Airbnb Got it Half Right

A custom Pendleton blanket is a great design choice, but it won’t help you sleep when you’re crammed four people to one bed. We travel with a Babybjorn travel crib for the Little Fella and folding cot for his sister, which she loves. But unless things go perfectly, sharing one hotel room means sooner or later we all end up piled together in one bed, the family liferaft, drifting like ragged castaways through the sleepless night.

The single hotel room is a major challenge for families who travel. Early bedtimes and confounding sleep patterns often mean everybody retires early. Blackout curtains and sound machines be damned, our Little Fella can sense us in the room, and he is convinced it’s time to hang out. The hotel bar is so close we can smell it, and the baby monitor app on our phones starts to look attractive enough to risk using. Traveling families try to get connecting rooms, but this is expensive and restrictive and not available at places like Portland’s celebrated Ace Hotel.

We had evacuated our carefully chosen AirBnB rental earlier that afternoon. Misleading photos, a red-hot glass furnace in the middle of the living room, questionable stains on the furniture. Worse, though, the smell. “Family Friendly” must have meant families of cats.

The place felt haphazard. And not us.

We could have stayed, of course. The essentials were there, two bedrooms even. Our basic needs were met. But we missed resonance, a sense that those who designed and appointed the apartment appreciated quality over quantity, smart simplicity, tightness and elegant design. We were looking for a place that reflected our values and really, the Cat Palace was not it.

The Sharing Economy has eased the pain of transactions between strangers to the point that nearly anybody can list their home or rent someone else’s. (Check out Steve’s dusty back yard in Napa.) But AirBnB only got it half right. There’s more to travel than meeting a baseline of logistic needs. More than a place to lay your head, a couple of bedrooms and running water. More, even, than a good night’s sleep. There’s mystery and romance, and a desire to understand yourself in a new environment. Travel is aspiration, searching for new things that resonate like old things, like the way we want to live. Reviews are only helpful when we share values with the reviewer, and aggregated review scores often lead the wrong direction. As a family we have specific needs, and as individuals we have specific taste. Finding a place to stay that meets both can seem impossible. I’m sure a family of cats would have given four stars to our woebegone rental.

But we are not cats and it was time for Plan B. Bags and kids back in the car and across town to the always cool Ace Hotel.

We like the Ace. The style, materials, design, the record players and the good coffee. It’s intentional and thoughtful, and it feels like home. Lying underneath that beautiful Pendleton, praying Francis would sleep but knowing he wouldn’t, I would have given anything for a place that met both kinds of needs. A clean, modern space where we could give him his own area. Even a large closet or bathroom. And then maybe a babysitter. There’s plenty to drink at night in Portland, and I was thirsty. Happy Hour seemed forever away.