Sunday, July 12, 2015

Living in Someone Else's Filth: the Airbnb Experience

Okay, the title doesn't completely reflect how I felt about my first airbnb experience, but I will cop to a certain amount of squeamishness about living in a stranger's apartment for two nights. There wasn't exactly filth in the apartment, not at all, but there were particular people's lives there, which was what made it odd.

This is not the bathroom we had
For anyone who doesn't know what airbnb is, it's an alternative to staying at a friend's house or in a hotel, because it's a service that allows you to search for apartments in a particular relocation, and, in many of the cases, these apartments or homes are typically lived in when not rented out.There are exceptions, and more people now seem to be buying properties solely for this purpose. But most are still places where people live, and for a fee, they agree to stay somewhere else while you're sitting naked on their furniture. There are options to rent just a room with the people living there at the same time, but we elected to look for a vacant one-bedroom apartment. The rentees who let you stay are not licensed by anyone, they just have decided to rent their place for extra money.

First, the whole reason we tried airbnb is because Dan and I usually wait until the last minute to make any travel plans. In this case, we waited until the Tuesday before the fourth of July holiday to come up with ideas. It was like Mary and Joseph with their impending baby Jesus--no room at the B&Bs in Cape May, and nothing affordable in Manhattan or Boston (too far anyway). We even looked at New Hope, which is a 30 minute drive and not all that exciting, but they too were booked. So, then, I thought maybe Brooklyn was the way to go for several reason. I like cities, our friends Liz and Luke live there, and we could take New Jersey transit the whole way, thus avoiding the inevitable short spats we have when Dan is driving and I am a clutching-the-seat passenger, sure he's going to miss an exit or side-swipe a mini-van. I'd also heard pretty good things about airbnb's or at least thought that I had, or maybe I dreamed that part.
Nor is this the bedroom.
 It was pretty easy to find a reasonably priced and available place in Park Slope ($134 a night for the whole one bedroom apartment. In the end, it came out to about $316 because of taxes and a $20 cleaning fee. Note: I believe the cleaning fee should only be applied if you leave the house a mess. We kept it clean, used only two towels, took out the garbage and left them extra food). The dude who lived there was very responsive--let's call him Justine, because his photo reminded me of a friend of mine from grad school who liked to wear hats.

The place was well-reflected in the photos. It was a one bedroom with the smallest bathroom I've ever seen. Like, there was no room to turn around, so you had to open the door to pull up your pants. The tub was disgusting. It's not that it wasn't clean, it was more like it probably had never been cleaned. I did not shower there for the two days we stayed.

The living room did not look like this.
Then there's the unexpected discomfort that came from being a guest in a house of ghosts whose underwear are still folded neatly in their dressers and whose prescription medicine is stashed in the bathroom cabinet. These were people we never met, but we were using their things, sitting on their couch, stirring coffee in a mug they bought somewhere with a spoon they used. And sleeping in their full sized bed with its too-buoyant air mattress and sleep comfort pillows.

The sheets were clean, and yet it felt weird. I reminded myself that if we were staying at a hotel, we would be sleeping on a mattress 500 plus people have already slept in. Same for towels This bed had been used by one couple only, but they were a particular couple. Who we didn't know. The anonymity of a hotel allows you to cling to the illusion that you are the first and only guest they will ever have. At an airbnb you have towels who have seen better lives, necklaces hanging on pegs, stacks of books with worn covers, and other constant reminders that oh, yes, we are in someone's home.

Also, what if there were cameras planted in the innocent looking light fixtures?

The kitchen was better than the one above.
On the positive side, the hosts left us organic coffee and a French press and we were in the middle of Park Slope in a cute neighborhood. I suggested in my comments afterwards that they consider leaving more instructions about WiFi and what we were allowed to use and not use--maybe just leaving the towels and soap in a basket instead of having a bar of used soap clinging to the side of tub in the bathroom, along with the full-sized shampoos.

We might try it again. Probably, if we went to Spain and rented an apartment, the strangeness of being in a foreign country would outweigh they specific oddity of sleeping in someone else's bed. As long as they didn't leave their soap behind.

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