Author: misschryss

Ejo #91 – Wave Your Arms In The Air, Like You Just Don’t Care!

When I was younger my family had a holiday house (a holiday shed, in reality) down the coast at Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula. Between the ages of about 12 and 17, we spent every weekend at this property (which we called “the farm”), basically running around like wild, feral kids getting bruised, scraped, dirty and exhausted. It was awesome. Another great thing about the farm was that it had a private dirt track that led to a very deserted back-beach. That’s right bitches, private beach!! Did I forget to mention that I had an amazing childhood?

So every year we would spend most of the summer down at the farm, all piling into our decrepit, old Land Rover a couple of times a day to make the bumpy trek down to the beach where we’d spend hours fishing, swimming, crab-hunting, sand-duning, picnicking and lazing around. A rotating roster of relatives and family friends would join us, lending these summers a festive, carnival feel. I have so many vivid memories of these times. The time we found a huge echidna on the beach track, all rolled up into a ball – we tried to take him home with us, but he was having none of it. The time Uncle Paul was almost washed away to sea after a huge wave knocked him off some rocks. The time my Dad took a flying leap between two huge rocks, suspended in the air like Michael Jordan making a slam dunk.

Oh, and the time my friend Tina told me, as we lay on the beach perpetrating a tan (c’mon, it was the 80s), that I should probably start shaving my armpits and legs. I was 15 years old. I remember lifting up my arm in curiosity to examine the fluff growing there, wondering why on earth I’d have to shave it. I mean, I could barely even see it. I was bemused, and just laughed her off. It was only later, back at home, once I’d had time to think about it, that the shame set in. Shame that my body, in its natural state was apparently unacceptable. I was already a very self-conscious teenager but that was the first time someone had weighed in on my body hair. It wouldn’t be the last.

So I did what every young girl is supposed to do and started shaving. Right from the get-go I just hated shaving my legs. I hated the actual act of shaving, hated the bristly regrowth, hated how often I needed to do it for my legs to be acceptable (there’s that word again). So when I was seventeen I started getting my legs waxed. I haven’t put a razor to them since, and only need to get them done below the knee every 6-8 weeks to keep them respectable, sometimes going months between waxings. And even then the hair follicles have been so beleaguered and abused over the years that it’s all they can do to produce a few sparse, downy hairs.

My underarms are a different story. After that day at the beach, I spent the next thirty years of my life slavishly incorporating razor work into my shower routine, never letting my underarm hair get any longer than some slovenly stubble. And I never questioned why I was doing it. Not even once. In thirty years! Isn’t that crazy??? Everything else I do on auto-pilot has some kind of basis in hygiene. Shower, brush my teeth, wipe my ass, clip my nails. There’s a valid reason to do all of those things. But shaving the tuft of hair valiantly trying to grow in the space under my arms?? What was my reason for doing that??

Turns out that before around 1915 women didn’t care about their hairy armpits, because they were never on display. As soon as sleeveless dresses became a thing, so did underarm shaving. I wonder who decided that the hair underneath women’s arms was too “objectionable” to be shown in public. Oh yes. Objectionable. Check out this advertisement from a 1915 edition of Harper’s Bazaar:

Armpit Advertisement

And this British one from the early ‘30s.

Armpit Advertisement 1

 

It really gets my goat to think of the posse of gin-soaked ad-men at Dae Health Laboratories Ltd. sitting around a table in their double-breasted suits, smoking cigarettes and spit-balling ideas for how to get women to buy their product. Advertising’s greatest weapon is the consumer’s insecurity. Hair under women’s arms is no more disgusting than hair under men’s, but if women think it is, of course they’ll buy your depilatory cream. Of course they’ll buy your disposable razor. And they’ll keep buying it, over and over again until they die. It’s fucking brilliant marketing. And in the process, we’ve all been conditioned into thinking that armpit hair is gross. That it is objectionable.

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If it’s good enough for Sophia Loren, it’s good enough for me.  You go, girl!

