Put off by over-priced hotels on a recent trip to New York, journalist Claire Rees used travel rental website Airbnb to book a place to stay. But how did she get on?
After six years of hooking up holidaymakers with a unique place to stay in some 34,000 cities and 192 countries, it amazes me that people still haven’t heard of Airbnb.
In 2012 the "travel sharing" website - launched in 2008 - announced it had hit the 10 million guest mark.
I booked my first experience in September when my boyfriend’s sister was getting married in New York.
We were set on staying in Brooklyn but, after discovering holiday accommodation there was either non-existent or super pricey, we decided to open our minds after years of staying in hotels.
Rent spare rooms to whole houses
On Airbnb, home owners advertise their properties on the site, whether it be a room or the whole place – for us it was the latter as our landlords were travelling to Rio for a week.
Reviews are listed from previous users and you can send several requests to owners, for free, on anything from availability to the price of a cab into the city.
After a few emails, Brit-born David, who shares his beautiful loft apartment in the popular Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg with partner Erica, arranged a brief chat on the phone.
I’m assuming this was so he could gather whether I was the kind of person he wanted in charge of his space.
Booking through Airbnb was easy
Chatting to David made it feel like we were renting a place from old friends.
Plus he was able to tell me about the ferry to Wall Street right across the road (a snip at $4) when I mentioned we had a wedding in Manhattan.
And when it came to booking it was easy.
Within weeks I had paid a reasonable price for five nights - rates start at $210 per night (about £128) and you pay through Airbnb – the keys arriving through the post days before we were due to fly out.
So how does the price compare to a hotel?
It depends on what you're looking for and some hotels claim to be in Williamsburg but are actually in nearby Greenpoint.
In Williamsburg, Pointe Plaza hotel is around £140 per double room, per night and has a free shuttle into Manhattan.
But we felt it looked more suited to a business trip and lacked the character of our apartment.
At the other end of the scale, a double room at the trendy King and Grove Williamsburg in September, which has a rooftop bar and swimming pool, will cost you around £240 a night.
A unique New York experience
On arriving at the apartment, a 10-floor converted pasta factory, we knew we were about to enjoy a unique New York experience when we had already received our first invite for a night out.
One of the neighbours and his family were going to watch an open-air showing of Chicago in a park on the next block.
Inside the stunning apartment with 15ft ceilings and industrial decor, we were instantly in love with the place.
As we congratulated ourselves on an amazing find, we discovered our hosts had left us a bottle of wine and a plea to use whatever we fancied in the cupboards and fridge.
Manhattan rooftop view was spectacular
They also left a comprehensive list of places to go in the area, along with all the practical tips on transport, Wi-Fi and wardrobe space.
Everything was spotless and we'd been told to just hang up our things where we could find space - of which there was plenty.
Every morning we woke up to unrivalled views over Manhattan, and the shared rooftop was spectacular.
The centre of Williamsburg (and its seven rooftop bars and brilliant thrift shopping) was a 10 minute walk away and we spent many of our evenings enjoying our hosts’ favourite spots.
It felt like we were living there
I'm not sure I'd book a room in someone's house while they were still there.
But having the whole place to ourselves really made it feel like we were living there for the week, rather than just visiting, and I would definitely do it again.
I can't think of any cons about our apartment; anyone used to a plush hotel might be taken aback by the urban exterior - the apartment is a famed artists’ space - but we loved it.
And the heavy doors felt totally secure.
We had a late flight home and the fact there was no check-out time meant we could enjoy the last few hours in Williamsburg, free of our bags.
This gave us the chance to squeeze out every last minute.
We discovered places we hadn't had time to visit before, lingering over tacos and margaritas at the best Mexican outside of Mexico - according to our host - and indulging ourselves with just one more rooftop bar.
What do you think?
Have you used Airbnb before and what did you think? If not, is it something you would consider?
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