That time our 3-year-old human kangaroo almost got us evicted from a hotel made me wince as I searched for a place where we could be comfortable away from home.
Said disaster happened on an upper floor, above and between other travelers who had paid for comfortable beds and good sleep. What they got was a series of thuds and kid voices that cut through walls.
No amount of whispered threats could quell the giddy energy of our children in a hotel. After a few early-morning warnings from the front desk, we were all exhausted and stressed.
Our trip to Los Angeles would have to be different. We would have enough stress with my 5-year-old’s surgery, the reason we would spend two-and-a-half weeks away. The procedure to build him a new ear was supposed to be outpatient with a relatively easy recovery, but the doctor wanted to monitor him for two weeks.
Give me a lobotomy over a hotel with little kids for that long. What we needed was some semblance of routine. We needed a place that wouldn’t feel like a slumber party or inspire the boys to fight sleep until 10 each night. A place that approximated a house, where we could spread out.
We found our answer in the sharing economy.
Websites like AirBnB and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) have exploded this decade as formidable peer-to-peer alternatives to the hotel industry. AirBnB alone boasts more than 1 million listings worldwide, ranging from single rooms in homes to actual castles. With more and more people staying in these places and vetting them with reviews, I felt comfortable jumping in with my family.
Finding the right place took more scouring than a search for hotels. You have to read each listing closely, because sometimes what looks like a home that “sleeps four” means one bed and a double air mattress. But if you do your research, especially if your destination is a large market, you’re likely to find a good deal.
We had some specific requirements. No. 1: Price. It had to compare with the going rate for hotels there, which were more than $150.
No. 2: Space and privacy. Because we weren’t sure how our son’s recovery would look, we wanted a place with defined bedrooms so he could nap without being disturbed by his cooped-up little brother. My husband also planned to work during our stay, so our rental would need a desk or table and reliable Wi-Fi.
No. 3: Amenities. A full kitchen was a must, because we couldn’t afford to eat out for every meal. We crossed our fingers and hoped for a washer and dryer, too.
No. 4: Location. We wanted to be no more than 30 minutes away from his doctor’s office and surgical center and close enough to the beach that we could walk or drive easily without a production. The neighborhood had to be safe and quiet, away from busy streets.
With all those criteria, I was sure I’d have to settle.
I spent about an hour scouring AirBnB and VRBO and cross-referencing Google Maps before I requested to book an apartment. I clicked the AirBnB box that said “entire place,” eliminating single-room offerings, then narrowed by price and location. Next I bookmarked a few that looked promising and perused the pictures so I could eliminate the ones that weren’t child friendly.
Abundant breakable tchotchkes and designer upholstery? Not with my little tornadoes. Surfboard leaning precariously against a living room wall? Death to tiny humans. Newly tiled, spa-like rain shower? Sorry, my kids need a tub.
Once I collected about five possibilities, I started reading the comments. This proved key to finding the right place. One condo seemed perfect with two bedrooms, proximity to a beach and kid-proof decor. The deal-breaker was buried on the second page of comments: The landlord had taken four or five days to correct shoddy Wi-Fi. My husband wouldn’t be able to go if he couldn’t connect with work.
The intensive search paid off when we found exactly what we needed and more: a two-bedroom apartment with a queen bed and two twins, a full kitchen, washer/dryer and bonus patio with grill. It was located in a safe residential area, across the alley from a quiet beach and a 10-minute walk from restaurants and entertainment. Throw in the wipe-down leather couches, Xbox, smart TV, mini library of beach reads and sand toys and we were happy travelers.
At first I mourned the lack of a pool and continental breakfast. (First world problems, amiright?) But what we lacked in travel standards, we made up for in comfort.
We got to live like locals and experience the area in an intimate way that we couldn’t have by hibernating in a corridor of identical boxes.