My journey towards razor freedom started not as some kind of statement, but rather sheer laziness. Look, I’m nearly 46 years old. I’ve always been a low maintenance kind of girl anyway, stemming from my formative years as a tomboy, and from the fact that I am essentially a very slack human being. I don’t paint my nails. I don’t wear high heels. I don’t blow dry my hair, or even style it. And most of the time I don’t even wear any make-up. But after three decades of dutifully shaving my underarms, I started letting the regime slide a little. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead of razoring every couple of days, I’d sometimes let two weeks go past without shaving (egads!!!!). Then, I’d notice the growth and do a quick shave. And the process would repeat. I wasn’t particularly fussed about the stubble, and David didn’t seem to care either (bless).

And then late last year, seemingly out of nowhere, I realised it had been a couple of months since I’d shaved and that I’d cultivated some cute little fuzz under my arms. I loved it. It felt a little rebellious to be sporting what Gwyneth Paltrow once dubbed, “a seventies vibe” under my arms. But I certainly wasn’t growing it deliberately, and I wasn’t trying to achieve some kind of edginess, or anything as interesting as that. It was simply the result of deep-seated sloth, and that is all. The day before our Australian holiday earlier this year I stood underneath the shower and argued with myself about whether or not I should shave it. And in the end, because I hadn’t been growing it for any particular reason, I succumbed and scraped the razor over my skin leaving me smooth and hairless once again.

But I do remember being a little bit sad about it.

Once the holiday was over, I stopped shaving again and allowed nature to do her thing. Once more the primary motive was laziness, but this time there was also a definite pinch of disobedience involved. To shave or not to shave had somehow become a big deal, not because the act of shaving itself was a big deal, but because the choice had been taken out of the equation. For the first time, I questioned why I was doing this odd thing. Was it for hygiene (would I smell bad if I grew the hair out)? Was it cosmetic (was hair under my arms actually ugly, or was I just brain-washed into thinking it was)? Would people judge me and consider me less attractive or less feminine? Maybe they would. But if so, whose problem was that? I decided it was no longer going to be mine.

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I defy anyone who says that Lola Kirke is less attractive because of her underarm hair.

In May we had a couple of friends from work over for dinner. Once more I found myself in the shower, in a terse stand-off with the razor, debating if I should shave under my arms or not. Would not shaving be some silly, pointless act of defiance? Against what? Would shaving be an act of surrender? And if so, surrender to what? To whom? And seriously, why was this such a big deal????

That’s when I decided to just leave it. Fuck it. I didn’t care. And for once I didn’t care if other people had a problem with it either. Here’s the thing with me. In some ways I’m still that self-conscious teenager, always worrying about what people think of me. And in other ways, I’m fiercely individualistic and don’t give a flying fuck what other people think of me (complex, much?). Essentially, I’m a good girl. But I have a streak of bad girl in me too. Just a tiny little streak, but it’s there and it’s real. It’s why the hair on my head has been every colour of the rainbow. It’s why I’ve had multiple body piercings, including in my tongue. It’s why the pizza boy once copped a beautiful eyeful when I was dared by friends to answer the door naked. These little rebellions don’t amount to much, but it’s part of who I am to kick back against the establishment, just a wee bit.

Unfortunately, because of where I live, I’ve had to tame that part of myself. When giving my husband a peck on the lips in public is something that could land me in jail, I just can’t afford to act out. But this small thing, allowing my “gross” underarm hair to grow out, is one thing that I can do to assert my individuality after years of it being suffocated. And even though not shaving my underarms has (somehow) become the difficult choice, I’m not actually trying to make any kind of statement. I’m simply exercising my right to choose what to do with my body, in a way that has absolutely no impact on anybody else. I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide to shave it all off again. I might decide to dye it fluorescent yellow. I might decide to throw some glitter on it and call it Betty. But whatever I do, it’s my choice and for the first time in a long time I’m proud of myself for not conforming, for doing what I want to do, regardless of what other people might think. And you can bet I’ll be waving my arms in the air about it.

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Even though I haven’t shaved for about five months the hair under my arms is even sparser than this – I do wonder if it was thicker if I’d still have the gumption to grow it.  Food for thought, eh?

 

Check out this amazing photo series by Ben Hopper which I discovered while writing this ejo. I like to think that the point isn’t that you can be beautiful despite having underarm hair, but that it just doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Ejo #90 – Drunk In….. Hoi An

David and I just got back from Hoi An!! Vietnam, bitches! And, as always, we had a rip-roaring time. You might recall that we’ve been to Vietnam before, on a far more daring odyssey. In 2012 we rode old Russian motorbikes into the remote mountains of the central highlands, going WAY off the beaten track and totally off the tourist trail. It was scary as hell, and bloody amazing.

This time we were visiting our friend, Cath, who has recently upped stumps from Melbourne and moved to the beautiful and cultural, historic town of Hoi An. There were no fearless adventures this time. The gutsiest thing we did each day was to venture out of Cath’s house, and into the searing sun and withering humidity. This might not sound so heroic to you, but I cannot stress enough how UNBELIEVABLY hot and sticky it was. You’d think we are accustomed to high temperatures, having lived in Dubai for eight and a half years, but we spend very little time outdoors during summer. I tell you, I have never been so hot and so sweaty in my life. But hey, we were there to get drunk in Hoi An and we had no choice but to brave the hostile outdoors so that I could bring you this month’s ejo.

So, the first thing you do after arriving in Hoi An on a hot day is to get an ice cold beer into you, preferably under some shade, and ideally next to a fan. Air-conditioning is rare, so just get used to having rivulets of sweat constantly pouring down your body, and enjoy the hell out of that beer. And the next one. Beer in Vietnam is literally cheaper than water, and we paid less than 60 cents for a can. So crack one open and start hydrating. You’re gonna need it.

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Biere Larue, a local beer, cost less than a dollar a bottle and is a necessity in the searing heat.

 

BA LE MARKET

After arriving at Cath’s house we headed to the local market and walked around to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the local bazaar. Cath had mentioned that she’d spotted a huge pig’s head the day before and I was really keen to see it, so off we went in search of it, but alas it was gone. Luckily there was a cornucopia of other produce to stimulate the senses. In the morning heat, the meat and fish section was particularly stimulating.

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The hubbub of Ba Le Market – we went by the market at least a couple of times a day.

 

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All the fresh produce you could think of under one roof.

 

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Super fresh fruit and veg, at super cheap prices.

 

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Fancy some fish?  How about an octopus?

 

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Some beautiful fresh fishies being chopped up for someone’s delicious dinner.

 

We rushed through and quickly made our way to a refreshment stand for a little pick-me-up of Vietnamese coffee. Now, Vietnamese coffee isn’t your regular cup of joe. It’s very strong syrupy coffee, slow-dripped onto lashings of condensed milk. In hot weather it’s always served with ice. It’s certainly a heart-starter and we made it a morning ritual to get up early every day to beat the heat and head on over to our favourite stall to sit down in little plastic children’s chairs and slam a couple of these down in a row. Trust me, your hangover will thank you for it.

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You can get Vietnamese coffee, and juices (including the ubiquitous sugar cane juice) at any of the multitude of market stalls, but this one was our favourite (it’s on the main road – look for the sign) and we were there every single morning for our double dose of Vietnamese coffee.  They laughed at us the first time we ordered a second round.  But after that they started greeting us with a smile.

 

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Strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee.  SO good.

INFO:
Lê Thánh Tông, Hội An, Quang Nam Province
0500-1900
CLICK FOR MAP

 

MADAM KHÁHN: THE BÁHN MÌ QUEEN

So what makes bánh mì so special? Have you ever had one?? If so, you wouldn’t be asking. The best bánh mì is served in a freshly baked crusty, French baguette smeared with pâté and then stuffed full of goodness with all sorts of yummy ingredients depending on the region, or the shop owner. Bánh mì was one of the things we really wanted to try on this trip, so one sweltering lunchtime we grabbed a cab and took off for Old Town Hoi An, straight to Madam Khanh’s. We were offered no menu, just a choice of vegetarian or pork bánh mì. We got the pork, with a little extra spice and, of course, beer! This is PERFECT hangover food. Greasy, delicious, comforting and filling. I couldn’t finish mine, but I had the rest later at home while we were laying low to avoid the heat, and it was even better, as all the flavours had intensified and soaked into the bread. My mouth just had an orgasm, remembering how good it was.

