Tag Archives: Airbnb

Homes on the Road

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment instead of a hotel when we visited Sofia, Bulgaria last week. We also stayed at Airbnbs when we visited Tbilisi, Georgia and Sibiu, Romania in 2017.

IMG_0397
The living room of our Airbnb in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Sorry for the mess.)

All three apartments were central located, with kitchens, living rooms, washing machines and comfortable beds. All cost much less than hotels, although more than local hostels. IMG_0302All three hosts were helpful and responsive. The woman who welcomed us to our apartment in Sofia told us about a wonderful local Nepalese restaurant, Gurkha, where we ended up having a delicious meal and conversation with the owner, as you can see in the photo.

Champa and I still use hotels, such as when we stayed in Bucharest for a couple of nights last week and weren’t sure when we would arrive. But we now prefer staying in Airbnbs because they provide us with extra room and a local contact to help us learn about a city.

IMG_8635
Our Airbnb in Tbilisi, Georgia

Many of our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova use Airbnbs, too, when traveling or coming to stay in the capital, Chișinău.

I describe all of this because some Americans are still uneasy about staying in a private home instead of a hotel, whether through Airbnb or another service. Others include HomeAway, Couchsurfing, FlipKey, VRBO and Roomorama.

The concept may seem especially novel to some older travelers. As one wrote on the Senior Planet website, “At first glance, Airbnb looked to me like a site for freewheeling hipsters.” That writer tried Airbnb and became a fan, saying, “I’ve learned something new about myself: I really enjoy staying in a ‘real’ neighborhood and being a traveler, not a tourist.”

IMG_4127
Champa and our guide, Florin, at the Airbnb we used in Sibiu, Romania, also shown in the photo at the bottom of this post.

We feel the same way and are not unique. Airbnb says more than one million of its users are now over 60, as are 10 percent of its hosts. Its 2016 report said some older Airbnb hosts now depend on this extra income to remain in their homes.

This past year, the Freebird Club launched an Airbnb-like service especially for older travelers and hosts. More broadly, older Americans have begun turning to a variety of flexible gigs and part-time jobs. In her latest list of 100 Great Second-Act Career Resources, career expert Nancy Collamer (my sister) identifies many of these.

One of my favorite blogs, The Senior Nomads, describes how a retired Seattle couple, Michael and Debbie Campbell, has spent several years staying at Airbnbs while traveling around the world. They explain: “As we were closing in on retirement, we felt we had ‘one more adventure in us’ so in July of 2013 we rented our house, sold our sailboat and one of our cars, and reduced our stuff until it fit in a small storage unit. We waved goodbye to our family and friends and set off to explore the world!”

 

This past summer, when we visited home, Champa and I experimented with the “sharing economy” in another way, by using a car-sharing service. We rented a blue Toyota Camry on Turo from a guy in Virginia for about half of what we would have spent with a car rental company. We had a great experience and would use the service again.

Serving as older Peace Corps Volunteers has opened our eyes in so many ways, and not only about Moldova. We’ve also become more comfortable with new online travel resources favored by people our children’s age. It turns out they work nicely for us, too. If you’ve had an interesting experience of your own with these resources, good or bad, I invite you to share them with a comment.

IMG_4129

Advertisements

A New Way to Rent a Car

We rented a car during our recent trip home but not through a conventional car-rental company like Hertz, Avis or Budget.

IMG_5857Instead, we rented our blue Toyota Camry through a new online company called Turo, which is like an Airbnb for car rentals. It cost us about half of what we would have spent otherwise, including the cost of the insurance. We interacted mainly with the car’s owner — Kim Dinh, shown here — instead of waiting in line at a rental car counter for an overworked agent to upsell me and ask me to write my initials on forms.

I’d planned to rent a car the usual way and was looking forward to it since we are not allowed to drive “in country” while serving as Peace Corps volunteers. Months before we left for our vacation back home, I began checking prices on travel websites and with the rental car companies. We wanted a mid-sized car since we would have several suitcases. We’d begin and end our trip at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., where we flew from Moldova on Turkish Airlines.

The sites didn’t vary much in their offerings and prices. They also were consistent in failing to provide clear information about what it would cost to buy complete insurance coverage, including liability. Champa and I no longer have a personal auto insurance policy to cover our car rentals, since we got rid of our cars when we joined the Peace Corps.
IMG_5852The car rental companies were generally opaque about what they’d charge for different kinds of insurance at Dulles, and what the policies covered. It seemed like they wanted me to make this decision at the counter, when I was hurrying to get my car and unlikely to read the fine print, especially if people were waiting behind me.

