I have just returned from another wonderful, exciting, fun and exhausting trip to Italy. As I mentioned in a previous post three friends and I went to Italy for two weeks. We rented Airbnb apartments in both Florence and Rome. I was skeptical at first, fearing that we would miss not only the services a hotel provides but also the security that comes with having a hotel reservation.
This fear was made real when the first apartment we rented was abruptly taken off the market one month before we were to leave for Florence. My friend who rented the apartment in her name received an email saying that our down payment had been refunded and that we would need to find a new apartment. This really threw us since we had spent a significant amount of time choosing what we thought was the perfect apartment only to have it taken away from us. We eventually received an email from the owner of the apartment saying that “due to circumstances beyond his control he had to take the apartment off of Airbnb.” We never found out what those circumstances were.
What to do when Airbnb cancels your reservation?
After getting the notice we went into overdrive to find a new apartment. There were significantly fewer apartments to look at one month out from our trip than there were 3 months out. To make matters worse several times we thought we found a new apartment only to learn that someone had just rented it. After a lot of searching and a number of desperate emails to hosts we found the perfect apartment within 50 meters of the Duomo and about the same distance from San Lorenzo. The location was better but two people would now have to share a small room. The central location of this apartment suited us better than the original apartment which was located on the other side of the Arno near the Ponte Vechio. We planned to take a number of day trips from Florence and our new location was much closer to the train station.
You can’t beat the view!
This was our view from the apartment we rented for the ten days we were in Florence. I feel like the reward we had for all the angst we suffered from the cancellation of our first apartment was the lovely patio with the view of the Duomo. We were able to sit on the patio in the morning and enjoy our first cup of coffee and again in the evening to enjoy our first glass of wine.
What I Learned From My First Airbnb Experience:
- Don’t panic when something goes wrong. Sure we were frantic when our first apartment fell through but there are a lot of apartments in Florence and the area around Florence so chances were good that we would find something within our price range.
- Read the small Print. We thought we had found a great apartment only to find out after reading the small print that utilities were not included in the price. Since the apartment was already at the high end of what we were willing to pay this was unacceptable. We would never have known this had we not read everything about the apartment.
- Location is important. Both the apartment we rented in Florence and the one in Rome were perfectly located. They were within an easy walk to major sites, grocery stores, restaurants and taxi stands. In Florence we were close to the Duomo and San Lorenzo. In Rome we were close to Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican, Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori.
- Get the correct address. In Florence we had no problem finding our apartment. We took a taxi to the piazza near the Duomo (cars are not allowed on the street where we were) and the taxi driver was able to point us in the direction of the apartment. In Rome we misread the two as an eleven in Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Should the taxi driver been able to help us? Absolutely, but he did not. Rome is a much bigger city than Florence and friendly taxi drivers are harder to find. So, we were dropped off at the wrong address and had to walk to a taxi stand with all of our luggage and try again. In Italy you cannot generally hail a cab.
- Your host may not speak English. Both of our hosts were lovely. Anna and Eddy were very friendly and helpful but they spoke very little English. When we were lost in Rome we called our host and he kept telling us the address over and over which was not helpful since we needed directions. We finally thought to hand the phone to the taxi driver which we should have thought to do in the first place. Speaking on a phone in a foreign language is difficult, so texts and emails work best. But even with that be prepared for a lot of hand signals and a certain amount of miscommunication, most of which will be among your funniest memories.
- Know how to contact your host. In Florence our hot water went out. Although I was willing to endure cold showers my roommates were not. So we contacted our host who contacted a plumber who did not speak English. I can speak a little Italian and one of my companions spoke a little Spanish. Somehow we were able to find the hot water heater which was well hidden and have the problem resolved. I am still not sure of everything that was said but everything was fixed and we soon had hot water. In Rome, we could not figure out the trash and recycling system and so had to contact the host for further instructions. In addition, we contacted him to get a car to the airport in Rome on our departure which was very helpful.
- Ask about stairs and elevators. If stairs are an issue for you then you need to ask. Our host in Florence alerted us to the fact that the apartment had a lot of stairs which was true. In retrospect we should have asked how many because there were stairs to two of the bedrooms and a separate staircase to the kitchen. The stairs were steep and made of cement so a fall would not have been pretty. None of us have mobility issues but if we did the apartment would have been inhabitable and it was not easy getting our luggage up all those stairs. In both of our apartments we were on upper level floors and so elevators were an absolute necessity. As is common in Europe the elevators were small. Two people could fit at a time or one person and one suitcase.
- What will you need? Think about what you need to make your vacation a success and ask your host. Can’t live without a washing machine? Make sure one is in your apartment and that you know how to work it. Are you taller than the average European? Make sure the hallways and beds will accommodate you. The upstairs hallways in our Florence apartment were very low, well under 6 feet though all of the rooms and bedrooms had high ceilings. Also, there was one double bed which, trust me, would not have been comfortable for two people. Are you a light sleeper? Ask about how much street noise there is or if the windows will keep noise out. In Florence, the church bells rang every morning at 7 which I loved since I get up early. My roommates were not quite so enamored of the chiming of the bells.
- Italy is enchanting but it is a foreign country. Italy is a beautiful country but it is still a foreign country. The water pressure may not be what you are used to in the US. Grocery stores may not be as big or organized in the same way. Most of these things contribute to the fun of travel. As always when you travel you need to let go of the small annoyances and focus on the larger joys. Hopefully your Airbnb apartment will be perfect but if it isn’t, make the best of it. You are in Italy, you should not be spending your days lounging around in your apartment anyway.
If services that hotels provide are important to you then renting an apartment whether through Airbnb or another organization is not for you. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be taken care of, not having to make your bed or finding your own transportation or tickets. But if you want to experience life like a local, if only for a short time, then you will enjoy your Airbnb experience.