Archive for the 'housing' Category

couchsurfing’s not sketchy!

So two weeks ago I hosted a couple of backpackers for the first time. As beginner couchsurfers, we were all nervous as hell, but I’ve found that couchsurfing is less sketchy than you think.

I’ve heard that there are some sketchy male couchsurfer hosts who are known for hosting only hot chicks. But for the most part, this isn’t the case at all. The real-life couchsurfing community is pretty vibrant— they even hold social events in cities where they have large numbers– and the online social network is structured in such a way that makes it easy to identify the more legit hosts and surfers.

For one thing, there are levels of certification on the site that one can attain by, among other things, adding a legitimate bank account or getting other established couchsurfers to vouch for their legitimacy. The testimonials are similar in principle to the LinkedIn network’s, in that other people can leave reviews of you on your profile about your personality and hospitality, etc.

For another, it’s fairly easy to spot the sketchier people— for example, if you’re contacted by a thirty five year old man from an Eastern European country who has “I like talk to cute young Asian girls” as one of his interests, and you’re a twenty year old Asian female who specifically mentioned a preference for hosting female and same-age couchsurfers in her profile, you can probably guess 1) what this guy has in mind and 2) that he’s a dumbass.

In July I was contacted by a dude from New Jersey who just embarked on a Europe backpacking trip with his girlfriend and wanted to crash in Paris for a night or two. He explained their situation and said that they were fairly laid-back (yeah, I warned them about the seventh-floor walk-up with no key and the shower in the kitchen and everything, and they still wanted to do it…). I took a good look at his profile and saw that his profile picture was of him in a “Semester at Sea” shirt, grinning in front of Angkor Wat.

I okayed the deal– I’d listed a preference for females, and he only had a basic level of certification, but his message, profile and pictures were consistent in voice and writing style (for example, he claimed to go to the University of Pittsburgh, and the Semester at Sea program originated in UPitt). What sealed the deal was that he was traveling with his girlfriend— if an American college guy is traveling with his girlfriend, he’s probably not gonna pull any shit with other chicks. (I found out later that they checked my profile out too– apparently, the part where I say point-blank that “I’m afraid of being stalked by or accidentally hosting and/or being hosted by sketchy guys” is what made the girl feel more at ease with the idea.)

They turned out to be pretty cool. Though we were all first-time couchsurfers and they had to bang on a lot of doors on my floor late at night to find me because their phone was whack, it was a fun two nights, filled with wine, cheese, tons of walking, and a crash course in French manners. (The guy waxed political sometimes, but hey, I’d rather talk for hours about serious shit with my couchsurfers than wake up one day and find out that they skipped town and nicked my wallet in the process. Seriously, there are worse things in life than hosting a philosophe. Or a tool!)

Before my flatmate comes back, I might host maybe one or two more girls if I hear from them again. A dude from the U of Arizona was supposed to show up last week, but I have no idea what happened to him. There were a ton of other requests, but I screen quite carefully, plus the lengthy list of problems with my apartment scared most of them off, and I need a week’s warning simply because I don’t use the Internet that often anymore.

(Fortunately, I’ve found a library near my apartment with WiFi so I no longer have to buy bottled Evian at McDonald’s all the time! City-sponsored weefee is amazing.)

Sorry for the gap between posts! I think my next post will be more on how to have fun in Paris when you’re piss poor, because I found tons more free things to do after I did the “how to survive summer in Paris” post.


french holidays and craigslisting in paris

I realized that my posts have been kind of boring and food-y as of late. Sorry about that! Here’s a small life update from my side as I try to scrounge up more material for an actually useful post.

France has a ton of holidays in the spring
, most of which are Easter-related (Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost and Whit Monday). But unlike Japan, which avoids having a work day sandwiched between two holidays (and sometimes creates an in-between holiday just for that purpose), France has a few awkward spring Mondays when the following Tuesdays are fériés. For my friends, this has discouraged travel plans to other parts of Europe on more than one occasion. (For my Barcelona trip, I just used one of my allowed absences and played hooky.)

But Mondays aside, there’s a nice four-day weekend starting this Thursday. However, Stanford’s quarter system completely messes up our schedule, so my midterms fall on this Friday and next Monday. Gah! I’m glad I don’t have the money to take another trip, or I’d definitely miss more classes.

Summer in France should be really interesting. I hear that In the month of August, absolutely no one works. I hope I can find a summer job regardless.

In other news, I’ve found an apartment! It’s this tiny thing just on the outskirts of Zone 1 and close to the Parc Monceau, owned by a twentysomething Russian girl who’s lived here for three years and seems chill. It’s insanely, INSANELY cheap for a Parisian apartment. (It’s also tiny, and at the top of a seventh-floor walk-up, and the shower is in the kitchen, but shit, it’s 250 a month!)

