One of our main aims at SUITCASE is to help you travel like a local, to be like a knowledgeable friend showing you a new city, as well as encouraging you to see your own through fresh eyes. So we were intrigued when Airbnb launched an "experiences" platform which takes its current concept one step further by inviting hosts not just to open their homes to visitors but their lives too. The website explains to potential hosts: "This is a quick glimpse into your world." Whether it's a workshop or a walk through a favourite neighbourhood, hosts of all occupations can share their passions. Of course we had to road test it, so last Tuesday I spent a lovely afternoon in London doing things I would never usually do.
We kicked things off with lunch at Shoreditch hot spot Lyle's - not an experience per se but it features in one of Airbnb's curated insider guides in which trusted locals recommend their favourite places. In this case, Nicholas Balfe (founder of the much-lauded Brixton restaurant, Salon) had rounded up his top restaurants and it was undoubtedly a well-informed choice - I'm happy to report that Lyle's remains one of the best in town. (You should also check out our insider guides - they're pretty great too).
Fuelled by a pretty, springtime lunch of oysters, snails and asparagus, I was whisked off to meet Dan at his Hackney studio for a wallpaper printing masterclass. If I'm honest, not being the most artistically inclined, it's probably not something that I would have chosen myself. Yet that made the experience better because it was so far removed from my own life and interests - it also made me wonder whether most users will go for things they know they like or plump for wild cards.
Dan explained the wallpaper-making process, showing us examples of his exquisite handmade work (one of his most recent commissions was for the bedrooms of Stella McCartney's children). He then handed out aprons and I got stuck in - quite literally, as I'd picked that day to wear a blouse with obnoxiously flared sleeves which I merrily dragged through the acid-green paint. I carefully placed a stencil on a long stretch of paper, poured paint and smoothed it across the surface using a large windscreen-wiper-like instrument known as a "squeegee" - and Dan charitably said I'd done a pretty good job.
Next stop: gin-making from scratch in Stoke Newington. I was greeted with a G&T by host, Mark, who had created his own 58 Gin blend, and spent the next couple of hours selecting botanicals, sampling and distilling my own concoctions while he talked through the history of gin in London. Again, a new experience with new people - I went home with a history lesson and two bottles of the good stuff.
Finally, the "taste of Spitalfields", a candlelit supper club hosted by Emma in a beautiful Victorian townhouse. Unsurprisingly, a large proportion of the experiences offered by Airbnb are supper clubs - and it will be interesting to see if they manage to take over from other sites like Grub Club as the primary hub for such dining experiences.
Of course, the success of an experience lies in choosing the right one, which could be a pottery making in LA, a cooking class in Florence or a grime tour of London. Thankfully there's a dedicated team to ensure they're all up to scratch and filters - design, food, art - to help you narrow down your selection. But beyond the experience itself, a large part of the concept is the social aspect. I imagine many will book for this as much as the activity itself. You're bound to meet like-minded individuals from around the world - or people totally unlike yourself, depending on what you choose. And connecting people and places is what it's all about. Could this become the new Tinder? Watch this space.