Monday 5 December 2016

Meet the couple who live in Airbnbs, and the Irish property that won their hearts

Carry on travelling

Chrissie Russell

Published 09/06/2016 | 01:00

Debbie and Michael Campbell stayed in Airbnbs in Wexford and Dublin City Centre.
Debbie and Michael Campbell stayed in Airbnbs in Wexford and Dublin City Centre.
The Parnell Street Airbnb where Michael and Debbie stayed in Dublin. Photo: Airbnb.ie
'Beautiful farmhouse in a rural setting close to Barntown and Wexford town.' Michael & Debbie's top Irish Airbnb. Photo: Airbnb.ie

For three years, US couple Debbie and Michael Campbell have used Airbnb to rent over 100 properties. So what do they think of Ireland?

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For the next few weeks, Americans Debbie and Michael Campbell will wander the streets of Dublin, exploring outdoor markets and pottering in thrift stores.

They've already learnt the tune to 'Olé, Olé, Olé', and plan to cheer on Ireland in the Euros with a pint in hand in a bustling bar before returning to their home and its rooftop terrace overlooking the city's spires.

"Our taxi driver was pretty keen we take in the Guinness Storehouse," says Debbie. "But that sounds a bit touristy to me." Despite the fact they've been travelling around the world for the last three years, the couple would never, ever class themselves as tourists.

The retirees, originally from Seattle, Washington, are serial Airbnb-ers, travellers hooked on the homeshare website's ethos that you shouldn't just visit a country, but live there.

Last year, 330,000 guests used Airbnb to visit Ireland and the number of hosts in the country has doubled since 2010. There are some 11,000 properties to pick from and 1,700 in the greater Dublin area alone.

Read more: Ireland's most weird and wonderful Airbnb rentals...

But the industry has also come in for criticism from irate hotel owners who say they are losing business as a result. Worse, many believe the proliferation in short-term lets has contributed to the ongoing rental crisis - landlords can sometimes make double or triple their return on a short-term lease to tourists rather than a long-term let.

In Berlin, the rental of whole apartments in city centres by Airbnb and its competitors has now been banned - with those who flout it facing hefty fines - in an attempt to protect affordable housing for city dwellers.

Michael and Debbie know a bit about the industry. They've been on the road for over 1,000 days and, armed with only two suitcases on wheels, they've since visited 49 countries and stayed in over 100 Airbnbs.

Not surprisingly, they won't hear a word said against the company.

"We wouldn't be doing what we're doing if it wasn't for Airbnb,"explains Michael (70), a retired event executive. "It wouldn't be sustainable in hotels, we wouldn't be able to afford it and it wouldn't be the same experience. The whole appeal of Airbnb is you live like a local."

And in Ireland, part of living like a local means struggling to find an affordable property in Dublin. In 90pc of their bookings, Michael and Debbie (60), prefer to rent out an entire property rather than stay with a host and spend no more than $90 (€80) per night.

"There's plenty of properties to choose from but it was clear that prices were higher than our budget for an entire home," explains Debbie. "For that we were having to look further and further outside the city so we decided to make that compromise for our three night stay."

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 18.23.34.jpg  

They settled on a pad on Parnell Street, (airbnb.ie/rooms/11647025; above) complete with roof terrace and a helpful host homeowner, Roberto, who's helped them get orientated and use his phone.

At €71, it's about €20 cheaper than nearby hotels, but pricier than comparable properties in other European cities. "Dublin is on the expensive side," says Michael. "But sometimes you spend a little more to be someplace special and Dublin is one of those places.

Like many Americans, the couple profess a special place in their hearts for Ireland, with Debbie laying claim to Irish roots that have been 'DNA test' confirmed. This is the second time they've visited the country on their Airbnb odyssey. One reason for their return trip is visa related. Ireland and the UK aren't in the Schengen Area, 26 EU countries that require American citizens to get a visa if they're staying longer than 90 days in 180.

Dipping in and out of the zone (such as with a repeat sojourn in Ireland) helps the Campbells avoid any "time consuming and costly" paperwork.

When it comes to picking a property, their strategy is simple - as close to the city centre as possible and within budget. "We've been in over 100. Not everyone gets an A+, but overall they've been wonderful and you feel you have a friend in the city before you even get there."

They previously stayed in an Airbnb in Temple Bar before moving on to the more subdued surrounds of a farmhouse in Wexford.

"I think maybe we didn't pay enough attention to the 'bar' bit when we saw Temple Bar," laughs Michael. "It was…lively."

"I saw a lot of hen dos!" adds Debbie. "It's maybe an area aimed at people younger than ourselves.

"It was a bit like staying in New Orleans and spending three nights on Bourbon Street."

The property, though, was "lovely" and had an unusual perk: "The host owned a barbers where I got a free haircut," says Michael. "We're hoping to visit him again whilst we're here."

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In Wexford, they loved the tranquil feeling of their farmhouse (above), and now rank the property as one of their all-time favourite Airbnbs.

"An adorable woman from down the road brought us jam and scones and told us what was what," adds Michael, who also experienced his first "fantastic" hurling match in the county.

It's the people ultimately that the Campbells reckon make the Airbnb experience.

There's been plenty in the press about what level of tax homeowners should pay on their income from holiday rentals. But Michael and Debbie don't care.

"We've read about that and we're really not interested," says Michael. "Some places we go people pay tax, others they don't - it makes no difference to us as customers. That's for other people to sort out."

"One thing we do consider is we're visiting these cities and spending money in restaurants and stores because we've found accommodation on Airbnb," adds Debbie. "We wouldn't be there otherwise."

The self-styled 'Senior Nomads', who keep a blog at seniornomads.blogspot.com, are now writing a book about their Airbnb adventure. They have little rituals to set up home in each new spot like stocking up on OJ, coffee and Coke and watching the US news on their iPad every evening.

Through Skype, Facetime and Google Hangouts, they reckon they stay in touch with their four adult children and friends as much, if not more, than if they were in Seattle.

They never spend longer than two weeks in one place but it's not all frantic sightseeing and running for trains. Some days they'll spend a day reading, doing laundry, playing scrabble or making soup. "This isn't vacation travelling," explains Debbie, a former graphic designer. "We're not rushing around trying to cram in as much as we can. We're homebodies."

It seems an odd thing to say considering they sold their Seattle house two years ago to help fund their travels. "Our home is where we are," says Michael simply. They've no end date in sight. According to their sums, travelling around the world, living in other people's homes costs them about the same as it would to be "sitting on a porch in our rocking chairs" in the States.

To other would-be Airbnb-ers, their advice is "do it". "You don't have to take it to the full extreme but why not give it a go?" says Michael. "We've found it so enriching. Life is short and you only go round once."

Michael and Debbie’s top six airbnbs

WEXFORD, Ireland

Beautiful farmhouse in a rural setting close to Barntown and Wexford town.

Details: airbnb.ie/rooms/1545588

BILBOA, Spain

In the centre of the city and walking distance to the famous market and Guggenheim.

Details: airbnb.ie/rooms/3860584

JERUSALEM, Israel

Wonderful hosts and a great location in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Details: airbnb.ie/rooms/1423284

SAN MIGUEL ALLENDE, Mexico

Three floors and a roof deck add up to a great place in the centre of town.

Details: airbnb.ie/rooms/6569224

HAVANA, Cuba

Warm hosts, beautiful rooms, great food and an oasis from the hustle of Havana.

Details: airbnb.ie/rooms/5704246

Irish Independent

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