AirBnB: All of the Inconveniences of Staying With Friends Without the Friendliness

Gentle Readers,

I traveled for a family wedding this weekend because I believe in showing up. I had not seen the cousins in over a decade, and was happy to catch up. Unfortunately all of the local hotels were $300 a night, which seemed a bit much for just me. Seemed a bit much even if I was sharing with my girlfriend who could not come on this trip.

I asked around to see what people more familiar with the city suggested. Friends sung the praises of AirBnB, but I was wary. Many cities are seeing these poorly regulated accommodations destroying the rental markets for people who have lived there for decades. I did not want to contribute to people being priced out of their homes. I try to engage in the economy in ethical ways when I can. There are times it is just not possible (see clothing), but I think every small choice can make a difference. I try to make as many of them as I can.

I was surprised to learn that many of my very anti-capitalist, anti-gentrification activist friends were also encouraging the use of AirBnB in this city in particular. I cannot recall their reasoning at the moment, but it was apparently compelling enough at the time.

I found a host who did not mention being “420 friendly” in their ad and booked with them a month ago. I was surprised when they sent so many messages that were thinly veiled attempts to make it feel like I was staying with a friend and not paying to stay in a stranger’s home. I only responded to what seemed pertinent and focused on the rest of my life.

This week I realized I did not know the process for the Day of Staying in a stranger’s home. I sent my host an email on Thursday explaining that this was my first stay and I did not know the protocol. I tell the host when I expect to get in to the city and ask how to enter their home. I hear nothing.

I don’t want to hound the host with messages but I’m starting to worry. On Saturday before I fly I ask the host again how to enter their home. I receive a text saying I’ll hear soon.  I hear nothing. My plane lands and I ask again. Another text saying that they’ll text me the location in an hour. A train to their house and no communication in that hour.

I am outside their door. Precisely when I said I would be, and I don’t know how to get in. I wait. For twenty minutes.

Then a hale of excuses. All of them nonsense. I’m not in the mood to be friendly. They made me wait outside in the heat with my luggage for twenty minutes because they failed to communicate. They offer me a glass of water and ask about my plans. I do the bare minimum of polite conversation and wish them out of the space.*

They finally leave and I can get gussied up for the wedding. Things seem better. I enjoy the wedding and stay out incredibly late. I dance. I laugh. I hold a baby. It is a delight.

I return to my host’s building and the damn key is sticking in their apartment door and not opening it. I fiddle with it for 10 minutes before texting to ask if there is a trick to opening it. I hear nothing and fiddle for 10 more minutes before convincing the old door and lock that this key is designed to turn the locking mechanism.  Then the host lets me know that nobody else has ever had a problem with the door. This fact does not matter to me – other people’s lack of problem does not impact me in any way and is a useless bit of explanation. *

I do my PT and go to sleep in this stranger’s house. I am delighted to leave in the morning and get my stuff together promptly and leave the key on the table before taking myself out without a shower because the host has not made a towel available to their guests. The website did not tell me I needed to carry my own towel. I know that Douglas Adams taught me better, and I apologize to Adams in my heart and go about my day a bit grosser than intended.

A few hours after I leave I get another text asking me if I enjoyed my stay and asking for feedback. Readers, I ignore this text. They are not my friend and I am not getting paid to teach them how to do the bare minimum of hospitality. Telling them that my experience in their home makes me want to forego this strange economy does not seem particularly fruitful.

This will be my last Air BnB stay. I like hotels. I like that there will be towels and doors that open. I like that you can shut your door on strangers making awkward small talk.  I like that no one makes you stand in the heat outside of a building for twenty minutes because they refused to tell you how to enter their premises. I like that I can shower.

How do you respond to the sharing economy forcing faux friendships on people as a way to normalize this new behavior?

*I do not tell my host any of my snarky thoughts.

Author: ZJ Thorne

Lesbian on the path to Financial Freedom

  • Mrs. Groovy

    Oh this is too funny. Except it’s sad. I’m sorry you had this crappy experience but I’m so glad it didn’t keep you from enjoying the wedding.

