Travel: A Completely New Airbnb Experience

Travel: A Completely New Airbnb Experience
I’ve always been partial to solo travelling and like millions, Airbnb has been my go-to virtual travel agent. Just put the destination, date and “entire home” into the search details and you too can "live like a local". At least that was what I thought when I visited Malaga last week and my solo trip turned out to be not so solo.
I arrived at my accommodation just outside Malaga’s old town early and my host's friend Frederico was very accommodating, meeting me there with the key. The apartment was not quite as expected, a bit too pink for my tastes – owner must be a Barbie fan, I thought – but the location was good and, most importantly for the digital nomad, the wi-fi was fast.
Frederico's English was basic but everything was straightforward. There was one door off the kitchen that was locked. I gestured to it and he said something in Spanish that I assumed meant that this is where the owner stores things when there are guests. Fair enough, I’ve encountered that before.
The weather was a balmy 22 degrees compared to London's icy 7 degrees so I headed to a Chiringuito beach bar via a quick al fresco lunch of traditional fish soup, caldillo de pintarroja, in the old town just a short stroll from the Picasso Museum, one of the must-see sights of the city where the pioneering artist was born.
I’ve visited few times and know the city well. Compared to London it is clean, compared to Barcelona it feels safe. Barca used to be my favourite Spanish city. I went so many times I even had the city’s equivalent of an Oyster card. But on one visit a friend came out and was mugged (albeit so gently he didn’t realise until he tried to make a call and found his iPhone was gone) which cast a shadow and made me look further south for Iberian fun.
After an enjoyable day out I returned to the apartment after dark and sat down on the bed to check my emails. After a while I could hear noises. Spanish apartments do sometimes have thin walls and the windows were open due to the heat, so I thought nothing of it, but it did seem quite loud. After a while I went into the kitchen to make a coffee to find a young man simmering some pasta on the hob.
Luckily he spoke English and explained he was renting the front room and had access to the Airbnb’s kitchen and bathroom. Alarm bells should maybe have rung when I saw that my bedroom door had a padlock on it. He was genial and friendly and I briefly thought maybe we could hang out together. Maybe even share some pasta. But I’d paid for a private flat and like my privacy so I immediately messaged both Airbnb and the owner.
Airbnb has had some bad press lately. A case was reported in the Guardian of a superhost putting a guest’s possessions out in the street thinking their booking had come to an end. More generally there is talk of the way locals are unable to find long term accommodation because landlords can make more money from tourists. I’ve seen this myself visiting the Edinburgh Fringe, where countless front doors of tenemant buildings are covered in keysafes.
On this occasion though Airbnb was exemplary. I’d never had to complain before and worried about navigating the App to get through to a human, but within minutes I got a response, which coincided with a response from the landlord showing me a screen grab from his page that said that facilities were shared. The Airbnb rep, Shena, confirmed that this was incorrect and would mediate and help me find alternative accommodation.
Meanwhile I was getting apologetic WhatsApp messages from the landlord. Airbnb always advises that any communication should be via their site, so I started to become nervous. Initially I thought I’d change accommodation in the morning as it was after 9.30pm by now. But I then started to have visions of an angry Andalucian banging on my bedroom door to harangue me in the middle of the night.
So while I waited for Airbnb to resolve the situation I quickly looked online for another apartment. Thanks goodness for those ubiquitous key safes and also the instant book facility which means you don’t have to wait for a reply to confirm your accommodation. I found a similar flat just five minutes away. Hopefully this one didn’t have a cuckoo in the nest.
Just as my confirmation pinged in a message from Airbnb pinged in too, saying that they had spoken to the owner and that I was correct, I should have had the entire flat. My payment would be refunded and airbnb would suggest alternative accommodation. I thanked them and explained i was all sorted.
I didn’t need to pack my bags as I hadn’t even unpacked them. I headed up the camino and settled into a bar opposite the new apartment waiting for the keysafe code. I sipped a vino tinto and ordered some chorizo and the code arrived before my tapas. A happy ending and my holiday really began.
The experience was not too traumatic and it is a funny story to tell at dinner parties. It could have been different though. I might have been a more nervous or vulnerable traveller. My unwanted lodger might not have been a friendly Chinese student studying engineering in Spain. In future I will always doublecheck that I will get the "entire home" even when I've ticked the "entire home" box.
Airbnb has changed a lot since I first used it over a decade ago. Back then it used to be just one step up from couch-surfing. I often stayed in flats where the owners' possessions were in situ. I once stayed in a miniscule studio flat that was so small you could turn the light out and be in bed before it was dark. But times have changed. Guests now expect apartments to be as pristine as five star hotels.
So it had struck me as odd that there was a half-used tabasco sauce bottle in the kitchen cupboard. But at the time it had given me a nice nostalgic glow – harking back to an era when Airbnbs really were a chance to live like a local. The difference here was having paid for my own apartment I had the unexpected chance to live not like a local but with a local...
Names have been changed.


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