Perplexed in Paris: Impressions of a First Time Airbnb User

Before you begin, now is a good time to grab a glass of wine and get comfortable. This post details my first time using Airbnb, and I have plenty to say, both good and bad.

Paris, it has been said, is not a cheap city to visit. I happen to disagree with that statement. As long as you keep the big-ticket sightseeing and fancy dinners to a minimum, Paris can actually be very affordable. A picnic at the Tuileries, a stroll through Notre Dame, sandwiches eaten along the Seine…

One unavoidable expense, however, is accommodation. You didn’t travel all this way just to turn back around 12 hours later! You need a place to sleep, and in a city like Paris, there seems to be a fine line between affordable and just plain cheap.

I spent months before our trip sifting through dozens of hotels and apartments, trying to find a place that suited all our needs.

Our Wishlist:

  • A central location, preferably close to the river and metro line
  • safe location, with plenty of good reviews to back it up
  • Close proximity to dining and shopping
  • A balcony, or at least a view over the city
  • Something stylish and private, to suit the tone of our romantic getaway

And of course, I wanted it all for around $100 per night. Riiiight. Someone’s been watching House Hunters again.

Hotel H'Orset Opera Rooms
Baaaasically I wanted to recreate this super fun hotel stay in 2014, but in an entirely different neighborhood and with an entirely different traveling companion.

It was difficult if not downright impossible to find a hotel that ticked all the boxes on our wishlist. Ideally, I wanted a place in the first, second, third or fourth arrondissements – and that kind of real estate generally doesn’t come cheap.

Ultimately, we turned to Airbnb, the popular service that makes renting a holiday home easier than ever! Airbnb was perfect for us. By renting an apartment, we could get away from the overpriced tourist hotels and see how the locals really live. It’s no secret that I long to be a Parisian, so I jumped at the chance to blend in with the chicest women in the world. From a practical standpoint, we could do laundry (a plus in our two week trip!), buy and store groceries, and even cook if we wanted to. Choosing an apartment over a hotel meant we could practice our French, walk to the popular sights, and best of all, save a load of cash for croissants and champagne!

Mmmmmm…croissants…

I’m here now to share with you our adopted home in Paris, and our thoughts as first-time Airbnb users.

The Apartment

We chose a cute little third floor walkup in the trendy Marais neighborhood, just a short walk away from the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame Cathedral. It did not have a balcony, nor the sweeping views over Paris that I wanted, but it looked spacious, warm and inviting. I loved the exposed beams, the collection of art, and the ample space for sleeping and storage.

First Impressions

The apartment was easy enough to locate, and we were delighted by the entryway, what looked to be an old storefront in a trendy shopping district.

The heavy red door featured a keypad for entry, and we were dismayed to find that the entry code we’d been given by our host did not work! Our contact was late, and when I texted him, there was no response. We stood out in the narrow street, apologizing for our bulky luggage and becoming more irritated as well-dressed locals gave us a wide berth. I regretted choosing the “local experience,” and wished we had just gone with a regular old hotel. By now, we would be in our room, hopefully with a balcony, savoring a glass of champagne and toasting to our first night in Paris.

Finally, our host texted us the correct door code, which was one digit off from the code we’d been given. I can only assume it was updated after we took a screen shot of the apartment directions and entry code. We punched in the code, breathing a sigh of relief when the heavy door finally opened up, and were inside the entry for less than a minute when our contact showed up, smiling and apologetic for his lateness.

The guy’s only human, but in the moment, embarrassed and frustrated by the miscommunication and the long wait in the street, we weren’t very amused. We followed our sprightly new friend up the stairs, struggling under the weight of our suitcases. I knew we had booked a place with no elevator, and actually looked forward to the authentic experience, but these uneven, sloping, curving stairs were a bit of a challenge. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have stuck with one small backpack or lightweight carry-on bag for each of us.

The apartment itself was smaller than I expected, but just as charming as I had hoped it would be. Just inside the door was a cooking and utility area, complete with hot plate and microwave, as well as separate rooms for the toilet and the sink/shower combination.