How did I find it? I have no idea, because the housing section in paris craigslist is usually full of apartment broker ads and temporary room shares, both very pricey. But I used the craigslisting strategy and waited until I pounced on something that was in my price range (defined as "cheap as humanly possible") and didn’t seem too sketch. I stuck with craigslist, but there are tons of other places to look, I just wanted to make sure that the seller knew a fair amount of English.

That’s about it. In my next post, I will talk about ice cream. No, seriously.

Two Weeks of Suck, Part 2: the keys and the cat

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

4. So after taking my final, I had to move out of my dorm in 24 hours. Easier said than done! Fortunately, since November of freshman year I’ve lived within driving distance of Stanford. Unfortunately, my parents at this point are fed up with me screwing up, so they want to make as few back-and-forth trips as possible.

Thursday. The next morning at 11am, I’m still tossing clothes into two suitcases. My mom just got the keys to the sublet in the mail the night before, so they were tossed into a suitcase. However, after my parents bought me a bigger suitcase that morning, I left one suitcase back in my room. Yes, it was the one with the FREAKING KEYS in it.

I actually think about this in the car on our way to the airport, an hour and a half before our flight.

Me: “Hey [boyfriend], I think I might’ve forgotten the keys.”

Boyfriend: “Well, if you DID forget them… just don’t think about it right now. If we go back for them now, we’ll be late for our flight anyway.”

The thing is, he assumed the keys were at my HOUSE and not my DORM. We would’ve made it in time if we’d gone back for them, but I didn’t do the math because at that point I was used to being screwed. (Also, I can’t do math.)

So six hours later, when we touched down in New York, I look for the keys in my two suitcases. Not there. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“I’m not gonna call home yet,” I tell myself. We crash at a nearby motel for the night and order Domino’s for a late dinner. The motel wasn’t as skeevy as I thought it’d be, but they did have two porn channels, and there were “strange” noises coming from the room next to us. (We were way too jet-lagged and sleep-deprived to laugh about it.)

Luckily, the (now disgruntled) sublet owner is still in the tri-state area, so she’ll meet us at her place in the morning. I call my mom and ask her to FedEx the keys. My dad’s been kept out of the loop, but it would’ve been bad for his blood pressure anyway (Mom: “Don’t tell your dad you stayed in a motel with your boyfriend!”).

5. Friday. We get to the apartment in the morning (with boyfriend playing Superman and dragging our heavy suitcases through the subway) and finally meet our sublet owner, the really cool travel writer I told you about. The apartment is awesome (albeit on the fourth floor of a walk-up), and she has this adorable cat who has a thing for people petting him while he eats. He’s the sweetest cat ever, but she warns us to keep the front door closed and the windows only open to a certain level so he can’t jump out.

Saturday. We follow her instructions, but after watching Spamalot on Saturday evening we return to find a catless apartment. The small screen on the window we kept slightly ajar had been tellingly punched open. I nearly pass out, then scribble an e-mail to the sublet owner, who at this point is not in the country. (Boyfriend comfortingly points out that she has a “Lost Cat” few fliers lying around the apartment, with a “Last Seen” date of a couple of weeks ago, so the cat probably made a bid for freedom like this every so often. I was still distressed.)

Sunday. I call her the next morning, thinking she didn’t get my e-mail. (In reality, her e-mails weren’t dated correctly so they didn’t appear at the very top of my inbox.) Because phone calls to Europe are like $5 a minute, she manages to tell me in thirty seconds that the cat is fine and she has to go.

Whew! But then we go to Jersey City first instead of packing up.

Next up: Being late for an international flight!

maybe craigslist isn’t as sketchy as i thought

After getting a way-too-sketchy job through craigslist a few years back, I decided not to trust the site again. I mean, come on! A community site done completely in Times New Roman? Wayyyy sketchy.

But a week or two ago, while I was freaking out over the exchange rates and finding a job, I figured I’d give it another shot. Of course, I now know better than to give out all of my personal information (like my full name!) in the first e-mail, and I figured out how to tailor my formulaic replies of interest to each particular post.

So, when I was trying to look for a cheaper place to stay in Manhattan, I took to heart the advice from this Get Rich Slowly post about craigslisting and did three things:

1. Formulated a clear idea of what I wanted before I searched for it. I wanted a sublease of a nice (read: not seedy) apartment for three specific nights within a specific price range.

2. Pounced on each post that had what I wanted when I started looking. This is where RSS feeds came in handy. (A visual guide to making craigslist RSS feeds is in this lifehacker post called Apartment Hunting 101.)

And I’m sure those template replies that you can configure in most mail clients would’ve come in handy if I’d remembered them, but cutting and pasting a set reply, then tailoring it to the specific poster also worked fine.

3. Established my legitimacy when I e-mailed the poster. Having learned my lesson from the sketchy craigslist job, I didn’t include my full name, address, or phone number in the first few e-mails. However, I decided to use my e-mail address so they’d know I really was a California student. I included other details accordingly. As a general rule, the more detailed their post was, the more background info I included about myself and the circumstances of my interest in their ‘goodies’.

