4 results found.
4 results found.
My first couchsurfing experience was in Madrid. 12,350 miles from home, I hopped off the plane, caught the metro to a train station in the middle of the suburbs, and waited without a phone for a stranger who was supposed to come and pick me up. Probably not what my mother wants to hear, but nevertheless, it was the case.
Photograph courtesy of Couchsurfing
It was only in January of this year that I finally ventured onto the Airbnb scene. My boyfriend and I were celebrating New Years with a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand, and we wanted somewhere to stay in Auckland – the capital – that was homely and central yet met the demands of our budget.
Photograph courtesy of Airbnb
Both of these experiences were great. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. But I can also sympathise if you’re an Airbnb and Couchsurfing virgin and have no idea where to start when it comes to accommodation. I procrastinated using Airbnb for a long time simply because I didn’t really understand how it worked, and Couchsurfing was a repellent to my social anxiety. But fear not, because I am about to walk you through everything you need to know about these two online platforms so that you can tailor future travel to your individual needs.
Let’s start with the basics.
What the hell are Airbnb and Couchsurfing?!
An Airbnb is kind of like a budget hotel. As an online hospitality service, you make an account and then browse the thousands of listings available from all corners of the globe. You can either pay for a shared room, private room or an entire home, and compared to a hotel, let’s just say your bank account is going to be thanking you.
If Airbnb is like a budget hotel, then Couchsurfing is like a budget Airbnb. The good news? You don’t have to pay a dime. The bad news? Yeah… you’re most likely going to be roughing it. With couchsurfing, you set up an online profile and reach out to hosts in your chosen area. There is no formal process to it; all you need is for someone to agree to let you crash for a few nights, and voilà! Your accommodation is sorted.
I’m going to be rating these two services on price, comfort, reliability, sociality, locality and safety. Let’s get down to it 👊
Like I said in the introduction before, the major difference between these two services is that Airbnb charges and Couchsurfing doesn’t. Assuming that you are traveling on a budget, it’s pretty clear who prevails here.
For some, this difference is the deciding factor. But for others, there is still lingering doubt. If you have the money to spare, then it is completely understandable that you might like to explore different options for accommodation if you are receiving more comfort in return.
Not unlike hotels, Airbnb’s are generally priced according to quality (emphasis on the generally). As the quality increases, so does the cost. It’s immensely difficult to throw some average figures at you, but as a general rule, you’ll be saving your pennies by opting for the latter.
It is also worth noting that although you don’t pay a fee to stay at someone’s house with Couchsurfing, it is always polite to thank them in some way. After all, they are going out of their way to host you. Some couchsurfers like to show their appreciation through shouting their host dinner or buying them a bottle of wine. Although this is not obligatory, it’s a pretty basic courtesy to show gratitude. Your host will certainly respect and remember that.
The Winner: Couchsurfing
The excuse many people employ to justify their splurging on more expensive accommodation is that it is more comfortable. Comfort can refer to many things – most significantly degrees of luxuriance – but for the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to it in a more social light. In other words: how much does the presence of a stranger impact the ease and enjoyment of your stay?
Of course, if you are renting out an entire home on Airbnb, then you don’t have to worry about this. You’ve got the place to yourself! There’s no need to concern yourself with the whereabouts or judgements of another person. Five stars, Airbnb 👍
But… if you’re renting a private room or couchsurfing, then this factor might be of interest to you.
I’m not even going to be subtle about it: Couchsurfing takes the cake here. I just can’t help but feel uncomfortable when I’m renting a private room through Airbnb; you’re always running into your host but are so unsure of your relationship. Are you obligated to spend time with them? Invite them out for a drink?
At the end of the day, you can do whatever the hell you want. After all, you’re paying them and are entitled to use the space and time as you wish (respectfully, of course). But I still inevitably feel rude when our contact is limited solely to inaudible grunts in the hallway and waiting on each other to finish using the bathroom.
With Couchsurfing, the expectations are clear. It is considered ill-mannered to exploit someone’s generosity in exchange for a free bed. It is anticipated that you will spend time together and (ideally) make friends. If your host ventures to your home country, then perhaps you will even return the favour of opening your doors for them. If this implicit agreement isn’t your cup of tea, then maybe you should be punching Airbnb into Google instead.
