For boarders without borders, consider Airbnb


People all over the world who have a surplus of space, an adventurous spirit and the desire for extra income have opened up their homes to guests via Airbnb. For those who haven’t experienced it yet, Airbnb (short for airbed and breakfast) is a website where travelers can find lodging in the form of rooms in private homes or entire apartments. Guests can browse photos and descriptions of accommodations all over the world on Airbnb.com and email hosts to ask questions, make requests and sometimes even negotiate rates.

My family has stayed in many Airbnbs and has had a good experience almost without exception. And we have learned from those that were not a good fit. Ask about amenities in the neighborhood, do not compromise on the amount of space you need, don’t assume that the kitchen includes an oven, etc.

We sought out apartments, because for longer stays we need lodging where we can cook and stretch out a bit. What we’ve found is that these places take us off the beaten path and let us get to know the city in a more three-dimensional way. We’re often in residential neighborhoods. We get hosts’ recommendations of the best neighborhood restaurants, parks, hikes, grocery stores.

You would think that Airbnb would be a natural fit here in Springfield. Travelers come from all over the country to see Lincoln’s home, tomb and presidential museum, and from all over the region for work with the government and care from our hospitals. Airbnb has a huge presence in Chicago, with nearly 2,800 rooms and apartments for rent. Hotels there felt Airbnb was a significant threat to their business and urged government to strictly enforce regulations that govern lodging establishments. In Springfield, hosts pay income taxes on their earnings but are not subject to hotel taxes.

Fifteen rentals are listed on the site for Springfield. Though most hosts did not respond to requests for comment, one was willing to talk about her experience. Her natural openness could be why Colleen has 76 positive reviews, compared to an average of seven for Springfield’s hosts.

Colleen rents out a room in her house as well as a complete private apartment. She has been an Airbnb host for two years and says it has been a delightful experience. With a comfortable room for $35 a night, one would imagine her guests would say the same. And they do. She has an average rating of 4.5 stars (5 stars being perfect). Her reviews list her place as “clean and tidy,” “comfortable” and the host as “very welcoming,” “gracious,” “easygoing.” Her guests come from everywhere – from elsewhere in Illinois to the Netherlands, Japan, India and Australia. Some come to check out the Lincoln sites and some are medical students doing rotations. Some stay for a weekend, some for six weeks.

Managing Airbnb rentals has become her full-time job, though it isn’t for everyone. At present, she is booked steadily for the next two months.

Some potential hosts might wonder about security. Colleen reports feeling very safe because her contact information is not made available until someone books a reservation. Hosts have the right to decline a reservation request if it does not seem like a good fit. (Indeed, it was very difficult to get in contact with Airbnb hosts since I was not booking a room. I could message them through the Airbnb site, but any attempts to exchange email addresses and phone numbers were blocked.)

The process is as follows: a host with a room or an entire apartment to rent creates a personal profile. Along with a photo, this usually includes where they’re from, what they love about their city and other flourishes to give travelers an idea of their personality.

Then the host creates a listing for their lodging. This consists of clear photos (using a professional photographer is encouraged) of guest rooms, house rules, rates and available dates. Hosts are able to set different rates for high and low seasons and guests can see them.

When guests arrive, hosts let them in and get them acclimated, either in person or remotely. Hosts can have little interaction with their guests or show them around town, depending on their preference, but they must be reachable by email or text in order to help with any potential issues. They receive payment from Airbnb at the end of the booking, deposited directly into their bank accounts.

Elizabeth, a host who also resides in Springfield, is newer to the game. She started in May, in the less-touristy destination of Bluford, in rural southern Illinois. There, she rents out a rustic farmhouse that comfortably sleeps 10 guests. She thought expecting travelers there was a long shot, but had had a good experience as a guest with Airbnb and wanted to try something new with her rental property. She has been surprised by the interest in her house and the ease of transactions with Airbnb. Her guests have ranged from a group of Malaysian college students on a road trip to Michigan to parents visiting their child in a Carbondale hospital.

Ryan, a contract journalist in Chicago, also enjoys using Airbnb. He owns a modern loft in the Pilsen neighborhood and rents it out from time to time, particularly when his paychecks are slow to appear. When his renters come, he bunks with friends or family for a weekend or travels on the cheap. Whatever the reason for renting out space in one’s home, many have found it a great way to meet people and make ends meet.

Contact Ann Farrar at afarrar@illinoistimes.com.

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