Airbnb: an alternative to hotels

Our stay in São Paulo last November was our first experience with Airbnb. Airbnb has a database of apartment and room rentals worldwide.  On their web site, you first choose where you want to go and then you can look at a variety of places to stay, filtering for factors such as neighborhood, whether you want a room or entire apartment, etc.  It’s common in many countries for people to rent out apartments when they are on vacation, so it is possible to find an entire apartment to rent, but more common are rooms in the homes of locals.  The mission of Airbnb, in fact, is to connect travelers with local residents which can lead to a better understanding of the people and culture of a place, and even to get inside tips on the place you are visiting that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise.

Recently, probably in response to the actions of the new Trump administration, Airbnb sent an email to their clients stating:

We believe in a world where anyone can belong


Everyone deserves to belong. But for too many, it’s a dire need. So our five-year goal is to make sure 100,000 people have short-term housing during urgent times. Please join us.


February 5, 2017

We believe in the simple idea that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong. We know this is an idealistic notion that faces huge obstacles because of something that also seems simple, but isn’t – that not everyone is accepted.

People who’ve been displaced, whether because of war or conflict or other factors, are acutely vulnerable to not being accepted. They are, quite literally, in need of a place to belong, which is why we’ve been inspired to take action.

We started by providing housing for evacuees of disasters and have since provided housing during 54 global disasters. We partnered with organizations dedicated to the needs of refugees around the world. And just last week, we announced that the Airbnb community will provide free housing to refugees and those recently barred from entering the US. When we announced this, there was an outpouring of interest from our community, and we were inspired to go bigger.

Today we’re setting a goal to provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need. We’ll start with refugees, disaster survivors, and relief workers, though we want to accommodate many more types of displaced people over time. To help people around the world facing displacement, we’ll work with our community of hosts to find not just a place to stay, but also a place to feel connected, respected, and a part of a community again. In addition, Airbnb will contribute $4 million over the course of four years to the International Rescue Committee to support the most critical needs of displaced populations globally.

We couldn’t talk about the lack of acceptance in the world without pointing out the challenges in our own community at Airbnb. The painful truth is that guests on Airbnb have experienced discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our values. We know we have work to do and are dedicated to achieving greater acceptance in our community.

These efforts are just the beginning, and we hope you consider joining us by sharing your home with someone who is displaced or donating to organizations that assist those in need. It’s possible that a child today will grow up in a different kind of world, one where they’re accepted for who they are, no matter where they are. Because we really do believe that the world is a better, more beautiful place the more we accept each other.

– The founders of Airbnb

Brian Nate Joe

This tells you a little about the philosophy of Airbnb, and for me, this alone would be reason enough to look into what they offer.  But there is another distinct advantage for almost any traveler:  It’s much cheaper to stay in the homes Airbnb offers than most hotels!
Since we didn’t know anyone in São Paulo, I did research ahead of time to familiarize myself with the layout of the city – the largest in the Americas – and figure out which areas would be most desirable and advantageous for us.  I asked myself, What are we looking for?
  • convenience – access to the tourist sites we were most interested in.
  • proximity to metro – I knew we’d be taking public transportation and we didn’t want to spend much on taxis.
  • relatively quiet and residential neighborhood
  • good restaurants and shops within walking distance

The neighborhood of Vila Mariana seemed to fulfill all of these.  It had two metro stations, it was within walking distance of Ibirapuera Park, a major tourist attraction with art museums on site, it was a mix of apartment buildings, houses, and small businesses, and within 1/2 mile were a variety of good restaurants.  Although Vila Mariana was not my only pick, it’s where we ended up when I viewed the apartments/rooms for rent on Airbnb and was able to compare locations, prices, and other desirability factors.

