If you are someone who travels on a tight budget, you’d know what a gift Airbnb is to humanity. For the Airbnb virgins – Airbnb is a web service that lets you host travelers in your house for exchange of a reasonable amount of money. By creating more affordable stay options in the market, Airbnb has kicked away the Voldemorts of the hotel industry and made space for us muggles to experience comfort while traveling. Vikas and I have used Airbnb accommodations across a dozen cities over the last two years and haven’t regretted it once. Well, that’s a blatant lie – our first time at an Airbnb apartment is a crazy story that needs to get out of our gut. So here you go.
It was the Indian summer of 2015, we were moving cities and needed an affordable place to call home for a transitional period of 12 days. Along with Vikas and a dear friend, I measured our options – a highly cheap hotel in India? No – secret cameras, theft, anything lunatic can happen. Crash at an acquaintance’s? – Nah, too awkward. Terrace? – No, Malaria. Street? – No way, it’s Delhi bro. Fast forward to a few days of intense google research, we found an Airbnb apartment titled – AWSUM 2BR SPACIOUS APT.WIFI. That’s it! This was a dream transitional house for a group of 3 friends – spacious, ‘awsum’, and free wifi. Life was sorted.
Just for the record, the title itself was the first sign. Who names an apartment ‘awsum’!
Our bags were packed, ready to move into the awsum apt.wifi. Once you book with Airbnb, a few days before arrival, your host sends a list of directions, guidelines, or in our case – a treasure map to the key. Our host sent us an email to inform that she wasn’t going to be present herself during check-in. Hence, there are rules that we need to strictly abide by failing which there’s going to be a penalty of 100$ (Yes Boss!). Here’s what the rules said.
The rulebook itself was the second sign – don’t tell the neighbors about Airbnb, don’t talk to them, don’t drink my wine, don’t use all heaters and behave morally. How did we not notice!
The day of the grand entry to the ‘awsumness’ was here. Vikas pulled out the powerpoint presentation that was shared by the host to locate the house. Then, he pulled out a pictorial guide shared by the host to locate the box that had the key in it. Then he pulled out a secret code that was shared to unlock the box. And there it was – the key to my palace of dreams. Phew! I bet we are ready to replace Nicolas Cage in the next National Treasure movie.
By this time, we had gathered enough attention. People gawked at us as if they knew what was coming our way. But we didn’t. This was sign three. After our Sherlockian stunts, we managed to open the palace doors only to be choked by a whiff of air that nearly fainted Vikas. It was far from ‘awsum’, we guarantee. It felt like the smell of a hundred dead rats piled up on a dysfunctional commode.
Life is sometimes stinky(literally!) and we need to compromise, we thought. But, what lay in store for us broke our spirits. The kitchen was dingy and dark with no water, no lights, and vessels were covered with black muck. The bathroom was a hole in the wall. Right above the commode (or whatever that thing was) was a broken window that opened to the shaft letting creepy crawlies enter and exit at their convenience. The bedsheets were dusty and blankets had holes in it. And yes, a few rats had made the place their home. We herded on each other and sat on the bed silently, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.
This was sign four.
A few hours into the night, when we had finally started making peace with the situation, we heard sound of a massive water overflow and had no freaking clue where it was coming from. There was no water in the house, for crying out loud! Our friend stuck his ears to each wall and door and figured that the water was leaking from behind one of them. Guess what was behind the wall? A secret room. Hidden behind a curtain that we originally thought was wall decor was a door. The door lead to a room we didn’t know existed. It seemed like the room was flooding with water but we would never come to know as it was locked. It started feeling like a story right out of the ‘Goosebumps’ series.
Not that there was any chance of falling asleep, we stayed up all night – listening to the supernatural water leak, running away from the gigantic crawlies, controlling our agitated bladders, waking up Vikas every time he fainted with the stench, and hypothesizing what could be behind the secret door. There were signs all over. We got the point and needed to get out.