The Winner: Couchsurfing
Reliability refers to two different things in this context: whether the accommodation is actually that which is advertised online, and the likelihood of a host bailing on you.
This first applies more predominantly to Airbnb. I have stayed in a number of houses (thankfully a minority) where what I paid for wasn’t what was advertised online. A common occurrence is staying in a room different to that which is photographed. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the same facilities were present, but unfortunately that is not always the case. One time, I even stayed somewhere where the entire house had been stripped after the photos were taken, leaving nothing but the bed upon which I was to sleep. But possibly the most frustrating thing to happen when arriving at the listing is to discover that – contrary to what is advertised – there is actually no Wi-Fi 😡 *cue millennial tantrum*
With Couchsurfing, you consider places for the merits of the host, not the house. This means that the quality of their home isn’t going to be of such a huge priority. Furthermore, with Couchsurfing, you learn to roll with the punches anyway. No one is going to be too upset if the bed you were promised turns out in fact to be an air mattress. What matters is that you have a place to sleep.
However, regarding the likelihood of a host bailing on you, it’s Airbnb’s time to shine. Because money is not changing hands with Couchsurfing, hosts are under no obligation to remain available to you. It is not uncommon for hosts to bail the very day you are expected to arrive – hours before, even. Yet with Airbnb, cancellations on behalf of the host get very muddly indeed and are to be avoided if at all possible. You have to organise refunds and then find somewhere else to stay, sometimes at very short notice. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.
The Winner: Airbnb (just)
When it comes to social matters, Airbnb and Couchsurfing are polar opposites.
As I discussed under the comfort heading, Couchsurfing exceeds all expectations. The very nature of the service is to put yourself out there and make friends with people whom you probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet under ordinary circumstances. By living under the same roof, you can develop quite an intimate bond – especially if you are staying longer than a couple of nights. This is especially desirable if you are a solo traveler and looking to meet people on the road. After all, one of the most efficient and reliable ways to make friends is to stay with them.
Whilst Couchsurfing reigns supreme in the social tiers, Airbnb is somewhat appalling. Some of the loneliest times I have ever felt on the road are those nights spent in private Airbnbs with only myself for company. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing; lots of travellers – especially those in a pair or group – are simply looking for somewhere to retreat for the night to rest up. The last thing they may want is to be thrown into yet another social situation where they are pressured to slap a smile on their face and make uncomfortable small talk.
But one of the objectives of travel is to meet people, and therefore the ultimate goal with sociality is to make lasting friends. In saying that, we have a champion.
The Winner: Couchsurfing
It may sound somewhat picky, but when you’re in a foreign city and relying on public transport, prime location becomes something of a priority.
When you are using the Airbnb search engine, you can filter listings by location. This is a particularly handy tool if you know exactly what part of town you want to be in. Although you don’t receive the actual address until you have confirmed your payment, you do have knowledge of the street where you will be staying. Good enough, I reckon.
Yet with Couchsurfing, all you have to go on is the city. Occasionally you might strike gold and find that the host has written the suburb in their profile, but it’s relatively rare. The mentality behind this is that you’re lucky to get a bed at all, let alone start getting choosy. Although a distant location can be inconvenient at times, I don’t contest this.
I encountered poor location with couchsurfers in Madrid and Paris. In each place, I found myself hosted on the very outskirts of the city. It certainly made for a challenge finding my way there on the metro from the airports with a 30kg suitcase in tow. I won’t lie; Airbnb certainly looked a lot more appealing at that stage of the game.
The Winner: Airbnb
Last but certainly not least, we have something that cannot be emphasised enough: safety.
Perhaps Airbnb can afford to be neglected in this part. Statistically, you are far more likely to stumble upon a poor-quality listing than one where your personal safety is under threat. But as soon as you enter the domain of Couchsurfing, it’s a whole new ball game.
To be a couchsurfer – especially a solo female couchsurfer – you need to find the balance between trust and suspicion. On one hand, you need to be able to let a complete stranger welcome you into their home and share your company when you are at your most vulnerable. But on the other, you also need to have developed some good old fashioned common sense, and always keep an eye out for questionable behaviour from your host. Couchsurfing horror stories have not fallen upon deaf ears.
