Why you should always have a plan B with Airbnb

2016-04-18 12:30 - Darrel Bristow-bovey
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If you’re going overseas and you’ve booked an AirBnB, this is my advice to you: make sure you know someone in the same city with a comfortable sofa.

I’m travelling to New York in less than a month to see The Cure play at Madison Square Garden. If you don’t know who The Cure is, you are a sad, lost individual living a gloomy life and there is nothing I can do to brighten it for you, and also why do you insist on making me feel so old?

I don’t know if you have tried to book reasonable accommodation in New York City recently, but it’s a fool’s errand – there is no reasonable accommodation in New York City. The air in NYC apartments must be perfumed with frankincense and myrhh, and the beds must be made from spun silk and angel’s breath and the sweet dreams of virgins because I think it would be cheaper to spend a week in intensive care in a Sandton private clinic than a night in a Manhattan hotel room so small you have to leave your suitcase outside, hidden behind a pot plant.

The only way to do it was through AirBnB, and I’ve always been wary of AirBnB. One thing is that it’s weird for a grown man to stay in the apartment of a total stranger, sleeping on their sheets and with their clothes still in their cupboard. When you wake in the morning you feel like maybe you’re suffering from amnesia and this is your life and you just don’t recognize anything in it.

But I also don’t like how precarious the whole thing is. An AirBnB booking is a private arrangement – there are no hotel industry regulations or controls. People can turn you down if they don’t like the look of your Facebook profile. Worse – they can change their minds.

I spent several agonizing months trying to find an affordable place in downtown Manhattan that would be slightly bigger and better lit than crawling inside a St Bernard dog. The only thing I had going for me and my pitiful rands is that I managed to start looking with plenty of time to spare. Everything is expensive in New York because everyone wants to go there, so you need a good couple of months notice in order to find the right place.

I finally settled on a spot on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village – across from the building where they all lived in Friends. It wasn’t big – I wouldn’t be able to wear more than one layer of clothing while inside the apartment – but it would have to do. I paid and it hurt the old bank account, but at least I had the peace of mind of knowing I’d have a roof over my head when I arrived in the mean streets. This morning I woke to an email from the owner saying she’d cancelled the booking.

Why had she cancelled? Who knows? She gave some feeble story about the body corporate in her building passing a regulation outlawing short-term subletting, but who knows if that’s true. It could just as easily be that someone wants it for a longer period, or offered to pay more, or she’s decided to stay home that week, or she checked my twitter stream and didn’t like that joke I made about how the coach of the Fijian Rugby 7s team looks like Mitchell from Modern Family.

It doesn’t matter – all that matters is that now it’s just me and a jam-packed full Manhattan. All the St Bernard dogs have been taken. I’m going to have crawl inside a Labrador or a small seal.

The only other time I’ve encountered anything like this was in Cuba. You have to pay for your hotel rooms in advance, and then when you arrive at the hotel an immensely fat man wearing a stringy vest takes a long time pretending to go through the hotel register, before very regretfully informing you that there’s no record of your booking, but there is a room available if you’d like to pay for it. Then you angrily march out and carry your bags down the street to the next hotel, and ring for service, and there’s a delay until the enormously fat man from the first hotel comes waddling in and asks if you’d like a room, and then you remember that all the hotels in Cuba are owned by the same person: the Cuban government.

But that’s Cuba. You expect that from a Communist dictatorship living in a time-warp. You don’t mind it so much, because at least your money is going to train Cuban doctors to come save South African lives in rural hospitals.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I get to New York. If you’re a friend of mine, or just someone I met once in a bar who lives within a couple of subway stops of Madison Square Garden, this would probably be a very wise time to start screening your calls.

Darrel Bristow-Bovey is a columnist, screenwriter, travel writer, author - follow him on Twitter