My First Airbnb Experience

Sonya Barnes                                                                                                              July 1, 2019

To say that I was nervous to try Airbnb was an understatement.  In my mind, it’s a fairly new concept, there’s so many caveats to what it could be like or include, and, let’s be honest, when you are allergic to everything like I am, the subjectivity of a stranger’s home, however inviting it is designed to be, can be unnerving.  But I have several friends that have tried them all over the world and, let’s face it, it is fantastic for the budget conscientious family, like we are.

My soon-to-be-eight-year-old is obsessed with science and animals and loves going to the zoo, which we are members of. So, when the monthly newsletter that included information about Summer Zoo Camps came out in the spring, I knew it would be a good fit for him. Since I am a teacher and off during the summer, I don’t normally put him in summer programs, we just go and do a lot of experiences, especially since we travel to visit family and new sights so often.  We live about an hour from the zoo, so I thought we’d stay locally to save me the interstate commute back and forth and to have a place nearby with something to do, other than go to the zoo or the tons of other touristy things that I have done before. I’m not a shopper, so even with the plethora of malls and outlet stores nearby, it held little appeal as a way to spend my day.  Plus, my husband has his own business that allows him to work anywhere, so this would give him a new area of clients to work while we were here.  Originally, we were going to bring the camper and stay at a campground, but we sold it a few months ago since we weren’t using it with the husband’s new business.  I looked at local hotels, but they were pricy when looking at a weeklong stay, and still added the expense of eating out—something we are not a fan of for budget and health reasons.  And then I remembered Airbnb as I was watching a friend post about an amazing trip she took to several locations and staying in Airbnb’s the entire trip.

I found a fantastic place right on the Hillsborough River and less than 10 minutes from the zoo with all that we’d need and for a great price (click here if you are looking for a place in the area and want to see this one). I looked at the reviews of both the hostess, or super hostess I should say, and the place and took a chance and booked it, opting to pay a bit more for the flexibility to cancel if need be.  They charge half up front and the other half a few days before your trip starts.  It included a cleaning fee and service charges, and the promise of being reviewed as a good renter for future bookings.  This particular place has 2 bedrooms, a garage with laundry (a must with zoo camp shirts that needed regular washing), sunroom, deck overlooking the river, as well as a dock and kayak for us to use.  The kitchen had all the dishes and appliances we needed and a nearby grocery store allowed us to stock up for the week for a great price.  The hostess was quick to respond to questions when we messaged and, when it got closer, sent us the codes and directions to the location, gave some last-minute information and answered any follow up questions. was fantastic in sending us emails with things to do in the area, which we didn’t need, but were nice to know since we day trip over this way often.

When we walked in the door, we were pleasantly surprised.  This was not a sparsely decorated hotel room with little personality.  This was a charming home that felt like my long-lost aunt had let me borrow while she was away for the summer or something.  It had comfortable furnishings, personal touches like night lights and books for all ages, as well as anything we could possibly need from linens to dish sponges and cleaning supplies, even spices and non-perishables that previous occupants had not needed and left to the community.  It was clean and cozy, and we timed our arrival as the cleaning service was wrapping up, so she even gave us a few tips on the area.  The beds were unbelievably comfortable—I am hoping our child does not expect a king size bed for his birthday now after getting pampered with one all week.

While our youngest was off at camp during the day, we spent our time working from home, visiting local stores and family, and enjoying a slower pace since we didn’t have to rush back and forth while trying to get our to do list done.  We were able to relax, be productive and eat lunch at our temporary home instead of adding another expense to our trip.  We were able to sleep in and avoid traffic, then pick him up and get back to enjoy a pleasant evening including a paddle down the river, tossing the football around in the yard, cooking a simple dinner over our little grill, and relaxing while reading and watching for animals on the river.  We have seen squirrels, birds, fish, turtles, gators and even a raccoon fishing on the shoreline.  One evening, as the sun was setting, I looked out and saw a dolphin silently traveling the river.  I sat out on the dock and was able to see it a few more times as the sun set and the bats came out to hunt above me.  It was a magical experience. We had hoped to spot a manatee before our departure, but no luck between the heat and summer storms. When the mosquitos chased us in as evening turned to night, we had room for to stretch out for reading, playing cards or board games, talking, or even watching T.V., which we didn’t do nearly as much as we would have in a hotel.  It was a very pleasant and relaxing experience.  My son is enjoyed zoo camp so much and we are all enjoyed the home so much–he had already asked after the first couple of days if we can do this again next summer.  Something I am certain we will do.  As for our thoughts on the Airbnb experience, well, we have a conference next month and, after checking hotel prices near the conference center, we booked another Airbnb place to stay a few minutes farther away, a condo with room for friends also attending and a kitchen to cook breakfast and dinner at.  I do believe this will be something we continue to use until we fulfill our dream of becoming full-time RV’ers and have our own place to take with us.  Who knows, if we don’t sell our house, maybe we will become hosts ourselves!

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