While I was in Athens I took two guided tours- one on foot and one on bike. Each explored very different parts of the city – the bike tour was focused on hidden gems and street art while the walking tour hit the historical highlights including the Ancient Agora, the Plaka, and the Acropolis.
Both tours were led by young male, native Athenians with history degrees from American universities who very clearly loved their home city despite its economic, political and social challenges. Aside from the gorgeous scenery, crazy traffic, and awe-inspiring history, my big take-away from these tours was the impact AirBNB is having on their local housing economy.
To be completely transparent, I stayed in an AirBNB in Athens. When I booked my trip, a coworker recommended I stay in a local hotel that she had enjoyed, but I shrugged off her advice and went for an AirBNB instead. I’ve had great experiences so far with the service –with highlights including a renovated trailer in Portland (with homemade edibles) to a working Carmelite monastery in Ghent, Belgium. Each has been unique and charming in its own way. So when the opportunity came to travel to Greece for a week, I did my usual and booked an AirBNB.
The unit I booked looked cute online. It was a newly renovated loft near Omonia Square – a “bustling square” in central Athens. Oh marketing copy- you’re so cute. Omonia Square was actually like Times Square before Rudy Guilliani’s efforts to clean it up in the early 1990s, without the bright lights. The ad showed a gleaming Jacuzzi in the bathroom, a view of the Acropolis out the front windows and exposed brick walls. The unit was so well advertised it was actually included in the new AirBNB Plus section – a curated pick of verified homes with “hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail.”
And truth be told, there was nothing actually wrong with the unit. The Jacuzzi worked, though I was limited to luke-warm water and a 20 minute time limit. There was also no toilet paper which I discovered in the middle of a poop, but as a saavy traveler I carry some with me. Technically you could see the Acropolis out the windows, but you had to look past a decrepit abandoned building next door to see it.
But the biggest issue was me. As a solo female American traveler, I am used to fending for myself and typically love the independence that traveling alone brings. Finding food, entertainment, and daily necessities are part of the allure of solo travel and have brought me treasured memories from Mexico, Singapore, Germany, Sweden and Hong Kong. But for a few reasons, things just did not click for me in Greece.
As I quickly learned, Greece is a very social culture with a strong pride in providing welcoming hospitality. When you’re staying by yourself in an AirBNB you miss out on all of that.
On the bike tour, one of the murals we stopped by read “Your AirBNB doesn’t have breakfast.” Now, going into this experience I knew that and was ready for it. See, I’m used to crappy continental breakfasts in hotels that can (and should) be skipped in favor of a local greasy spoon or hip brunch spot. But I learned the hard way that this is not the case around the globe.
While other parts of Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong all had excellent breakfast options (I still dream about the congee I had in Sai Ying Pun), Greece thrived on coffee and pastries. Within a 200 meter block of my unit there were four coffee shops. Its also not an early morning city, so when my jetlagged body was ready for a substantial meal at 7am, I was shit out of luck.
I asked my tour guide on the walking tour where to get a good breakfast and he looked at me knowingly and said “You’re in an AirBNB, aren’t you?” He then went on to explain that all hotels in Greece have a full breakfast. If I was in a hotel, I could expect fruit, bread, eggs, yogurt and honey, and all the coffee I could drink.
He then told me about how the explosive growth of AirBNB in Athens has made it next to impossible to find an affordable place to rent. Similar to the issues cropping up in other cities, wealthy investors are buying multiple properties which are then being rented out at inflated prices to tourists. These units are then no longer available for local Athenians, where the average monthly salary is around 700 euros. As Greece emerges from their recent economic crisis, many people are being forced out of the city where they have lived their whole lives because of the scarcity in affordable housing.
Compounding the problem - Greece’s economy relies heavily on tourism. There is a 24% tax on all goods which goes to support infrastructure, restoration projects, and the government. This tax is levied on hotels, but not on AirBNB, causing all sorts of problems.
At this point in my trip, I still had 3 more nights to travel. Two of those nights already had AirBNB lodging lined up, one in Meteora and one near the Athens airport for my last night. If I could’ve cancelled without incurring a fee, I would’ve.
My unit in Meteora was a room in a local woman’s flat. She greeted me at the door with fresh, homemade pie and offered me to join her for dinner. She explained that I was staying in her old roommate’s room who had since moved away, but renting the room on AirBNB allowed her to continue to live in the flat. She offered local tips, a map, and sold guests a homemade olive oil/honey handcreme that I love. Staying with Iliana was a joy – though in similar fashion as before, I was left longing for breakfast and made do with pastries and coffee.
The second to last night of my trip I threw caution to the wind and drove to Galadaxi, a seaside town that came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. Reviews said it wouldn’t be hard to find a room, especially in the offseason and that I should be able to get a hotel room for 30-40 Euros. Sure enough, I landed at the Hotel Galadaxi, a super cute guest house 100 meters from the port.
The owner greeted me with a warm smile, showed me to my room and detailed his favorite places on a hand drawn map. In the morning, I was greeted with a delicious breakfast including three kinds of bread, yogurt and homemade honey, eggs, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Now this is what I’m talking about! As I checked out , the owner gave me a jar of homemade marmalade and a magnet to “remember Galadaxi by” and a big hug. If I could’ve stayed another night, I would’ve.
My last night was in a run-down suburb of Athens close to the airport. Again, the actual AirBNB unit was fine, but I was wishing I had made a different lodging decision.
All of this is a long way of saying if you’re going to Greece, skip the AirBNB and stay local. The Greek economy is still recovering from the crash and they need and appreciate your tourist dollars. Not only that, but you’ll likely have a more enjoyable visit.
More to come soon on the rest of the trip!