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Toilet Paper Tussle at the Airbnb: How I Survived a Homestay

On a recent trip to Vancouver, I stayed in the trendy West End, in a high-rise building overlooking Coal Harbour and the North Shore Mountains. Breakfast was free, as was high-speed Wi-Fi. Stanley Park, the convention center and the bustling attractions of downtown were just a 10-minute walk away. And I only paid $55 a night.

I found my room on Airbnb.com, a site dedicated to short-term room rentals. Airbnb’s listings are a combination of vacation rental and homestay; the site’s 50,000+ hosts around the world offer everything from a bed in a spare room to an entire condo or house. Amenities vary widely; during my stay, I slept in a spare room and shared the single bathroom with my host and another guest.

Was the experience worth it? You bet — but I did have a few hiccups along the way.

The Good: The affordable price was the most obvious perk, but I also loved the opportunity to live like a local, quite literally. I was given my own key to my host’s apartment building, so I came and went as I pleased — and got to pretend that her swanky city view was mine, all mine. I chatted with my host over breakfast, borrowed her hair dryer and helped her polish off a delicious blueberry cobbler from the local market. And it was nice to have someone to talk to after a day of sightseeing, especially since I was flying solo on this trip.

The Bad: The flip side of the “having someone to talk to” coin is that you might not always want to talk to anyone. I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed the freedom and privacy of a hotel room until the night I came home exhausted and had to make polite small talk with my host’s other guest, even though I wanted nothing more than to hole up with my laptop for an hour or two. There’s also the (in)convenience factor; because we were in such a small shared space, I found myself tiptoeing around and adjusting my normal shower schedule to avoid waking my newfound roommates.

The Ugly: On the second night of my stay, an argument flared up between the host and her other guest over toilet paper. Yes, we were down to our last precious square — but who was to blame? I took cover behind my laptop screen as the fight blazed beyond the two-ply into the guest’s general dissatisfaction with her room and accusations of false advertising in the host’s Airbnb listing. Voices were raised. Threats to call 911 were made. And finally, at 11:30 p.m., the host told the guest to pack her bags.

Of course, an incident like this is rare, but it illustrates the way a personality clash in this sort of living situation can make or break your stay.

Tips: Communicate with your host early and often. If there are amenities that are important to you, ask about them before you book (my room, for example, didn’t have a TV or a telephone). If you enjoy your stay, consider giving your host a little token of gratitude, such as chocolate or other foodstuffs. (I bought my host an herbal blend from the Granville Island Tea Company.) And bring a backup plan — i.e., a few phone numbers for nearby hotels — just in case.

Learn more in Homestay and Farmstay Tips and Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay.

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