As I studied this online, I came across an article describing new companies trying to bring the “sharing economy” to the rental car market. Just as Uber and Lyft have emerged to challenge the traditional taxi industry, so are companies such as Turo, GetAround and FlightCar providing peer-to-peer options for car rentals.

IMG_4129

I might have considered this approach too risky or exotic. However, our experience with Airbnb made us comfortable with it. For instance, we stayed in the lovely Airbnb apartment shown above in the historic city of Sibiu during our trip to Transylvania this past April. It had two bedrooms — one for us, one for our guide — and cost less than a single hotel room. We also used a ride-sharing service, Bla Bla Car, to travel from Ialoveni to Transylvania, and had a great experience with that, too.

After reading several favorable articles about Turo, I visited its website and found lots of cars we could rent at Dulles Airport, everything from a Chevy or a Honda Civic to a BMW or a Porsche. I could have even rented a Tesla, a Bentley or, for a mere $899 per day, a Lamborghini Gallardo. (I don’t think the latter includes a Peace Corps sticker.) There was also a clear description of the insurance options offered through Liberty Mutual.

We chose the Camry and the most extensive insurance coverage. Once we reserved this with our credit card, Turo put us in touch with Kim-Dinh, with whom we then worked directly. When we arrived at Dulles, I called Kim-Dinh after we picked up our bags, and he arrived at the terminal curbside a few minutes later. He drove us to a nearby gas station, topped off the tank and inspected the car with me, posting photos to the Turo site. He also lent me his EZPass so I could pay tolls automatically and a magnet to attach my iPhone to his dashboard, so I could see GPS directions more easily. I reimbursed him for the tolls later.

IMG_6541

When we returned at the end of our trip, Kim-Dinh was out of town, so his friend met us at a gas station near a Metro station, shown here. He inspected the car and then gave us a lift to the aiport.

I can’t speak about this service generally or how Turo compares with its competitiors, and I don’t intend this post as an endorsement. However, now that I am back in Moldova, I expect I will recall our experience fondly the next time I am riding a crowded minibus.

 

Exploring Transylvania

If I said “Transylvania,” would you think “Dracula”?

Dracula

Transylvania was indeed the home of Vlad Țepeș, or “Vlad the Impaler,” whose bloody reign and hilltop castle inspired the famous vampire novel by Bram Stoker. That’s Vlad in the top-right picture, which we saw when we visited Bran Castle this past week.

Other TransylHowever, as we discovered during our 5-day trip to Transylvania, there’s so much more to see than tacky Dracula T shirts and coffee mugs.

Churches

Transylvania is located in central Romania, west of the Republic of Moldova, which was once part of Romania and retains close cultural ties to it. Romania mapTransylvania has lovely rolling hills, picturesque villages and snowy mountain peaks. Its monasteries are stunning, and more than 150 fortified churches with moats and dense stone walls dot the countryside. Brașov, Sibiu, Sighișoara and other cities combine charm with great dining at low prices.

They are also brimming with history, as you can see from these trip photos. If much of the architecture appears German or Hungarian, that’s because many of Transylvania’s people came from those countries.

Church interiors

Romania’s Western ties have grown steadily since Nicolae Ceaușescu was overthrown and 42 years of Communist rule ended in 1989. Especially since it joined the European Union in 2007, Romania has been prospering, with one of Europe’s fastest growth rates.

Organs & altars collage

Champa and I drove there  with a Moldovan physician we met through an online ride-sharing service called BlaBlaCar. Once in Transylvania, we toured with Florin Ilea, a wonderful local guide who I recommend highly. We stayed in hotels in Brașov and at a great Airbnb apartment in Sibiu located just a block from the historic Bridge of Lies.

Squares

If Transylvania seems exotic to you, let me gently suggest you’re living in the past. I am old enough myself to remember when Prague was considered exotic, too. Now it has become a popular tourist destination for many Americans, as have Budapest, Warsaw and Dubrovnik. Based on what we saw during our visit, I expect Transylvania to join that list soon.

Roof collage

My advice is to visit it now, before everyone else discovers it. As Elizabeth Berkley famously said in Showgirls, a movie even tackier than the coffee mugs: It doesn’t suck (regardless of the vampire legends).

3 Plazas
From top: Brașov, Sibiu and Sighișoara