You can rent this 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom duplex with two living areas and a fully equipped kitchen for $350 a night - right opposite the beach. Source image Airbnb
Every holiday I've been on this year has been a matter of packing a suitcase and a sense of humour. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong and a simple trip to Byron Bay was no exception.
As with many people's spur of the moment decisions to travel it started with cheap airfares. The recent offer of $99 return to Ballina (the closest airport to Byron) had to be snapped up.
But with seats booked the cost of accommodation came into the equation and the seven day holiday started to get really expensive. Most places to stay, except for backpackers, were well over $200 a night.
So I decided to use a service that many people recommended called Airbnb.
This is basically where regular people offer you accommodation in their home. It could be a room, a granny flat, a self contained compartment or even quarters in someone's mansion.
It is a great service that operates all over the world and has thousands of successful users.
While I started looking into it and set up the account I regrettably left the booking to someone else. And that someone not only deletes all emails but trashes them as well, which does not provide much of a paper (or electronic trail) for what was to follow.
The upturn was that we arrived at Byron Bay with a sketchy address. Rocking up to this address, they seemed a little perplexed. But yes, they did have apartments they rented out. They showed us where they thought we were staying and we unpacked.
Treat your inner child to this small but clean and very cute little "tree house". There is no electricity ... you will use a solar lamp and candles. The views are amazing! One of the cheaper options at $45 a night. Image Airbnb
Next came a knock on the door to say we definitely weren't in this unit and it was probably the other one they owned.
We put everything back in the suitcases and went with the manager to the place next door. Luckily he knocked as it was inhabited by young honeymooners and we certainly disturbed their peace.
You run into everyone at the local produce market
Upshot was— "I am sorry but you definitely aren't staying here. Why don't you go to the Tourist Bureau and see if they can help you."
Now, while I hadn't make the booking I did remember being shown the listing. The final choice had been a self contained section of a house with a small sitting room and bathroom and if you walked through the house you could access the family pool.
So I scrolled through all the listings on my iPad. Unfortunately, there are 56 pages of listings in Byron Bay
(with 18 per page) as every second person there seems savvy enough to rent out a space. Gosh, some people even rent out their tree house, which for the young or young at heart, sounds like a fun option.
It took half an hour of scrolling. Triumphantly I then presented the photo (there is no exact street address on the page) to the helpful attendant who was quick to say. "I have never seen that place before. Why don't you email them and go and get some lunch while you wait."
The backyard pool at the place we ended up staying
It seemed the only way to email them was to act like you are making a booking which means putting in dates.
Because we had to put in dates and that was the first thing they saw they didn't read the rest of the email which basically said. "HELP we are stranded. We haven't got your address and here is out mobile number."
Instead the reply came back. "I am sorry we are booked out on those days."
While we didn't have an exact address, the website does have a map which roughly shows you where places are located. We isolated the street, which unfortunately happened to be a long one, and drove up and down.
It was hot with only a few people around and the teenager on the bike that we met had no idea.
In a burst of inspiration I scrolled through the photos of the place and finally located an image that had a minuscule number and a picture of the garage door.
We knocked and met a rather confused man and his daughter. "I'm sorry my wife handles the bookings and she is not here. But come in."
We walked into what was the normal household mess that most people live in when they are not expecting guests. The daughter started stripping the bed and changing the sheets.
"It's okay I said. We'll go to the beach for a couple of hours and give you time to get the apartment ready."
Byron Bay main beach is more than worth the airfare alone
We were so relieved to have found a bed for the night that we not only walked along the beach, but sat jubilantly on the deck of the local tap house enjoying a glass of champagne.
Then came an email from Airbnb.
"This is Brad with Airbnb, and I am reaching out to you because one of our hosts states you came to her home claiming to have a reservation, however one is not appearing in our system. Unfortunately that host will be unable to accommodate you …"
By this time there was tropical downpour and we had nowhere to stay.
It seemed rude to go back to the house and annoy them further, but there also seemed no other option.
I admit I ducked and sat in the car while the person who seemed guilty of mucking up the booking took the drenching and went and knocked on their door.
Apparently this is what transpired. The couple actually rang Airbnb in America, spent fifteen minutes with them on the phone and a new address was procured.
By the time we arrived at this third option, it was around 6pm. Our new hosts were charming but it was clear we had completely wrecked their Wednesday, as they had been expecting us all day and therefore were forced to curtail their own outings.
So we had a bed in a lovely house with a pool and fine hosts, but there is no way either of us would ever have booked this particular place.
I am a night person and an insomniac so I need more than a room. I need a place where I can stay up working and basically prowl because these are my Melbourne habits. And I need plunger coffee in the morning to wake me up and while I had brought my Melbourne coffee with me there was no plunger. These people only drank tea.
These lovely people went to bed at 9pm and were up every morning at 5.30 to go for their 90 minute walk on the beach. This was followed by either tennis or an hour in the gym. These household habits were rather different to mine.
But the funny thing is that I got accustomed to it. Days were busy, mainly with markets and hinterland hideaways that the couple suggested. They cooked us a bbq one night and we went out to dinner with them another night. They became like old friends.
Crystal Castle in the Hinterland where hippies have now got a handle on commercialisation
Because Byron Bay is such a cosy, place I also met the second lady who had rang America for us. We had a fine chat and she was really helpful in suggesting things to do despite the fiasco where we had basically invaded her privacy. The first family had also given us a string of places to go, tellings us where the happy hours were for cocktails and where to park our rental car. (One of the biggest problems these days in Byron is parking because of the number of tourists.)
All the families were totally lovely amenable and friendly. What our experience shows, I believe, is that the kind of people who offer beds through Airbnb aren't in it only for the dosh. They genuinely like people and are friendly and happy to share their homes and their local knowledge.
So it hasn't put be off using Airbnb
in the slightest. The cheapness factor is an important consideration with stays ranging from around $45 a night up to many hundreds of dollars for fully contained beach houses. It would be great, particularly if you are travelling on your own and our experience of the families was that they were all lovely.
Despite my misgivings about the third place it actually worked in my favour. Going to bed early hit insomnia on the head. I slept lulled by the patter of tropical rain on the rooftop with the cool breeze coming from the overhead fan. I started getting up earlier. By the time I came back to Melbourne I was keeping Bryron hours. Since my return I have even started getting up and doing a walk in the morning before breakfast. Although not for an hour and a half and the local gym and I have yet to meet.
Airbnb also sent us a $300 voucher because we did have a rough time finding our accommodation. I am not certain they were at fault I think as newbies one of us mucked up the booking. So the gesture on their part really was quite kind and thoughtful. So I will recommend them and here is the link to the voucher they provide that offer an initial incentive for your first stay. Click here.
The local cafe for us was the Roadhouse and my fav drink - rum with a sphere of frozen coconut water
So I guess my advice for using Airbnb is to have only one person involved in making the booking. And ensure that person keeps their emails so you can access these when you are away. In using Airbnb
you are bound to meet some lovely people and living with other people's rhythms can sometimes be good for you.
For another cheap holiday option see my article on relocating campervans
. For what happened to us in China (which was far worse) click here
There were no embellishments in this story as Mark Twain once said —"Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense."