Have you ever slept in a stranger’s house? What about when they’re gone? It’s like living someone else’s life. When you book a hotel you’re signing on for a familiar experience. But when you book with Airbnb you’re getting a glimpse into a real person’s world.
During a trip to Los Angeles to spend time with our West Coast team and visit Leggett & Platt customers, I decided to stay at a place I found on Airbnb. If you’re not familiar, Airbnb is a platform where people with extra space can rent their rooms, apartments, houses, castles, teepees, igloos, and boats. Yes, all of these accommodations are all available (depending on your dates).
Airbnb is no fringe player. The company is valued at over $13 billion and available in 190 countries. That popularity, coupled with the unique spaces, made me want to give it a try.
Telling my wife I was staying at an Airbnb triggered a fascinating response. She was worried a killer would hack me into pieces and shove my parts into a freezer. Why? I’m still not sure. As a culture, don’t we place a lot of trust in hotels? So why does it seem suspicious when a person is willing to share their home?
Let’s frame up the two situations and see which feels sketchier.
When you sleep in a hotel, you are choosing to rest on a bed that potentially holds 730 unique people per year (365 nights, two per bed). Hotels are filled with strangers traveling for unknown reasons. Hanging on the walls you will find artwork that’s repeated in every room. You’re usually surrounded by cookie cutter quarters, nothing unique. Rooms are cleaned and staffed by people you don’t know who are allowed to touch your toothbrush. At night, strangers lurk the halls and come-and-go at odd hours. In the morning you often eat a breakfast you didn’t order while sipping coffee near people avoiding eye contact. You slept near them last night, but a conversation is out of the question.
Meanwhile, there’s Airbnb. This too is an odd set of circumstances. A stranger creates a profile on the website, uploads a picture of their face and their space, then offers their abode to the world. You find a room (or tent) on Airbnb that fits your needs and then begin communicating with the host. After booking your place, the host meets you in person and gives you a tour (at least this is what happened to me). And here’s where the anxiety begins for a lot of people: When booking a person’s home you’re choosing to sleep in one person’s bed, versus a hotel mattress that is host to many people each year. Is it better to ignore that you could be sleeping where 730 others have slept, or is it worse to actually see the face of the person whose bed you’ll be using? On the walls of an Airbnb home you’ll likely find unique artwork (in my case, a city-scape and a lovely family photo…there was also a Dexter “Power-Saw to the People” poster leaning against the wall. In my mind, the fact that my host didn’t hang the artwork on the wall showed a lukewarm commitment to chopping me into pieces and placing me in the freezer. Also, Dexter only killed other serial killers, so I felt safe. Airbnb homes are usually cleaned after you leave, so no strangers are touching your toothbrush.
With these thoughts in mind which would you now choose, a hotel room or Airbnb?
One of the mental hurdles I had to jump when using Airbnb dealt with trust. Do I trust people? Are strangers essentially good? Have I any faith in humankind? Who would have thought the simple act of choosing Airbnb - and accepting an invitation into a stranger’s home - could lead to deep philosophical introspection? I’m glad I had this experience because it renewed my faith in fellow man. I need that more often. Most people are fine human beings and we need to give each other a chance to prove it.
During my stay the host texted me his favorite restaurants and I had a wonderful time living his life for a few days. To show my appreciation for the extra effort on his part, and for the fine accommodations, I left a note and a small gift. When he returned from his travels he sent me a message thanking me for what I left behind and said the next time I was in Los Angeles we should get a beer.
Many years ago my mother got caught in a snowstorm in Western Kansas and her car got stuck. Shivering, she walked to the only house within sight and knocked on the door. A man and woman invited her into their home where she stayed all night and slept in a warm bed. The next morning the man helped her dig out her Volkswagen Beetle and she was able to continue her journey. Years later I was born, and every Christmas that couple still mailed my mom a card.
In the past it wasn’t uncommon to share our homes with strangers, and those experiences created circumstances that can lead to lasting friendships. Airbnb isn’t for everybody, but I like the idea of being able to cross paths with wonderful people I would otherwise never know. In the world there’s now #OneLessStranger.