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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.

vancouver apartment bedroom view


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.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

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 guest was told 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.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

9 Responses to “Toilet Paper Tussle at the Airbnb: How I Survived a Homestay”

  1. Jackie Smith says:

    You made a good choice.

    It’s taken two days to recover from the sticker shock of the bill slid under the door in our downtown Vancouver hotel, a couple blocks from the Convention Center. In addition to the already pricey ‘conference rate’,and $30CAD for parking each night, and two taxes, I was stunned to see an additional’destination marketing fee’. . .a bit of an irony since I was there for a travel blogger conference and seemed to have already provided them a bit of ‘marketing’ through my posts.

  2. RichardNika says:

    I always travel with a couple rolls of toilet paper. Cottonelle is my favorite; it’s both strong and soft.

  3. acruiseguy says:

    Seems like the backup plan should include some necessities, such as TP! Not my cup of tea at all….

  4. Cheryl says:

    It was a bargain – with breakfast to boot! Since it wasn’t even a B&B, but more like a temporary roomate – or dorm – situation, you have to expect that there will be less privacy and tradeoffs for the bargain price — and your views and location were spectacular. And I too learned- even for some hotel rooms – to carry some TP (old ‘stip from a friend-flatten the roll, even take out the cardboard, and stuff in a shoe)and anything I might want/need IMMEDIATElY. In order to avoid too much closeness, I wouldn’t use a host’s hairdryer. Having stayed years ago in rooms in Rome- where the bath was on a different floor and a whole stange family milling around – this sounds fairly civilized! I too stayed in a hotel overlooking the same views- lots more money!

  5. Barbara says:

    I just returned from 6 homestays in Europe. I booked them all through Airbnb, and each one was great! Like the author, I didn’t realize bathrooms would be shared. That’s not uncommon in Europe, and it did work out OK for me. I especially enjoyed the homes which gave me kitchen and laundry priveleges. I’m planning my next trip and am going to be more selective about my accommodations. I’ll only choose those that offer private bathrooms and cooking facilities. There are plenty of them on Airbnb and they don’t cost that much more. You just need to use the correct filters when searching the listings. I like staying in people’s homes because you get to be immersed in the culture, make new friends and there’s someone to ask for help if you need it. All of my hosts were intelligent, multilingual, respectful, attentive and helpful. We had fascinating conversations, and I truly feel like a “world citizen.” Can’t wait to go again, and Airbnb is the way to go!

  6. Al says:

    This is not a TP issue. It is an issue about someone who has very poor social skills and a bad attitude to boot. The writer is a victim of sorts but in the end $55 a night in this expensive city is a bargain, bugs and all

  7. Norma says:

    I am an AirBnB hostess. We only have a few rooms we rent out on our farm and they share two bathrooms (and a half in an emergency). American homes don’t often have private baths (especially very old ones which are happy to have baths at all) and it isn’t expected.

    It is really a lot of fun because we meet so many wonderful people. Most have been middle aged and many from Europe where they are comfortable with this sort of travel. What is good about it is AirBnB provides reviews of both the guest and the host before a reservation is made and they handle all the logistics electronically. Most information about the accommodations is known to the guest before they come as long as the host provides a complete description and photos–TV, kitchen priviledges, internet, bathrooms, etc. There are also host rules and guest rules each are expected to abide by and are later rated on by the other.

    The behavior of the AirBnB hostess in this case as described in my opinion is atrocious. I envision guests showing up at my door and handing me their own TP after this article. She is undeniably responsible for the lack of TP and should have been gracious about going out to get some even late at night since this was an error on her part. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to put someone out on the street especially that late at night unless you feel yourself or another guest is physically at risk by keeping the guest there.

  8. Quirina says:

    I always say: give your guest the feeling that he is at his home far from home, he will come again, or will recommend you to his friends or relatives.
    No arguments with your guest, even if you think you are right, we are owners of a vacation farmhouse in Tuscany, our policy, that the guest is always right, brought to us more and more guests every year.We had few guests from AirBnB and we are satisfied,they are too:)
    It is frustrating if you are going on your annual vacation and you are disappointed from the hotel, or your apartment, specially for small things as toilet paper.

  9. CAROL JEAN says:

    I am new to the airbnb website but I FULLY favor this program. recently I had booked several places in Ecuador for our 7 week visit. When my husband became ill and we had to cancel at the last minute, the company was very helpful and the hosts were very understanding. Based on my own experience this past week, I am looking forward to using airbnb when I travel in the future.GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICES via email/phone!

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