It was at 2am, standing on a street corner in Paris, that I vowed I’d never, ever use Airbnb again. I’d come close before, but this time, as yet another party raged close by, I decided enough was enough.
So I turned on my heel and headed into the night, hoping to find a cheap hotel room that would deliver what Airbnb clearly could not – comfort and quiet. Actually, at that point, I would have happily settled for quiet and any flat surface that might allow me to stretch out and sleep.
Unless you’ve been holidaying in your backyard for the past five years, you probably know about the success of Airbnb. Its members rent out their own bedrooms or apartments on a short-term basis to the general public; as colleague Larissa Ham wrote on this site, it has grown into a mammoth web of rooms across 190 countries. She’s a believer; I’m not. At least, not now anyway.
My family and I had checked into our Paris apartment in July. It wasn’t the sort of cheap accommodation the service has built its name and considerable success on, costing us about $400 a night for our five-night stay. But it had two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living area. It was small, but nicely appointed. For a family of four, it was a good deal.
And it was in a lively and historic area too – the Bastille district. The owner wasn’t on hand – that should have immediately sounded a warning – but she’d delegated concierge duties to an elderly neighbour who was charming and helpful, but of little use when the ‘proverbial’ hit the fan.
It was our two 20-something children who were first to complain (hey, what’s new?). Their room fronted the street and they’d been kept awake most of the first night by revellers, street-brawlers and assorted nocturnals. Think end-of-season footy trip in Kings Cross at 2am.
Then it was our turn in the back bedroom. A Friday night party across a central courtyard started at 7pm and didn’t finish until 3am Saturday. I blocked it out as best I could using earplugs, but managed only fitful sleep. I was sitting up in the living room when the music eventually stopped.
Saturday dawned and, bleary-eyed at the breakfast table, we wondered what our third night would bring. Remarkably, peace and quiet, thanks almost certainly to teeming rain that kept revellers at bay and windows closed tight. Surely Sunday night would be peaceful.
It certainly started that way. Indeed, we were sound asleep by 10.30pm after a big day’s sightseeing when incessant noise started seeping up through the floor beneath us. An army of drinkers and carousers had descended on the apartment below just before midnight. It was difficult to converse, much less sleep.
I may have been able to rationalise it as one of those look-back-and-laugh travel experiences, except it was becoming something of a regular Airbnb occurrence – our stay in Barcelona had also been disrupted a week earlier when neighbours decided to test out the volume level on some doof-doof music.
We’d suffered largely in silence that time, but in Paris I donned jeans and a hoodie and started heading downstairs to protest. But my wife was having none of it.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Downstairs to tell them to shut up.”
“In what language?”
She had me there. I had enough French to ask for the bill in a tourist restaurant, but what was the local lingo for, “Would you please shut the … up?”
Maybe we’d wake our elderly concierge? Actually, no. Meanwhile, the group below got louder and louder as the booze and whatever else flowed and flowed. Clearly they had nowhere to be Monday morning.
So, at 2am, there was nothing else for it: “I’m going outside to find a hotel and I may be some time,” I said to my disbelieving spouse and children in my best Scott of the Antarctic. With that I set off, in search of a good night’s rest. I added, somewhat dramatically: “I’ll let you know when I get there.”
Which, happily, was just 200 metres down the road. With just a credit card in my pocket and no luggage in tow, the front desk man was a little suspicious. But he checked me in to a clean, well-appointed room that was blissfully, almost eerily quiet.
Meanwhile, down the street, our neighbours raged on. Our kids had taken to throwing small objects through open windows to register outrage and discomfort. All to no avail. By 2am, my wife had joined me at the hotel.
The next morning we packed our things, said goodbye to our concierge and moved on. We weren’t going to waste our last night in Paris, instead moving into a Left Bank hotel, which was lovely.
It occurred to me soon after we checked in that there’s a fatal flaw in the Airbnb business model – it’s the ability to complain. In a hotel, if you have noisy neighbours the management will tell them to shut up. If they don’t they’re moved on. At worst, you get to change rooms. But with Airbnb, if the owner isn’t on hand, you can only appeal to the revellers themselves – fraught at the best of times. Otherwise, you’re stuck in lousy digs, and that’s a very dispiriting feeling when you’re supposed to be on a carefree holiday.
Not all our Airbnb experiences have been so negative, but few have been truly memorable. On most of our trips – and we travel often – there’s always one or two properties that become special memories. None involve Airbnb properties.
So, while I recognise that the service fills a need, next time I’ll pass. Because nothing good happens after 2am … even in Paris.