In my blog post, 5 Practical Gifts for Female Backpackers on their Bon Voyage, I briefly discussed some measures you might take to up the stakes of a safe and enjoyable couchsurfing experience. These include…
Long story short? Don’t be stupid. When you enter a stranger’s home, you are largely on your own (ooh, that rhymed). Couchsurfing has the potential to make or break a trip. Let’s do everything we can to avoid the latter.
The Winner: Airbnb
Drum roll please!
And the verdict is… it completely depends on what you are looking for.
I know, I know. This is that blog post all over again where I refuse to play by the rules and give a black or white answer. But hear me out, okay?
Let’s typecast for a moment and imagine Airbnb and Couchsurfing as representational of two very different travellers. Airbnb is traveling with their partner on a short trip where they can afford to splurge a little on accommodation. They want to be able to spend their evenings exactly how they want, and to not have to bother about the stressful possibility of having to find somewhere to sleep last minute if it falls through. Alternatively, Couchsurfing is a solo traveler who is trying to stretch their budget as far as it will go so that they can see more over a longer period of time. They concern themselves with meeting new people and treasuring those new relationships, and they are flexible about the quality of their lodgings. Given the nature of their trip, they are prepared to accept the risk of unpredictable hosts and bizarre locations, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience.
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
I personally prefer Couchsurfing over Airbnb.
But like I just said, that is because I am someone who falls into the second category. I also find that you can predict what service someone will prefer given their age. The older people are, the more they generally opt for something reliable like Airbnb. It also helps that the older you are, the more savings you tend to have.
So, there you have it: the pros and cons of both Airbnb and Couchsurfing. I would love to hear your thoughts on whether one or the other reigns supreme, or any anecdotes you are willing to share on the subject. Comment below!
Photograph courtesy of Unsplash
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Maybe you’re renting out an Airbnb for a few weeks. Maybe you’re a student studying abroad for six months. Maybe you’ve just moved to a new country and haven’t the expenses to jazz up your new dwellings.
Sometimes the easiest way to make temporary accommodation feel like home is to break out the credit card, but retail therapy and a minimalist lifestyle make for uncomfortable bedfellows. It was only recently that I really started to appreciate the importance of feeling at home in unfamiliar surroundings, and so lately I have been enjoying exploring what I can do to achieve this without blowing the bank and sacrificing the minimalist habits I have been developing over the past eighteen months.
If you’re been following my movements over the past six months or so, you might know that I have recently up and left to Oxford in the United Kingdom. But one thing you might not know is that I struggled a little to make our apartment from a house, into a home. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly cheesy. But it’s the truth. I pride myself on owning few material items – if I own more than can fit in a suitcase, I start to grow antsy – but there’s no reason why those few material items can’t be special. If you disagree, tell that to the kitsch Darth Vader ornament I’ve been lugging across four continents.
Whatever your situation, here are six ways that you – the minimalist traveller – can make temporary accommodation feel like home…
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that, “… a cup of tea would restore my normality”. I am not here to argue with such words of wisdom.
A good cup of tea can go a long way. If you have a specific type of tea that you always drink, stocking up so that you can make regular brews can be a nostalgic and joyous way to bring the flavours of home with you. I personally like a strong Melbourne Breakfast first thing in the mornings, and this brew has certainly helped to establish a semblance of familiarity. The homeliness of tea doesn’t just have to be acquired through taste either; the therapeutic effect of brewing it up cannot be understated.
Photograph courtesy of Kira auf der Heide for Unsplash
Something that I have noticed contributes heavily to the alienness of moving into a new place is the atmosphere of lifelessness. Have you ever noticed how, well, dead somewhere feels when you first arrive? It doesn’t exactly lend a helping hand when you’re trying to make somewhere feel vibrant and lived in. To boost both ambience and morale, I like to spruce up the place with some fresh flowers.
If you’re staying at an Airbnb – particularly one on the more extravagant side – some hosts will go out of their way to welcome you. You might unlock the door to your new dwelling and find a gorgeous bouquet of flowers waiting for you. However, for those of us that don’t have the luxury of such opulent greetings, we have to make our own joy.
