I remember a time when foreign correspondents were actually allowed to stay in hotels. I spent more than a decade covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and all my needs were taken care of. Even when I was an involuntary guest of the Taleban in 2008, I was brought a cup of tea every morning by a bright-eyed young terrorist. But those days are gone.
Now I’m expected to check into an Airbnb apartment when I’m filming abroad. Television production companies prefer Airbnb because it’s cheaper than a hotel. But that’s only because it offers none of the services. So I am no longer just a television reporter when I go abroad: I’m also the housemaid, the cook and the cleaner. I’m not even sure why it’s called Airbnb — it’s not as though the breakfast is included.
Airbnb landlords also like to remind you that you are staying in their home and should treat it as you would your own. That might be nice for a tourist in search of an authentic local experience. But when I’m working abroad, I could do without the added guilt of worrying about spilling red wine on someone’s carpet.
My last Airbnb experience in Washington DC went horribly wrong when I invited a female guest back to my apartment. She was so drunk that I did the decent thing and offered to let her sleep in the bed while I slept on the sofa. She said she would be fine on the sofa.
When I woke up the following morning she had disappeared, seemingly without a trace. So I made some coffee and sat down on the nice red sofa. As I sipped my cup of hot, steaming coffee, I felt a warm sensation slowly spread down my legs and up my back. And then it dawned on me. No wonder my guest had left in such a hurry! She’d relieved herself in her sleep and left a massive wet patch on my host’s now rather dark sofa. I checked and it was definitely urine. Judging by the size of the wet patch, her bladder must have been bursting at the seams when she fell asleep. The sofa was completely soaked through.
If I’d been in a hotel, I would have left a large tip and scarpered. That’s the great thing about hotels. They might be more expensive, but they offer a guilt-free experience. I once invited three women back to my room at the Hyatt in Dubai and we somehow smashed a glass coffee table during a naked pillow fight.
The concierge barely batted an eyelid when he entered my room. ‘I do apologise for interrupting, Sir, but security thought there might be an intruder.’ I assured him I was not being assaulted and that the three naked women were, in fact, invited guests. ‘Perhaps Sir would like to put the “Do Not Disturb” card on the outside of the door?’
But on this occasion I was staying in an Airbnb apartment, and the landlords lived in the house above. They were a really nice young couple, with a little boy and a baby girl. Over the course of my stay, I’d got to know them — I’d even been invited up to their place for dinner. Now I had to face them and explain why their sofa smelt so weird.
To make matters worse, I was due to check out that morning. There was no way that the sofa was going to dry out before they came down, and I couldn’t just do a runner — I was now a part of the Airbnb ‘community’. I’d signed up to the website and posted my details; I’d even posted some of my likes and dislikes, as requested. (I like women. I dislike women relieving themselves on my sofa.) If I did a runner, the landlords might make a note of the state of their sofa on their comments page and I’d be publicly shamed and forever blacklisted by other Airbnb landlords.
As the clock ticked down, I went into full panic mode. I was due to film an interview with a US congressman later that morning, but this was far more important. I ran to the grocery store and bought lots of cleaning fluids and equipment and then scrubbed the sofa clean. When the owners came down to see me off with their two children, I was still blasting it with their hairdryer. I don’t know if they ever suspected anything, but the following month, when I tried booking their apartment again, they politely declined and claimed it was already booked.