December 18

Airbnb: How I Didn’t Save Money in DC

The original title of this post was “How I Saved $250 in DC,” and it was meant to be a piece where I brag about how clever and frugal I am for using Airbnb, the peer-to-peer housing rental program. Turns out I neither saved money nor turned out particularly clever. Read on.

Airbnb Seemed Cheaper

I needed to find lodging in Washington, DC, near the location of my last engagement of 2014. The presentation site was in prime real estate, right near the White House. My first round of hotel searches found prices in the $200-300 range, so I decided to give Airbnb a try.

It didn’t look so bad at first.

With very little searching, I found what looked to be a perfect studio apartment for just over $150 a night after fees. The pictures were adorable, and I booked it. The process was easy, and a combination of text messages and emails kept me informed of the upcoming trip.

My Airbnb host was a woman. Let’s call her Megan. Even before my visit she asked me not to use her name in this blog, and now I’m sure she wants to remain anonymous. Megan told me her boyfriend would meet me at the apartment to give the keys. She sent me a picture and a warning about EXACTLY where to meet her boyfriend… NOT AT THE FRONT DOORS. That was my first clue that the building managers didn’t know about Megan’s rentals.

Because of the crazy traffic, I ended up having to be dropped off at the front door, and although the boyfriend made knowing eye contact when he saw me in the cab, he resolutely tried to look nonchalant and unattached when I walked the half block to where Megan had indicated. Kinda weird.

I Miss Bellmen

I was carrying a large suitcase and my briefcase, and the boyfriend mumbled “Do you need help?” even though he was walking in front of me and almost upstairs. No, I assured him, as I huffed and puffed and pulled my big suitcase up the steps. I was lying. The boyfriend explained that he and Megan were newly cohabitating, and neither of them wanted to give up her apartment just yet. So they were paying her rent through Airbnb rentals. “I don’t think you’ll come into contact with anyone while you’re here, but if you do, just say you’re a friend of Megan’s,” he said, reminding me to use the side door instead of the front.

I Enjoy a Thermostat

The boyfriend had explained that the hissing noise was the heat, and he liked it because it drowned out the noise of the street below. The noise wasn’t bad at all, but it was only after he left that I realized that the heat was controlled by the building, so I arrived cold and was destined to stay cold. I dug an extra comforter out of a basket and tried to think warm thoughts.

I Require Certain Household Linens

After this stay, one thing that I discovered that I adore in bathrooms is a washcloth. They’re so darn handy, and when you don’t have one, well, it’s just awkward. I used my bath towel as a hand towel and a washcloth and even a pot holder because there weren’t any of those either. I also enjoy clean white sheets. Megan’s set were clean but randomly colored and mismatched. One of the pillows was a giant square, like you’d find on a sofa.

2014-12-17 19.24.43
Not sure about the square bed pillow.

I Miss Maid Service

In the morning, I rose to shower,  I couldn’t bring myself to step into the tub without shower shoes. The ring around the tub was so brown I assumed it was a stain at first, but no. Just no. If I hadn’t been so grossed out, I would have scratched “Wash Me” in the brown soap scum. Surprisingly most of the rest of the apartment was pretty clean, and the laminated floors made the place look sleek and tidy. But then I saw the air vent above the stove. It was FUZZY. Who in the world would cook dinner on a stove right under a fuzzy air vent?

The Fuzzy Vent
The Fuzzy Vent
2014-12-17 18.43.59
Fuzzy Vent Location
2014-12-17 07.03.37
That’s not a stain in the tub. And I guess the shampoo and conditioner are my amenities?
2014-12-17 07.32.02
Another amenity? The black marks are not an exotic soap additive.


Airbnb May Not Be for Business Travel

I spent just two nights at Megan’s place. I was cold, somewhat grossed out and uncomfortable. But I just kept reminding myself that this was not a hotel. This was someone’s home. I felt like I was at my hip cousin’s studio apartment. She said I could stay on my visit to DC, and I felt like a guest who would be rude to complain. If this had been a hotel, I would have checked out. But I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to change things with the short stay. After this experiment, I realized that I’m in hotels so often that I have come to expect a clean bathroom and a couple of washcloths as standard equipment. If I were here for a vacation, camping out in a cool DC studio just blocks from the White House, perhaps I’d be more understanding. But for business travel, I need to know that I have a great place to sleep and a clean place to shower. And washcloths.


But at Least I Saved Money, Right?

When I went to write this post, I triple checked the rate of the Holiday Inn across the street, thinking I could add a line that said, “Well, at least I saved money.” But the present rates are $110, so…. not so much.


on the go, travel

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  • So sorry you had a GROSS experience! I have had two great experiences, and I am a neat freak. I did have a host’s cat attack my toes, but he just wanted to play. I stayed with older hosts, however, who rented out the homes where they actually live, and I read ALL the reviews (the dirt is often buried in the older posts). I was also traveling to fun hippie towns (Portland and Asheville), which might have something to do with the quality of my experience. I wish you better luck should you try a next time! 😉

  • Hi Beth, thanks for the review. I was recently at a conference where Airbnb exhibited. The conference caters to undergraduate women. They love this service! However, they are not usually using it for business travel. I did speak with a colleague who frequently travels overseas and says that for business across the pond, Airbnb works well. She shared that it was because she thought there was a different level of service expectation in Europe than in the U.S.

  • Hi there. I tried to use AirBNB to travel to Los Angeles, when I had to stay for a week long visit. I use a scooter and service dog and knew it would be a challenge to find the right fit.

    I spoke to three different people that said NO DOGs (not even service dogs – against ADA) or EXTRA CHARGE FOR DOGS (against ADA law).

    I did find a perfect place that I ended up paying a bit more for. It was a guest house in West LA and was clean, had lot of amenities (fridge was filled with yogurt, beer, wine soft drinks) cupboards were filled snacks. I did check reviews and would suggest others do that aw well before staying at any private residence.

    Side note: I filed suit against the owner that said extra charge for the service dog. I settled out of court for $6000 (most went to attorney) and a change in her policies.

  • Great blog post! Having met you and enjoyed your session so much at said DC speaking engagement I feel REALLLY bad for you!! Well, at least you can add that your session was great and the bad accommodations did not show at all.

  • I so hear you… I had almost the same experience with Airbnb in DC. If you are a frequent business traveler used to amenities. Be prepared to lower your expectations if you do Airbnb.

  • Oh my Nerdy friend…. I can so relate I had only a slightly better experience in DC. If you are a frequent business traveler with “needs” I do not recommend Airbnb. If you go this route.. be prepared to lower expectations.

  • I am so sorry. You can always stay here in Manassas with me and my two dogs. By the way, I LOVED your “Eat, Think & Be Nerdy” yesterday! You really are the Nerdiest Best Friend I have!

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