I remember the first time I heard of Airbnb just shy of a decade ago. It's since become my first stop when seeking lodging in any corner of the world. I’ve stayed in an actual castle in the emerald-hued countryside of Western Ireland, a vintage camper in both San Diego and Joshua Tree, a handful of farmhouses in Iceland, and too many places across Europe to count.
Staying in someone’s home is an experience in and of itself. Sure, you might rub elbows with someone on an elevator in a slick hotel, but are you going to have tea with the man who renovated the castle you’re staying in, enjoy chats with the modest but highly-accomplished artist whose work fills her sunny loft, or head to a hushed dive bar with the NYC native who happens to have an arm’s worth of Oscars on a shelf in his living room? No way.
Given the experiential feel that Airbnb brings to travel, it only makes sense that they’ve incorporated actual “experiences” into their 190-country -- and growing -- platform. For those unfamiliar, Airbnb Experiences allow locals to host a wide range of activities and for travelers to, well, experience them.
Maybe you’re making pretzels in Bavaria, going on a guided vortex hike in Sedona, taking an intro surf lesson in San Diego, or trying your hand at salmon fishing in Alaska. Local history tours are also very common, as are hosted dinners, one-of-a-kind classes, art events, tastings, spa experiences, and even photo shoots with local photographers (which is honestly a very clever way to get your influencer pics on vacay).
You can browse the experiences on the website by searching for your destination city. Just keep in mind that some are seasonal and each guide’s availability is different. Like Airbnb homes, each listing outlines all the information you need and includes reviews from prior attendees. Anyone can sign up for an experience regardless of whether they’re actually staying in an Airbnb property, and prices range from $10 to hundreds of dollars.
But are they really worth it while traveling? I recently set out to find out.
What it’s like to go on an Airbnb Experience
Though I consider myself an OG Airbnb stan, it took me a surprisingly long time to partake in one of the platform’s Experiences. On a recent trip to Europe, I decided to finally go for it. My first experience was a Munich history tour, which was run by a local tour guide from the U.S. who regularly visited Munich growing up (thanks to family ties) and currently lives there.
I had zero idea of what to expect but had an incredible time on the 3-hour tour. We walked all throughout Munich, and it was clear that my guide wasn’t just knowledgeable about the city but also passionate about relaying its history to new eyes. We saw historical sites and buildings I otherwise wouldn’t have known were significant, we talked a lot about the controversial history of Munich, given Hitler’s presence there during WW2, and we even enjoyed a beer together while chatting about our own lives.
Beyond that — and this is one of the best parts of Airbnb Experiences — she was a resource for me not just during those three hours but throughout my entire stay. She sent a comprehensive guide to her favorite sites and restaurants the day I arrived, and I reached out to her several times with questions after the tour.
I’m sure the level of correspondence varies from host to host, but the same occurred when I signed up for a history tour in Barcelona. I had unfortunately come down with an awful case of food poisoning, so I was unable to attend, but my friend went on without me and relayed all the details (long story short: she loved the tour). The host refunded my money and immediately reached out with some local remedies and some suggestions for what we could do while taking it easy. She even followed up with me several days later to make sure I was feeling better.
Toronto-based Yuki Hayashi says she recently had an epic Airbnb Experience herself — a Cu Chi Tunnels tour and cooking lesson, with transportation outside of Ho Chi Min, in March 2019. “It consisted of a motorcycle tour (driven by locals), family tour of the Cu Chi tunnels with a local guide, and a cooking lesson at an organic farm with a local chef,” she says. “It was a fantastic experience. We loved chatting with our guide and benefited from his candor about Vietnamese society and government, and riding in motorcycle sidecars through the countryside was fun.”
Debra Kamin, who is based in San Diego and recently took a trip to Mexico City with her husband, raves about her Lucha Libre Airbnb Experience as well. “It started with tacos, then a pulque tasting (fermented tequila), then the Lucha Libre itself. It was legit the best time and the highlight of our trip. Our host gave us insight into a slew of Mexican customs we never would have understood on our own and also pulled back the curtain on Mexico City nightlife. It absolutely improved our vacation — we spent five nights in Mexico City, and this was our favorite evening.”
The bottom line on Airbnb Experiences
Clearly, Airbnb has mastered the craft of making traveling feel more personal, and Airbnb Experiences have only magnified that. As with anything, there are bound to be hits and misses, but from what I can tell — and from what I’ve heard from others who are Airbnb diehards — the company does an excellent job of vetting local hosts to ensure you have a great time.
Still, it’s best to read reviews and make sure the trip appeals to you. In other words, don’t go snow shoeing if you hate being in the cold, and don’t sign up for a basic history tour if you already know the basics. If you’ve been hesitant to try Airbnb Experiences out, though, let this be your sign to go for it.
Oh, and if you're interested in being a host, Airbnb is looking for four people to take a sabbatical in the Italian village of Grottole this summer. Sign me up!
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