    We tried to book an Airbnb for one night over Labor Day. Just from the ads most of the hosts sounded freaky-deaky. We finally found one normal looking one that’s acceptable in price for a holiday weekend in Asheville, and we get turned down. I don’t know if it was already booked or if the host just didn’t wish to choose us. Out of curiosity I start Googling about how to get a reservation on Airbnb and I find a slew of sites filled with recommendations such as: make sure you have a good photo in your profile; make sure your profile is descriptive, etc. One commenter said “I feel like I’m on a freaking dating site”. Exactly. And to think, Mr G was willing to even look at spaces with shared bathrooms (I was not).

    I’m sticking with hotels too, unless it’s for a longer stay that comes highly recommended, from someone I know.

    • It’s ludicrous out here. If I’m paying you to stay, we probably aren’t friends. The feigned familiarity is not actually making it safer or more fun.

      Maybe renting a whole house without the damn host in it would be better. I rarely need that much room. Just the ability to get in and to shower before I go.

  • Emily @ johnjanedoe

    Yikes, truly scary. Stories like this make me very wary of AirBnB. Even some regular BnBs make me a bit uncomfortable in my introvert’s soul.

    • I’m an extrovert. I just think people should follow the agreed upon social rules. I think it could be a lot different as an introvert.

  • Mr. PIE

    Sorry you had to go through this utter nonsense. I never cease to be amazed how inconsiderate some human beings can be. Even more remarkable when you consider we come from the same gene pool.

    We are a family of four and would naturally book a home or condo itself to meet our space needs. Still, you give us pause to think more about Airbnb period. We have had great experience with HomeAway.com and VRBO. Sticking with them for now.

    Glad you found warmth, humor and a lot of dance at the wedding. I hope the baby did not spit up and was well behaved!!

    • I think having the whole space probably makes a difference.

      Baby was perfect. No spit-up. No crying. Just cuddles.

  • Julie@ChooseBetterLife

    So sorry you’ve had this experience. We’ve had awful experiences in hotels with rude clerks who blame us for keys not working, hot water being nonexistent, etc. We were even in a hotel when a man shot himself in the room below ours. Ugh.

    So it’s clearly not all rainbows and unicorns everywhere, but we have had good experiences with AirBnB and always choose apartments with several good reviews. Maybe it was because we’ve only used it outside the US, but people were lovely, towels were provided, and we were thrilled with tips from the locals.

    If you change your mind about providing feedback for your awful host, at least you’ll be providing a service to warn future guests.

    I hope that your future trips are all lovely.

    • This host had good reviews.

      It’s interestingto think it may work better outside the US.

      I have had some bad experiences in hotels, and I don’t return to them. I’m sorry to hear about the gunshot. That’s scary.

  • Good for you for going to the family wedding! Sorry about the Airbnb experience. Having to coordinate with strangers to stay in their home sounds awful to me. I hate talking to strangers. Hate, hate, hate it. When I order delivery food, or book a hotel room, or make flight arrangements, I do it all online so I won’t have to talk to a human. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to stay in a room in a stranger’s house. And then the forced-friendly chatter with people who can’t even be considerate enough to let you in the house in a timely fashion? OMG.

    • For me, everything would have been fine if I hadn’t had to wait to get in after asking for days.

  • On one hand, I kind of understand the faux kindness. It seems like a lot of people try to make Air BnB live up to its name – a quaint B&B. However, you’d think that if they were going to put on airs, they’d also provide a stinkin’ towel! I don’t Airbnb (but I’ve also only done one Lyft ride and no Netflix because I’m 90, not 30), and this is why.

    • I love B&Bs. Until the hosts knock on the door one too many times (this happened when a girlfriend and I were on a celebratory trip), but those hosts all had towels at least.

      I do Lyft and Uber. I have not driven since 2009. It’s better for the world.

  • Wow, well at least you had fun at the wedding, and maybe saved some money by going with AirBnB instead of a hotel? I have yet to use the site, because we don’t spend money on travel right now, but it seemed to have favorable reviews. I was especially enticed by the idea of renting out a whole house or apartment, thinking we could save money on travel by splitting costs with family/friends and have a kitchen to use for cooking our own food. Well, the real plan is to buy an RV so we’ll always have a place of our own to sleep, wherever we go.

