Editor’s Note: Over the past year I’ve become a fan on AirBnb, the service that allows guest to find rooms and properties in 192 countries. I had a positive experience using them in San Francisco, and my friend, Mike, used them to find an apartment in Paris over the summer. When he sent me a photo of his rental and I noticed a lamp I have in my own living room at home, I asked him to write us his experience as a guest post for the blog. Hope you enjoy the read- Jen
Last year, Jen asked me to write about my experiences traveling to London and Paris with my family – wherein we found accommodations in professionally-managed private and corporate apartments.
This summer, our family returned to Paris for an 11-day visit. Our daughter, now 8 years old, was scheduled for one week of “French camp” at a school in the 16th arrondissement; we wanted to find an apartment within easy commuting distance, but which was also situated in a lively, active neighborhood. These constraints ruled out our preferred Parisian apartment service (Guest Apartment Paris) because the journey from their apartments to the camp would have required 35-40 minutes each morning and afternoon. Conversely, Parisian friends advised against staying close to the school in the 16th, which they deemed too conservative, sleepy and staid.
Detail of a few art pieces in the living room
I started searching anew for rental apartments on VRBO, and found myself once again disappointed by their limited search options, opaque pricing/availability details, and woefully bad photos. Not a thing had changed since I had considered using that service four years ago… Aside from the presence of a spunky new competitor to consider: Airbnb.
I had heard about Airbnb since it launched in late 2008, but never had reason to explore its offerings. Its youth serves it well, as the site feels modern and is intuitive to navigate. Click on “Paris” on the front page and you’re presented with various neighborhoods, tagged by areas of interest. Alternately, you can click on “All Listings” and filter to your heart’s content: Lodging type, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, price range, neighborhood, and targeted amenities. Airbnb search listings feature a live-updating map, showing approximate locations of filtered properties, so you can more easily target a specific corner of a neighborhood or access to a métro (subway) line.
Individual listings on Airbnb are generally very impressive. They use a standard rubric for presenting information, the photos are usually very high quality (Airbnb sends photographers to assist property owners with this), maps and street view are available so you can get a feel for the neighborhood, and a calendar of availability is maintained (sometimes slightly out of date, but better than I’ve found on VRBO). Each listing has a bookings feature that will give you an accurate price for the dates of your intended stay – so you don’t have to negotiate that later on with the owner.
Panorama of the living room
Using their search interface, I quickly narrowed down my search to 3 properties. I sent in requests to all 3 owners for our intended dates. The first to confirm definite availability was the one we booked. The apartment we landed at was a great find – just 2 minutes from a metro station, and 5 minutes by foot to the Seine. We were steps away from the Champs-Elysees, and just two blocks from a grocery store. Amenities in the apartment were everything we needed (washer/dryer, dishwasher, full kitchen, wifi, computer/printer, cable TV, DVD player). The decor was lovely, including tasteful furniture and intriguing art. It was situated on an interior courtyard, making the apartment incredibly quiet and protected from the noise of the city and streets. The stated square footage was over 1900 square feet for 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, an office/gym, and large living room. Best yet: We had all of this for $400 per night – the cost of an entry-level shoebox-sized bedroom in most of the city’s brand-name and boutique hotels.
Airbnb takes great steps to increase confidence and trust between property owners and the renters. They verify mobile phone numbers on both sides, encourage linking your profile to “real-life” networks like Facebook and LinkedIn (to show that you’re a real person), and can even offer Verified IDs to those who send in scans of documents like driver licenses or passports. Also, Airbnb renters pay fees directly to AirBnb, which holds funds until one day after you check in. You don’t have to deal with odd forms of payment (wire transfers, money orders) to complete strangers, and you don’t lose out on your money if the listing was false or misleading.
We were blown away by the ease-of-use and the transparency offered by Airbnb. It put our family at ease and made our stay in Paris a true delight.
Panorama of the courtyard outside the apartment