Here’s the rundown of the events surrounding my sublease:

I quickly replied to an ad for an apartment in the right location, at the right price, and almost during the right time span (the subletter graciously banished herself elsewhere so I could get an earlier night). The post seemed friendly, clear and concise (and didn’t have cringe-inducing typos and grammatical errors).

The subletter replied a few days later. I actually got the bid a bit faster than I’d expected– she wanted me to mail her the payment and damage deposit checks ASAP!

This made me panic a little; it sounded sketchy. But after some Googling of said subletter’s name and e-mail address, I found out she was a travel writer (which she confirmed in her next e-mail. It explained why she needed everything so quickly– she was going out of the country!).

But just in case:

– I wrote up a sublease agreement that she would electronically sign and send before I mailed her the checks. (I originally wanted her to notarize it and snail mail it before I sent anything. Yeah, that was my old Jersey City paranoia talking.) I would include with the checks a signed paper copy of the same agreement.

– I asked for pictures of the place since she didn’t include any in the ad, and

– I asked about a few other details about what my boyfriend and I could use in the apartment, like utensils and sheets and food (and about the cat she mentioned in her ad!).

Her reply to my e-mail was timely, with everything I asked for, and the details she included went far beyond my expectations. (In short: She’s Awesome.) That’s why two checks and a signed contract are currently in a Priority Mail envelope on their way to Manhattan.

I am excited. This is FANTASTIC. I just need to cancel my hotel reservation once everything clears.

international student cards and long-awaited letters

I bought an International Student Identity Card the other day. I’m not sure if it’ll get me any better discounts than I get with my regular student ID card, but it’s worth a shot. (And $22.)

I also wrote a letter to my host family in Japan.

For those of you who don’t know me, you may not understand the importance of this letter. I returned from my year in Japan three years ago and haven’t talked with my host family since. I’ve been trying to write this letter for a very long time and somehow it’s been put off until now, and it’s been stressing me out in small amounts daily (which adds up!).

To summarize: I procrastinate a lot. (In fact, I wrote the letter to them because I was procrastinating on doing a problem set.)

My host family was actually pretty cool. I’m just really bad at this stuff. It’s like the movie Devdas, when the main character (Devdas) goes to study in London for ten years and only writes back twice before returning. That’s how I roll– I assume people won’t miss me so much that they want to hear from me regularly, and I assume that when I return, life will go on as usual.

For example: Last summer, I went back to the East Coast to hang out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and we hung out in Manhattan almost as if I’d never left. That’s the kind of relationship I like having with people. I disappear so often that I enjoy being able to pick up a friendship right where it left off (or at least close to that point).

I still haven’t mailed the letter because I’m mailing some Stanford swag and a photo CD along with it, but at least the most difficult part’s over.

P.S. I’m beginning to get some responses to the replies I’ve made to ads from my craigslist query a few days ago (did you know that you can make an RSS feed from craigslist queries by clicking on the RSS link at the very bottom of the first results page? Here’s the lifehacker visual tutorial).

In the interest of replying ASAP, my reply’s been very formulaic, but now I can get around to asking for photos, securing dates, and getting more info on whether or not these people are legit. Waiting for replies is frustrating (especially if you don’t know whether they’ll reply at *all*), but if you forget about ’em for a while, patience pays off.

travel clinics are a rip-off, and housing hijinks

I visited the Vaden Travel Clinic on campus yesterday, and realized I just paid $30 for a nurse to read a printout about vaccines to me for thirty minutes. I could’ve just read up on this stuff through the travel section in the Centers for Disease Control site. The Hepatitis A vaccine I almost got anyway, until I realized in my allergy-induced stupor that it cost $65 and I wasn’t going to Eastern Europe. The meningitis vaccine? If I live in a dorm, maybe. But I don’t know if I’m staying with a host family yet, and it’s about $100. And RABIES. I can’t believe the nurse talked to me for five minutes about RABIES. If anything, I should’ve put the $30 I wasted on this useless consultation towards getting the HPV vaccine when I get back.

Anyway, my guy and I found a hotel in New York (I really, really wish we’d done this in advance ‘coz it cost $500 for THREE nights), but since the hotel will let us cancel our reservation up to 48 hours before check-in without a penalty, we’re also on the prowl for last-minute sublets on craigslist. As in, really last minute. I expect to start finding deals maybe four or so days before we leave. (I love the magazine Time Out: New York, and also the LiveJournal community nyc_for_free— I got a ton of responses to my post asking for help. :)

London’s kind of a problem because the exchange rate is $2 to a British pound right now. We just got a cozy bed and breakfast around the West End, but honestly, anything within Zone 1 of London that’s a five-minute walk from a Tube stop would be great for me. I actually wanted to check out a hostel, but bf is balking at the sketchiness. Oh well, at least I convinced him to consider craigslist for NYC.

Also, I added more referrals to the Support section in the column to the right, namely YesAsia and ThinkGeek. Online shopaholics, now’s your time to shine.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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