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The famous Madam Khanh herself!  Still making bánh mì every day at the age of 79.  Hers are a special mix of pâté, pork char siu, sausage, fried egg, homemade pickles, papaya, carrots, parsley, chili sauce, soy sauce, and her secret sauce.

 

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Seriously.  Look at that.  To die for.

INFO:
115 Trần Cao Vân, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam
+84 90 666 03 09
0800-1900
CLICK FOR MAP

 

AGRIBANK ATM CUBICLE

Why am I featuring an ATM cubicle in a Drunk In….. ejo?  Because it’s the coldest 2m³ in the whole goddamn town.  No joke, keep this one up your sleeve.

BuddiesInc

You know it’s hot when all three of you pile into the eensy-weensy teeny-weeny little ATM cubicle just for a few moments of respite.  © Cath Grey

CLICK FOR MAP

 

WHITE MARBLE WINE BAR & RESTAURANT

David and I don’t usually go for wine bars in South East Asia (it feels too much like a western concept), but Cath insisted we try this place for dinner one night and I’m really glad she did. The food was so good, and so authentic, that we went back again the next day for lunch and then again on our last day (it was those Money Bags damn it, we just couldn’t stay away). Each time we also consumed plenty of beer, tonnes of sparkling water and tonnes of sparkling wine. That’s how we roll, kids! The service here is impeccable and the food consistently amazing. Highly recommended.

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That Napoleon Bonaparte knew a thing or two, didn’t he?!!

 

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Hoi An spring rolls

 

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The best damn Money Bags I’ve ever had in my life.  Probably the best you’ll ever have too.

 

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Super fresh rice paper rolls stuffed with prawns, lettuce, mint, coriander, carrot, pineapple and vermicelli noodles.  So fresh and tasty!

INFO:
98 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam
+84 235 3911 862
24H
CLICK FOR MAP

 

HOI AN OLD TOWN

We took a few trips into historic Hoi An. There are heaps of restaurants, shops, bars, cafés and stalls to while away several drunken hours, if not the entire day! One evening when we were rather drunk, we walked around the crowded riverside stalls, fending off overly friendly expat club promoters trying to beguile us into having a drink with them. As we navigated the thronging streets, one particular stall caught my eye, and even though I was absolutely stuffed full of Money Bags I just HAD to have a freshly made Vietnamese banana pancake. I’m a sucker for these things, and you should be too because they’re bloody delicious. Eggs, butter, banana, condensed milk. What else could you want? It was the perfect end to our evening out (because I shortly thereafter slipped into a sugar coma – totes worth it). But fear not, the party continued on Cath’s balcony with plenty of bottles of rosé and prosecco to revive me.

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These are made fresh to order with your choice of condensed milk or chocolate sauce on top.  Condensed milk wins for me ever’ damn time!

 

BananaPancakes

Yes, you should.  © Cath Grey

 

NA SPA ESCAPE

Exploring the watering holes and eateries of any city is hard work and sometimes your body just cries out for some TLC. We made sure to look after ours by getting a restorative massage at Na Spa Escape. It’s a lovely, peaceful and air-conditioned (!!!!) oasis from which to escape the heat and noise of the city for just a little while. We were given the choice of a firm-pressure Asian blend massage, or a more relaxing Swedish massage. We all went with the firm choice. We needed it! And though the massage itself ended up being not as firm as I would have liked, I certainly walked away from it feeling super rejuvenated, relaxed and ready to take on the challenge of more eating and drinking!

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The calming interior of the Na Spa Escape retreat.  We were asked if we wanted to go for the three-way massage, but we politely declined.  David and I had a romantic couple’s massage and Cath went solo.  I think it was for the best.