The shower was nice and updated but smelled a little musty, a smell which did not fade with use. The heated towel rack was a nice touch. The toilet, meanwhile, was quite literally in a closet. We had to leave the door propped open whenever we used the bathroom, and could not sit down without our knees touching the walls.

Tall windows lined the right side of the apartment, their frames chipped and worn. I rather liked this little detail. At best, it was a romanticized nod to old Paris, and this neighborhood’s evident roots in Medieval times. At worst, it was a symptom of city living in a 17th century building. Small space, narrow stairs, chipped paint…it’s simply something to be expected and even embraced while in Europe.

Windows for days! I absolutely loved these windows and the insane amount of light they let in during the middle of the day.

Pulling aside the heavy floor-to-ceiling curtains, we looked out into the courtyard. The building across from our window was under major construction, and building parts littered the courtyard floor. Not much of a view, but at least we would get a lot of natural light during the day.

The living and dining areas, where we shared pizzas from a place around the corner
Pretty little details that made our stay a bit more pleasant.

Our host gave us a very brief tour and departed, leaving us to explore the living and sleeping areas. We opened all the windows, welcoming the cross breeze after hauling our luggage up all those stairs, and flopped onto the bed to relax for a moment.

The “bedroom” part of our studio. This was a wonderful place to just lounge around, nap, and reflect on the day.

The bedroom area was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the studio. Done up in warm neutrals and accentuated with splashes of color from the bold art and furniture around the room, the room was sure to be an eclectic and cozy retreat from our days spent pounding the sidewalk.

Now for the not so good…

The next morning, we awoke to the sound of a jackhammer right outside our window. Somehow, it had not occurred to me when we saw the construction site outside our window the previous day that there might be…you know, actual ongoing construction throughout our trip. We had been given no warning beforehand. No mention of the construction from the host, from his listing, or from any of the glowing Airbnb reviews.

And despite some newer reviews (posted after our stay) mentioning the noise, there is still no mention of it in the property listing itself. That really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and in the moment, it was one of the biggest cons of our stay. There was no regulation by Airbnb, and a very slim chance we would be able to get any kind of a refund and move along.

Oh, did I mention the hot water ran out halfway through my morning shower? Yep. Truth be told, we could have lived with all the noise. We would just take a quick shower and spend the day out sightseeing, and as long as we stayed away from 8 AM to 5 PM, we would be fine. We were more upset by the fact that our host did not disclose the construction (because we certainly would not have booked a stay here, had we known) than by the noise itself.

But then the hot water went out, and our plan of getting an early start on the day went with it.

We wasted an hour waiting for the hot water to return – it did not – and checking to see if we were eligible for a refund. You see, we could not just “check out” and demand a refund, like we would in a hotel. Nope, at Airbnb it’s up the host to decide what kind of refund policy to set in place, and ours was “strict.” Now that we’d already been duped checked in, we were no longer eligible for any percentage of our money back. Surely this construction and the fact that we couldn’t even shower counted as “extenuating circumstances,” and could be appealed with Airbnb.

Yep, it got to the point, with all the noise and frustration, that we started to pack everything up and look into alternate accommodations.

Luckily, we decided to give it one more day. Dan took his cold shower, attributing the hot water shortage as yet another symptom of living in an old building in an old city, and we set off, agreed that we would find a hotel if the water was still out upon our return. Truthfully, we just weren’t ready to drag our luggage up and down all those steps at the metro again, and then deal with the headache of fighting for a refund from Airbnb.

Nearby Notre Dame Cathedral, a welcome respite from the stress of that first morning in Paris.

A day in the city did us a lot of good, and by the time we returned to our now-silent apartment, the hot water had miraculously returned as well. By showering at night instead of in the morning (the unfortunate reason behind my perpetual ponytail throughout our visit), and getting a head start on the construction schedule, we were able to make the most of a crappy situation, and even wound up liking the apartment, the longer we stayed there.

After all, it was a great location. And while our host absolutely should have disclosed the work next door, we sympathized that it’s not as though he asked for the work to be done. He was just as much a victim as we were…right? Well, I don’t know about that, but he was nothing but cordial in our text and email interactions. I like to think that, before the construction started, this was a prime location in the Marais. And I’m sure it will be once again, just as soon as the construction mess is over.

