In my last post, I told you about my horrible October—about Luna’s mystery intestinal illness, my endless cold, the broken heating in my Swiss apartment, my scary landlord, my financial anxiety, and the disastrous first couple days of my stay in France.
What I didn’t tell you was how I was rescued from that last disaster.
Because that story felt like it needed a post of its own.
You see, when I arrived in the French beach resort town of Biarritz after 13 hours on trains and metros and taxis, exhausted and ready for a hot shower and bed, I discovered that my holiday apartment was absolutely and utterly filthy.
The futon was covered in sand or dirt. The kitchen strainer was covered in a chalky white powder that came off on my hands. Worse, the kitchen sink had a brown stain that came off when scratched by a fingernail. A wadded up dirty towel was the only towel in the kitchen. There was dried food on the bowls and small black curly hairs everywhere. The bed was unmade and, though I found sheets in the closet, I wasn’t even sure they were clean.
And, on top of the filth, just about every essential (all promised in the listing) was missing. No or very little hand soap, towels, clean sheets, dish soap, sponges, toilet paper…And did I mention the internet, which had been promised, wasn’t working at all?
I just stood in the middle of the living room, exhausted and ready to cry, steeling myself to try and figure out a temporary solution that would at least allow me to sleep.
There was nothing I could do about internet right then, but I could try to find some sheets and a towel.
After a little searching, I found bags of them in the closet. The only problem? I couldn’t tell if they were clean (turns out they weren’t, which makes my skin crawl since I used them that night). I took a quick shower, trying not to touch anything. Then, I shook the sand (or whatever it was) out of the futon and slept sandwiched in the duvet with Luna curled up against my leg.
The next morning, I woke early and went searching for internet in town.
First, I contacted my Airbnb host to tell him how disappointed and baffled I was. Then I emailed Airbnb to ask for their help.
The bad news? My host barely responded for two days and then wrote a long email to tell me that he wasn’t going to bring me supplies and that he thought I was overreacting about the house because he’d paid someone to clean it (instead of assuming they’d done a bad job, he assumed I was a liar or just being dramatic). And, he added, he had given me a discount and allowed my dog, so I should just be grateful.
I couldn’t believe he thought making an exception for my well-behaved dog and giving a discount (which he only gave because I said I was going to book somewhere cheaper and he wanted my business) gave him the right to omit the promised essentials (sheets, towels, soap, etc.), fail to provide the also-promised internet connection, let me live in complete filth, and email back to accuse me of being dramatic.
So, here’s the part where I should tell you that I hate conflict. Even when it’s justified, I hate complaining. If there’s a small problem, I just fix it myself. I don’t want to be a bother. I don’t want to start a fight.
But this wasn’t a small problem. And every time I returned to the apartment that day and the next, the problem grew. I went to have some cereal in the morning and discovered the food-encrusted bowls. I lost my appetite then and there and walked into town to have a coffee instead.
Uncertain that the towels were clean, I ran a load of laundry. And the towels came out a whole different color. Even after washing them, I was so disgusted that I started toweling off with one of my shirts.
As the hours wore on, I felt more miserable and more trapped.
Luckily, here’s where the rescue comes in:
That first morning when I woke up, I wrote an email to Airbnb to let them know about the situation.
That first day, we had trouble connecting. Because, of course, my only connection to the world (for both email and phone) is the internet – and the broken internet in the apartment was part of the problem.
Still, an Airbnb rep named Doris wrote me a friendly, compassionate, and helpful email and said Airbnb would help me remedy the situation. She offered a few options, including helping me move to a different place.
When I got her email, it was already evening in France and I knew it would be unlikely that we could get me out of the dirty place on such short notice. So I told her thank you and yes, I probably wanted to move, and that I would come to an internet cafe first thing the next morning. If she could have someone call me at 10 a.m., I’d make sure I was available and we could start the process of working this thing out.
The next morning, a little before 10, my new Airbnb rep–the hero of this story–called. His name was Karl and he said he was going to work with me to get me out of there. And so, for the next hour, Karl and I contacted just under 10 other listings in the area. I emailed to explain the situation to each host and to ask if they would make an exception to their dog policies for Luna (since nearly everything available on such short notice was not listed as dog-friendly).
We checked in every hour or so and I was so grateful for the undivided attention I felt the situation was getting. I think I must have thanked Karl 10 times.
A couple hours later, while I was having a light lunch and continuing my search in a little creperie near the beach, a good option finally presented itself.
It was a pretty one-bedroom space with an uncluttered Swedish interior design (which I love) and a small outdoor courtyard. It was five minutes from the beach and 10 minutes from the city center. And they would be happy to make an exception for Luna and to let me move in that night.
The only downside was that it was quite a bit outside my budget.
Which is where Airbnb comes into the story again.
Not only did they walk me through the process, help me contact the owners of the space, and call me constantly to check in, but they also offered to double my funds. Not only would I get the money back from the dirty space, but they would double that number.
This new place was priced a little higher than that doubling, so I put in another couple hundred of my own money. But at the end of the whole nasty business, I had only gone about $20 over my monthly housing budget.
And when it comes to feeling clean and safe, $20 is nothing.
So, after lunch and as soon as I had booked my new space, I packed my things, walked into town with them, and settled into an open-air surf bar to wait out the evening until I could move into the new place.
Somewhere around 10 p.m., I moved in to the new, clean, welcoming apartment. The hosts had made the bed and left clean towels folded on top. And even though this listing didn’t normally include essentials, there was dish soap and toilet paper. I was so relieved I almost cried.
I wrote to Karl to let him I know I was in and everything looked good, I unpacked my bag, and then Luna and I promptly fell into a deep, exhausted, relieved sleep.
Over the next 24 hours, Karl followed up with me twice to make sure I was okay. And on top of helping cover the difference in price between the old place and the new, Airbnb also gave me a credit for future travel (which is what inspired me to immediately book two weeks in Chamonix on my way back to Switzerland). A few days later, they even got the original apartment owner to send me an apology.
And so this is why I love Airbnb.
If I had booked that horrible apartment myself, if the less-than-kind-in-his-responses apartment owner had my money in hand, it could have seriously ruined my trip. But because I booked through Airbnb and because they give a damn about their customers, instead, I will spend most of my month here in Biarritz in a simple, lovely apartment near the beach, somewhere safe, clean, and relaxing.
I already loved Airbnb for its monthly pricing, easy interface, and the brilliant idea it represents. I’ve used the service to travel and to host people in my spare room. But I’ve never loved them more than I do today. Because when you’re in another country and something less-than-ideal happens, the most important thing is feeling like there’s a way out of the bad situation, that someone’s in your corner, that you’re safe.
Thank you Airbnb. Thank you Karl.
Some of the nice (and recommended) Airbnb rentals I’ve stayed in while traveling:
:: rooms with a view in Perugia, Italy
:: a tiny studio in Montmartre, Paris
:: a room in a vicarage in London
:: a pretty studio in Split, Croatia
:: a large studio in Verona, Italy
:: two simple, nice spaces in Parma and Modena, Italy
:: a sunny space in Rovinj, Croatia
My absolute favorites were the Verona rental (which is hosting this month’s Italy giveaway), the Perugia, Italy spaces, and my room in the London vicarage (which was just fun and fascinating).
Two listings to stay far far away from: the filthy Biarritz rental + a Playa del Carmen studio with the world’s least comfortable bed (this one is proof that reviews can be deceptive).
If you’re joining Airbnb for the first time, would you use this link? You’ll get a $25 credit and I’ll get one too. Win win.