AirBnB: The Second B is for Bizarre

Last week, I posted about the best experiences I’ve had so far with AirBnB. This post was prompted by dad calling me to discuss an article in the Buffalo News about the home sharing service. One of the points the article made that my dad was curious about was how guest and host expectations sometimes differ, leading to dissatisfaction. For example, the article mentioned a woman who was annoyed when her guests didn’t want to spend time socializing with her.

With the exception of when I am overseas, I always request an entire home/apartment to myself, rather than a room in someone’s house, because I don’t want to socialize. I’m on my own vacation and want to do my own thing, especially if I am travelling with a romantic partner. And even when booking separate accommodation, I read the description carefully to make sure that my expectations align with those of the host. Most descriptions state clearly how much interaction the host is willing to have with the guests. This is important. I believe that many problems in this world, not just on AirBnB, can be cleared up with better communication. Of course, it’s just as much the guest’s responsibility to understand and accept those terms as it is the host’s to express them. A breakdown can be the fault of either party.

As attentive as I am to the description before I book a place, problems can occur, and I’m a believer in communicating pluses and minuses equally. I think people who get mad about “internet shaming” are ridiculous whiners because if you blog/tweet/post about things you like, there’s no reason you should feel hesitant to do the same for things you don’t like.

But I chose to make B equal “bizarre” rather than “bad” because I’ve never had a truly bad AirBnB experience. Any problems I’ve had have been resolved satisfactorily and have not ruined my vacation. In this post, I’m really relating experiences that you might have when using AirBnB that you aren’t likely to deal with ever if staying in a traditional hotel. So don’t let any of these tales deter you from finding your own sweet vacation spot. Also, note that there are only four entries here, and not five as there were in my previous post. I simply haven’t had five “bizarre” experiences!

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Cottage in Paonia

A pet peeve of mine in this world of endless internet reviews is when people review things out of context of what they are. Like complaining that McDonald’s doesn’t provide tablecloths and silverware. Or complaining that a work of fiction about one person’s childhood in Tanzania doesn’t provide any geopolitical and socioeconomic statistics about the country. I got a poor review from the owner of this property for a whole array of factors in his head that he deemed were important, but were not communicated anywhere in the listing or the house rules. His review of me begins by stating that I was friendly but… and then he went on to state that I was more “high impact” than his other guests because I had generated too much garbage (all of it was in the garbage can, please note). He was also annoyed about crumbs in the bed. Silly me for thinking that he actually washed the sheets after each guest. And yes, I was on vacation and if I want to have my breakfast (and lunch and dinner) in bed – I will! There were also a few other nitpicky complaints that were completely out of line if you accept the premise that he should only have reviewed my guest behavior as it relates to the rules of the house that were communicated at the time of booking.

Casita in Durango

This bizarre experience was due to exactly what my dad read in the newspaper – different expectations. A girlfriend and I booked this cottage together. The host also offered a bedroom for rent in the main house itself, but we booked the stand-alone cottage so we could do our own thing. The listing had said nothing about meal service, spending time together, etc. We pulled into the driveway after almost eight hours on the road and were collecting ourselves for not even five seconds when we heard a tapping on my driver’s side window. We looked up and the host’s face was right there. A little startling, but that’s OK. She was just being welcoming and friendly. She said she was so happy we had arrived and that there was a French couple staying in the main house with her and she had cooked a big dinner for everyone and had wine and was looking forward to spending the evening together. OK…again, very nice but a little odd. If we had had dinner plans, I would have felt very bad that she went to all this trouble, but since we didn’t, we decided to join. The five of us had dinner and then the host offered dessert and coffee and invited us to stay in the living room with them. We were tired from the day and declined, and went out to the cottage. Not ten minutes later, she came knocking at the door to let us know that she had games and DVDs inside and, again, we were welcome to spend time in the house with the others if we wanted. She also wanted to know what our plans were for the next day. We told her we had a full schedule, and then tried to avoid her for the rest of the trip. The day we left, we got a text from her saying she was disappointed we were gone. She had been certain we had booked three nights instead of two, and was hoping we could get massages together and go out to lunch before we headed back to Denver. Fortunately, we were already two hours away when that text came in, so we didn’t have to make up an excuse about why that wouldn’t work.

Condo in Jamaica

This one is the only experience I’ve had that can rightfully be described as bad and potentially ruinous. Aside from our first night in Jamaica, my friend and I hadn’t booked any accommodation in advance. One night, we found ourselves staying in the plantation home of a Jamaican reggae star who advertised “Kool Rooms” on a large hand-painted billboard. There wasn’t anything we wanted to do in town, so, between power outages, we surfed the internet and I decided to book something through AirBnB for the next night in Ocho Rios. I found a decent looking condo in a managed resort building. When we arrived, the concierge was not expecting us and didn’t know anything about our rental. We gave him the number of the contact we had from the listing, but it took over an hour before the guy picked up the phone. When he did, he said the room was already booked and he couldn’t help us. He refused to even come to the resort to talk to us. Fortunately, the concierge took pity on us and called around to some other owners in the building who rented out their units and found us a place to stay for the night. I sent a scathing email to the AirBnB host, who lived in London. When I woke up, I had an email from her and a message waiting from the concierge. They were doing everything they good to straighten out the situation and get us into the proper accommodation for the second night. Well, long story short, it turned out that the owner had a property manager in Jamaica who had a side hustle going with the condo. Whenever the owner didn’t have an AirBnB booking, he rented it to tourists he found on his own or let friends or family members stay there when they needed it. Because we had booked with such short notice, he didn’t get the message we were coming and he rented it to someone else for the night. The owner was mortified, angry, and extremely apologetic to us, and refunded more than half what we paid without me even having to ask. So it all worked out fine, but I was disappointed that this was my friend’s first experience with AirBnB.

Treehouse in a Costa Rican Jungle

Yes, this is the same place I listed in my best experiences post. When I travel overseas, I don’t have cell service. I can get along fine without it and have no desire to pay an arm and a leg for it. I like disconnecting when I’m on vacation. But I realize that people I’m dealing with, like AirBnB hosts, might not know I’ll be disconnected, so I’m careful to communicate any limitations. I booked this place about a month before our trip began. Ten days before our reservation date, I emailed the host to let him know our departure date, that I wouldn’t have cell service at all, and that I wasn’t sure when during the trip I would have Wi-Fi. Then I asked if he could send me the check-in information so I would have it already just in case I couldn’t contact him while I was there. No response. A few days later, in the Houston airport, right before our flight took off for Costa Rica, I emailed the same request. No response. Then, no response at all during the first five days of our trip, and I messaged again. The morning of check-in day, I still hadn’t heard anything. We had plans that day to go snorkeling and ziplining and generally be out in the wilderness with no technology. So now, his lack of communication was impeding on our vacation. We finished our activities and had to find a restaurant with Wi-Fi to sit in and wait until he finally got back me so we could figure out where exactly to go and how to check in. Maybe his silence was some sort of security measure because the place is a treehouse and wide open to anyone, so I guess it’s possible that he doesn’t want people knowing exactly where it is until check in time so they don’t bother other guests. But he should have told me that and told me when to expect his message. Ignoring someone completely is not acceptable and very, very inconsiderate, and while I enjoyed staying at the place very much, I’m not inclined to rent from him again.

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My next AirBnB adventure is coming up in a month – an old Victorian mansion complete with antique furnishings and decorations – right in the middle of the great state of Kansas. I’m expecting something of a cross between a Psycho and a Wizard of Oz experience. We’ll see!

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