I have friends in their twenties and thirties who regaled me with stories of utter exhilaration and independence on their abroad experiences in college before I embarked on my own. You could sense that wistfulness in how they slowed down and then suddenly sped up recounting stories of warm moonlight trysts, evenings at dive bars that turned into mornings at clubs, and meals still savored to this day. A staple of these trips was a sampling of Europe's hostels. And while I did have my share of these experiences when I studied abroad last semester, I had others my friends couldn't have imagined. Experiences made possible by the internet.
Some preliminary research led me to AirBnB, a website offering lodging of all stripes through hosts who have registered through the site. As of September 2013, AirBnB has over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities across 192 countries. The listings range in price but can prove to be very affordable, especially when shared with a group of friends.
It was these experiences that allowed me to more fully immerse myself in a culture for a weekend. To live like a local among locals, to meet new people and share stories of travels and the city in which they lived. These were experiences I did not find in hostels. And these consist of some of my favorite memories of my time abroad.
I stayed in a riad in the souks of Marrakech, an old farmhouse in the Lake District, a loft beside the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and so many more.
Sure, hostels are filled with a charm all their own and are engrained in the mythos of study abroad for so many American students. But I can't imagine how different my trip would be if I didn't take the leap and lived like a local in some of Europe's greatest towns and cities, even if just for a little while.
I asked all of my AirBnB hosts why they choose to rent out their homes to strangers. It turned out that the best answer I got was also the most consistent response. For AirBnB hosts, opening their homes allows them to share in the experiences of traveling vicariously through others: through stories and advice for how best to visit a town or city.
The site certainly attracts a certain kind of traveller.AirBnB is for people who are happy to shirk away from the luxury of a hotel or the "freshman dorm" feeling of a hostel. Sometimes, if you want to venture off the beaten path you have to remember there's no place like home.