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Unique Travel Experience Involving Strangers Gains Popularity

11:51 PM, Nov 6, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY- Are you sick of staying in pricy and impersonal hotels when you travel? There is a less expensive and exotic alternative, if you're willing to stay with strangers. Two on Your Side recently checked out the growing popularity of a website called AirBNB.com to find out the pros and cons of this unique travel experience.

Over the past two years, Blane and Scott van Pletzen-Rands have welcomed more than 75 different world travelers into their home, giving them full run of the house.

They started considering renting out their two spare bedrooms in 2011 after reading about AirBNB.com, an online community marketplace for people to list and book unique accommodations.

"But at the same time we were thinking, 'what would it be like having strangers coming into our house, invading our personal space?'" explained Scott.

But after learning about AirBNB's thorough vetting process, they decided to go for it and set up a profile. The very next day they had their first reservation.

$89 a night in their home will get vistors a clean room and towels, a shared bathroom, serene backyard, and free use of the laundry, wifi, living room and the kitchen. Visitors also get the authentic experience of living in buffalo.

"We tell them about the history of Buffalo, about the architecture downtown, the Darwin Martin House. Most people are here to see Niagara Falls," said Scott. "They have no idea what else there is in Buffalo".

Blane and Scott's home was one of the first in Buffalo to be listed on AirBNB. Now there are more than 150 listings, mostly in the Elmwood Village. But worldwide there are listings in 34,000 cities in 192 countries. And travelers are not limited to renting out rooms in houses.

Buffalo resident Parker Woodward has stayed in this ski chalet in Lake Tahoe, a beachfront apartment in Puerto Rico, and even a sailboat in the Florida Keys.

"Every experience on AirBNB is just that, it's an experience," explained Woodward. "You learn that there's a lot of beautiful places in the world but sometimes you don't really experience the people from those beautiful places, so that was probably the best and most enriching part of it."

But are those first class experiences on a coach budget really worth the risk of staying with a stranger?

"There's insurance through AirBnB. There are reviews that the hosts leave as well as other guests," said Woodward. "So there's a lot of checks and balances. So I've never felt unsafe. I've never felt in danger."

For travelers who are against staying with strangers, they can also find listings where the host leaves the home or apartment and lets the visitor stay there alone.

But that's where AirBNB gets its critics. Officials say it takes away hotel tax revenue and it also threatens apartment building safety. Some even say it may be illegal because some residents are subletting their apartments without being there. Now New York's Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, is demanding that Airbnb turn over information on New York City users.

But Blane and Scott say they do it the right way. They always stay home with their guests and they fill out a 1099 tax form every year and claim the income.

The benefits are more than just financial. They say hosting world travelers in their home is also enlightening.

"We've had a couple that was a little awkward maybe and we wouldn't invite them back. But beyond that most of them have been very fun," said Scott.

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