Friday, May 16, 2014

Decoding AirBNB's Paris Locations

Now that you know why I'm so in love with AirBNB, here's a practical guide to using the up-and-coming apartment rental site in one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. That's right, Paris.

If you've started looking for an AirBNB apartment or room rental in Paris, you might have noticed that it's not exactly difficult to find a place to stay in the City of Lights. Rentals range from the most luxurious -- like this 1300- sq. foot luxury apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower -- to the most unique -- like this Parisian houseboat, which is just one of an impressively large selection of water-based accommodations. The large range of options means that what is tricky about navigating AirBNB in Paris is not finding an apartment, but CHOOSING one. Do you want the bright studio in central Paris? Or the quirky townhouse in Montmartre? What about the peaceful apartment overlooking the canal?

Fortunately, it pays to be a cash-strapped college student. (Well, not literally. Although that would be ideal, wouldn't it?) As you slide that little "price" slider further and further left, the number of rentals starts to shrink. Goodbye, overwhelming selection of bright beautiful apartments. Hello, slightly-less-overwhelming list of dingy spare bedrooms! Still, it's to AirBNB's credit that there are an incredible number of reasonably-priced properties. A search for rentals under $130 a night (which is already way less than you'll be paying for any decent hotel) yields over 1000 results!

So where to go from here? If you know what you want, or at least where you want it, it's easy to further narrow down the search. In addition to price, you can add size, location, and amenities-based restrictions. Prefer an English-speaking host? Looking for a non-smoking rental with a washer and dryer? Want breakfast prepared for you in the morning? No problem ... just click on "More Filters" and click to your heart's desire! (However, it is important to note that too many restrictions can cause you to miss out on a great opportunity ... the lack of free parking might not be a dealbreaker for an otherwise perfect rental, but if you apply restrictions, you'll never even see it!)

Once you've narrowed down your selection and established your price point, things get tricky. Decoding Parisian AirBNB advertisements is more complicated that navigating the Parisian metro without looking at your map. (Total tourist move.) If you've already begun looking at Parisian rentals, you might have noticed that it seems like every other apartment is the same! However, being able to understand and decode the lingo used by Parisian AirBNB hosts can help you filter through underwhelming properties and find a diamond in the rough.

So without further ado, I present my Guide to Decoding AirBNBS.
  • "COZY." Small. Small. Small.
  • "CHARMANT." Like cozy, but perhaps with a bigger window?
  • "FONCTIONNEL." If "functional" is the best way you can think to describe your home, we might have a problem. This apartment has a floor and, God willing, four walls ... but not much else. If it's done well, the effect might be charmingly minimalist. (I fell in love with this sixth-floor chambre de service.) However, chances are that the result is a little more on the depressing/spartan side.
  • "HAS CHARACTER." This one is tricky, as there is nothing that fits the Parisian ideal more than a beautiful flat complete with winding stairs, parquet floors, and cast-iron window railings. However, the adjective can easily be applied by a more deceptive landlord to excuse a space that is cluttered, tired, and even falling-down!
  • "IN A LIVELY AREA." This type of situation is ideal for those looking for nearby nightlife. But it also tends to mean that it's loud out there. If you don't sleep a wink, don't try and say they didn't warn you!
  • "IN THE HEART OF PARIS." Let's just say that everyone seems to have very different ideas about what neighborhoods qualify as "the heart" of Paris.
  • "SOUS LES TOITS..." This expression -- which means "under the rooftops" -- is romantic in the extreme, until you realize that it's actually just a euphemism for a sixth-floor apartment (sans ascenseur, or without elevator) with a severely sloping roof. Could be a dealbreaker for older travelers ... or anyone above 5'10".
As always, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind. These pieces of advice apply to any apartment rental ... not just those in the City of Lights!
  • Start looking early! There are some absolutely amazing properties available in Paris -- beautiful apartments in safe, central locations with incredibly low price tags and a series of five-star reviews. Unsurprisingly, these places go FAST. If you're looking to snatch up one of these dream rentals, you'll need to plan several weeks or even months in advance.
  • ... but be aware of last-minute deals! Some hosts, especially those who might be renting out a spare bedroom in their home, don't update their availability very far in advance. If you're having trouble booking an apartment for a last-minute trip, be patient. You might notice a couple of great options open up in the week or two before your trip to Paris!
  • Beware of properties without reviews -- or, even worse, with bad reviews. (That being said; take what is written with a grain of salt. Sometimes the problem can be with the guests, not the hosts! One bad review amongst a sea of five-star ratings isn't necessarily a dealbreaker.)
  • Look for a cooperative and helpful host. Hosts should be willing to answer all of your questions about the rental, no matter how specific they may be, and to reply to your messages in a reasonable time frame. A significant lack of cooperation is probably indicative of the type of treatment you'll receive during your stay.
  • Get to know the city. Paris is a beautiful city whose various arrondissements each possess their own special charm. That being said, like any city, it definitely has areas that tourists might do well to avoid. While these areas might be safe to wander through during the day, they can become a little seedy or even downright dangerous after dark. Although hotel and apartment prices might be less expensive in these areas, it's best to avoid them. If you're worried about staying on the 'right' side of town, do your research. Talk to friends who have visited the city and check out one of my all-time favorite blog posts, A Breakdown of the Paris Arrondissements by a Sassy New Yorker, for a guide to Paris' varied neighborhoods.


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