A HOME FROM HOME: Rummaging through Airbnb cupboards

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2015 was the year that I really decided to focus on Airbnb for my trips. I had previously considered the site as a second option for when hotels were too expensive, but now that’s the first place I look.

So far I haven’t had any bad experiences – and you can have truly unique experiences: a view over a canal in Venice and the most amazing riad in Marrakech are among the best places I’ve ever stayed.

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Everyone will tell you that the key to booking a place through Airbnb is to check the reviews. But I realised that my experience is also determined by another factor which can only be assessed on arrival: the kitchen cupboards.

The main appeal of staying in an apartment is that you feel like you almost live in the city you’re visiting; you can stay where locals live and relax without any of the formalities of a hotel. And part of that is, of course, cooking your own food.

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We stayed in a nice flat in Toronto for five days. In the kitchen I found everything I needed and more: lots of pasta, an incredible variety of tea and spices, and many unopened jam jars. I made sure to reorganise everything – a bit much, I know, but that’s exactly what I’d to at home.

At the other extreme was the very well-located flat in Berlin. We arrived quite late, and after a mix-up with the keys, we got to the flat past midnight. I opened the cupboards in the kitchen to find them completely empty. I’m not saying that hosts should provide fully stocked cupboards, but all that white space made me wonder: what do they do with all the leftover salt?

Surely at least once a week someone buys some salt alongside with some other supplies, and most of that goes unused. Why not leave it for the next guests, along with sugar, cooking oil and maybe some other basics?

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As with everything else, it’s the little things that make a huge difference. Sometimes, all you need for good hospitality is being able to make yourself a cup of tea on arrival.

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WHERE TO STAY: 3 useful resources when booking accommodation

I used to always book the cheapest hostels around, but nowadays I’m definitely more picky about where I stay. Plus with so many search sites around, it’s easy to find a great stay at an affordable price.

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These are the sites I normally visit when I’m booking accommodation:

1. Hostelworld

Hostelworld specialises in hostels (obviously) and it’s the best site for this type of accommodation. Their search engine is really good, allowing you to select things like the type of room you want (I normally stay at hostels but in an ensuite room) and rating based on user reviews.

You normally only pay a 10% deposit when you book, and the cancellation fees are minimal, in case you change your plans.

There are annual awards for the best hostels, a list definitely worth looking at before you book.

2. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is hugely popular but it can also be unreliable – some complain that many reviews are actually left by the businesses themselves.

But it is a good place to compare prices and also to get a general feeling about a place. I normally do my research through TripAdvisor and then book straight from the hotel website: some places offer special discounts if you book directly.

3. Airbnb

The first time I used Airbnb was because I didn’t have any choice: we were going to Ukraine for the Euros and the only places available were 5-star hotels costing hundreds of pounds per night. We ended up finding a nice little flat that was within walking distance from the stadium!

Nowadays I go to Airbnb as a first choice: I can’t wait to find an apartment next to a canal for my upcoming trip to Venice!

And I always like having my own kitchen: it’s a great way of saving money and it makes life easier in places where veggie food is not widely available.

The main thing with Airbnb is checking reviews from other users. There is always a risk that a host may cancel your stay with short notice, and choosing a host with good reviews makes this less likely.


Where are you staying next?

WISHLIST: 3 amazing and unusual stays

I usually book my holidays thinking about all the things I’m going to see and do. But sometimes hotels can be destinations in their own right. Here are three amazing stays that I would love to visit!

1. THE BALANCING BARN, SUFFOLK, ENGLAND

Photo by Living Architecture

This place is part of Alain de Botton’s project Living Architecture. It looks absolutely amazing – who wouldn’t love to spend a few days in a floating silver barn with a swing right underneath it?

2. CAPPADOCIA CAVE SUITES, TURKEY

Photo by Cappadocia Cave Suites

Turkey has been on my wishlist before – there’s just so much to see and do there. Staying in a luxury cave hotel where you can watch hot air balloons go by? Count me in!

3. A TREE HOUSE IN FRANCE

Photo by Cabane dans les Arbres

Well, this is a bit more than a tree house: it’s a tree house modelled after a French château. Perfect for a romantic getaway, as you can relax sipping French wine in the hot tub.

Amazing!