Thursday, November 12, 2015

New York and AirBnB

I was in New York last month for, of course, New York Comic Con.  I'll get to that in another blog post. This one is about AirBnB.

This was my fourth trip to New York. The first involved staying with someone. The second time was in 2008 and I stayed in a Super 8 in North Bergen, New Jersey. The pros of that was it was cheap – about $90 a night – surprisingly clean and quiet. The downside involved having to take a shuttle that ran from the hotel to the Port Authority. It could take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 depending on traffic. Not bad, but it stopped running at midnight, making it a pain in the ass if you wanted to stay out late. I had to leave a truly biblical baseball game between the Red Sox and the Yankees in order to catch the shuttle home. And, you know, an awful lot of interesting things happen in Manhattan after midnight.

In 2012 I “splurged” and stayed at a place a friend of my recommended on the Upper West Side, near 106th Street.  I put “splurged” in quotes because it was a dive and it still cost about $130 a night. The pros involved it being on Manhattan, a block away from a subway line, in a pretty cool neighbourhood near Columbia University and that it was relatively clean and safe. The downside was that it was pretty severely run down and there was a smelling in the elevator….how to describe it….imagine you brought a bag of buttered popcorn back to the hotel and, in the elevator, decided it would be a clever idea to take a piss on it, and then leave it there. And then imagine the staff thought it was so hilarious they left it there for a week. It smelled something like that.

Believe it or not, I probably would have stayed there again this year, just because it was cheap and near the subway. Plus, I love being in Manhattan. But I couldn’t get it for the full six nights I was in New York. So, instead, I decided to try my hand at AirBnB (I did spend one night at the dive. My flights changed and I needed some place for the extra night. The AirBnB was booked).

There’s no shortage of stories about the good and bad things about AirBnB. I’m not about to get into all the arguments. I know New York has a deep love/hate relationship with it. If you’re a New Yorker and you’re using it to help offset some of the costs of your truly insane rent, then it’s a godsend. If you’re not using it and your neighbour is, then you probably hate it. Because odds are some visitor is going to be deeply stupid. Like leave the gas on after cooking. Or smoke. Or bring back prostitutes. Or any other of a dozen things.

I just wanted to try it because I was curious and, hey, it was cheap.

I’m all about cheap accommodations when going to New York. It really is one of the greatest cities in the world. I don’t go to New York to hang out in a nice hotel and watch TV. I go to New York to see New York. I’m in that hotel to sleep, shower and have a place to store my stuff. That’s about it. I figured an AirBnB would be perfect for my needs.

This place was on the Upper East Side, on 83rd Street. It was a nice neighbourhood, decent restaurants and one spectacular bagel place (no kidding, it’s ruined me for bagels). The downside, and this is on me because I misjudged it when booking, was that it was about a 15 minute walk from a subway.

I understand what you’re thinking…suck it up, it’s not that far. At midnight, when you’ve already walked 25,000 steps (over 10 miles) and your feet feel like they’ve been hit with sledgehammers, trust me when I say that 15 minutes feels like an awfully long time. I never broke down and got a taxi from the subway to the apartment (fuck Uber, but that's another story), but I was tempted.

The place itself…it was fine for me, but I suspect Cathy would have nothing to do with it. Here’s the set-up. The apartment is owned by a Russian lady. I only met her briefly, but she was really nice. She let me drop off my bags really early (as in check-in is 3 pm and she was fine with me dropping my bags off at 9 am) and let me keep my bags there until 4 pm on checkout day. The only time I really chatted with her was discussing cold winters. Oddly, being from Russia, she could empathize when I talked about the weather in Iqaluit.

My bedroom was spacious, the bed was comfortable, there was a tv in the room, plenty of space to store my stuff. The bathroom was a little crowded, but clean and the shower was fine. I rarely saw the other occupants of the apartment. And I suspect I was a pretty good guest. Most mornings I was out the door by no later than 7:30 am. I think the earliest I came back was 10 pm, only to go back out again and get supper, and come back around midnight. So I was barely there.

So what was weird? Well, she was a single mom. To three daughters. And I think, can’t be sure, but I think they were all sleeping in the living room.


I can’t be sure about it. The door to the living room was always closed and I respected their privacy. And they were very quick to open and close it. So maybe there was another bedroom on the other side. But the apartments didn’t look that big from the outside, so no, I think it was four people living in one room.

I did feel a little uncomfortable having that large bedroom to myself, but it’s her choice and I’m guessing as a single mom living in New York, you take the extra money where you can. I figure she was getting an extra $3,000 a month from renting out that room.

Would I do an AirBnB again? If it’s just me travelling, I think so. I don’t think Cathy would be comfortable with it, especially if the person was living in the apartment, which is not always the case. But for me, it was fine. Look, for five nights at her apartment, I spent about $630 Canadian. Trust me, you don’t get hotel rooms that nice for that amount of money in New York. Hotels that charge that much won’t give you your own bathroom and shower and have a door that might charitably be called cardboard.

A nice hotel near the Javtis Center, where the con was being held, was going to cost at least $300 Canadian a night. If I was lucky. So, $1,500 vs around $630. Yeah, it would have been a little more convenient, but not $850 worth of convenient. There were a lot of fun things I did at the con with that savings.

So there you go, my AirBnB experience. Next up, New York Comic Con 2015….

Last Five
1. Wake up, she said - Drive*
2. White ladder - David Grey
3. Bite hard - Franz Ferdinand
4. Toxic - Yael Naim
5. Let me live - Queen


Kirsten said...

I had truly wonderful experiences with AirBnb in Berlin and Hamburg. The only time I've used it in North America was when I was just looking for a place to crash near Seattle for a conference in the morning. All I wanted was a quiet place to sleep. The place was easy to find, in a nice neighbourhood, good price. The host was friendly and polite.

The woman didn't happen to mention in the Airbnb listing that she has a LOUD FOUR-YEAR-OLD BOY who was up until almost midnight, and who was staying in the next room.

I understand that like the woman in your post, she also was a single mom just trying to find a way to make ends meet, but that was extremely misleading and I was pretty angry about it. And I felt bad for the poor kid, too; he's just a kid doing kid things, and the mother is constantly trying to shush him so he doesn't bother these total strangers who appear exhausted at his door after driving for hours and stare at him in shock and horror. Even the best behaved and most reasonable four-year-old in the world is still loud. It's not fair to him, and it's also not fair to subject travellers to that without warning.

So yeah, Airbnb can be hit or miss.

towniebastard said...

And then there are articles like this, which I understand these kinds of incidents are rare, but do put using AirBnB into some perspective....