Rachael Yaeger is busy. She has her own creative agency called Human NYC, and she’s led digital launches for brands like Adidas by Stella McCartney and Saturdays Surf NYC. But busy people (or at least the smart ones) always seem able to take time for themselves, too. In Rachael’s case, she did some traveling—actually, a lot of traveling. All made much easier with strategic Airbnb rentals and some earned savvy. And it’s all advice worth taking—because anyone who’s ever been a newbie to Airbnb will know how nerve-wracking choosing a rental can be. Tell us what you know, Rachael.
In terms of summer travel, I tend to book thematically. I reserve tent camping for the Adirondacks, and nothing quite says a weekend in the Catskills like a stay at Spruceton. Tangentially related, I don’t often participate in conversations revolving around how Uber is disrupting the cab industry or how Airbnb is threatening hotel profits. I tend to chalk it all up to an exciting and evolutionary time. That, and nothing suits a two-month long excursion abroad like a handful of Airbnb reservations.
My strategy is this: Select a city, narrow down the area within that city, favorite a bunch of places, and finally pick a spot to sleep. For longer trips, I book accommodations one city at a time—meaning that I only book my next city once I’m a day or two away from going there. By not planning too far ahead, it keeps things easygoing. I know I’ll book a great spot because I’ll do my research ahead of time, but I don’t need to pressure myself into confirming the booking until I’m ready. That way, I can make a last-minute stop in Hungary without canceling any reservations.
Airbnb has a “neighborhood” guide feature, so if you haven’t consulted your friends and received a bookmarked Foursquare list of spots, you can trust that the description here will be pretty spot-on. Montmartre, for instance, is “so Parisian you still need a beret.” To further convey the point, Williamsburg’s description is “DIY, bikes, and secret rooftop parties.”
Once I have a neighborhood, I set the price range (ideally $40-70 per night) and add in my dates. The “Instant Book” feature is awesome and a quick done deal. I look for Wi-Fi, a bunch of positive reviews, and a good “response rate” from the host if there’s no Instant Book.
Before the next city, I’ll throw a heart on some selections and go to my “Wish List” to scroll through them later and take in my options. For fun, I’ll meander over to check out prices and places in Greece or Scandinavia—locations I want to travel to but aren’t on this summer’s agenda. You wouldn’t believe how good the selection can be.
You can get a real sense of the homeowner by their style—and I don’t book places that don’t resonate with me. If the person couldn’t take a decent iPhone snap, don’t stay there. It’s interesting and inspiring to see people’s aesthetics, art, furniture, and books. I don’t need a Herman Miller chair, but I don’t want to be in a hobbit hole basement apartment with no windows on vacation. Good lighting? Plants? White and wood? Check.
Over the course of seven weeks, I stayed in seven Airbnb’s and took some serious notes. Here are my diarist moments that I’d like to share with you to better your chances of finding the most ideal Airbnb.
I am pleasantly surprised by my first summer stop. My boyfriend is giving a tech talk and working with a Toronto-based startup called Pete. We Google good places to work from and find the Lillian H. Smith Library and the Mars Discovery District on College Street, which leads me to finding a bunch of secondhand stores and restaurants nearby. We settle on getting an Airbnb on College Street across from The Common, the cutest cafe, which our host coincidentally works at, so coffee is on the house. The entire place is sun-drenched and minimal. The tea kettle is a mustard yellow, the compost goes in the freezer, the windowsill is overgrown with assorted terracotta-potted cacti. There’s a stretcher cot as a daybed with pillows that look like they were brought back from a trip to Marrakesh. We missed a Joey Bada$$ performance, but we go to the St. Lawrence Market and take the ferry over to Ward’s Island known for frisbee golf.
I knew I wanted to be in the Mile End neighborhood strictly because of the Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur bagel war. I’m not food-obsessed, but I wanted our Airbnb to be in the same vicinity as Schwartz’s Deli (the Katz’s of Montreal) and Kem CoBa, which serves up the most insanely tasty and inventive flavors of ice cream and sorbet. I prefer to be unobtrusive and avoid meeting my Airbnb hosts—it’s less personal that way. I don’t picture them sleeping in their bed before I crawl in. However, in this case, I was fortunate to meet the owner of the Airbnb building. I aspire to be like this woman. She’s radiant and in her 40s. She held the previous owner’s hand through his elderly years and finally was able to purchase the building from him. She divvied up rental units and slowly remodeled all of them to be Airbnbs. She taught herself how to sand floors and remodel a bathroom. The built-in hutches with mismatched floral and contemporary dishes are all restored. There’s an airy feel to the place—long, white, semi-sheer drapes canopy the windows. There’s a little deck out back where I can have coffee and contemplate the existential works of Lydia Davis.
