals that day. The family offered me a quick tour of the farm, and I had to catch my breath when they showed me the ancient Celtic standing stones tucked into the woods in the back field.
My time in their little village was spent taking long walks by the river. Exploring ruins of churches and castles, I felt all the typical tension associated with travel melt away. I’d pass my days walking and would spend my evenings reading, visiting the farm animals and walking around the ancient stones in the field. I could almost imagine I had gone back in time, back to a simpler life. A life free of technology (not available this far out into the countryside) and free from stress. For a moment, I belonged there. It felt I had been there for years.
The small village of Netishead brought me my next Airbnb experience. A quaint cottage, called The Little Laundry, was to be my home for a few nights as I made my way across England. Upon arrival, I met my hosts: Irene and Richard. They were a husband and wife team, full of laughter and charm and whisky. They greeted me when I arrived and welcomed me in for happy hour., even though it was only a little past noon. I could tell that they were several drinks into this daily ritual when I arrived, and their warm and quirky demeanor made me feel at home instantly. After a strong drink, and a wander around the grounds, I settled in.Netishead boasts one pub, which can be assessed by a worn foot path that the villagers have wandered for centuries. Once settling in to my little cottage, dating back hundreds of years, I grabbed a book and headed out to Ye Olde Saddlery, the local pub. It was crammed with tourists, stopping off on their way to Cambridge, and locals coming in for their Sunday supper. The wait for dinner was two hours, as it was the only food for miles, but I did not mind. I settled in with my book at the bar, but didn’t read a page. Instead, I talked with locals who inquired on my accent, listened as two old men played their instruments in the corner (a common thing in pubs out in the country) and watched as road-weary families came and went across the evening. Over my stay, I spent each night in the little pub. Some nights it was overflowing with guests. Other nights it was empty. But it felt familiar and I felt welcomed- a lovely thing for a solo traveler.
It was in Prague that I spent two full weeks in an Attic Apartment Airbnb tucked high up in the rooftops of the city. Upon arrival, Adam greeted me right on time and helped me bring my bag into the foyer. This time around, I was ready for the one-person elevator that required a key for operation. Adam twisted the key, hit the number, closed the gate and told me he would meet me at the top. He met me as the elevator creaked to a halt and let me into his home. His wife greeted me to say hello and I was shown to my private entrance. Up another steep flight of steps was my apartment. The worn floorboards and weathered beams confirmed for me that I was in a medieval city. I could almost imagine who had been in that very spot, where I was to lay my head, over the centuries. The history was palpable. Out the rooftop window, I could see the spire of Petrin Tower in the distance as the sun set for the evening.
For the duration of my stay, I was a local. I walked to the neighboring market, picking up some cheese, wine and bread and a few eggs. I stocked my small fridge with necessities. I woke each morning to walk down to my favorite cafe, ordering a strong coffee and a traditional Czech breakfast. I established a routine of walking around the medieval city in the late morning, taking in all I could of its beauty and architecture. I would come back home for a quick lunch of cheese, jam and bread, grab my laptop and head to a cafe to write, people-watch and order my first Czech red wine of the day. After writing, I would venture back to my cozy apartment to curl up for a brief nap. The skylight window tilted open, the sound of the bustling city below, I settled into a routine. And it’s that routine, built around a little home nestled in the city, that makes you feel you belong. That you could live there. That you are welcomed.
Two hours outside of Prague, you will find the medieval village of Cesky Krumlov. Here, I found yet another Airbnb gem. The Artist’s Loft belonged to a man named Peter who lived half of the year in America and the other half in the Czech Republic. His artwork adorned the walls and his bookshelf was stacked with volumes of works from artists all over the world. The studio apartment was spacious and airy, with natural light coming in from the multiple windows. Opening the antique wood shutters offered a view so breathtaking, I had to ask myself if it could be real. The medieval village, with a stream meandering through it, sat below me in all of its beauty and charm. I could hardly wait to get out and explore all it had to offer.
I spent my days touring the castle, set high atop of the village and offering an even more awe-inspiring view. I visited an original Baroque theatre, left untouched since its creation centuries ago. I dined in a medieval tavern, still lit by candles and bearing the black stains from the open kitchen fire at the heart of the cavernous space. I indulged in Czech red wine and warm, sweetened breads. I walked and explored and took in all I could of the little village. But, my favorite time was always the time when I came home. It was a feeling I have never had in a hotel. I was home, in my little apartment high above an ancient village, pouring a glass of wine, having a bite of chocolate and relaxing after my long day.
This is the sweet, little allure of the Airbnb. You arrive, a travel-weary tourist and, within moments, you are a local settling into a home of your own. A home with books to read and art on the walls. A home with a refrigerator to stock. A home with creaky floorboards, an old claw-foot tub and chipped coffee mugs. A home with history and memories and a past. A home where you can feel safe, and cozy and comforted after a long day of exploring. A home in which to plan your next adventure and to find your next little piece of the world.