The Pros

As I mentioned before, location was the most important factor in choosing a base for our stay. I wanted something safe, convenient, and preferably in a neighborhood that had that vintage Parisian feel. Our apartment in Le Marais checked off all those boxes, offering plenty of dining, shopping, transportation and entertainment options on our street and across the surrounding areas.

The area had such a charming, almost vintage vibe to it, which I loved.

We were five minutes from le Centre Pompidou, ten minutes from Notre Dame, and had several metro stations nearby to help us get to further-flung destinations like Versailles. One of our favorite Parisian dinners was literally a two-minute walk down the street, while breakfast involved choosing one of many patisseries within five minutes of our adopted home. When it came time to leave, we walked ten minutes to an RER station and caught a train that went directly to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle, making this area super convenient for short and long trips alike.

Our favorite breakfast spot, a short walk away from the apartment

The apartment was a perfectly-located home base for our adventures. It was ideal for stowing and retrieving items throughout the day (think jackets for Notre Dame and champagne for the Eiffel Tower), and was super convenient to return to after dinners out in the neighborhood.

Construction and water issues aside, the apartment itself was spacious, beautiful and clean. The artsy vibe was inviting and comforting, and gave the place a lot more personality than what we would have found in our budget hotels. The bed was comfortable, especially after long days out and about, and the built in storage gave us plenty of room to unpack and settle in, to the effect that the apartment really started to feel like home.

Dan relaxing on the couch, soaking up the breeze and resting his feet between sightseeing jaunts.
The layout really made the most of this small space. The closet offered plenty of storage space and hangers for our clothes, and came stocked with extra sheets and blankets if we got cold. Not to mention, this area is just really cute! I want a built in like this at my own home.

Our hosts left a nice little book full of tips, helpful phone numbers, and fun things to do in the area, and even left an entire drawer full of spare adapters and chargers to make things a little bit easier. When I saw that little detail, I honestly started to wonder if I was just being dramatic about the whole construction thing. Really, our place wasn’t so bad.

Drawer full of extra electronics chargers – a nice touch.

And of course, I can’t forget the price! Believe it or not, we booked this place at just over 100 Euros per night, a relative steal when you think about it. For our money, we got an entire studio apartment, the freedom to come and go as we pleased (no concierges to raise their eyebrows at you here), and the use of conveniences like a fridge, washer, and plenty of clean dishes to eat well at home. Before finding this place on Airbnb, we were looking at hotels costing $160 or more, with half the amenities, and very basic rooms. For those on a budget, I will maintain that Airbnb is an excellent option. Just do your research and read all those reviews!

The well-stocked cooking area. We used the fridge to store cheese, champagne, and leftover pizza, and brought a couple of those champagne glasses with us to the Eiffel Tower on our final night in Paris.
The washing machine and supply closet beneath the sink. We had to buy laundry detergent and hand soap upon arrival, as our bottles were empty. We didn’t mind, though. It was super convenient to be able to wash our clothes mid-trip and have let them dry in the apartment while we were out.

Would I use Airbnb again?

Yes! I loved having our own “home” in Paris, even for a few days, and I look forward to adopting homes in cities across the world in my future travels. I definitely recommend reading the reviews beforehand, and becoming familiar with the refund policies and processes of prospective hosts before booking. I still prefer the comfort of a nice hotel stay, and the assurance that there will be someone at the front desk to help with any problems. In this case, we could have been moved to a room that does have hot water, or received a refund and gone somewhere else for the rest of our trip. That was not really an option with Airbnb, and it’s something that I will always bear in mind when booking in the future. I would not use the site for anything important, like a honeymoon stay in a luxury home, just in case things went south. But for quick trips, budget trips, or cheap weekends away with friends, I think this is an excellent option.

If the construction and hot water issues were resolved, I would even stay at this exact property again. Overall, it made for a nice comfortable stay, and a perfect location from which to dip our toes into the Parisian lifestyle.

Yep, we could definitely get used to this life.


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