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The downside of Airbnbs…

I love renting places when I travel. I rented my first apartment when I was in Greece years before Airbnb was a “thing” and fell in love with how different it feels from being in a hotel. While hotels are inherently sterile and practically reek of “temporariness,” renting gives you access to real places in real neighborhoods and are fully equipped to make you feel at home in a foreign place. You don’t need to order room service or send out your laundry—you can do it all yourself, and more cost effectively, to boot. In all of my years of renting, I’ve never come across a downside…until now.

One of the pics I took mid-crisis…the others were blurry because I was moving too fast.

My Airbnb in Buenos Aires is a tiny apartment in an older building, complete with the sort of old-fashioned elevator that has two manual sliding doors. The thing about tiny apartments is they often have odd configurations—water heaters and washing machines in the kitchen, that sort of thing. Anyhow, I was sitting on the couch working when I heard the sound. It wasn’t the sound of leaking, exactly—more like the sound a kettle might make if it’s left on and overflowing. I ran to the kitchen and was utterly gobsmacked by what I saw (I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “gobsmacked” before, but just now it feels exactly right): the little water heater that was suspended above the counter was releasing all 65 of its liters in two scalding streams. I immediately began moving all of the food beneath it (there isn’t enough cabinet space for groceries, so most of them sit on the counter) and began tossing towels down while looking for the spigot to shut off the water. Naturally, it’s under the flow of scalding water, so I reach under and turn it off; however, all it does is slow down the flow. Water continues to pour out in two steady streams on each side of the water heater, like a champagne fountain at a wedding reception. I stick the only bucket in the house under the heaviest flow and then pause to send the apartment owner an urgent message.

As it happens, the only bucket has a hole in it (because of course), which I discover as water flows out of it and off the edge of the counter. I immediately start looking for alternatives and eventually have a motley assortment of a pot, a pan, and a bowl under the heater to catch the water. So there I was, a one-woman assembly line laying down towels, wringing the water out of them, emptying the pots as they fill, and slipping on the wet tile in my haste to return the pot—all while texting the apartment owner to explain the urgency of my predicament. She wants pictures so she knows what to tell the plumber. So, in the midst of that chaos, I also have to stop and take pictures. Meanwhile, my little assembly-line act isn’t keeping up with the flow and the water is now in all of the cabinet drawers and spilling into the living room onto the wooden floors. Naturally, both the owner and her plumber are in another city (Really?! There are no other plumbers in Buenos Aires?). So, I am left to deal with this emergency alone until help can arrive later that evening.

Brand new water heater!

In the end, the water heater eventually spent its last drop, which meant I could finally make headway on mopping it all up. While the apartment owner told me to just leave the water(!), I don’t know many people who’d be capable of doing that, knowing full well that time is of the essence if you want to avoid worse damage. By the time I was done drying everything, I was utterly bedraggled—my wet clothes hanging from my body, both pant legs rolled up to my thighs, and a scalding blister on one of my hands. I collapsed onto the sofa sweaty and spent (and quite honestly, a bit emotional as the adrenaline started to wear off). Later that evening help arrived, the water heater was repaired, and the longest day in my digital nomad history came to an end.

So there you have it. The thing I love most about booking a ‘real’ place is also a downside: you’re booking a real place, which could have real homeowners’ emergencies for which you may not receive immediate help. You can’t call housekeeping or the concierge, and you can’t move to another room so you can continue working while the hotel deals with the catastrophe. I’ve experienced minor headaches in places I’ve rented before, but a homeowner’s emergency of this magnitude was truly a first. I’m not sure if this will dissuade me from renting in the future, but it may influence the questions I ask (e.g., does the owner live nearby in case of emergency?) and ultimately, what places I choose. Let this be a lesson to me.

On a bright note: David is now here and the actual vacation part of my trip begins in only a few days’ time. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so ready for a vacation.

About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


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