I travel a lot. Not as much as I used to and not as much as I want to, but I do get out of town at least once a month. Most of the time when I’m traveling, I’m doing it for “work” but as my work is writing and I’m a freelancer, I nearly always have full control of where I’m traveling to and when and what I’m going to do there (“chasing the story,” I guess). And most of that time, that means I’ll be staying in a place for longer than a day and if I’m staying somewhere a while, I like to stay somewhere with a kitchen. Which is why AirBnB seemed like such an awesome idea when I first read about it four years ago.
During my first ever tour of Europe in 1999, the ex and I would arrive in a city and walk to the tourists’ office and ask for a room in someone’s home and we would get a great place to stay where we could boil water for Ramen noodles or make sandwiches. We had such great fun doing this in Copenhagen and Nice and Paris and Budapest that when my parents (notoriously not spontaneous people) popped over for a visit in 2005, we took them to Brugges and walked into the tourists’ office and got a room above a patisserie that my parents found just the quaintest little thing. Much better than the standard Holiday Inn by the airport.
Before AirBnB, I used Couch Surfing twice — once on a trip to Berlin and once on the way to Istanbul. Not just because I was broke (as a freelancer, I have to foot the bill in advance, and nearly always, I am broke as hell), but because the idea of staying with locals was highly appealing when I was traveling to cover the “local scene.” These were incredible experiences, meeting really nice people I wouldn’t have met otherwise but once I became a mom, and became moderately more successful as a journalist so I could actually bill my expenses, I scrapped Couch Surfing. Besides, there were a few horror stories already coming out and though I used to be willing to risk my own life, after having a kid, I realized I had to be a lot more responsible so I switched to AirBnB, stupidly assuming that if money was exchanged, the places and people advertising were vetted in some way similar to that which the tourists’ offices had previously done.
Of course, the Amis took the nice concept of Couch Surfing and found a way to make money off of it. And of course, as experts at having so much stuff one doesn’t know what to do with it all, the Amis of the Bay Area launched AirBnB to great heights when they started renting their rooms out while it was still Beta. People who had the space but wouldn’t do it for free had zero problem with opening their houses to strangers once their was cash in it for them and as a journalist, I caught wind of this before many others in Europe did. So on a trip to Berlin right after AirBnB launched, I booked a room near the Gethsemane Church, a place it was near impossible to get a hotel at at the time. It was great, if a little awkward. I’ve never lived with male roommates before so Italian dude in his shirtsleeves grabbing coffee in the morning was…strange. The couple was broke, both working for basically free at start-ups, but the apartment was beautiful and they were nice to be sharing it with me. That was in 2011.
Since then, I have tried and tried with AirBnB, but all that I’ve come up with are greedy bastard hosts. In Lake Tahoe, I rented a cabin for far too much money and though the landlord was very nice, she completely disappeared after day one… leaving me to fight with the neighbors for over three weeks about a porch light that could not be turned off and which led to the neighbors throwing the breaker on our cabin in freezing temperatures. Every night for four nights at two a.m., the electricity (and heat) would suddenly stop working and the landlord could and would do zilch about it. She has, nicely enough, now added me to her pyramid-scheme e-mail list. Guess that AirBnB lodging thing just isn’t working out as she’d planned.
Maybe it was just the Amis, I thought, and so I tried my hand again in Berlin. Fifty inquiries later, I finally got one person to respond and that answer was “although we are listed as family friendly, no kids are allowed here.” Hmmm…. another 50 inquiries, this time without putting Diva in my note and I finally got a response, “sorry, I keep forgetting to update my calendar but there’s no room for you.” That didn’t include the numerous people who I didn’t ask after, people whose profiles blatantly stated, “you can only stay here on nights I feel like staying at my boyfriend’s so my calendar isn’t updated.” Fuck that. I asked a friend of a friend for her keys because who needs to stay at Boxhagener Platz with a million other tourists when I can just crash on a friend’s couch, I guess. Besides, I’d begun feeling really shitty for the plight of Berliners whose rent has magnified tenfold thanks to these asshats in Silicon Valley, et al.,
Then this summer, I booked again, this time in Copenhagen. I have a friend there but wanted my own place — a penthouse because I’d be with family and I’d need to have people come by the apartment for work stuff and because I am a fucking snob like that. First the booking system messed up my bill and billed in a foreign currency, so I complained about it in about 10 emails that only got responded to when I tweeted (ugh, social media customer service) and finally got them to work it out and reimburse me. They also offered me a discount on my next stay because I’m a journalist and might write something bad. Fucking whatever, I said. Probably not using them again anyway, right? AND THEN! While we were on our way north, our reservation got cancelled because of a broken water pipe (I will try to not be cynical about this but seeing as to how long it took to even find this place, I doubt it was true). The trouble was that the refund for this place wouldn’t happen for about a week so I couldn’t really use my credit card to get a standard hotel since it was maxed (I keep my limit low on purpose); instead, I’d need to rebook an AirBnB place using the play money that they’d already booked off my card. In August, when the entire country of Denmark is on vacation, I needed to find a room/place with one day’s notice that would accept kids. Grrr….
Eventually it happened but it cost more money and hassle than I had the time or energy for. The hostess wasn’t all that nice (pissed that I’d brought a kid, too, even though Diva ended up leaving with her godmother), which says a lot because Danes are not assholes at all. The apartment was tiny and loud and HOT and I couldn’t invite my clients over as anticipated. You had to stand on the toilet to take a shower. Fucking UGH. I ended up leaving and staying with a friend even though I’d (i.e., my client) paid for the apartment. Overpaid, actually, because AirBnB once again messed up the billing. But whatever. I give up. I hate them. I will not use them and even though I know people have had great experiences (I did too, once!), I won’t be recommending them. I’m glad they got their asses banned in Berlin.
So much for the shared economy. As much as I’d love to believe in bartering being the way of the future, so long as money is involved, this collaborative economy nonsense is just all about greed and exploitation and I’m not buying into it. Giving my money back to the tourist’s offices and mom and pops with a spare room.