INFO:
100/5 Le Thanh Tong, Cam Chau, T.P. Hoi An, Quang Nam
+84 235 3914 199
0900-2200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TAM THANH MURAL VILLAGE

It’s never a “Drunk In…..” experience without at least a pinch of culture thrown in for fun. We’re not heathens, for god’s sake!! This time we hired a driver for a half-day trip to the seaside fishing town of Tam Thanh, also known as Mural Village for the multitude of murals painted onto the houses along its only street. About a year ago the South Korean government, in a lightbulb moment, commissioned a bunch of Vietnamese and South Korean artists and asked them to jazz up the tiny town with a lick of paint. The locals were supposedly a bit nonplussed about the whole thing, but they were completely shocked when people started coming from far and wide, just to take pictures of the wall paintings. It seems as though they still haven’t really recovered, because there’s not a whole lot of trade going on, which actually makes it a very charming little place. Everyone smiles and waves at you and no-one makes you feel like you’re intruding on them when you take pictures of their house.

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Vietnam’s second most popular mode of transportation, after motorbikes.

 

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Two types of local fishing boats, pimped up!

 

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Gorgeous artistry.  © Cath Grey

 

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Murals everywhere.

 

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Tam Thanh is a super gorgeous village.  I reckon I’d love to spend two whole weeks here, doing nothing but drinking beer and coconut juice and gorging on fish.

 

We had plans to go to a local beach restaurant for lunch but at 9.45am it was still way too early, so when beckoned by a group of locals, we took a break under the shade of a tree on some tiny plastic chairs and ordered three coconuts, stat! The lady of the house (and it really was just the front of some woman’s house) chopped the coconuts right on the ground with a huge machete, and served them up with straws. Perfecto! We slurped up all the juice and then she split each coconut in half with her big-ass knife so we could get at the young, juicy pulp. So much goodness. When it was time to pay, she totally fleeced us and kept increasing the number of fingers going up until our faces started registering shock. Then she put up one more finger for good measure and everyone in her posse laughed heartily, as we willingly handed over the extortionate sum of $4.50, which is about double the price we should have paid.

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Three coconuts please!

 

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The remains.

CLICK FOR MAP OF TAM THANH

 

NO NAME BEACH RESTAURANT

It was almost time for lunch, but the coconut had given me some, uh, shall we say trouble in the trouser department, so we headed off to the Tam Thanh Beach Resort & Spa’s Ocean Breeze bar for a couple of refreshing beers – and the opportunity to use the only nice toilet in the vicinity. If you come to gorgeous Tam Thanh, I’d definitely recommend coming to Ocean Breeze afterwards to use the facilities, and of course to have a refreshment.

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Tam Thanh beach (dotted with fishing boats).  It’s gorgeous, but it was brutally hot out there and we couldn’t even muster up the fortitude to venture down to the water.  Luckily, Ocean Breeze has toilets, beer and an air-conditioned lounge from which to gaze upon the lovely scene above. 

 

It was finally time for lunch, so we sauntered across the street to a row of open-air beach restaurants and made a beeline for the one on the far left (since that was the one that Cath had been to before).  I bet they’re all amazing though, and I bet they all serve the freshest seafood you’ve ever had. We negotiated the confusing, handwritten English menu with the help of the staff and kicked back with some beers and peanuts, contemplating what a lovely day we were having. If you’re looking for any recommendations, I will have to insist you get the calamari and the crabs. These were incredibly fresh and delicious. And even though we were quite full, the calamari was just so good we had to order another round.

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Fresh peanuts while you wait.  A perfect beer snack.

 

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Coz they could see us coming a mile away, they brought us a little cooler full of beer and ice. Which was most welcome.

 

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Coriander, pepper and lime salt.  Delicious on EVERYTHING with a squeeze of fresh lime on top.  We went through six plates of this stuff.  Sure, some of it ended up on the plastic table cloth – but that didn’t stop us from dipping our food into it.  Waste not, want not!

 

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The crab was super fresh.  How fresh?  Let’s just say that those lovely crabs sacrificed their lives for us about ten minutes after we ordered them.  Best crab I’ve had in 30 years.

