Travel

I Tried Swimply, the Airbnb of Swimming Pools

You can rent your dream pool for a day-at a surprisingly fair cost.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

At the top of my list each summer lies two items. The first: complaining about the ungodly smell of the NYC subway stations, which always manages to be twice as bad as I remembered from years prior.

The second: opening the group message and sending “Let’s have a pool day!” again and again and again without actually acting on it, because finding a good pool-although not truly difficult-feels like a pain in the ass. This cycle continues until Labor Day weekend arrives, at which point I can direct my attention away from being a pool-less plebeian and toward apple-picking season.

Thankfully, that laborious search for the best swimming pool-not just in New York City, but anywhere-may just be over.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

What is Swimply?

Essentially the Airbnb of swimming pools, the Swimply app lets you rent from 25,000+ different private pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, and more across the US, Canada, and Australia. (And to quickly address a common question I’ve seen floating around-yes, Swimply is legit.)

While there are plenty of straightforward listings, you can get access to some pretty phenomenal swimming holes-for example, this enormous castle-slash-oasis or this dope waterfront mega-mansion.

Rentals range from $15 to a few hundred bucks per hour, which, split between a few friends, ain’t too bad-especially considering many pools allow for well over a dozen guests. Swimply also runs an online shop with gift cards, photographer rentals, and pool gear, including a truly enormous duck float which, at $100, may or may not be worth the photo opp-you be the judge.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

How does Swimply work?

After you download the Swimply app and fill out the requisite sign-up info (which includes verifying that you’re at least 21 years old-sorry kids, this is Adult Swim), you’ll be directed to their main map, which allows you to search for available pools by location, date, time, and number of guests.

The Swimply app also includes the upcoming weather report so that quite literally nothing rains on your parade. Yours truly almost made the mistake of booking for a rainy Saturday afternoon, so this is a verified life-saver.

You can browse through all the hot single pools near you and get more details, including house rules, pool width and depth, on-site furniture, whether the pool is child- or pet-friendly, and available amenities (BBQ grills, pool toys, local shops/restaurants, et cetera).

The page will also list whether there’s a bathroom available-about 80% of listings offer toilet access, but at least you’ll know in advance if you’re shit out of luck (ba dum tss).

From there, all you need to do is show up and enjoy.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

What’s the Swimply experience like?

In my case, most of the closest pools would have meant either a trek out to Jersey or deep into Brooklyn, so I went with a chill backyard hot tub and sauna combo nearby that cost $50/hour. (I booked three hours for $150-or about $75 per person for two-but looking back, two hours would have sufficed.)

Just before we were set to head over, my boyfriend couldn’t stop reminding me how weird it might feel to swim while our hosts sat inside, winding down on a Sunday night as two complete strangers hung out in their backyard. This was admittedly fair: Were I a host, I’d feel a little like that meme of Squidward gazing down from his window at Spongebob and Patrick enjoying their little day, and as a guest, I worried we’d feel like we were intruding on someone’s afternoon.

But ultimately, the experience was laid-back from start to finish. Our hosts were friendly, took just a few minutes to show us how the hot tub and sauna worked, and then disappeared back into the house. Barring the initial awkwardness of settling into somebody else’s space-much like one might feel in a shared-room Airbnb-we quickly adjusted and, within 30 minutes, found ourselves lounging comfortably and chatting in the hot tub between steams in the sauna.

In our case, our hosts had popped out for dinner by the time we left, so checking out was just a matter of going on our merry way. Overall, we had a good enough time taking a dip-and considering how miserably expensive most things in New York are, I’ve definitely spent more on worse outings.

Whether or not you feel satisfied with your own experience with Swimply, though, will probably vary based on a few different factors.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

Things to consider before you rent on Swimply

1. Remember that you’ve rented the pool-not the entire house. Although it has a similar layout, Swimply isn’t Airbnb, and it’s up to each individual host to decide whether or not they want to leave their house during your rental period. Depending on what kind of experience you’re after, you might want to weigh your options. Want a quick day swim? Swimply’s your guy. Want a pool plus guaranteed privacy plus somewhere to take a post-swim nap? You’re probably better off booking a hotel or Airbnb with a pool.

2. Depending on where you live, your options may be limited, so adjust your expectations accordingly. If you live in a dense urban area, I’d recommend dialling back your standards for “dream pool” just a bit. For example, my options were relatively few since I live in New York-a city not exactly known for its sprawling backyards or household swimming pools. But if you’re in a place where yard space is a little more common-say, Los Angeles or Miami-you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. Whereas less urban areas may have less competition and lower costs for a lot of space.

3. Book far in advance. As it goes with most fun things, book as far in advance as possible, especially if you want to rent during the afternoon and/or on a weekend. For what it’s worth, it was much easier to book last-minute swim sessions after 6 pm or during the workweek. In general, though, do yourself a favour and make your reservation as soon as the thought of lounging poolside crosses your mind.

Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply
Courtesy of Swimply

Is Swimply worth it?

Final verdict: Maybe. At the very least, Swimply is a hell of a lot cheaper than building a pool in your own backyard, and a hell of a lot more attractive than sitting in a kiddie pool on your lawn or the rooftop of your apartment. But what it really comes down to is your locale and your group size.

If you live in a place where pools are relatively common and/or you’re interested in sunning and funning with more than a few friends, then you’re much more likely to enjoy Swimply. Even then, though, you may be able to find an Airbnb with a pool that sits within your budget and gives you complete and total privacy.

If you’re swimming with a small group or live in a concrete jungle where swimming pools (both private and otherwise) are harder to come across-your New Yorks, your Phillys, your Chicagos-Swimply becomes a little more enticing, but your options on the app may still be relatively few.

Overall, if you’re feeling a little bougie, I’d say splurge on a daytime dip; if you’re not picky and you’re just looking to do a cannonball without all the bells and whistles, a public pool will probably suit you just fine. And if all this option-weighing has stressed you out too much, there’s another option in which you just take our advice on how to throw an amazing pool party sans pool instead.

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Tiana Attride is a contributor to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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