The Wimdu website connects travelers with local home-owners who have rooms to rent. On our recent visit to Ghent, we decided to give their service a try and experience the city like a local.
When traveling, we typically find ourselves staying at a variety of hotels. We have loyalty cards for the big chains which are usually conveniently located. What we’ve found though, is while chain hotels offer consistency, they don’t create a bond between the visitor and the host community. To get a real feel for a place, you need to meet and interact with its residents. The best way to do this is to live like a local.
Ghent is one of our favourite cities in Belgium and we had been planning to return this summer. However, we wanted our visit to be more intimate, more local than our stays in the past. When Wimdu approached us about trying out their service, we found the perfect solution to our challenge.
Wimdu is a website that enables private individuals to rent everything from a room in their home to an entire house to visitors. Their tag line, “travel like a local,” spoke to us directly so we decided to give them a try.
Wimdu was started by two young German entrepreneurs who used their passion for travel to build a community as well as a business. Only a year and a half old, Wimdu already has over 50,000 properties listed around the world.
Booking a Room with Wimdu
Booking with Wimdu was easy. First, you search for your destination, to find a properties you are interested in. You can also browse a map, to help narrow down your choices. Each property listing includes: a description of the property , photos, a list of the facilities, the price, the rental terms, and reviews from previous visitors.
Since we were visiting Ghent, we narrowed our search to the main part of the city and found two interesting properties. The first was a full apartment, but it was located outside the center requiring public transit or a car to get around. The second was very central, but it was only a room in a person’s flat, meaning we’d have to live with them. After reviewing the properties and the comments, we decided on the room in the city center, for convenience, as well as the opportunity to meet the owner, Geert.
Having selected a property, you book it directly via the site. If this is your first visit to Wimdu, you need to set up a short profile – an important part of the site’s community aspect. Since the site is about connecting visitors with empty space in the homes of private individuals, it is only fair the home owner know a bit about you before you arrive. In fact, your booking will not be confirmed until the property owner reviews and accepts the booking.
Once your profile is created, you provide your payment details to Wimdu. The charges will not go through until you make your stay. This avoids the need to carry cash and allows you to pay by credit card, if you prefer. There may be some optional extras at a property (like parking) requiring a cash payment to the owner.
I created a profile explaining who we are and uploaded a lovely picture of myself taken by a great photographer I know. I decided to use a credit card for our payment, although I was surprised to see you could also pay via Bancontact. This really shows the site is made in Europe; I wouldn’t expect to see Bancontact as an option on an American webiste.
The final step is for the property owner to review the request and accept it. Wimdu states this can take up to 24 hours, but within 4 hours our host, Geert, had accepted the request and sent us a welcome note via the site.
Once everything was confirmed, Wimdu allowed us to communicate with Geert about arrival times and other details, such as parking. The only thing left to do was visit Ghent.
Visiting Ghent with Wimdu
Arriving on Friday night, Geert was home to welcome us and to show us around. As advertised, the flat was central and convenient, just around the corner from the Ghent Belfry and St. Bavo Cathedral.
Located on the 4th floor, the flat was clean and our room had a comfortable bed. Geert provided lots of towels and included a big bottle of water next to the bed. A nice touch especially as it turned out the nights were quite warm over the weekend.
Since this was his private home, there were lots of pictures on the walls, knick-knacks on shelves, and the random bits we gather over the years. While we exchanged phone numbers, he shared with us a bit about his son and how he enjoyed living in Ghent. We also learned he worked in Brussels, just around the corner from CheeseWeb HQ. Sometimes we are amazed by how small the world really can be!
We stayed with Geert for the weekend and barely heard him come or go. Sunday morning, the three of us chatted, over coffee, and learned a bit more about his passion for travel, and his plans for the future. He shared some thoughts on things we might see, but was equally interested in the parts of Ghent we explored which he had yet to visit. We’ve always enjoyed “seeing” a place through the eyes of friends who visit, so we understand Geert’s interest in his guest’s adventures.
The weekend passed very quickly and the location of our room was perfect. Wimdu made the process of finding accomodations easy and Geert made the stay feel welcoming and more local. We are looking forward to meeting up with Geert in Brussels now so we can show him what we love about our neighbourhood.
Is this type of travel for everyone? Maybe not.
It is more affordable than staying in a hotel every night and you can easily find properties where you can be by yourself. However, in our view, the real value is the experience of meeting local people in their homes, learning more about the culture and the place you’re visiting directly from them. It does require you take a bit of a risk, but the reward is definitely worth it.
Win Your Next Stay with Wimdu
Now it’s your turn! The kind folks at Wimdu have offered one of our readers one 100€ gift voucher to be used to book ANY of their properties. (For reference, our stay in Ghent was about 50€ a night). All you have to do to be entered to win is check out the Wimdu website of your choice and leave a comment below telling us what Wimdu city you would visit if you won. We’ll use a random number generator to draw one lucky winner on August 15, 2012. So you have a week to get commenting!
Thanks to Wimdu for sponsoring our visit to Ghent and providing the prize voucher. Also thanks to Geert for being a great host and sharing your city with us! As always the opinions expressed in this post are completely our own.