We contacted the host who was available on whatsapp on an international number from Russia. Her rare responses were in atrocious English, that we just couldn’t decode. Vikas and I tweet out our miseries over the pettiest of issues so this was a big deal to go through for 12 days – so, we tweeted out and got fellow travelers to voice out for us. Airbnb has an excellent customer service (or at least did, two years ago ) and they got back in a jiffy.
After a dozen exchanges of messages,videos and images of crawlies, commodes, and creepy doors, AirBnB was nice enough to move us out. Not only did they give us a fat voucher to find an alternate place but also supported us throughout the process. Whatever negativity we’d developed over the last 48 hours, Airbnb’s meticulousness nullified it.
Here’s the scandalous ending to the story – when we were looking for alternative stay options on Airbnb to use our voucher, we found another four set of very similar ‘awsum’ apartments spread across the city. They had the same sheet on the bed, similar wall decor, similar title, and the host seemed to be of the same nationality. We immediately informed Airbnb about the ‘racket’ that we believe we cracked (Aren’t we cool or what!). Thankfully, those listings no longer exist on Airbnb. The world is sober again.
So that was the rough patch with Airbnb. Even though our first encounter with Airbnb didn’t start off well, it was probably our fault. We didn’t make an informed decision and ignored too many obvious signs. Since then, we’ve used Airbnb many times and gathered some outstanding stay experiences in our kitty. Here are a few things you should look out for to get the best of Airbnb accommodations.
1. Book off as early as you can
The best combination of stay and cost gets booked off on Airbnb way too early. What you see on the website are the remainders that are mostly average. For very popular or highly offbeat locations, book your stay at least 3 to 4 months in advance to get the best of Airbnb.
Our apartment in Granada boasted of a terrace with magnificent view of Alhambra. But, we got it only because we booked it 6 months in advance!
2. Be smart with reviews
If the host has been hosting for a long time, they should have enough good reviews – 10 reviews are too less. Our ‘awsum apt’ had about 13 good reviews and you know what happened. If you are booking a relatively new place with lesser reviews, a little stalking of the host on other social media platforms doesn’t harm anyone.
3. Look for the ‘Superhost’ badge
Airbnb allots a superhost badge to those who meet their excellence criterion – 5 star reviews, high response rate, good experience and commitment. If you find a host with a badge, go for it.
4. Cross check hotels and home stays on other websites
A lot of AirBnB options also tend to be hotels/ guesthouses who are posting on an additional platform to spread their word. If you choose to stay in one such listing, make sure you cross verify their details on another forum, like TripAdvisor.
This Santorini listing was also there on other websites that helped us cross-verify the reviews
5. Cancellation Policy
The host can decide the cancellation policy to be strict, moderate or flexible. This determines how much of a refund you will receive if you cancel a few days before your stay. We prefer to go with listings that have either moderate or flexible policy to not lose money if a change of plan is needed.
6. Rules of the house
It’s absolutely important that you read the rules of the house very well before booking a place. Of course, as a guest, one needs to follow any rules stated but rules that are too stringent (like do not touch my pets) says a lot about the host’s attitude. The house rules will help you understand your host better.
7. It isn’t a one-sided affair!
Remember, Airbnb apartments are not hotels and people hosting you are doing so as a gesture by opening their homes to you. Yes, it is a paid service but the host offers a lot more than just space – time, hospitality, kindness and local ideas that you won’t know about otherwise. One, be thankful for that during your stay. Second, when you request for a stay while booking – message appropriately to establish that you are a desired guest. Hosts hold the position to reject your request. It is a two-way road, after all!
Xavier, our host in Costa Brava, had not been hosting for a while. He opened it up for us because he wanted to host us. Your own profile matters!
Much like most love stories, our tryst with AirBnB didn’t start off on the right note but all’s well that ends well, right?
Do you have a crazy AirBnB story to share? We are all ears. If you haven’t used AirBnB yet, SIGN UP using our referral link and get 15$ off on your first stay.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post and the opinions are from our personal experiences.