I am by no means suggesting you go to your local florist and spend an arm and a leg purchasing a bouquet of roses. In my case, I like to wander out to the garden and just stick a handful of daisies and daffodils in an unused glass with water. I wake up every morning to this splash of colour on my bedside table, and they make me smile. Nothing more, nothing less.
Depending on where you are – I’m thinking alone the lines of Spain or Thailand – it is also relatively inexpensive to buy a small bunch of flowers at a nearby farmer’s market. Not only does having fresh flowers enhance your home aesthetic, but it is also an opportunity for you to nurture and cultivate something. This personal accountability can do wonders for your mental health in a new and foreign place. Furthermore, as they are living things, flowers do not last forever; ideal for the minimalist traveller.
Photograph courtesy of Nordwood for Unsplash
I mentioned above that I lugged a kitsch Darth Vader ornament across four continents, and I wasn’t kidding. My mother didn’t hesitate to raise her eyebrows as I struggled to close the zip on my suitcase.
Amongst my darling Darth Vader included a vintage world map, a Vietnamese fan, and a ceramic bowl in the shape of a cat. Throughout my travels, I also accumulated a small collection of postcards and art from across the Mediterranean, as well as a plush camel from the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Because, why not.
I tend to prioritise little things like these over clothing in my suitcase, so I can afford to be a little superfluous in my packing. But even if you haven’t the space to do so, there are still pieces of nostalgia that anyone can fit. Just as an example, if you are often troubled by homesickness, try slipping a birthday card from a parent into your laptop case. It will take up no extra room, and it’s something special to keep close.
It’s incredible just how familiar an unfamiliar space can become if you decorate it with just one or two personal items. I don’t usually encourage materialism (says the girl with the plush camel 🙄) but a little sentimentality never hurt anybody. This method also encourages appreciating what you already have, which is something sorely neglected nowadays.
Photograph Courtesy of Elsa Noblet for Unsplash
These past few months I have invested heavily in meditation, which has turned out to be an ideal exercise because it doesn’t require any equipment nor space. Throughout my travels and exchange experience, I would always set aside at least a couple of minutes every day to perch cross-legged on my bed, close my eyes, and practice mindfulness. Not only has it dramatically improved my mental health, but because it is something I only do wherever I am staying , it makes me feel at home regardless of where on the planet I am.
If meditation isn’t your kind ‘o thing, then other activities that spring to mind include yoga, watching stand-up comedy, or gardening. Anything would work really, as long as it is an activity that you would perform exclusively at home. Creating a strong mental association with that activity and your living space will help to foster positive associations with your new environment.
Photograph courtesy of Nik MacMillan for Unsplash
Not unlike reinstating habits from home, you might choose to reinstate smells from home. This is also not unlike brewing your favourite pot of tea, but instead of engaging your gustation senses, you are engaging your olfaction senses.
There is something so utterly healing about candles, I just can’t put it into words. I don’t know whether it is the dancing flame on the wick, or the soft scent that emanates from the wax, but what I do know is that as soon as I light a match, I calm right the f*ck down. Although this tip might involve some spending, candles are nevertheless an item that can be used. They will not last forever, and I think that part of their appeal is their finiteness.
A lot of places do not allow residents to burn candles indoors, but for those that do, I can strongly recommend finding a candle of your choosing and lighting it when you start to feel displaced. Objectively soothing scents include lavender and chamomile, but even better is if you have a scented candle you would normally burn at home that you can burn in your new lodging to restore the familiarity.
Photograph courtesy of Nathan Dumlao for Unsplash
Last but not least, make an effort to cook your favourite homemade dishes. When you are in a new country, the newness of the available food can be especially overwhelming; I remember returning home from Southeast Asia and craving nothing more than meat and three veg (this was before the vegetarian phase). As much as I had enjoyed the Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, I swore I could not eat anymore rice for at least a month.
If you are in a similar situation and the local restaurants are not tickling your fancy, try and stock your pantry with ingredients from home, and relish cooking (and of course, eating) food from your own culture. Cooking can really become something special and almost intimate if you see it as more than a means to the end of quelling your appetite.