    • Saved money at the Air BnB. Spent a little more on Lyft/Uber.

      An RV could be fun if you both feel comfortable driving it.

  • Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions

    I don’t know that I like the whole AirBNB thing because of having to meet the folks and never really knowing what you are going to get. We’ve stayed in one – and it was OK – but I felt weird, like we had to be quiet or that we were bothering them if we had questions, etc.

    • Feeling the need to be quiet was not fun. And there was really more of a sheet than a door in between us. Her “bed” was a mattress in the kitchen/dining area. I had the front room with a true bed in it. Very strange.

  • That’s a fun read, ZJT! I’ve been there, so I can commiserate.

    And you’re right. The “sharing economy” has opened up a whole can of etiquette worms. I’d say the particulars of how everybody’s supposed to behave, what the expectations of all parties are, how little conflicts are supposed to be resolved, etc. haven’t been fully worked out. So I guess I ought to thank you for taking this one on the chin and helping the biz model mature a little bit!

    Anyway, glad the wedding was good and thanks for the enjoyable read.

    • Boldly going into the frontiers of etiquette!

  • Dang, that sounds like pretty bad hosts. I stayed in AirBNB like 3 times I think. One for a week, one for an interview, and I forgot the 3rd reason. I didn’t have any trouble however, but good to hear both the good and bad sides of Airbnb. At least the wedding was great!!

    • Maybe if pressed I could give the service another chance. Maybe not. 😉

  • Mr. Groovy

    Hey, ZJ. So sorry to hear about your AirBnB experience (I did laugh, though). It’s definitely the wild west out there. We’ll stick to hotels. And if we do chance an AirBnB, it will have to be for the whole dwelling. No sharing quarters with the owner. That’s just too weird. And thank you for teaching us the meaning of 420-friendly. I had no idea that there were codes for such things.

    • There are codes for everything ; )

      Hotels are great.

  • Pingback: The Lighthearted Side of Personal Finance()

  • I’ve worked in customer service and this is really bad customer service. Not answering texts, not having towels ready, making you wait outside, and implying that it’s your fault that you couldn’t open the door is just rude. Customer service is all about making people happy, solving their problems quickly, and not complaining to the customer.

    Also in customer service you need to be friendly, but don’t act like someone’s friend when you’re not. I have NEVER stayed at an AirBnB and never want to. I like the ability to call customer service or management with any issues & have personal space.

    • Absolute customer service fail.

      I think you have it right to stick to hotels.

  • donnafreedman

    I’ve never used in AirBnB but have stayed in regular B&Bs a time or two. I, too, prefer hotels — but I also use hostels a lot because my travel budget is somewhat limited.

    If I were you I’d leave feedback on AirBnB, all right: “Lack of communication, being made to stand outdoors in the heat, trouble getting in, no bath towel offered all make this a NON-WONDERFUL experience for me. But if you like being ignored, this could be your dream destination.”

    BTW: Did you go to FinCon16? I missed most of it because my daughter got really sick and I just didn’t feel safe leaving her in the room by herself. In fact, we’re staying an extra night because she’s not well enough for the six-hour drive back to Phoenix.

    But I wanted to meet you! That is, if you were actually here.

    • Hostels can be great. I also like to stay with friends. Sadly all of mine were out of town that weekend.

      I’m sorry to hear that your daughter was so ill at FinCon. My finances would not allow it this year. I’m hoping that next year in Dallas will be more doable.

  • Ack! That’s so awkward and inconvenient. My friends had a strange AirBnB experience in which the hosts did not disclose that the rental unit was below their personal residence. Not what they were expecting for their first anniversary trip. I’m glad you enjoyed the wedding, though.

    • They weren’t told it was a basement?

      • I’m not sure if it was a basement or a first-floor unit, but they weren’t told it was attached to the owner’s residence.

  • Pingback: Pain Quotidien | FinanciaLibre()