Airbnb was a total bust for us while travelling around Europe. We never found any good deals, plus the hassle of going back and forth liaising with hosts, when we were travelling on the fly, meant our first Airbnb experience didn’t take place until right at the end of our Eurotrip. We found an apartment in Paris, quickly followed by another two in New York. Paris and New York are both crazy expensive (a friend reckoned he spent $30 for a dorm in NYC last year; this year the cheapest start at $50 a bed), and even staying in hostels would have blown our budget. As it turned out, we had firm dates for both cities, and were able to lock in rooms at much lower prices than we could have found on the commercial market.
Airbnb apartment 1 – Paris
It was the first time for both of us – them as hosts and us as guests. Their spotless apartment was on the outskirts of the 15th arondissement, but close to shops, supermarkets, the metro, and the tram. With candles burning and freshly scented air, it was a million times better than any hotel. And despite a wee hiccup with a delayed arrival time and a bit of a language barrier, I think we got along fairly well. They took us to a free outdoors concert one night and shared homemade crepes on the weekend.
Airbnb apartment 2 – Brooklyn, New York
I was expecting a preppy, bright eyed 20-something actor based on his Airbnb profile. He turned out to be more of an overgrown teenager in his 30s, though he didn’t look any older than us. And what an introduction to New York! We talked food, movies, politics, culture, and so much more.
The Williamsburg apartment, while cramped, was a steal, literally a minute from the subway, the supermarket, and above a number of (amazing AND cheap) delis and fast food places. The only downside was the train tracks right outside the window, but we quickly learned to tune out the noise.
Airbnb apartment 2 – Astoria, New York
Strike one: It was way further from the subway stop than I thought (a brisk 10-12 minute walk, a leisurely 20-minute stroll). Strike two: The place was falling apart, with gouges out of the walls, peeling paint, a funky smell … by the time we got to the top floor, I was secretly wondering what I’d gotten us into. Strike three: We couldn’t get in, and had to call the host. Turns out they’d given us the front door key and our room key, but forgotten about the apartment front door key. Luckily, I’d gone with the room in the building that the hosts lived in, and not a room in one of the other buildings that they had listed on Airbnb.
Once we got inside though, it was surprisingly nice – roomy, clean, and quiet. We rented one room in a three-bed apartment; the other two were rented separately to other Airbnbers. (I imagine this is way more lucrative than letting the apartment to a normal tenant; I feel a little guilty, since this is probably contributing to the terrible property market in NYC and making it even more impossible for locals to find a place to live.) There was the occasional wait for the bathroom, but otherwise it was all smooth sailing and we hardly saw any of the other guests. Being a bit further from the metro was less convenient, but it was nice to see a slice of quiet suburbia in New York. The only time it was a real headache was on Saturday night, when we stayed out late and had to navigate the maze of cancelled/rerouted trains on the way back (we ended up walking a very long way from a distant stop).
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to use Airbnb and actually find a bargain, I’m pretty sold. My initial suspicions are confirmed: Airbnb is best for trips where you have set dates and can book in advance – and most likely for trips to crazy expensive cities.