Recently I have been exploring the cost effective option of house swapping for an upcoming trip to Europe. The internet has enabled folks who are willing to let complete strangers stay in their home connect in a secure way. For a home swap, users essentially join a club where you can list your house and view listing of homes from around the world where you would be welcome to stay if the owners have vacancy. At first glance, it sounds risky. It requires trusting complete strangers around your personal possessions. What if they steal something while they stay in your home? Or what if the home you stay in is really dirty gross? These are, of course, logical questions. Despite those minor risks, allowing complete strangers to stay in one’s home has been done since the dawn of time. Perhaps only in the last century have people been expected to rely solely on inns and hotels for a bed while traveling. In a recent visit to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s famed estate, I learned that the family welcomed traveling strangers into their home nearly every night. I may soon be welcoming complete strangers into my home. Hospitality has come full circle.
With few inns located throughout the region, it was common courtesy in 18th Century New England to host weary travelers in one’s home. Our Mount Vernon tour guide relayed how the estate was located on a busy travel route and became a common stop for those needing overnight accommodation. The several guest rooms were frequently booked with passers through, often complete strangers to the Washingtons, who nonetheless offered them room and board. Even after he returned home from his time as President, overnight guests often had the pleasure of breakfasting with Washington before they continued their journey. This exemplary show of hospitality was a normal, expected part of the culture.
Allowing someone to stay in your home is a very personal affair. The guests see your family photos on the wall and peruse your bookshelves, quickly gleaning an insight into your personal interests. Several years ago we allowed a family from New Zealand – friends of friends – to stay in our home while we were away. We were already out of town when they arrived, so we never had the opportunity to meet them. They left a very kind note after their stay indicating they felt they knew us after spending so much time in the presence of all our earthly belongings. When you open your home, you make yourself vulnerable. Your home and how you keep is speaks volumes of who you are as a person. I’m looking forward to making my home presentable for complete strangers and, in turn, learning to love and care for someone else’s home while I have the pleasure of experiencing their hospitality, whether or not I actually get to meet them.