Much like the rest of the world, South Africans are hopping onto the Airbnb bandwagon with great enthusiasm. Stories abound of holiday houses becoming a mine of extra income, and locals investing in second or even third properties in the hopes of generating easy income and a quick profit. With so much on offer, it is sometimes difficult to discern the duds from the hidden gems. Here are a few catchphrases to look out for when booking an Airbnb in South Africa.
‘A stone’s throw away from the sea’
This overused and well-loved phrase can be very loosely interpreted to mean a number of very different things. It all depends on the advertiser’s perspective, and who is throwing the stone. Unless the actual distance is stated, it is safe to assume that your seaside cottage will not be perched on the ocean’s edge, and will require at least 15 minutes on foot to reach the beach.
Again, this one is all about perspective, and relies entirely on the understanding of the word ‘rustic’. Generally, when referring to coastal accommodation, rustic means slightly weather-beaten and in need of a a lick of paint. In worst-case scenarios it could also be a sly decoy in reference to the fact that a generator needs to be kick-started before you can switch on the lights and the bathtub only has a cold-water tap.
Unless the words ‘panoramic’ and ‘uninterrupted’ precede the phrase ‘sea views’, the chances are that you may see the sea from one spot in the house. This could be while leaning out of the bathroom window on the second floor, or bending your neck at an odd angle to peer over the side of the deck. If there’s a glimmer of the big wide ocean out there, no matter how slight, then advertisers will be sure to mention it.
While some may be keen to light lanterns at night instead of turning on the electric lights, and may not be bothered by old, peeling linoleum flooring, if this is not your idea of a seaside vacation, avoid anything that’s described as a fisherman’s shack altogether. Such accommodation is often found near scenic rivers, and the ad lures potential guests with stunning water views, but shows very little of the house – for a reason! Fisherman’s shacks can be anything from a one-bedroom clapboard unit to a large, converted garage filled with fishing tackle and bait. You’ve been warned.
These two innocent words are often used to hide the fact that there is a flea problem, and in the hopes that pet loving guests will bring Fido along. He can then be blamed for the festive flea party taking place in the dingy carpet. It could also mean that the owners have left a few of their own furry friends behind and there may be a kitty jumping through the window to sleep on your face.
This one shouldn’t get a totally bad rap, as there are indeed some gorgeous places to be found off the beaten path. A bit of detective work may, however, be required to determine exactly how hidden the promised gem is. Clues to look out for that could indicate difficult or close-to-impossible access include ‘4×4 vehicle strongly recommended’, ‘road slippery when wet’ and ‘no cell phone reception’. If you are looking for a complete break from the world for a while, this won’t be a problem; if not, you’re stuck.
‘Off the beaten track’
Red lights should start flashing here because, in South Africa especially, off the beaten track means exactly that. Expect potholes, dirt paths, no road signs and a very slow drive. On arrival, the points above about hidden gems will probably all apply here too, so make sure to pack some basic survival essentials such as a torch, a puncture repair kit and a good old atlas. Remember – there’s no reception for GPS.
Thatch is an indigenous type of grass that is sometimes used for roofing. Usually, there are no ceiling boards and the roof consists of high wooden beams that are covered in layers of grass. While pretty and quaint, thatch can also ruin a holiday if guests are prone to allergies. The grass has a distinct smell that might be unpleasant to some, and when it rains, an odour akin to damp clothes seems to linger around. If the Airbnb you are considering is thatched, ask if there are ceiling boards. This should completely alleviate the smell, and also stop thatch bugs from falling on your head.
Whether it’s a two-, three- or four-bedroom unit, it is always advisable to ask the size of the bedrooms. A cheap trick that many advertisers try is to offer a four-bedroom house that sleeps eight, when in fact the fourth bedroom is little more than a loft platform. This is especially true for the above-mentioned thatched roof houses, where two beds are crammed on some floorboards under the roof, leaving no place to even sit up in bed. Often the loft is reached using a vertical rung ladder, so won’t be suitable for small children or less athletic types.
If the unit is going for a song, you need to ask yourself why. Winter is off-season for coastal getaways in South Africa and the months of July to September do offer some great deals. Finding a real bargain offer during the peak months of December through to April is very rare, though, so if presented with one, make sure to ask plenty of questions to ensure your budget holiday won’t end up costing you a huge headache.