Photograph courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo for Unsplash
One last note I wanted to make is about attitude. Even if you commit to all of the above, your new place is never going to feel like home if you don’t at least approach it with an adaptable and constructive attitude. People can find themselves in new environments both willingly and unwillingly, but if your priority is to make the most of the situation, a positive attitude is essential. Now, sometimes a negative attitude is necessary to get out of a bad situation, but if you are reading this piece, then I imagine that doesn’t describe you.
Making temporary accommodation feel like home doesn’t have to mean blowing your budget or surrounding yourself with meaningless objects just to make the space feel less empty. Home means something different to everybody, and once you figure out what your home is, well… that’s when you won’t need to read articles like this anymore.
In February of 2017 (lordy that feels like a long time ago…) I published a guest post on the Travelettes called How to Get Comfortable with Traveling. As I wrote, “I’m not talking about homesickness… at least, not entirely”, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably identify strongly with that unnerving feeling whenever you’re out of your geographic comfort zone. This article addresses that, and I am linking it here because I think that it’s very relevant to what I’ve discussed in the present article.
Let me know your thoughts.
Photographs courtesy of Unsplash.
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I stayed in Paris for over a week in July. I always try to arrive somewhere with little to no expectations, but let’s be honest – this is Paris we’re talking about. It’s probably the last place on Earth you could visit as a blank slate.
Ask three different people how long you should stay in Paris, and you’ll receive three different answers. The general consensus is around three to four days, but I spent around ten and was still discovering new places by the time I headed south.
Whether you have a layover on a long haul flight or you’re a backpacker spending each day somewhere new, it can be frustrating to narrow down the seemingly endless list of activities to suit your time restraints. That’s where a planned schedule can come in handy.
The beauty of this pocket itinerary is that – aside from food – everything here is free. Perfect for the budget traveller! Furthermore – aside from perhaps Montmartre – nothing listed here is by definition ‘touristy’. Instead, I have endeavoured to include activities and cafés that will give you special insight into the remarkable vibe and essence of the City of Love. After all, discovering that is far more valuable then waiting three hours in a queue to climb the Eiffel Tower.
If you associate Paris with the blush of roses and the scent of lilies, then you’re not wrong. Paris is famous for it’s flower markets, and perhaps none so more than ‘Marché aux Fleurs‘.
Name: Marché aux Fleurs
Address: Place Louis Lépine
Hours: 8am-7:30pm on Monday to Saturday, and 8-7pm on Sunday
Hop across the River Seine on the metro (or walk if you fancy stretching your legs) to satisfy your Instagram needs (*cringe*).
Rue Crémieux is what I like to call the most photogenic street in the world. Situated on the 12th arrondissement, it is a 144 metre-long street where all of the houses are painted in sweet pastels with facades of vines, birds and lilacs.
Name: Rue Crémieux
Address: Well… Rue Crémieux
As a vegetarian, it can be difficult to find a place – especially in France, the most meat-savvy country I’ve ever visited – where you have more than one measly option on the menu. So you can imagine my delight at stumbling across this Parisian gem: Bob’s Kitchen.
After you’ve taken in the splendour of Rue Crémieux, catch the metro a handful of stops north to the district of Le Marais and track down Bob’s Kitchen amongst the thin alleyways (it took me a few goes). My personal menu recommendation: cream cheese bagel sandwich 😍
Excerpts from Reviews off Tripadvisor
Name: Bob’s Kitchen
Address: 74 Rue des Gravilliers
Phone: 09 52 55 11 66
Hours: 8-3pm Monday-Friday and 8-4pm Saturday-Sunday
Photograph courtesy of Bob’s Kitchen
As Audrey Hepburn said, Paris is always a good idea. Likewise, a second lunch is always a good idea. Especially when it’s in Paris.
A mere seven minute walk from Bob’s Kitchen is heaven on a plate a.k.a Pain de Sucre. Pain de Sucre is a patisserie located on one of the main streets in Le Marais and boasts treats to make anyone’s mouth water. The boutique, gourmet dessert house specialises in eye-opening creations that will have you rethinking the limits of sweets.