 

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What was left of the fish that we didn’t really mean to order.  © Cath Grey

 

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The calamari was so good we ordered another plate of it to the bewilderment (and amusement) of the waitress.

INFO:
Get yourself to Tam Thanh Beach Resort & Spa where Ocean Breeze is located. When you’re ready to go to the No Name Beach Restaurant, just cross the road (DT614) and head to the restaurant closest to the beach.
CLICK FOR MAP TO TAM THANH BEACH RESORT & SPA

 

RESTAURANT 328

At the end of nearly every day of our stay in Hoi An, we ended up at Restaurant 328, a local dining establishment where Cath was greeted like long lost family and David and I were welcomed with open arms.  And every time we went, we each devoured one of these delicious, home-made frozen confections, delightfully (and aptly named) Mango Delights.  And how delightful they were.  The first day when we excitedly ordered them, Aunty told us that she had only just popped the ice-cream in the freezer 15 minutes earlier and that it would be too soft to serve.  I guess the traumatised expressions on our faces convinced her to offer it to us anyway.  This stuff alone is worth travelling to Hoi An for.  My mouth is spurting just thinking about it.  Oh, it’s spurting.

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Is it any wonder this is called a Mango Delight?  LOOK AT IT!!  It’s fucking delightful!!!!!

 

On another visit we ordered three Mango Delights and three shots of their home-made rice wine to wash it down. Uncle was chuffed and proudly brought over a plastic water bottle filled with the potent clear liquid, and poured out three measures for us. This stuff is STRONG. I’m not ashamed to say that there was some enthusiastic table banging, and a little bit of strident gasping for a few minutes there, but it’s still something I’d definitely recommend. It’s wine. Made from Vietnamese rice. Of course you have to have it. On our last visit to the restaurant, Aunty somehow knew that we were leaving the next day and wanted to give us a little surprise.  She furtively crept up to our table and burst into fits of laughter as she revealed what she was hiding behind her back. Yep, the plastic bottle of rice wine and three little glasses. Of course we had to partake. Twice. It would have been rude not to.

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Rice wine.  Tastes like a mixture of sake and petrol.  With slightly more petrol overtones.

 

aunty-328

After I started writing this ejo I asked Cath if she wouldn’t mind going back to Restaurant 328 to get a photo of Aunty and her plastic water bottle of home-made rice wine. Unfortunately Aunty had better things to do that day, but Cath figured that this wonderful drawing was a pretty good substitute.  I tend to agree.  (But seriously, Cath, lay off the rice wine, OK?) 😉

INFO:
328 Cua Dai, Hoi An, Quảng Nam
+84 235 3862 095
CLICK FOR MAP

 

BIG BOWL PHO – NO BAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

C’mon, we had to have one final hit of phở before we left Vietnam.

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A farewell meal at the airport.  There are some airports around the world where I much prefer to eat in the terminal rather than the airport lounge.  This includes pretty well all the South East Asian cities.  This farewell phở really hit the spot and helped to ease the anguish of leaving Vietnam.

INFO:
Level 3, Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CATH’S PLACE

Yes, we did.

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When the going gets hot, the hot get in the blow-up wading pool.  Sure, the two little girls next door laughed uproariously at us as we were filling it up with water, but in the end we were in a pool and they were not.  So, who’s laughing now little girls?!

Ejo #89 – Airbnb & Me

David and I stayed in our first ever Airbnb apartment in San Francisco in May 2011. Since then we have stayed in 59 houses, apartments, cottages, studios, pool-houses, a houseboat, a palazzo and even a converted hospital.

Pool-house

The pool-house we stayed at in Adelaide on our most recent trip to Australia.  We had free run of the pool which was nice coz it was HOT!!!!

Palazzo

A palazzo.  In Barcelona!!!!!

