Alternative Accommodations

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Posted by Dan Webster on July 3, 2018, 6 a.m.

The drug paraphernalia we found on the stairwell was a pretty clear indication that our first Airbnb venture wasn't going to work out.

That situation occurred several years ago, back when we were Airbnb rookies. Since then, we’ve gotten a whole lot better at picking our spots.

I’ll get back to that unfortunate experience in a moment. First, though, if you’ve done any traveling over the past decade, domestic or international, you’re no doubt familiar with Airbnb. The company has transformed the vacation-rental industry the way Uber and Lyft have changed the way we contract for transportation.

Couple planning vacation with computer

It and a number of other booking sites, such as, and Travelocity, offer easy, often inexpensive ways to find, and arrange, holiday deals.

Want to go to Hawaii but don’t want to stay in a hotel where prices are as high as the chances for privacy are low? Just go to, type in your destination and, voila, you might find a studio for two in Kihei, Maui, within walking distance of the beach – for just $95 a night.

Neat, eh? But as with any business deal, the traditional rule of thumb applies: You, the buyer, must beware. Here, then, are a few tips to make sure your Airbnb experience is as good as you hope.

Make sure you know what you’re getting. Our first Airbnb experience involved trying to book a vacation rental near my daughter’s co-op in Brooklyn. The location was right, as was the price, and while the photos of the apartment made the living space look fairly Spartan, everything seemed to fit our needs.

Then we showed up. After finding the address, no mean feat, we gained access and walked up the grungy stairwell. In addition to the items that my wife spotted resting on one step amid other trash, which made us feel as if we were walking into an episode of “CSI: NY,” we found the apartment to be bare to the extreme. No lamps, only overhead lighting. Not what we expected at all.

Which brings us to a second tip: Make sure you understand your rights if things go south.

To its credit, Airbnb – after a minor amount of hassle – gave us a full refund. And I think that was largely because the company’s website lists a number of reasons that warrant refunds, one of which reads, “The listing is unsanitary, unsafe, or hazardous to the health of your guests.”

Understand, too, what is expected of you. Is there a cancellation policy? What about the security deposit? How clean are you expected to leave the place? What happens if you bring along more friends than you originally mentioned? Is that iPhone power cord in your bag yours, or was it something that belonged to the owner?

Couple walking in New York

And on that last point: Our second Airbnb booking in Brooklyn was a vast improvement over the first. Not only was the second-floor apartment a mere 10-minute walk from my daughter’s residence, it afforded us easy access to most of our favorite parts of the borough: Fort Greene Park, Greenlight Bookstore, the Brooklyn Museum and a number of restaurants (I love to eat breakfast at Junior’s).

It was only when we returned home that we received an email inquiring about the iPhone power cord the owner had courteously left for us to use. And, yeah, turns out I had packed it away, assuming it was mine. I returned it by mail as soon as I could.

One final thing: Check out the comments section before you finalize any deal. One of the first things I do anymore when contemplating whether to buy pretty much anything is to read the comments. This goes for everything from books to blenders.

And I don’t read just the positive reviews. Sometimes, it’s the negative comments that provide the most honest information. The more you read, the more realistic expectations you’re bound to develop.

To wit, needles in the stairwell. That’s never a good sign.