The photographs below showcase the pink bliss I sampled during my visit: a light, sugary concoction of citrus cappuccino biscuit, black sesame crisp, rose cream, raspberry pulp and creamy vanilla topped with fresh raspberry and lily petals. Hell yeah.
Name: Pain de Sucre
Address: 14 Rue de Rambuteau
Phone: 01 45 74 68 92
Now that you’re uncomfortably full and regretting that second lunch, walk it off with an outing to Montmartre.
When I first arrived in Paris and my couchsurfing host said that he was taking me to Montmartre, I was initially really confused. Montmartre? What is this Montmartre? But as soon as we had trudged up that damn hill and the resplendence of the Sacré-Coeur fell beneath my gaze, I knew.
For those who – like me – had not yet connected the dots, Montmartre is the name of the only hill in Paris that offers breath-taking views over the city (minus the Eiffel Tower 😑). Located in the 18th arrondissement, it hosts Place du Terre( i.e. the celebrated artist’s square) where artists rent out one square metre of land to set up their easels and try and sell their work. It is also where you will find the magnificent basilica of Sacré-Coeur, the ‘national vow’ of Paris.
This is just a really lovely area to walk around and absorb everything. Yes, you’ll have to wade through the hordes of tourists, but yes, it’s worth it.
T’is that time of the day where your feet grow tired and your head weary. You look at your watch and see that it’s not yet an acceptable point to call it a day… so what do you do?
You go for a drink at Le Cube Bar, of course!
Specialising in Mediterranean tapas, Le Cube Bar is a rooftop champagne bar atop the majestic Galeries Lafayette. Galeries Lafayette is a French department store that isn’t too friendly on the old bank account, but sure makes up for it with its gorgeous “art nouveau” stained glass interior. It’s worth a visit just for that.
Unwind with a glass (or two) of sauvignon blanc whilst losing yourself in the indescribable panoramic view of Paris. Unlike that of Montmartre, this time you will be treated to an eyeful of the Eiffel Tower 💪
Name: Le Cube Bar
Address: 7th floor of Galeries Lafayette (40 Boulevard Haussmann)
Phone: 01 73 71 91 13
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11-7:30pm and Sunday 11-6pm
If you’re hungry for more Parisian content, be sure to check out my Paris Photo Diary (and learn some Latin while you’re at it!). Moreover, if you’re enjoying the itineraries, make sure you spend some time perusing my blog post: How to Spend a Day in Bangkok. Nothing like contrasting gourmet croissants with fried bugs!
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I’m introducing a new segment to my blog called the Bucket List. Different posts will showcase neat activities and accommodation from all around the world that I plan to visit but simply cannot wait to share with you right now.
To get this underway, I’m super excited to share with you this Airbnb I stumbled upon whilst I was drooling over the Instagram feed of Maximilian Hansen. Called Villa Ariana Grande – for reasons I would love to know – this villa might just convince me to take a spontaneous trip to Bali in and of itself.
Photos from Maxi’s Instagram feed during her stay at Villa Ariana Grande.
I stayed at an Airbnb for the first time just last month, when I stayed in Auckland during a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand. I thought I would feel uncomfortable living in someone else’s space, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I loved the homeliness you feel in Airbnb’s as opposed to in a hotel. I always struggle to settle or establish a routine when staying in a hotel, but I found that the relaxed atmosphere of an Airbnb can remedy that.
Located in Canggu, on the southwest coast of Bali, Villa Ariana Grande is merely a ten minute drive from the beach, shops, nightlife and restaurants of Seminyak.
The spacious villa is actually a complex of self-contained villas, each with their own private swimming pool and en-suites. It showcases minimalist Balinese architecture and is built using local materials.
If Villa Ariana Grande looks familiar to you, that’s probably because it is. The photogenic villa rose to prominence after being advertised as the ‘go to’ accommodation for Instagram Influencers such as Maximilian Hansen, Stacey Tonkes and Bianca Ella Booth.
Name: Villa Ariana Grande
Air Bnb: Villa Ariana Grande
Location: Canggu, Bali
Rates: US$240-360 per night depending on whether it is low or peak season
Have you stayed at Villa Ariana Grande, or have an Airbnb you’d love to recommend to fellow travelers?
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