I had been to Paris before, and Montmartre is the place to be if you know what’s up. I wanted to be walking distance from the epic views of the Sacré-Cœur. The area is a bit cheaper than being situated along the Seine, and I feel at home like David Sedaris escaping the hectic grips of NYC when he moved to Paris with his boyfriend Hugh. I’m even more likely to envision myself living in a city while staying at an Airbnb more so than a hotel. The Montmartre Airbnb suits the eclectic neighborhood to a T. I can imagine the resident cross-stitching on her vintage velvet couch to A Tribe Called Quest. I grocery shop, admiring how cheap the wine is, filling the fridge with cheese, fruit, salami, eggs, and baguettes. After using the French press, my days are spent writing emails. My favorite museum here is Musée de l’Orangerie and I stroll through the crowded Tuileries afterward.
It’s easy to choose an Airbnb in Budapest—they are all relatively cheap and beautiful looking. I choose one rather randomly, up for an adventure. Budapest is truly a Wes Anderson city with vast, impressive buildings in burnt orange and light pink. I did no research on Eastern Europe before the Easy Jet flight here, but the Airbnb host spoke perfect English and was super friendly, detailing the best local cafés and easy routes to-and-from the train station. If you can look up and see the mountains, you’re down in Pest; if you can look down and see the city, you’re in Buda—both separated by the Danube river. Known for all of the thermal pools, I spent four hours swimming and soaking at Rudas Thermal Bath, my body feeling relaxed for days after.
From Budapest I work on finishing Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 on a train to Bratislava, Slovakia, only staying one night. I book an Airbnb close to the train station. Then we go to Poland, and the apartment is a modern, concrete structure. Kraków has plenty of great historical architecture. I visit Schindler’s Factory, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, and eat a lot of heavy food. Everyone seems happy, hardworking, and eager to share stories alongside plenty of vodka. Strangely enough, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was one of the cultural highlights of my time away. Markets are a must when in Europe, and Kraków has the largest outdoor main square. Days spent surfing the web are replaced with people-watching on the street—the original ffffound.com.
LONDON & BRIGHTON
Nearing the end of this summer’s excursions, I end up in London—an old favorite of mine. I assume an Airbnb will be at least a £100 night. London is expensive and sophisticated. I want to sit up a little straighter, owning my almost-30, elevated sense of self. Having gone to graduate school in Regent’s Park, I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t chosen to reside across the pond. How very Jane Green. We walk through Brick Lane, through burgeoning East London—Spitalfields’ home to All Saints—and spend Saturday like many Londoners, picnicking in Hampstead Heath with friends.
For a weekend outside of the heart of London, the Airbnb I book in Brighton screams seaside summer. I read i-D, Apartamento, and The Gentlewoman and walk down to the pier to see the ocean. The streets are cobblestone and the pillowy Airbnb bed reminds me just how important sleep is.
The last part of my trip is Berlin. The Airbnb is a cheap, large apartment in Neukölln, nearby Kreuzberg, and 38 Hours In confirms the right choice in accommodation location. Mitte is too proper central, and Friedrichshain a bit too wild-creative-party-kinda-homeless for me. I work on emails, visit with the FvF team, and have lunch at Roamers. Berlin is chill. No one is rushing around. There’s an artistic energy that encourages me to take more photos on film. Neukölln feels like an up-and-coming East Village, not yet overpopulated. Again, as much as I love meeting people, Instant Book on Airbnb allows you to check in and out without the face-to-face, meet-and-greet small talk. It’s easily less intimate to be in someone’s sanctuary without having met them.
For the flight back to New York, I chug water trying to hydrate on the flight and think about how valuable time is, how more aware I am of that now. And I kick myself for not having rented my new little place in Cobble Hill out on Airbnb while I was out of town.
Rachael Yaeger is the founder of Human NYC, a small creative agency helping brands and individuals grow by specializing in web development. When not producing projects with her team, Rachael is the creator and editor of The Working Pair.
Photos courtesy of the author.
Next trip you take, let Joan Didion take care of your packing list.
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