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Friday, 16 June 2017

Almost like a home away from home

I HAVE to admit that when it comes to technology, more often than not, I have been late to the game.

Despite having a top-of-the-range Samsung handphone, I hardly utilise the numerous apps that are available to me. My friends were using Uber and Grab long before I did, but once I started using these ride-hailing apps, I couldn’t stop.

Over the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively and usually book hotel rooms online. Airbnb, the online marketplace and hospitality service, had always intrigued me but I was hesitant to use their services. All that changed last week when I visited Greece for the first time.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb enables people to lease or rent short-term lodging, including vacation homes, apartments, homestays, hostel beds and even luxury homes.

The company does not own any lodging; it is merely a broker and receives percentage service fees from both guests and hosts for every booking. It has over three million lodging listings in 65,000 cities in 191 countries, and the cost of lodging is set by the host.

I had two full days to kill in Athens and using my Airbnb app, I booked an apartment with a “Lycabettus view” (the highest hill in the city). All transactions were done via the app – the booking, payment and communicating with my host.

One way to save money on your trips is to utilise Airbnb’s sharing economy services. But affordable travel doesn’t have to mean sharing a house with five other people. In my case, I booked an entire apartment for less than what I would have had to pay for a five-star hotel room.

Overall, my Airbnb experience was more than satisfactory. But having experienced renting someone’s home for the first time, there are a few things I would do differently the next time I use the app.

I think it’s important to learn about your host’s Airbnb history and start a conversation with them about your plans and what you can expect. Your host will likely know all the great (and not so great) spots.

I was lucky that my host, Jerry, turned out to be a nice and very helpful guy. But don’t just rely on luck. The Airbnb site allows you to look at reviews by guests who have stayed in your host’s place. These reviews will give you an indication of what to expect.

Another piece of advice I would give first-timers is to find out the exact location of your lodgings. While my apartment was comfortable, it was a 15-minute walk to the nearest Metro (Athens’ version of the LRT).

Also, your lodging should be within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Research your surroundings before committing to a booking.

Remember, if an apartment boasts of an Acropolis view, that does not mean it’s close to the Acropolis, Greece’s top tourist attraction. I found out the hard way that the majority of Airbnb accommodations in Athens trumpet Acropolis or Lycabettus Hill views!

It’s important to choose a location that is safe and not an out-of-the-way area that even the locals are wary of. Remember, cheap doesn’t always mean better.

You have 24 hours before your credit card payment goes through. Those 24 hours are crucial because you are allowed to change your mind. Remember to ascertain important items and don’t be afraid to ask your host questions – is there hot water, where is the TV remote, what is the WiFi password?

It is also important to verify check-in and check-out times. Some hosts prefer quick turnovers, hence they want you out before 12noon. This can be troublesome, especially if you have large bags and no place to leave them if you have a later flight to catch.

If you’re sharing the apartment with your host or other guests, be sure to enquire: Do they have pets? Are you allergic? Is there a common bathroom? This is to avoid misunderstandings later.

An apartment with a kitchen is always useful and can save you money if you’re on a budget. Even though Greece is relatively cheaper than other parts of Europe, meals in restaurants can be expensive. If you have access to a kitchen and a stove or microwave, shop for ingredients at a grocery store. A meal like this can save you a lot.

In Athens, look for accommodation that is close to the Metro. Whenever possible, walk or take the tram, metro or bus. The rates are a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi. You can even take the metro from Monastiraki Square (the centre of the city) to the airport. It only costs €10 (RM48) as opposed to about €36 (RM170) by taxi.

Athens is infamously called the city of apartments and there are lots of them to choose from, but do review your options carefully. You could be paying for an apartment that could easily accommodate three or four people. If you’re travelling alone, get a studio.

If you have worked out an extensive travel itinerary such as a day trip to Delphi, Mycenae or Mara­thon, it does not make sense to get an elaborate, expensive apartment as you will only be staying there for one night.

Last but not least, try to get to know your host in person. They are the best source of information on the country you are visiting!

The writer gave his host a five-star rating. Reviews will help future guests to verify accommodation and aid the decision-making process.

Tags / Keywords: briann martin , airbnb , greece , athens

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