Can Airbnb Provide an Authentic Local Experience for Travelers?

Using Airbnb gave me a real life experience of living in NYC.

Amanda Thomas
2-minute read

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about travel and why I like it so much. Is it because I like to see new sights, or eat in new restaurants? Nope. What I’ve realized about myself is that I like to travel to be able to learn how people in other parts of the country and world live. Ever since I was in college and stayed with an indigenous family in the mountains of Ecuador while studying abroad, I have been fascinated with how people function on a day-to-day basis. I want to know how people sleep, eat, work, and spend their free time. I’m nosey, and that is one of the reasons that I almost always use sites like Airbnb when I travel.

I recently went to New York City for a few days and stayed with a woman in an area of Queens called Jackson Heights. I didn’t know it when I stepped off the train, but Jackson Heights is a cultural melting pot. There are about 160 languages spoken in this area, and the restaurants and shops to prove it. Coming from Arizona, where things are fairly homogenous comparatively, it was amazing!

In talking with my host, Paula, I learned that she had lived in her apartment for 14 years. She moved to the U.S. from Colombia where she had a college degree. None of that mattered when she moved to the U.S., and she found herself working lots of odd jobs to get by. This apartment was in a pre-war building, and could use a few updates, but it was in a great area and was affordable for her. Even now, after she has become a high school teacher, she stays in the apartment for those reasons.

I loved talking with Paula about the joys and challenges of living in a New York pre-war apartment, and comparing them to my experiences in Arizona. One of the biggest differences was the lack of storage space in her apartment.

It was neat to see how she had overcome this by using every possible space. She used the space above her kitchen cabinets to store nicer dishes for entertaining. She used a decorative bowl filled with fruit as her centerpiece. And because the kitchen didn’t have quite enough cabinets, she used an antique dresser in her dining room to store small appliances and other kitchen items.

I loved getting to know Paula and experiencing a few days of real New York life. Next time you travel, I’d encourage you to look for a home stay for at least a night or two. Sharing a home or an apartment with a stranger isn’t for everyone, but it will teach you more about the area you’re visiting than any hotel concierge ever could.

Have you ever used Airbnb or similar sites to find housing while traveling? What was it like? Share your experiences on the Domestic CEO Facebook page.