DONALD TRUMP made me do it.
I needed an extra night in downtown Chicago, but every hotel for miles around was full or had nothing under $650 a night.
Instead of dropping $1,000 at Trump’s shiny namesake hotel just steps from my conference, I searched listings on Airbnb, which a friend uses regularly when visiting her daughter at college on the East Coast. Airbnb, a global home-sharing network, says it offers unique accommodations from more than 350,000 local hosts in more than 190 countries.
Up popped a nice little location about eight blocks away, offering a private room and bath, Wi-Fi, a doorman building and a parking garage on the same block.
At $130 a night, the price was higher than others nearby. But I’m too old to sleep in a bunk bed like one $60 option and too skittish about personal hygiene to share a bathroom.
And, OK, I snore. So a room to myself is a must-have.
Even with a final price tag of $174 (including taxes and fees), the listing titled “Luxurious Room” was a better deal than the closest affordable hotel ($129 and an hour’s train ride away near O’Hare International Airport).
So, I booked the room and crossed my fingers.
Cut to the chase: I scored on my very first Airbnb stay. While I won’t abandon hotels permanently, this introduction to the Sharing Economy was painless and positive. (The Sharing Economy is a commercial ecosystem fueled by shared resources such as homes, with Airbnb, and cars, with Uber and Lyft).
Airbnb’s website works like any hotel website. Type in where and when you want to stay and how many people will be in your group. Use the filters to find the listing that appeals to you most.
If you want a Chicago room with Wi-Fi and a gym in a doorman-secured apartment building near Navy Pier, or you and your dog want the run of an entire apartment on the Gold Coast along Lake Michigan, there’s a place for you. Similar options are available almost anywhere you’d want to go, including Paris, San Francisco, Miami and Washington, D.C.
Once you find a likely spot, book your space. Your booking isn’t complete, though, until the host approves your request.
That’s one difference between Airbnb and standard accommodation services. Many hosts, including the woman I stayed with, want to know something about you before opening their homes. You might explain why you’re traveling to their city, what you hope to experience from a home stay or something about your own interests.
Once your host accepts your booking, Airbnb will charge your credit card for the whole amount. Your host doesn’t get paid until after your visit, and both of you have options if problems crop up.
Several things made my stay memorable:
CLEAR COMMUNICATION. My host approved my booking request quickly online and answered all of my questions before I showed up. We also kept each other posted on our whereabouts to make sure neither one of us was kept waiting before we met in the lobby of her building.
HOSPITABLE SURROUNDINGS AS ADVERTISED. Her apartment was spacious, clean and flooded with light, boasting panoramic views from the living room. The room and full bath looked exactly as they did in her listing (a rare quality, as anyone who has booked housing on websites can attest).
The room also doubles as her library, which was full of interesting books. I had plans for the evening but seriously considered scrapping them in favor of staying in and reading.
My host invited me to use the kitchen and living room and showed me how all the electronics worked, including her Internet-connected TV. I could have binge-watched “Mad Men” using my Netflix account had I wished.
HANDY LOCATION. A few listings were closer to my conference hotel, but each one looked a little dicey, like that one with the bunk bed and shared bath. A lakefront apartment for $99 looked promising and was right around the corner, but I would have slept on a blow-up mattress on the living-room floor. One reviewer praised the owner’s friendly dogs, which clambered all over her at night. Um, no.
My location, between Michigan Avenue and State Street, was busy enough to be safe at night but out of the tourist mainstream. I could walk to and from dinner and shopping without needing a taxi.
FRIENDLY HOST. I felt welcome the first time we met in her building lobby. She made me feel less like a paying guest and more like the friend of a friend who needed a place to crash for the night.
She also let me leave my baggage in the apartment during the day while I was out. Although my car was parked in a nearby garage, I was loath to leave my suitcase and laptop in it given the signs plastered all over warning drivers not to leave valuables behind.
Would I book again? Absolutely.