Airbnb, Google Docs, TripAdvisor and the ‘Grand Tour’

I’m taking my first ever stint of Long Service Leave this year – it’s been a long time coming.

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The family and I are heading off to Europe and the UK for the Grand Tour in the coming months. A full month away from work and school commitments in the close immediate vicinity of one another is either going to make or break us! I’m hoping for the former but assume we will encounter some close to breaking moments along the way too. Let’s face it, we’re a normal family, and normal families aren’t perfect. 🙂

I’ve only had a week off during this school holiday break (I no longer get regular school holidays) and I’ve spent time planning the trip. It’s been a really interesting experience on many levels.

Level 1:

I’ve realised that this is the kind of thing normal people do. (Normal people who’ve worked for a long time and have access to Long Service Leave)

They plan their lives. They devote time to something other than their work. They don’t focus on trying to keep abreast of change and what it means for education.

Hmmnnn… quite the revelation. Will have to ponder on that more in the months to come.

Level 2:

I’ve also been booking accommodation through Airbnb, and it’s been quite the positive experience. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, airbnb is a site that enables you to book accommodation from people who offer rooms, apartments and even whole houses up for rent.

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I registered on the site so that I could make bookings and they are pretty thorough in their review of who you are. I needed to provide verification of identity by providing my mobile number, my driver’s licence details (photo evidence) and linking to my Google+ account so you can bet I was checking that this was a https site. For many people out there who remain sceptical of the Internet, this would be a turn off. I accept that a site like this needs to ensure the people using it to make bookings are who they say they are, but my level of comfort using the Internet is different to many people’s comfort levels.

You can select a city and browse for accommodation options at the price point you nominate. When you find something you like you put a request through to the owner explaining traveller details and they decide whether or not to allow you to book their accommodation. Once approved, you begin a dialogue with the owner about the booking. I’ve made four different bookings thus far, and each time approval has come in from the apartment owners in under two hours.

You have access to a dashboard that outlines your trip details, your inbox (for communication with the home owners) your profile and account details. I’ve downloaded the App to my Nexus 7 and it’s a clean mobile interface providing the same detail. I was able to swipe through pics of the apartments we’ve rented to show my friend Helen the other day while we had a coffee. Nice.

The really nice thing is the dialogue with the owners. This is personalisation of the travel experience. Another disruptive innovation that will turn the already fractured travel industry on its head. Interestingly, I feel more connected to the Airbnb accommodation than I do to the hotel accommodation we have booked on this trip. The hotel booking experience seems clinical, compared to the Airbnb experience that feels like you’ve begun a conversation.

Price wise, the deals seem pretty good. I’ve managed to secure what looks like really lovely apartment accommodation options in city centres where hotel pricing was out of range for our budget. We have access to cooking facilities, washing machines and clothes dryers  – things that will assist us in keeping costs down – important when it’s a family of four travelling!

Level 3:

Planning a trip like this and doing it all yourself is time consuming. I needed the week off to get my head around it all.

I set up a Google Doc with a table of three columns with the headings ‘Date/Location’, ‘Where we are staying’, ‘Where we are going’. As I make bookings, I add all the details to this Doc so that it becomes our go to itinerary. I’m including the cost of everything and I’ve now transferred those details to a spreadsheet so I can tally accommodation, train/car hire and sightseeing costs. I’ll have my Nexus 7 with me as we travel and I’ll be accessing the Doc through the Google Docs app (and yes, it will be printed out as a hard copy too for emergency access if I’m out of power on the Nexus).

I find myself constantly checking dates and referring back to the itinerary Doc verifying that everything is in sync. Heaven help me if I’ve mucked something up because it’s going to mess up everything if I have! I did book access to the Eiffel Tower on the wrong date after refreshing the booking page and not realising the date had changed. The official booking site won’t provide me with a refund, so, if you know of someone travelling in Paris on Sunday July 20th 2014 (next weekend) then get them to contact me and I’ll send them four Lift entrance tickets with access to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower at no charge. 🙂   (Reading the site suggests they may ask for proof of identity – maybe if I provided a cover letter explaining the situation they would let be be used by someone else? Sure hope so.)

Thinking of using Google’s Tour Builder as well to map the trip out and share it with family and friends so they can follow where we are on certain dates. Will be fun to have a play with that if I can find the time.

Level 4:

TripAdvisor is my friend. 🙂

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It really is. I need to know what I’m thinking of doing is the right option, and more often than not there is a forum thread on TripAdvisor dealing with exactly my query. I quite simply love you 10% of the population who make the effort to help other travellers out with your reviews and honesty. You’re enacting the true ideals of the Internet, making a place of relevance for the population of the world.

Note to self: Do the same on your return. Add to forums. Create a thread if necessary.


So there you have it. Am I looking forward to this trip? You betcha. Can’t wait.

Europe and the UK, brace yourself. The Luca family is heading in your direction sometime soon.



14 Replies to “Airbnb, Google Docs, TripAdvisor and the ‘Grand Tour’”

  1. This weekend when we were camping we met a group of people that told me that they love airbnb. I had never heard of it before so I really appreciate you writing a detailed description about it.

  2. Jenny and Luca family, Wishing you a fantastic time and safe travels as you visit Europe and the UK. I also appreciate your comments on airbnb. We were in Paris and the south of France in May 2013 and would love to make a return visit. Looking forward to reading your comments on this adventure. PS: Is someone recording The Middle for you? 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the kind thoughts Rich. I think we’ll be creating our own version of ‘The Middle
      while we’re away. Might be worth taking a video camera along and pitching the idea to a network, or even better, creating a YouTube channel!

  3. Hi Jenny

    I used Airbnb for the first time and found a fabulous apartment right on the beach at South Fremantle for my visit last week. The process was seamless and I too enjoyed being able to communicate with the owner.

    Have a fabulous trip with your family…enjoy every moment!


  4. Hi Jenny

    I concur with all your comments about both Airbnb and Trip Advisor. We have just returned from a couple of weeks in Italy and the accommodation booked through Airbnb was just wonderful. You know exactly what you’re getting, all the hosts were lovely and so helpful – but the best part is the conversation, communication and genuine relationships you create. That doesn’t happen every time, but we were hosted in Genoa by the most welcoming man who couldn’t do enough for us – and you’re sitting in his kitchen in a 16C palazzo while he makes you breakfast and suggests restaurants. We’ve had similar experiences with Airbnb places booked in Australia, so it’s not just a European thing.
    Hope you have a wonderful time!

    1. Thanks Deborah. I’m so pleased to hear about your experience with an Airbnb host. I hope we find similar. 🙂

  5. Hi Jenny, is another great site for accommodation.
    Also I have a the addresses of 2 great apartments 1 in Paddington London (Airbnb) that is perfect for 4 people and 1 in Berlin just near the Brandenburg Tor.

    Did the 5 week tour with my 16 and 18 year old sons over December/January and had a great time as I am sure you will.

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