I love New York. Love it. I love the crappy coffee in the special paper cup (why doesn’t London have its own coffee cup? why?), I love Brooklyn Lager and cans of PBR in dive bars, I love New York pizza slices, I love how even though New Yorkers are supposed to be all cynical and shout at you on the subway I’ve yet to meet one that can suppress that feeling that they can do anything, anything, if they just have a bash at it. Love it.
The one thing I don’t love is the hotels. And i’ve stayed in few. Yes there are fabulous hotels with models at reception and bars with amazing martinis and pools on the roof. Hotel rooms with floor to ceiling glass walls in the bathroom (errm hello people in the building opposite, yes I’m in the shower), ones with views of the Chrysler Building twinkling in the distance, rooms in plastics pods or in pretend wood panelled ship’s cabins, hostels in soho loft apartments or B&B’s in beautiful houses in the village…
All of these things are marvellous of course, but what i really want from my stay in New York they can’t give me. The one thing I want from a stay in New York is the feeling that i belong there, like I could stay there forever.
I want my own apartment.
So, apartment swapping – its easy, go onto craiglist… “I have a flat in East London, you have an apartment in Soho, we both need somewhere to stay at the same time, its like destiny!”
Unfortunately Dave* with the Soho apartment turns out to be some sort of cult leader who leaves his recycling in the oven and his underpants on the bed, and who seems to also share his apartment with a family of bedbugs. I do not react well to a bed bug bite. The stuff of movies perhaps, but more Travis Bickle than Annie Hall.
*names have been changed to protect me from a law suit
Maybe its not so easy. But i am undeterred. There must be a better way. So when preparing for my latest visit i go back to craiglist and there it is, a better way – AirBnB.
AirBnB was founded in San Francisco in 2007. A design conference was in town and all the hotels were fully booked, so two roommates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky had an idea, they got some airbeds and some breakfast groceries, launched a website and rented out space in their apartment to a few guests. It soon caught on and other people added their couches and spare rooms to the list. The network now has rooms in over 4773 cities in 138 countries. Anyone can post a room/sofa/whole apartment and set what rate they want to charge. Vistors can message hosts in advance and post reviews. Everyone’s protected by the cancellation and refund policies set by the site.
This month when co-founder Brian decided to move out of the apartment/office to make room for a new meeting room, instead of getting a new apartment, he decided to live the remainder of 2010 on AirBnB – staying a few nights each in as many apartments across the city as he can, getting to know his community of users as he goes. Its a brilliant move for a founder to make, to come down from the boardroom and immerse yourself in the business, to be part of the community you are creating. As he says:
“the best way to make a great product is to design something for yourself. By using Airbnb everyday, I will get to know the product and the people like never before. ”
A little film about Brian’s adventure.
Its been called the “eBay for space” by Time Magazine, but it actually feels a bit different to that. In the most part AirBnB feels like a real community of people who want to ‘travel like a human’, not just make some spare cash. Maybe its more the ‘Guardian Soulmates for travellers’, matching spare rooms with their perfect temporary owners. And its not just for vacations. This month you’ve had the opportunity to rent the tent at the front of the queue for the new iPhone in San Francisco – proving that some people can always make money from people who have too much of it…
So back to me, on AirBnB i find amazing lofts with skyline views, beautiful brownstones, spare rooms in artist studios, all of them looking like they’ve been handpicked from Apartment Therapy. All for about a third of the price of a crappy hotel in midtown. We find our perfect match in Russ’s awesome railroad apartment in Greenpoint, our new favourite part of Brooklyn. We arrive, Russ gives us his keys, shows us how to work stuff, gives us some local diner tips, and then leaves us to go and stay with his impossibly beautiful girlfriend for a few days. I put the coffee on. This is now our pretend New York life.
I’m not going back to hotels again.