Last week, I had the pleasure of going to New York City for Laracon US. It was a phenomenal experience, but there was one problem -- New York City is bloody expensive. At $250 a night for the group rate, the hotel was no exception, and the disadvantage of being a female in a male-dominated industry is that finding a roommate to share a room with is damn near impossible. So, I was on my own for finding a way to save a little money on lodging. Unfortunately, the traditional booking agencies didn't really have anything that were much of a savings and near to the conference venue.
Some of the guys who were involved with last year's Laracon EU introduced me to AirBnb. It's an interesting concept -- people rent out a room in their home for a given price per night. Generally, this results in a cost savings for the guest, and helps defray the host's cost of their home. AirBnb works like a booking agency, helping guests find and book places to stay; an escrow service, holding the money in the event a refund is needed and ensuring the host gets paid for services rendered; and housekeeping, making sure the room is ready for the guest and in good shape between guests.
I decided to check it out to see what I could find, and I lucked into an opening just a couple of blocks away, for about a third of the cost of a stay at the hotel. So, I put in a booking request (hosts can approve or refuse booking requests), and a short while later, my request was approved.
A few days before I was to be in NYC, both AirBnb, and my host, sent a couple of emails that included pertinent information, including how to get to the apartment, how to get into the building, which bedroom to use, and how to open the murphy bed in guest room, as well as a general reminder of the trip itself. To help maintain privacy, details like the exact address are left out until after the booking is confirmed, hence the emails.
Getting to the apartment was pretty easy. It had been a while, but I've had some experience with NYC's mass transit system (the Metro Transit Authority, or MTA), so the first thing I did was find an MTA kiosk and pick up a card, then made a beeline to the bus station from LaGuardia Airport (LGA). From there, it was an easy train ride down to Soho, and a short walk to the apartment. It took about an hour to get there, which is, from what I can tell, a pretty average time between LGA and Manhattan.
When I got there, I followed the instructions to get in, and got into the building pretty easily...to find that his wasn't the only apartment, and it turned out to be a multi-story walk-up. No problem (on review of the description, that was noted, but it seems that the listing changed since I booked, so either I missed it, or it wasn't there before). Not an uncommon occurrence in Manhattan buildings. It's definitely an older building, with narrow, steep stairs indicative of 19th century (or so) architecture. As a young, decently fit adult, I didn't mind, but it is something to consider/ask about if one has any kind of issues that would make such a setup an issue.
The apartment itself was a pleasant contrast to the stairwell. It was still small and narrow, but it had been recently updated, making it a fairly attractive place to stay. I was told that the guest bedroom (which was teal in color) was "to the left." Well, technically, it was more like "around the corner," but it's not like a 500sqft apartment is easy to get lost in, and the one other bedroom was very much not teal.
So, I go over to the other door and...it's locked. Odd, but it's one of those locks that's unlocked by a coin. I find one and go in to find stuff in it. It looks like someone else is staying there. Again, this seems odd. There was never any mention made that I wasn't the only guest (I was under the impression that the host was renting out his spare room, and therefore would be occupying his bedroom). So, I pinged him via email, stashed my stuff, and went on my way as I was meeting with others.
A short while later, he emailed me that yes, indeed, there was another guest there, and I was to actually have the not-teal bedroom. As it turned out, the host wasn't in town at all and was renting out both rooms that week. That would have been nice to know, but really, it's my only real complaint, and it was straightened out with a couple of emails. Besides, it worked out largely in my favor, because I got a real bed, and not a murphy bed. Since I was using the place solely as a crash pad, and would be spending my waking hours elsewhere, the fact that I was sharing the common areas with someone else was a non-issue, and the bed was the most important feature for me.
From what I could tell, the murphy bed in the teal bedroom was a full bed, with a small couch for extra sleeping if needed. Not a ton of space, but enough to sleep a couple of people pretty comfortably, with some space for luggage. The other bedroom was large enough to fit a queen bed and some typical bedroom furniture, which noticeably more walking space, making it the roomier of the two rooms. A couple of large windows allow quite a bit of natural light in -- which is great except for the part where it wakes the light sleeper early in the morning (actually, not a terrible thing, as it served as a great alarm clock for me to be up in time to have a leisurely breakfast with my friends before the conference started for the day; I'll take it over a blaring alarm clock). They did also let sound in pretty easily, and since it's in the middle of downtown Manhattan, that means the usual city sounds. Those who are used to rural areas may have a hard time sleeping, but coming from a not-so-quiet city, myself, along with long days on the town and walking everywhere made it a non-issue for me.
Like the apartment as a whole, the bathroom was really small. Now, I'm used to small bathrooms. The combined floor space of my three bathrooms is all of 80 square feet (I can floor the largest one with a single box of flooring). But this one made even mine look large. If you're a large person, expect to have to step into the tub to be able to close the door, because it opens inward, and there's only enough floor space for the door to clear the toilet and sink, and for one's knees when sitting on the toilet. It's a tight fit, to say the least. Works for me, though, because it leaves more space for more important rooms -- in this case, bedrooms. I do kind of feel bad for the other guest, as the teal bedroom was right next to the bathroom, so I doubt my early morning showers were all that welcome. At least the front door was away from that bedroom, so they weren't as likely to be disturbed by my coming in at all hours of the night. No doubt they wondered whether I got any amount of sleep at all, or if I was just a suitcase that showed up randomly and disappeared just as randomly.
All in all, it was a good experience, and largely went as expected -- I rented a bedroom in which I could crash for a couple of hours a night for a few nights. The host was great and readily responded to my questions. The location was about as perfect as I could get for my needs. The bed was comfortable and the apartment was clean. If you're looking to stay in New York City, I definitely recommend checking out AirBnb in general, and this Soho apartment, specifically.
(P.S. -- If you want to use AirBnb, either for booking or for hosting, have a referral link for a $25USD credit toward your next reservation on AirBnb.)