An Airbed and Breakfast
Modern travel accommodations across the globe.
When my husband, two friends and I started planning our two-week trip to Europe last year, we were led by two simple desires: partake of great food and wine, and get to know a few locals. We knew that most of our budget would go toward tasting this, that and anything made with truffles, so we expected we’d have to pull back the reins a bit on the quality of our lodging. But that was before we heard of Airbnb.com.
Airbnb is a short-term rental service, offering travelers worldwide an alternative means for accommodations — at any price point. Here’s how it works:
Property owners (or “hosts”) list their unused spaces online — anything from spare bedrooms and teeny apartments to ample villas and luxurious castles. Travelers looking for a place to stay cull through such listings, categorized by location, availability, type of accommodation and more, and then contact potential hosts to get specific quotes. If both sides are in agreement, the reservation is booked.
Following a stay, travelers and hosts review one another online, ensuring that future travelers to that location and hosts of that guest are fully informed before a reservation is confirmed.
Since its founding in 2008, Airbnb (short for “an airbed and breakfast,” as the first iteration of the site offered) has added more than 300,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 192 countries. Guests have booked more than 10 million nights — including the 10 that my party and I spent traversing France and Italy.
At each of the six places we rented, we experienced the hospitality of a hotel while enjoying the comforts of a home, all for little more than the cost of a hostel.
Thanks to Airbnb, we ended up keeping enough euros in our wallet to fully enjoy the gastronomic delights we were seeking, and we met many an incredible host who enriched our travels: like Walter, the Italian bed-and-breakfast owner who showed us around his family’s 50-year-old vineyard before leaving us with a bottle of his homegrown Barbera; and Robert, who surely spent more on the wine-and-cheese party he threw for us than we spent on our entire stay in the apartment attached to his French countryside cottage.
At the end of that European adventure, we returned home begrudgingly (of course) yet satisfied, grateful for every taste savored, site seen, room rented and friend made. And though it’s now been more than a year since we were together, we’ve made sure that our great hosts are aware of the beds available in our own abodes — humble as they may be — and the aging bottles of wine just waiting to be shared.
Airbnb.com includes listings in scores of cities served by Ethiopian Airlines — ranging from the quirky to the opulent — but here are a few of our favorite picks.
Toronto, Canada | From US$121/night
Live the life of an urbanite in this two-story loft, situated at the heart of Toronto’s King West neighborhood. Though just shy of 600 square feet, the open-plan layout, modular furniture and private balcony have an aggrandizing effect on the space — proving the old adage that less is sometimes more. selamta.co/airbnbToronto
Paris, France | From US$270/night
Step aboard this charming houseboat for a rather cozy and unique holiday in Paris. With spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower and conveniently located near the iconic Champs Elysées, the “Soleil” offers the classic City of Light experience from an artful, atypical abode. selamta.co/airbnbParis
Mombasa, Kenya | From US$220/night
Escape to the Mombasa coast for a camping trip unlike any other. This time, your “tent” is a luxurious, open-air private house, boasting beautiful wood furniture, airy breezes and an ocean view. And with your own personal chef on-site to prepare the day’s fresh catch, you’ll camp and eat like kings and queens. selamta.co/airbnbMombasa
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | From US$392/night
Relax in seaside style at this refined beach-block flat. Located in Rio’s Ipanema — the trendy neighborhood famed for the 1960s hit “Girl From Ipanema” — this crisp and comfortable three-bedroom apartment will have you singing your own tune. selamta.co/airbnbRio
Hong Kong, China | From US$122/night
Embark on a real “wild camping” experience in the middle of a concrete jungle — inside a Native American Teepee, no less. Palm Beach Teepee Village is located on the south side of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, offering outdoor barbecue stoves, bonfire pits and, most importantly, starry nights. selamta.co/airbnbHongKong
Room with a view
Dubai, UAE | From US$150/night
Tower above the City of Gold in this luxury apartment along the Dubai Marina. With the clean-lined décor and views of the teal-blue waterfront, you might vow never to descend from your lofty post — until you realize the beach is but a mere 50 meters away. selamta.co/airbnbDubai
The story behind the company's rapid rise.
Like many a great idea, the concept for Airbnb seemed to lift itself off the ground, accelerating an old trend by catching the tailwinds of the time.
It all started in 2007, when Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky decided to open their San Francisco loft to travelers attending a popular graphic-design conference. Knowing that area hotels had all been booked, the roommates figured, Why not offer up our own place, along with a tasty breakfast and local hospitality, to a few friendly strangers? Add in a couple of airbeds, and the seed for Airbnb was sown.
But Airbnb is really just the updated version of an old idea, says spokeswoman Sarah Roy, adding that even Chesky’s grandfather used to travel by staying in people’s homes. Airbnb just took that common concept further through the use of technology.
“The difficult economic times we’re going through accelerated the process,” Roy adds. “Airbnb allows people to get extra money for their living expenses and to travel more. The network effect has helped our service become truly international quickly.”
And though there are several competitors out there, the company says what makes Airbnb stand apart is the community behind it. “Other sites may borrow our concept or copy our designs,” Roy says, “but the genuine, trusted relationships our community fosters cannot be replicated through a few lines of code.”