Though I’ve been registered on Airbnb since 2014, it wasn’t until my recent trip to Berlin that I first used the accommodation booking site. My reluctance to use it prior to this stemmed from worries about sharing a space with a stranger, combined with a fear of staying with someone who I didn’t like/who I didn’t get on with/who creeped me out. It’s these same hesitations that mean I’ve never stayed in a hostel either.
The majority of my trips abroad as part of my “30 before 30” challenge have involved hotel stays (and those that haven’t have been when I’ve stayed with friends). I usually go for a 3 star hotel that’s well-rated on TripAdvisor (like the Kissos Hotel in Cyprus), though sometimes I push the boat out and go 4 star, if I can find a cracking deal (or get it free, like I did in Budapest).
Hotel stays push up the cost of a trip though, especially when you’re a solo traveller and have no one to split the cost with (it’s one of the few downsides of travelling on your own that I’ve encountered, but something you have to put up with, unfortunately). So, even if you find a super cheap flight, the cost of accommodation can mean a budget getaway becomes quite pricey.
And that’s exactly what happened to me after I found a £15 Ryanair flight to Berlin.
Having not worked since I had to quit my job and move back down south in April, I had no money coming in during May and June. After three trips to Cyprus, Mexico and Jordan in the space of just six weeks, I was pretty much flat broke. I budgeted £60/day for my trip to Berlin, including accommodation, but couldn’t find anywhere to stay that was central and within my price range.
Then I remembered this little thing called Airbnb…
What is Airbnb?
If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, put simply, it’s a room booking website.
As with any other booking site, like Hotels.com or Booking.com, Airbnb allows prospective travellers to search for somewhere to stay by selecting the dates they want to travel, where they’re travelling to and the facilities needed once they get there.
The difference between Airbnb and other booking sites though, is that the places on offer are not hotels, hostels or serviced apartments – they tend to be rooms in the flats and houses (or sometimes the entire home) of ordinary people who are looking to make a few bob by renting out a spare room. Once registered as a host, they can set a price per night for the room, upload pictures of their humble abode, and even set rules (such as “no smoking” or “females only”).
Some hosts ask guests to send a request first so they can vet them before allowing them into their home (which is what Maya did with me), while others accept instant bookings. And then once the stay is over, both the guest and the host write reviews for each other, which are then displayed on the property’s listing page and the guest’s profile.
The site first launched in 2008, after two of its founders decided to put air beds in their San Francisco loft and offer them up to travellers (so now you know where the name comes from). Since then it’s grown exponentially, covering 65,000 cities in more than 190 countries. Over 200 million people have booked a trip using the site, and there are 3 million Airbnb listings worldwide. One of which is Maya’s “cute masionette in Berlin“…
I actually originally found Maya’s apartment included in a list of the best Airbnbs to rent in Berlin. It was conveniently located and only £36/night, so it seemed like fate when I clicked through and found there was availability for the dates I was in Germany. As my flight was only three days away, rather than dithering about my concerns of sharing a space with a stranger, I quickly sent her a message requesting to book.
A reply the following day said it would be fine to stay there, and payment was taken. We had a quick conversation about my time of arrival, collection of the keys and things like toiletries and towels. Being an Airbnb virgin, I wasn’t 100% sure on processes and etiquette, so it was great to get confirmation from Maya beforehand.
“Checking in” to the Airbnb.
After touching down in Berlin, with the help of my new plane friend Megan and the City Mapper app, I took the train from the airport to Prenzlauer Berg, then collected the apartment keys from the safe place Maya had arranged.
Walking up the six flights of stairs in Maya’s building (which is a beautiful old town house, built in the 1800s) to the top floor, I got slightly nervous as I put the key in the lock. It felt weird to be entering someone’s home with them not there, and doubly weird to enter the home of a complete stranger with them not there. I even knocked tentatively before I turned the key, just in case someone was there.
But then, as I pushed open the front door of the apartment and walked into the most beautiful living space I’ve ever seen, I knew I’d made the right decision to go with an Airbnb rather than a hotel…
With its dark, shiny parquet flooring, white washed walls and wooden-clad beams, the living room was light, airy and minimalist. So minimalist that I immediately noticed there was no TV. Not that it mattered – I don’t really watch TV when I’m at home, let alone when I’m away – but I think I’m just used to all living rooms having tellies in.
Around the room there was an eclectic mix of mismatching furniture (that ironically all seemed to go together), soft furnishings with pretty ethnic patterns and loads of cool, quirky artifacts, which I later found out were collected through my hosts own travels.
Crossing the living room, I took the wooden stairs up to see the room I’d be staying in.
Maya had described it as a “masionette” on the listing, but I think mezzanine is a more accurate description, as the room was accessed from the living room, and didn’t have a door. The lack of door wasn’t really an issue for me, though climbing the stairs got me a bit nervous – I always panic I’m going to put my foot through stairs like this.
Safely up, I took in the room – it was right in the top of the building, a conversion of a loft space, so it had sloping ceiling under the eaves. This wasn’t particularly a problem as I’m only 5ft1 – but some taller guests may struggle, especially with the bed and clothes hanging rail being tucked under the sloping roof.
The space was absolutely gorgeous though, as you can see. Clean white washed walls and four Velux windows meant it was extremely light and airy, and being right at the top of the building meant it was quiet.
The views out the windows were beautiful, but what I was more excited about were all the little homely touches Maya had provided. Some sweets on top of my clean towels, a handwritten welcome note with the wifi password, a basket of maps, pamphlets and snacks, and a little wash bag filled with toiletries and essentials.
After I’d unpacked my luggage (which didn’t take long considering I only had my small carry on bag), I went downstairs to get a drink and take a shower.
Maya had messaged to ask if I’d arrived ok, then mentioned that the bottle of water in the fridge was for me, which was kind and thoughtful. The kitchen (which is open plan to the living room) was just as quirky as the rest of the apartment:
Perhaps the nicest thing about being in someone’s house rather than a hotel was that the bathroom was a proper functioning bathroom. It was a decent size with lots of space (unlike the “hotel” I’d stayed in in Jordan, where I could use the toilet, brush my teeth and have a shower all in the same 2ft square), with good plumbing and it was really clean.
I loved all Maya’s little personal touches to the room, such as the silver gilded frame and the silver canisters.
“Checking out” of the Airbnb.
As you can see, the apartment was absolutely gorgeous and suited my needs perfectly. The sun-filled attic room was beautiful and Maya was an accommodating host.
Unfortunately my stay there ended sourly when I was late back to collect my bag after trying to help a friend in need (the full details are included in my post about what travelling has taught me, in case you’re curious). The bad ending to the trip resulted in her leaving me just two words of feedback on the Airbnb site: “nice person”.
While not a bad review, I found this a little rude given that I had been a polite, clean and quiet guest. I popped my Airbnb cherry in this apartment, so was very conscientious of being a good guest. I wanted that to be reflected in my profile, in case I should ever use an Airbnb again. Instead it’s left me doubting whether I will..
I didn’t want my feelings about the situation to stop me from sharing the beautiful Airbnb apartment with you though, as I would still recommend her place as somewhere to stay if you’re a female solo traveller in Berlin.