When you select a place you might be interested in renting, you can find out basic facts about the place, the host, read reviews, and click through pictures of the home.  Due to confidentiality between host and traveler, I will not reveal the name or address of our rental, but I can say that it cost us only $216 for six nights. We had access to the kitchen and other public rooms of the apartment, we had our own room with a private bathroom, and our host had certain things I was looking for, such as a washing machine, WiFi and a microwave oven.  Compare this to the price of a decent hotel in São Paulo and you can see that we got a deal!

If your main objective is luxury and comfort, then probably Airbnb isn’t for you, although renting an entire apartment might suit your needs.

Our host was a single, middle aged man, a classical musician by profession and an opera buff, who lived in a small apartment building (about 10 stories, and only 2-3 apartments per floor) on a major street. He did not speak much English, but spoke Spanish fluently and also some German. It wasn’t an issue for me since I speak Portuguese, but I had to do most of the talking on my husband’s behalf.

There was a man watering the plants in the front of the building when we arrived in mid-afternoon on Nov. 17.  He said to dial the apartment number, but there was no answer.  He said he’d call the person to get authorization to let us in, so I gave him our host’s name.  This accomplished, the guy let us in and we took the elevator to the right floor, knocked on the apartment door, our host answered and greeted us.  He showed us our room and around the apartment and how things worked.

Our room was a bit small with not much storage space, so Dale pulled the beds a little farther apart and we put our suitcases down between them.  This added a bit of a shelf so we can plug in our electronic devices.  We logged into our host’s WiFi, whose address and password he had helpfully written on a blackboard surface near the kitchen.

He showed us the coffee pot (which he hadn’t emptied), where the sugar was – in the ‘frig! – and how to use the washing machine. Clothes had to air dry, but there was a rack to hang them on.

After we had lunch at a restaurant across the street (mediocre), we went to a little market he told us about to buy necessities for breakfast:  Pilão coffee, queijo de Minas, strawberries and a cake.  We walked some more, going up the street until we found the Vila Mariana metro station.

We went back to the apartment and put our food in the tiny refrigerator in our room.  Then we rested and I looked up restaurants online to find somewhere to go for dinner.

Bistro 28 sounded good but didn’t open for dinner until 7 pm.  We could go to Graça Mineira, which doesn’t close until 11:30 pm so we could go anytime.  I checked my GPS, which does work here, even without WiFi, I discovered, to get the directions and approximate walking time to Graça Mineira.  We left at 6:30 pm, but we got a little lost because of a miscalculation on my part.  We arrived at a very busy street and saw some policemen, so I went to ask them how to get to the restaurant.  They didn’t know, because they hadn’t heard of this restaurant, but when I told them the street, they got us started in the right direction.  The GPS got us the rest of the way there.

The restaurant was open, although there were no customers – a few came while we were there but clearly Thursday isn’t a busy night for them.

I began to relax and feel happy, because of relief that we’d found the place and because of the music they were playing – lots of songs I knew and I recognized one of the singers – Alcione. We ordered tropical caipirinhas (mine was a caipiroska), which was a mixture of strawberries and some tropical fruit, but the strawberry flavor was predominant. They were very tasty!

I didn’t know some of the terms on the menu.  I asked but didn’t understand the waiter’s answer very well.  We ended up ordered “summer salads” with meat on the side – me, chicken; Dale, pork.  There was a card on the table advertising some desserts and we ended up getting one to share – good thing, because it was big!  It was a churro- or donut-like shell filled with doce de leite and ice cream on the side. It was yummy!

Find reviews, photos and information about Graça Mineira here.  There is even a photo of the dessert we had! I wrote a review for this restaurant and several other restaurants and attractions on TripAdvisor.




2 thoughts on “Airbnb: an alternative to hotels

  1. I see you had an adventure in Brazil! I told you I was there for the Olympics and love it, the food is so delicious. Everything is good there, the weather, the people. I miss it!

    1. Yes, I have a long-standing love affair with that crazy country! It’s like a second home to me. I missed it so much after not visiting for 13 years, so we had to go back in 2016! I am now resolved to go to Brazil every 2-3 years.

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