Confessions of an Airbnb Virgin

We rented a house in Mountain View, California, and it came with a social life.

We rented a house in Mountain View, California, and it came with a social life.

There is no better place to sample the peer-to-peer economy than where it sprouted, the fecund fields of northern California.

Chief among the sharing-economy sites is the white-hot Airbnb, which connects travelers to people renting rooms, apartments, or even houseboats.

That’s how I met educators John and Cindy and booked their two-bedroom home in Mountain View for my recent family vacation.

The house, though Lilliputian, was big on personality: Sunlit and book-filled, it even came with hand-waving next-door neighbors and a backyard tree dripping with fat oranges. I loved temporarily inhabiting this cool couple’s crunchy NorCal life.

But the quirky leftiness that so charmed me was off-putting to my family.

“Is this a hotel or someone’s house?” asked my son, who didn’t quite get the concept. “There’s a Buddha in our bedroom,” said my slightly aghast, conservative Catholic mother.

They eventually came around, but OK, it’s not for everyone. Luckily, lodging options have only multiplied in recent years, and however you roll, there’s something for you in our Travel Intelligence guide, “8 Ways to Sleep Around.”

The sharing economy requires sharing—with real people. That can be a peril, especially for those who need to maximize time, but it’s mostly a plus.

I could have rented a car through Hertz or called for a taxi to tool around San Francisco. But then I’d never have become Facebook friends with Rachel, whose Mazda CX-5 I reserved through RelayRides, or found Gourmet Dim Sum, the hole-in-the-wall on Clement Street in the Richmond district where you can buy three dumplings for $1.50, had Davis, my Lyft driver, not taken me there.

This piece first appeared in National Geographic Traveler’s February 2015 issue and was posted on the Intelligent Travel blog on February 13, 2015. Photo © Norie Quintos