Airbnb, the corona getaway

Thanks to COVID-19 regulations that were in effect during my vacation days, there were not many places to go.

Police set up a checkpoint in Jerusalem as Israel enters its second coronavirus lockdown (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Police set up a checkpoint in Jerusalem as Israel enters its second coronavirus lockdown
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
If there is one thing that COVID-19 has enabled me to do these last 10 months it is to get to know my apartment.
I mean really get to know it. Every inch and every cranny; every stained tile and every loose cupboard handle. It’s no surprise: spend as much time at home as we all have done this year, and every home imperfection gets noticed and – if it does not take too much expertise – repaired.
I’ve done more house rearranging and repairing in the last 10 months than I have in my previous 24 years in the apartment. I’ve taken down closets in one room only to reerect them in another; I’ve had custom-made wooden shelves put up in my bomb shelter; I’ve replanted my balcony garden twice, and even had my son build us a pergola.
With nowhere to go and nothing but work to do since March, most of my nonwork-related energy has been focused on home improvements.
My closets have never been so organized, my bookshelves never so logically arranged. Talk about excitement – I even organized my vast souvenir spoon collection hanging in the salon according to countries and continents, something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never thought I’d have the time – preretirement – to get to.
So when I was recently compelled to take my annual vacation days, or else lose them by the end of the year, the last thing I wanted to do was spend any more time piddling in my apartment. I’d already piddled enough in the apartment; enough with all the piddling!
WHEN ONE is in the heat of work amid a hectic schedule, two weeks doing nothing but reading, napping, gazing at the grandkids and watching Netflix sound sublime. But the reality is less romantic.
Man by nature wants to do something on vacation. We’re wired that way. Even that wonderful vacation expression “gone fishing” denotes having gone somewhere. The “fishing” is code for essentially doing nothing, but the “gone” means you at least went somewhere else to do it.
But not this year. Thanks to COVID-19 regulations that were in effect during my vacation days, there were not many places to go. Travel abroad was a nonstarter. Restaurants were shuttered. National parks only recently opened. Hotels closed. So what to do? Where was I going to do my nothing?
Easy, someone else’s apartment. And not a friend but a perfect stranger. I’d had enough time in my own apartment, so I might as well go to someone else’s – and pay for the privilege. In other words, The Wife and I discovered Airbnb.
I’VE HEARD much about Airbnb and similar companies over the years – vacation online rental marketplaces that provide alternatives to hotels – but never tried them.
One reason is that The Wife and I figured that if we were going on vacation, we might as well go to a hotel, get pampered a bit, enjoy a coffee maker in the room, let someone else make the bed, and get a buffet breakfast thrown into the mix.
Another reason is that when you rent a unit online, you never really know from whom you’ll be renting. For instance, do they wash the sheets?
But necessity is an engine of change: if you can’t go to a hotel but need a change of scenery because your own four walls are closing in, you need to look further afield.
So Airbnb it was. And this is what I learned:
First, you will probably spend as much time looking for a place on the computer as you will spending time there.
The Wife and I were interested in spending a couple of nights one week in Jerusalem, and a couple nights the next in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. But there are dozens upon dozens of apartments in each place, and you feel a need to click on every one that looks interesting. And then – to make sure you are not renting something miserable – you further feel compelled to read the reviews.
And the reviews are a hoot. They range from “this place has an odd odor” to “the stairs are steep and the rail is wobbly.”
All this information is, of course, important to know before plopping down NS 350 a night. But by the time you get through reading and comparing all the different reviews, wondering whether a critical reviewer might not just be an inveterate whiner, you’re spent and by then start thinking you might as well just avoid the hassle and stay home.
Second, the reviews don’t tell you the most important information. The place we stayed in Jerusalem was a lovely studio in the Musrara neighborhood. It was, as advertised, clean and quaint and well located just a few steps from downtown.
What we didn’t know, however, is that it shares a paper-thin wall with a family with three small kids whose day, understandably, starts early. The listing also didn’t say that the proprietor of the unit, who lives in that home with the paper thin walls, likes to use the patio that in the pictures on the computer looks as if it belongs exclusively to you.
Though this man was a decent fellow, when we walked up to the apartment on our second night I had a flashback to my college years when – returning to my dorm room – I would fervently hope and pray my roommate was not there.
Third, you might land an apartment that is not a dedicated guest unit but, rather, one where the owner moves out a few nights each week to make the space available and earn a few extra bucks, thereby leaving his belongings parked in the closet and his laundry in the bathroom hamper.
Nevertheless, in the coronavirus age this still seems an ideal way to get a change of atmosphere.
You can stay in neighborhoods you might never have the opportunity to see and explore; the rates are significantly cheaper than at hotels; and you won’t get aggravated in a hotel lobby or dining room by people not wearing masks or crowding your space.
But there is a caveat: consider packing your own sheets and always bring earplugs.