One of many firsts on my maiden trip to the US was the chance to try out Airbnb for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically a paid version of Couchsurfing: you crash in someone’s apartment while on holiday, but for a fee. Depending on the arrangements you make with the homeowner, you can get anything from a single room to an entire apartment, and the rates can also be a lot cheaper than those of a hotel. We tried out AirBnB in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and both times turned out very well. Though I must rank the SF experience above LA, partly because SF is so much prettier, we had some great food there and we basically had the apartment to ourselves.
In San Francisco, we stayed with Monica Decker, who shares her apartment with Bodhi and two cats. Personally, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable with having strangers in my house, especially people I have never met, so we were a bit taken aback by the level of trust Monica placed in us. She was going to be away for her nephew’s birthday celebration, and left the key for us in a pre-arranged place. Her cats, Friday and Selma, would be in the apartment, but Monica had arranged for a friend to come over and feed them. She also left a note asking us to help ourselves to anything in the fridge. So we basically had a two-room apartment all to ourselves, and all for just US$108 a night (not including a 10% service charge that goes to AirBnB). There are even laundry facilities in the basement of the building.
Monica’s apartment building, located along Pine Street, has a wonderfully old school, Inception-esque elevator. It’s the kind with a door and a grille, and pressing the button for your floor sets off a booming sound like you’ve just launched a space shuttle. Every time I opened the door, I kept thinking Mal (Marion Cotillard’s character in Inception) was going to come rushing out at me with a knife. But the apartment itself was spacious, and very comfortable. Even though there was a nervy moment when I opened the door and Friday came rushing out and down the stairs. It’s a good thing he came back, because I really wouldn’t have known how to explain to Monica how I lost her cat.
It was only on the evening of our second last day that we met Monica, who was a little quiet as she was recovering from jet lag and a full day of work. But she still took the time to make conversation and ask about our travels. By a strange twist of fate, Monica’s cousin turned out to be Geoff Boucher, the well known LA Times journalist behind The Hero Complex, which discusses pop culture and all things geeky. As it turned out, we saw the man himself a few days later – albeit from a distance – when he moderated the Iron Man 3 panel at the San Diego Comic Convention.
Our second AirBnb stop was in Los Angeles and the house of Chic MacArthur, a semi-retired real estate agent who lives in a gated community in Hollywood Oasis. This time round, we only had a room with a queen-sized bed, but it was more than enough for us. Parking was available on the street, and free too. The experience of being in LA wasn’t all that great, but it was certainly a lovely house to stay in. Do note that the kitchen is off-limits, so you won’t be able to do any cooking, but Chic did allow us to do our laundry twice. He charged US$89 a night.
Chic was a tad distant, but always polite and respectful, and gave us our space and lots of useful tips. For example, when we mentioned that we were going to a taping of Conan, he urged us to get there early to avoid missing out on it. Chic explained that tickets are always given out in excess of the studio capacity, and added that he knew friends who had come all the way to LA to attend recordings and missed out. We took his advice, and sure enough, ended up with pretty good seats in the studio. All in all, we had no regrets about staying with him.
Have you tried out AirBnB? What was the experience like?