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.
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. All 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.
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.”
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.