When I travel I enjoy staying at as many different places as possible. I love hotels and inns and I’ve even found some love for dingy motels. Character is good. Potential for a funny story is usually great.
And then there is AirBnB.
AirBnB has been getting a lot of press recently. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a travel network where people offer up part or all of their homes for a fee to travellers who are part of the AirBnB on-line community. You register, you creep locations and when you find a place that you like, you send off a booking request.
Here’s what the company says about their operation:
“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 190 countries. And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.”
Because I had heard so much about AirBnB I decided to see what there was on offer in Halifax when I was planning my fall road trip with my husband. My search revealed a long list of hosts and homes where and when I wanted to travel. I spent hours and hours looking at listings. I wanted the right neighbourhoods, no cats or shedding dogs, parking and price also mattered.
When I travel I am not looking for a deal. Having worked in tourism, I know that it costs a ton of money to operate any type of “roofed accommodation” so mega-bargains are usually a no-go for me. If you’re not making any money there are going to be issues with the hotel, inn or motel.
The average price of nicer hotels and inns in Halifax was around $135/night including some sort of breakfast, WiFi and not always parking. The majority of the AirBnB listings were around $90/night. After doing as much research as I could possibly do – I created my AirBnB profile and sent off my requests.
Destination One – The Hydrostone Market, Halifax
The location was perfect for our first night in Halifax. It was close to the downtown and it was one block away from my favourite Halifax bakery. The price was a bit on the high side – over $90 for the night but the house looked awesome. The host had accepted my request and I thought everything was great.
Eight hours before I thought we would arrive in Halifax I sent a message to the host confirming our arrival time – which I estimated as “6ish.” We had a lot of driving to do and I wasn’t sure about traffic. We finally got a message back saying the key would be in the mailbox. I wasn’t sure if the host would be home for the night or not – he hadn’t said.
We pulled-up to the house at 10 to six. A whopping ten minutes early to my estimated arrival but I was tired, I had to pee and I needed a drink. The door was open and when I knocked the host ran to open it and shouted – “You’re early! The room is not made-up!”
First sign of trouble. I had been in a car all day. I had to pee. I needed a drink and he had the booking for weeks. The room should have been ready. Instead, we were ushered to the back patio and told to wait. Eventually he told us the room was ready and when we offered a drink – he looked like he needed one – our host did join us for a few minutes of conversation. It would have been a more interesting conversation of he had put down his blackberry. And based on the blackberry I assumed he worked in tech or government. He eventually admitted to some sort of government job. No details though.
So here we were. Perfect location. Nice house. Twitchy host. Welcome to AirBnB.
Abruptly our host said he had to go out for a bit. He gave us a key and was gone. We moved our things to the room and figured out that the room was his and that he, if he was returning that night, would be sleeping on a sofa.
We got ready for a night on the town and left the nice house in the nice location. As we were walking downtown my husband asked if I had noticed the smell of urine in the house. He was being pretty casual about it – you know, no big deal, but, did you notice that urine smell.
I had noticed.
Later that night after food and drinks and much laughter we returned to the house. I went up to bed – the house seemed empty – except for the urine smell. My husband went to the back patio for another drink and to listen to some choral music and catch up on email. For reals. That’s his idea of a good time.
What Dan didn’t realise while listening to choral music on the back patio was that our host had returned home for the evening and had settled on the sofa right inside the patio door. He had his laptop open and when Dan came in, ready for bed, there was a certain degree of awkwardness that involved a laptop being hastily closed and a hand being rapidly removed from the, uh, bathing suit area.
Awkward, loud conversation followed and then Dan came to bed. We left early the next morning with the grace of a failed one-night stand and moved on to our next AirBnB location.
Destination Two – South End “Bread” and Breakfast
After many laughs to work through the weirdness of our first AirBnB experience, my husband and I moved on to our next booking location. Again, the location was perfect. We were right downtown and there was parking – well, street parking, a block away. This place was cheaper and when we were buzzed in – we knew why.
Our second host had billed their place as a charming room in a downtown home. They made a big deal in the listing about fresh bread being served for breakfast.
The place we arrived at was an old set of flats on Barrington Street. They had been turned into condos but still carried the damp smell of mold and vomit in the entry. The flat itself looked like the worst frat house I have ever partied in and our room was tiny. One bed – a mattress on an old futon frame and a few garbage-picked pieces of furniture. Our host explained that the window was broken and that there might be bread but that she had ruined the last loaf. If we wanted eggs we could help ourselves in the morning.
After the two-second tour of the worst apartment in Halifax I headed to the bathroom.
Lord have mercy.
The bottom of the tub was black. The rest of the tub was probably white at some point but the bottom, where my bare feet should go, was black. Black like the plague.
My husband and I headed outside to relax (try to not scream) and the rickety fire escape led to a strip of grass with some old, slivery, pressure treated lumber planters that we could perch on while we drank our expensive wine and tried to block out the horror of the accommodations.
When I went to change for our evening out I noticed a guest book in the rented room that was full of entries from not AirBnB but from something called “Couch Surfing International.” So basically, when our hosts were not subletting their closet of a guest room they were charging people to sleep on their sofa. And they were doing a shit-load of business.
So here’s the thing with AirBnB – it’s totally random. I’m sure that there are people who have great experiences but both nights at places we found through AirBnB we were horrified. One had the stink of urine and a palm-happy host. The other was nothing less than something out of Trainspotting. There really was no money saved and the experience was terrible.
But add to that some other concerns. The second place we stayed had a broken window that almost took my husband’s fingers off. Who is liable for an injury? The people who we stayed with in the filthy bathroom flat were tenants. We don’t know if the landlord knew they were renting out the room by the night. Or the sofa.
In neither location did anyone mention fire exits, liability or what to do in case of an emergency. There was no one to share concerns with and after your booking you can post a review but the hosts also post reviews about you as guests so in neither case did I say anything.
After our second night in weirdness we returned to our previous habit of booking in real, regulated inns and hotels that have standards and fire safety plans. I don’t think in the end that we saved any money staying at AirBnB locations and we did not make any new friends. AirBnB might be worth the gamble for some people but I will never take the chance again on this insane crap-shoot of accommodation. I’d rather pay a few bucks more to avoid dirty tubs, the strong smell of urine and hosts who pleasure themselves while my husband tries to enjoy some choral music on the back patio.
But if you’re looking to crash on a sofa and borrow a couple of eggs I can point you in the right direction.