It’s no exaggeration to say that we love Airbnb. But I’m not here to sell it to you – I know it’s not for everyone. One of my closest friends loves staying in five-star hotels and there’s no way I can convince her that staying in someone else’s pad could be better than 24 hour room service, someone making your bed every day and fresh towels on demand. So, this ejo is for people who may have heard a little about Airbnb and are interested in trying it but would like to know more before they commit.

Our experiences have, for the most part, been excellent*. One or two have been mediocre. And one was absolutely awful, but more on that later. Each and every one of the dozens of Airbnb dwellings we’ve stayed in has been a learning experience, and over the years I’ve got better and better at picking the right place. And I’d love to impart some of that knowledge onto you.

This isn’t a tutorial. I’m not here to tell anyone how to suck eggs. The website is very easy to navigate. You put in your desired city, your dates and your budget and voilà, you get to delve into the lives of people willing to open their homes to you, allowing you sleep in their bed, eat the food from their fridge and shit in their toilet. Oh, it’s intimate, folks. Before you gasp in horror and refuse to read any further, you should note that these days most places get professionally cleaned, before and after your stay. Of course you pay for the convenience but it is nice to know that the toilet has at least been scrubbed before you sit down on it for the first time.

And that leads me to my number #1 rule when making a selection. Cleanliness. If a listing has even ONE review saying anything negative about cleanliness, I nix it, right then and there. Even if it looks like my dream rental. I used to be a little more relaxed about this, giving hosts the benefit of the doubt if I read an iffy review, but then I got burned. So it’s become a very firm rule. Unfortunately, the only way to know if someone’s had anything bad to say about a listing is to read the reviews. All of them.

Unlike on TripAdvisor, the Airbnb host also gets to appraise you as a guest in return. And they can also comment on your review. Because of this, reviews on the website tend to be a little on the, shall we say, diplomatic side. Which is exactly why you need to pay attention to any negative ones. Someone is trying to tell you something, and sometimes that hint can be subtle, so it behooves you to read the reviews carefully.

OK, so not everyone has the time to read pages of reviews. If you find yourself stuck for time you can still get an idea of what previous guests thought of the state of cleanliness of a listing just by looking at the star ratings (though of course, it’s not as accurate). If either the cleanliness rating or the overall rating are lower than four, I move on. So should you.

Ejo 1

I don’t think we’ve ever stayed anywhere with less than a 4.5 overall rating. 

 

Something else I look for in a listing is the response rate and time of the host. I like to see a 100% response rate and “within a few hours” response time. I will persist if these are just a little bit off the mark, but I don’t even bother with hosts that respond only 34% of the time or “within a week”. I don’t have the time, or the inclination, to sit around waiting for some faffer to get back to me – or leave me hanging in the wind.

I also look for these auto-posts in the review section. So ominous.

Ejo 2

This has never happened to us before – because we stay away from hosts that cancel a lot. 

 

Even more ominous:

Ejo 3

Shudder.  I just can’t even with this.

 

Can you imagine booking a very special place to stay for your honeymoon, and then finding out when you arrive at the airport that you’re homeless??!! Of course sometimes there’s a very good reason for a reservation to be cancelled, and hosts are now able to leave a comment explaining why they did so. So one or two cancellations are fine, but if you see too many in a single listing, think twice before booking.

Let’s move onto photos. There are a lot of things to look for in the photos. Firstly don’t be fooled by the Airbnb photographer’s wide-angle lens and over exposure. They can make a couch that is this wide:

Ejo 4

 

look this wide:

Ejo 5

Same room!!!!  Look how wide the couch (and the map of Australia) looks in comparison to above.  Very deceptive. 

 

So, it can be a little misleading. I like to look at all the pictures, and then try to reconstruct the layout of the apartment in my mind, before looking at them again. You can usually get a better sense of scale that way. I tend to be drawn to the places that have had verified photos taken by Airbnb’s photographer. It shows the host’s professionalism and commitment to providing great accommodation. And I can usually tell from the cover photo if a listing is worth clicking on to inspect further. If I see a picture like this:

Ejo 6

C’mon, why is that cabinet door open??

 

or this:

Ejo 7

Where am I going to put my shit???

