We took the plunge and listed our house on Airbnb. Want to know why and how it impacted our lifestyle? Here are reasons number three and four. If you missed reasons one and two, read Part I.
3. I bought scented laundry detergent (and other upgrades). If I learned anything from going to a university with co-ed dorms, I learned that it’s not clean unless it smells clean. If I walked into a guy’s room and he claimed he had ‘just cleaned it up’, it still seemed dirty if it smelled like a locker room. With this collegiate experience in mind, I bit the bullet and scrapped my for-sensitive-skin-unscented-earth-friendly-organic-free-range detergent for one that could care less about sensitive skin, but sure smelled like a spring morning. Now my sheets, instead of smelling like, well, sheets, smell like the breeze across a field of wildflowers. They smell clean. We don’t have sensitive skin anyway. I hope my guests don’t.
Along with the no-cost upgrade of scented detergent, after a year of living in our house I finally put up my living room curtains. To be clear, I do care about privacy, but our living room faces the neighbor’s house. They are hardly ever home – and it’s not as if we walk around in our underwear. But after further consideration, I realized I can’t guarantee our Airbnb guests won’t walk around in their underwear. For the sake of the neighbors, I put up curtains.
And I bought waterproof mattress covers. I bought them because I want my guests to feel free to leisurely sip a cup of tea in bed while watching the morning rays touch the tops of the trees out the window, perhaps daydreaming about a life where servants à la Downton Abbey bring you breakfast in bed. If tea spills, the mattress won’t get a stain. And if a toddler with leaky pull-ups ends up sleeping in that particular bed, the mattress is still saved. And other stains. . . Well, waterproof mattress covers are just a good idea in general
4. We joined a community that believes in the worth of hospitality (and trust). I didn’t make a meal and fix a single cup of coffee, but I made sure everything was there, available for their use. Who wants to make a grocery store run for coffee creamer ten minutes after you arrive (or be forced to go out for coffee first thing in the morning)? No one. The first time we stayed in someone’s home through Airbnb (in France, by the way), the fridge was stocked with butter, eggs and cream for coffee. It was a lifesaver the following morning. I intend to pay that forward. Does a hotel do that for you (all included in the minimal fee)?
This is not a bash on hotels. We stay in hotels too. We stayed in one last month, actually – a chain with which we get lots of points. This chain always has a swimming pool, which our kids love. However, hotels are businesses under the thin guise of hospitality. (To be completely honest, some Airbnb establishments are also run as businesses and don’t necessarily qualify as staying in someone’s personal home.) When a stranger opens their home and trusts you not to use their deodorant stashed in a drawer, not to steal a dress from the closet and not to run off with the silverware, that’s true hospitality. And if that trust is violated, those people lose the privilege of participating with this international community of travelers who value the cultural experience (and price) of staying in someone’s home. (And the host can then call upon Airbnb’s insurance policy to recoup any damages).
I am reminded of the stories of travelers throughout history who, while on long journeys, relied on guestrooms, small inns and the extra bed of a stranger. Even after his presidency, George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home was a regular overnight stopping place for people traveling in the region, whether they were acquainted with the family or not. The technology is new and the method of payment quite modern (and the Airbnb owners are making a killing charging a small fee for each booking), but this type of hospitality is as old as the camel caravan.
As they browse bookshelves, observe the contents of your pantry, and notice family photos on the wall, guests become intimately acquainted with you, though you may never actually meet in person. To those accustomed to the comfort of nondescript photo montages and prepackaged hotel coffee, this might be considered an unwelcome intrusion. But if you’re ready to experience authenticity, cultural diversity and a home while traveling abroad, Airbnb might be just what you’re looking for.