Monday, 22 February 2016

My month of living in Airbnbs

Thanks for the friendly note, guys.
We have just got back from an epic trip to the States – a month in Miami, the Florida keys, and glorious Los Angeles. We spent most of that month in Airbnbs, and had some wildly varying experiences, that I thought I would share with you.

I’ve always been a big proponent of the sharing economy. As soon as the internet was accessible at home I used to fire up my blue iMac G3 (miss that thing!), listen to the squeaky dial-up and log on to forums to do things like swap makeup. I was apartment swapping before it was even a thing (I swapped my basement flat for a private island in Miami, using US Craigslist!). So when airbnb dropped I was naturally all over it.

I consider myself a veteran airbnber now, having used the site – I’ve just checked – twenty times. Apparently 3.1m of us Brits have airbnbed at least once. But how did a month of staying mainly in airbnbs go down? Our budget was capped at around $125 per night, as we were away for a month and are not made of money, as my Grandma would have said.

Our first stop was Miami. Accommodation in Miami Beach itself is pretty expensive as it's a relatively small area. We left booking until about three weeks before our trip, so choice was pretty limited. We arrived in Miami around 9pm, following a long-haul flight with a 3 year old. The flight was OK and the transfer from airport to South Beach is pretty easy, but by 9pm (2am in the UK) we were ready to check in and in need of a chill.

Unfortunately as soon as we got into the building, it was apparent that this apartment was not going to be luxe. This apartment was pretty well situated between South Beach and the Marina (which I personally love – Monty’s raw bar ftw!). However, the apartment wasn’t scrupulously clean (dirty bath mat on the floor, barf), had a cracked window pane (couple of floors up on a main road, so not a massive security issue), but worst of all the bed sheet was loosely tied over the supersoft mattress – weird, and uncomfortable.

We didn’t sleep well, and on the second day discovered the shower didn’t work. It was apparent that the apartment was run by a letting agent and not an individual, and after expensive phone calls, an assistant came to fix it, but all in all, we could have done without it. So, our Miami Airbnb scored a 3/10 from me.

After 5 nights we moved on to the Florida Keys where thankfully we had a Hyatt booked for five nights, as suitable airbnb accommodation was scarce in the Keys. We were really glad to go to a hotel after that first airbnb – crisp sheets! breakfast! – and as we hadn’t booked further accommodation for our trip at that point it made us wonder whether we should consider hotels going forward. However, when you're travelling with kids, apartments work much better – access to kitchen, a living room to chill out in after they’ve gone to bed, etc, etc.

From the Keys we flew to LA, where we stayed 3 nights with a friend (in a TO DIE FOR Venice pad, but that’s a whole ‘nother story) and from there looked for our next Airbnb. After booking one place, the guy oddly cancelled on us later that evening, then took a while to refund our money – not ideal. We tried to book another place but the guy didn’t accept our booking, so we settled on a place we weren't sure about which turned out to be awesome; a lovely lady who lived in Venice and had a couple of guesthouses attached to her house, based around an outside living room.

This place was a dream; fridge and kitchen stocked with unnecessarily lovely stuff (sourdough muffins! Peach jam!). The sweetest ever baby bed had been made up for Arthur, boxes of toys, every possible small thing thought of. (Nail files, piles of magazines and books.) This reminded me of why I love airbnb and apartment swapping – done right, it is lovely, and you really feel like a guest in someone's home.

After our nailbiting time of booking our Venice property, we immediately looked for our next place – we wanted to go east and spend some time in Silver Lake, Echo Park, and visit Griffiths Park and that side of town. We found a place whose pictures looked nice,  and had good reviews and some outdoors space, so jumped on it, and got a friendly reply about our son being welcome to use their son’s treehouse. Hurray!

However, again upon arrival we were slightly disappointed. The apartment was quite dark, the balcony didn’t have a great view (in an area that does great views, as it’s perched high in the hills). And worst of all for us, there was a lot of noise from above – footsteps, banging, loud music… Basically what we were trying to escape on holiday!

Along with quite arsey instructions about keeping the place tidy or we wouldn’t get our deposit back, we didn’t feel massively at home there, and when travelling with a child you’re home in the evenings, so that is important. A bit of a let down on that one.

We decided for our last stop we wanted to go high into the hills above LA, and experience a bit of wildlife, so booked a 'country cabin' in Topanga Canyon. Again, this place was owned by a man who lived on another property in the same lot, and he came to meet us. It was really lovely, and true to its pictures – we spent evenings staring at the stars and listening to treefrogs, while Arthur slept.

So, a total mixed bag on the airbnb front. The lovely Venice and Topanga places reminded me of why I love airbnb and apartment swapping – done right, it is lovely. The downside is that I find that you can't particularly trust reviews and pictures and, unlike hotels, if you're disappointed you can't easily move. You can contact your host and ask for things to be fixed, or to turn down the music (as I ended up doing in Miami and Silver Lake), but who wants to be doing that stuff on holiday?

For us that month, airbnb had a 50% rate of being great, or not so good. The key is hosts who actually own the property, and go the extra mile to make sure you’re comfortable in their home; the original premise of airbnb.

However, there are letting agents on the site, not just hosts, and they don’t care about your comfort. With the Hyatt we booked through Expedia being a similar price range to the airbnbs we booked, it's definitely worth thinking twice about whether booking a hotel might actually be the better option. It seems that in the case of airbnb, sharing isn't always caring.


  1. A really interesting insight. Would love details of the Venice property, as we're planning a trip for next year.

  2. Not sure if your caption under the photo at the top is meant to be sarcastic or not. Personally I'd really appreciate clear instructions like that as I'm often unsure what is expected of me on leaving somewhere. Most of that is common sense but the bit about the linens is especially helpful in my opinion.
    That said I don't think I'll be using airbnb anytime soon based on your experiences!

  3. Hi Victoria: the link to the Venice property is above. It is definitely bijoux, but we loved it.

    Vikki: no, not sarcastic. I thought the bit about the cleaning fee not being a maid service was really patronising. They didn't bother my other half. (This was one of service signs throughout the place.)