 

or this:

Ejo 8

I hate when a host leaves ALL their toiletries in the bathroom.  And WHY is the toilet seat up?  

I steer clear. It shows a lack of engagement, and if the host can’t even go to the trouble of tidying up and taking a nice photo of their place, it doesn’t bode well. Some better examples (of places we’ve actually stayed):

Ejo 6a

What a beautiful living room.  An apartment in Madrid. 

Ejo 7a

Look at all that space – and none of the host’s personal belongings.  An apartment in Amsterdam. 

Ejo 8a

No clutter.  Room for me to spread out.  A bathroom in London. 

Also, I like to see at least one photo of each of the main rooms. The living/dining area, the kitchen, the bathroom and the bedroom. If any of these are missing it raises alarm bells and I move on. No point lingering – there are SO many other options out there. For instance, I have NO idea what this place really looks like. It might be super nice, but I’m never going to find out.

Finally, be wary of close-up images. These tend to mask a problem with the bigger picture – otherwise there’d be a photo of the bigger picture, right? I learned this on a trip to Copenhagen when failed to properly inspect this photo:

Ejo 9

 

Unfortunately the only way to get to the shower was to climb over the toilet (ew!). And you can’t really tell that from the photo. Rookie mistake. Don’t make it.

So, it’s time to hear about our one crappy Airbnb experience? OK, so here’s how it went down. Airbnb #21. Hackney, London. April, 2014. We checked into the place and I immediately felt that it hadn’t been cleaned for a while. I honestly don’t mind if there’s a little dust here and there. It happens. But we had paid £40 for cleaning, and that gives you some expectations. The couches were absolutely covered in dog hair and when I tried to brush it off with my hand, plumes of dust rose up. Now, I am not a fussy person, but there was no way I was sitting on those couches. So, I set about cleaning the place. I intended to do a quick sweep and dust, thinking that would be sufficient.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a broom and dustpan so we had to walk to the local store to buy one. Yep. Also, it turned out that the problem was more extensive than I first thought and it took me over two hours to clean it to a level where I felt comfortable to sit down on the couch and walk around barefoot. Oh yeah, and to add insult to injury, when we opened the fridge there was a plastic container full of mouldy mushrooms that made the whole place stink.

Ejo 10

Here’s the dirt I collected in just this small area.  The whole house was as filthy.

I kicked myself as I swept and dusted because I remembered stupidly ignoring the warnings of a couple of reviewers, one of which had mentioned that the place “needed a bit of a hoover”. The other one was from a woman who had said that there was dog hair throughout the house. But the real clue that I glossed over when I made the reservation was the host’s response to that woman. He attacked her personally, calling her “bizarre” and claiming that she was being unpleasant towards him because he’s gay. He insisted that other hosts not “deal with this person”.

Unfortunately for me, after our trip was over, he did almost the exact same thing to me. I left him a pretty nice review, considering the state the house was in. And in “private” feedback to him I made the comment “I’m not OCD, but I like a clean house.”

Here’s the review he left for me.

Chryss, in your extensive private feedback you sent me you mentioned OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Perhaps this is something you should explore with a professional. Sadly, I cannot say you would be welcome in my home again, at least not until you’ve addressed your OCD.

This really, really hurt me. I had 20 amazing Airbnb reviews under my belt and it just stung to know that there would be an incorrect, but public, record of me being a shitty guest. Potential hosts might see it and decide it’d be too risky to let me to stay in their homes. My reputation in the Airbnb community was tarnished and I was pretty devastated about that. I remember posting a woeful status about it on Facebook and being inspired by some of the comments to actually write to Airbnb and ask them to delete the nasty review. I knew they had a policy of not doing this, but figured it would be worth trying because the comments made could actually be deemed libellous. This was the response I got from them:

Airbnb

 

Amazing. It made me love Airbnb even more than I already did. And we went on to have another 38 wonderful experiences. I know we’ll have many, many more and I hope that you do too.

* One was particularly excellent. We loved our 41st apartment, an Amsterdam pad, so much that we asked the owner if she was interested in selling it. The answer, sadly, was no.