Last weekend, my family took our first camping trip. We traveled the short trek to Cook Forest, a beautiful state park in the heart of the Pennsylvania wilderness.
Like most family trip decisions, there were a few non-negotiables, including “no tents” (I’ll be waiting for diehard campers to tell me that tent-less camping is not camping; for the record, I agree).
We agreed on a cabin. We also agreed that we didn’t want to be near other cabins. But most rentals in Cook Forest are set up like cabin communes, with one cabin right next to the other. This isn’t bad. We just wanted a little more seclusion.
This is when I turned to Airbnb, one of several online sites where people list homes, apartments, and yes, even cabins in the woods for other travelers to reserve, pay and stay.
This was our first Airbnb experience. To be honest, I was always a little leery of using Airbnb to stay in someone else's home. Add four kids to the mix, and thoughts of someone breaking a lamp or a dish or "fill-in-the-blank" make me anxious.
For some reason, I’m less concerned if this happens in a regular hotel room.
Airbnb's "About Us" page reads, "Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries."
For the Earnheardts, a secluded cabin in Cook Forest would be a "unique" travel experience.
Many residents of Northeast Ohio are quite familiar with Cook Forest. Ask around and you’ll find the "regulars," those who camp there every summer. Longtime campers enjoy autumn trips to Cook Forest, when the trees explode with red and orange leaves.
Clarion, Pa., a few miles south of Cook Forest, proudly refers to itself as the "Autumn Leaf Capital of the World." After living there for more than 10 years, my wife and I wanted our kids to experience Cook Forest, to ride inner-tubes down the Clarion River, to hike the trails, to cook out on an open fire.
However, Cook Forest regulars are probably familiar with the mass of humanity that hits this area on weekends. So, if you plan to stay in a cabin and don’t want to feel crowded, you need to look outside the touristy areas.
Airbnb provided some great options.
After reading reviews from other travelers for several locations, we selected a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Once our reservation was accepted by Nancy, the owner, we began communicating almost immediately. She answered all of our questions and made us feel welcome, weeks before our trip even began.
To complete the Airbnb experience, we posted a positive review on the cabin’s listing page.
In turn, Nancy posted a positive review of us. Thankfully, no broken lamps.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.