After years of using other sites to rent holiday accommodations, I finally got around to using Airbnb for the first time. And got a fantastic surprise along the way.

POSTED BY PINKY

This whole experience almost didn’t happen. For a number of reasons. But it did. And as it turns out, with good reason.

While other holiday rental sites simply asked me to create a profile with my email address and password, and whose payment process is done outside the website’s system, Airbnb takes matters a step further. 

First off, with Airbnb I needed to upload a photo of myself that shows my face. 

This was almost a deal breaker for me because I’ve always had issues with privacy. Truly. I don’t even have a personal Facebook account (and yet here I am blogging away with my pal, right?! 😳). 

But if I were a host, sure, I’d want to see the faces of the people who are going to stay in my house. And as a guest, yes, I’d definitely prefer to see who’s taking my money. So eventually, I became cool with it.

In addition, however, Airbnb needed to establish that I’ve had an online existence for some time. This was probably a bigger problem for me. Since I don’t have Facebook, the only way for them to see that I’ve had some online presence was through my email account.

Airbnb’s verification measures almost became a deal breaker for me.
Now I value my friends’ privacy as much as I do my own, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of having other people seeing my contacts list. But as this was meant to ensure that I was a real person and not a fake account, I had to learn to be cool with that, too. 

The Airbnb Advantage

It certainly isn’t perfect but based on my experience so far, and I have to say I haven’t tried all rental sites out there yet, here are the things which I find give Airbnb an edge over competition.

1. It offers better protection. 

  • Airbnb holds on to your payment and pays the host only after your stay. As a customer, this somehow reassures me that someone’s looking out for me before a total stranger finally gets his hands on my money, so to speak. 
  • All communications must go through the Airbnb system. This allows the company to manage disputes between guest and host more effectively. 
  • You know you’re dealing with real, live people. 

2. Relatively more reliable data. Because everybody on Airbnb is a certified real person, for me this generally equates to feedback that I can pretty much rely on. It’s helpful to know that the reviews are from real customers and not from bots or people paid to say either good stuff about the accommodations or bad things about the competition. 

And it’s great that both host and guest get to rate each other. In general, it just helps that people in the Airbnb community are aware that they need to be respectful of others while being truthful about what they say. 

3. Different cancellation policies available. Airbnb hosts offer flexible, moderate, or strict cancellation terms. The biggest factor being how set your travel plans are, this should help guide you in choosing the level of risk to take on. 

Perhaps this is where travel cancellation insurance plays a role, but frankly I have yet to experience having to pay for a cancellation, so I don’t know how well that works out. But if your travel plans are still pretty fluid, book only accommodations with flexible or moderate cancellation policies at this point. 

That is, unless you’re willing to plan your travel specifically around your accommodation of choice and don’t mind adhering to its strict cancellation policy, if ever.

A First in Aix

Now to the best part. The first time I booked through Airbnb was for an apartment in Aix-en-Provence. This was also my first ever visit to a city that I had been hearing so much about from artist-friends (from a previous life running my family’s art gallery) and, of course, from my blog partner, Jennie (her visit to Aix here). 

Cezanne’s beloved studio, now part of what draws many visitors to Aix-en-Provence.

I wanted to be absolutely certain we’d be staying in a place worthy of Aix’s reputation – and that fell within our budget, I must add.

So as I went through the list of apartments in our neighbourhood of choice, the profile photo of a particular host caught my eye. She, too, wore glasses like I did and had a similar hairstyle as mine (narcissistic tendencies coming through?!). She also looked like she could be Filipina, though her last name sounded like she could be from anywhere else in the world. 

More importantly, her apartment pretty much met all our requirements. It was centrally-located, fixed up quite nicely, well-equipped, and had great reviews (among the Top 10 in Aix!). It was also located inside an historic building (nothing spooky going on mentioned in any of the reviews: great!). The daily rate, however, was a bit on the high side along the price range I was willing to pay for, so I continued to search on. 

But while going through other options, I somehow found myself time and again returning to this loft apartment. So I succumbed, finally contacted the host, eventually booked the place, and hoped for the best.

And oh, from the moment I met our host, I immediately knew she was a kindred spirit. And yes, she was indeed Filipina and had worked in corporate finance and investment banking for major firms in Europe before settling down and finding a place out in the country with her family.

The Great Surprise

To make a long story short, as clannish as we pinoys can get, a family connection between my host and myself was established and we somehow turned out to be distant relatives. Surprise, surprise!

And this was how I met my lovely new kin, Carolina. 

Top photo: Our host and me. Bottom row: enjoying the daily market (my husband becoming pals with Laurent, our favourite sandwich maker) after a morning run on the Cours Mirabeau.
Both of us absolutely thrilled to have found this connection, we decided to spend part of a day together in Aix-en-Provence with our husbands. Carolina and Jerome picked us up one morning from the Cours Mirabeau, Aix’s main avenue (read how this place is great for a morning run while travelling), and welcomed us to their beautiful home where they lovingly prepared a delicious home-cooked meal. 
Carolina cooking up a storm!
Then after lunch, Carolina gave us a private tour of Aix’s Cathedral where she volunteers as a guide. What a treat!

The Inside Scoop

We all know there’s no better way to know a city and its people than to be shown by the locals themselves how the living there is done. Well, it was no different on this trip. A getting-to-know-you process that was rather fast-tracked with our host showing us where they go for the best breads, pastries, wines, cheeses, gifts for back home, even where to grab the best ham-and-cheese sandwich at the daily market.

I’m talking about choosing among an assortment of the region’s fine charcuterie, and cheese that’s melted onto your freshly-baked bread – as you order. It’s that kind of a sandwich.

Just some of the secret finds in Aix, thanks to our host. From where to get the best breads or the city’s delicacy calissons d’Aix or cheeses of all kinds imaginable!

And though understandably, our host can’t be expected to welcome everyone who rents her apartment into her own private home, the warm attention she gave me before we discovered that we were family was undeniable. 

From answering all my queries and giving me all kinds of useful information, to meeting us promptly at the appointed time and place, to actually riding with us in our car to show us where to get the best parking, and, of course, showing us where locals get the best stuff. Feedback from her satisfied Airbnb guests certainly speak for themselves. (Check out Carolina’s apartment.)

In fact, that’s a big part of what convinced me that Carolina’s property was the place for me. 

I don’t know how many people have had the good fortune of accidentally finding family on one’s travels, but this wonderful experience certainly sealed the deal for me when it comes to renting an apartment, with Airbnb as a great option. 

Who knows what other pleasant surprise awaits us on our next trip?

Merci beaucoup, Carolina et Jerome! 

POSTSCRIPT 

In a follow-up post, I’ll be sharing what we usually watch out for when choosing a holiday apartment – and what we discovered could be key to saving ourselves unnecessary heartache when booking one.