Monday, January 19, 2015

As an Airbnb Guest

My husband and I love to travel. We drive a nice, but used car, only have one car and give up other things we could do in order to travel more. We own a fair amount of vacation ownership, or what is best known as "time share", but sometimes, as vast as the options are, you are somewhere where there isn't a place to stay or trade or there isn't availability.

We accumulate hotel points too. But, the longer we haven't stayed in hotels as much, the less we ever want to do so in the future. Hotels, at their best, tend to be very impersonal. When we've had  rare experiences, like the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec (a bucket list item since I first went to Quebec City at 19) or the Ritz Carlton on Central Park in New York. But in general, most hotels are just another chain. You know exactly what to expect from the moment you enter until you leave and it doesn't differ much anywhere in the world. Undoubtedly, you always spend more money. The nicer the hotel, the more you spend. Internet is costly in high end hotels. Usually free as you go down the scale. Continental breakfast can be included in lower end hotels. But, you eat out more. Whatever you drink, you're buying more of it.

Sometimes, whether at a "time share" or an Airbnb, we make full meals. Many others, perhaps not much more than coffee, breakfast and drinks at the beginning and sometimes end of evening. That alone can save, depending on where you are, as much as $100 a day. I am big on experiencing culture and I think you do learn much from an economy from pricing simple things like prices of milk, eggs, meat, liquor and cigarettes (whether you drink or smoke). Going to Safeway in Washington, DC or Pathmark in Jersey City (I've lived in both before), I am not going to learn much about culture, but I will be current about economy. But, shopping in Vienna or Prague is both a cultural and economic experience. What do they eat? What is available to them at this time of year? What does it cost? How they buy their portions? Laws in all come into play here as well. What are the shopping hours? Are they open on Sunday? Do they sell liquor at the grocery store? Does the grocery store have other services, like a pharmacy? How much of this is because of market or because of laws? The latter you might not always know for sure, but, at least for me, the mystery is fun and will have me inquiring.

Having gone to university in Montreal, I am a little more familiar with the metric system than the average American. That said, I can still, especially after being gone for so long make mistakes. I ordered 1 kg of hamburger meat when in Vienna. We were only there for 2 days. That is 2.2 pounds! We got very creative with many uses of hamburger and ultimately used all of it. If I recall, some of it left with us as sandwiches for the road. In general, when you stay at a place away and shop, you greatly limit how much you buy and become far more creative with it's use. I often leave such experiences thinking maybe we should try to do the same more often at home. How often do we throw food away because it expired? How many spices sit unused for literally a year at a time? How many pans get brought out but once a year? Do you really need them?

My husband has not lived in DC and we have been discussing that possibility should it present itself. Staying at an apartment in DC, albeit smaller than one we would be comfortable in living in, gave us an experience living there together for a few days. Even for me, it was enlightening. I left DC almost 20 years ago. We were in the U Street Corridor, a neighborhood that was pretending to try to come around, but was ultimately scary. Now, I was questioning whether we could afford it and it was wonderful as it was always meant to be. While we could have driven by, we would have never really felt it, had it not been staying in an Airbnb apartment.

Likewise, I was in Jersey City in 1990 and it was beginning to become all that it is today. Now, it's completely evolved. So much has happened there I got lost in my old neighborhood. The streets are the same. The landmarks, not even close. My husband and my stay there, spending most of our time in Manhattan, made much clear. New York is overwhelming for him and even if money were not an issue, it is of no desire. In fact, I think New York is on his short list of places he'd really not want to live. For the right amount of money, I might get him to work there. He enjoys certain things about New York, so being near it is fine and going is fine. It's just quickly too much. Bluntly, while what I consider home, I've been gone so long it tires me after a few days more and more with each passing year. Love going. Can't wait to leave. But, Jersey City seemed to be a happy compromise. Just next door, having a bit of character, lacking all the chaos.

I will be completely honest and say that while we love sharing our apartment, we are usually much happier renting a place without someone else there. If I was travelling alone, I might be different. I'm not usually happy in a hotel alone or our timeshare even less so.  When Mac was doing his Project Management Professional Certification in Irvine and staying down in Orange County a few days a week for a few weeks, he was quite happy in a shared home through Airbnb. When he was miserable were the couple of days he couldn't stay with them as they were booked and he stayed at some mediocre hotel for about the same amount of money.

That home later invited us to their boat for the boat parade in Newport Beach, which is a big deal every holiday season. Another, albeit way down, bucket list, item. It was actually cooler than I could have ever expected.

Our host in DC, knowing it was my birthday, left a bottle of wine and some wonderful mini cakes, and I try hard not to be a sweet person. She also was humiliated and in a frenzy as her internet went down. I never met her or witnessed this, but my husband interacted with her. She was so upset. A Project Manager, like my husband, worse yet in her case, an IT Project Manager, this was not to happen. She did everything including offering to refund us. It wasn't that big a deal. Busboys and Poets was right down the street on 14th. A block I wouldn't have walked alone at night in the 90's. Now with hip places with ever so creative names.

I've been fortunate to spend my life travelling. My husband and I make it a focus. With rare exception, hotels have been an experience. Airbnb have been memories.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being an Airbnb Host.

In almost 2 years as Airbnb hosts, we've had basically no problems with any of our guests. We've had a few memorable bumps along the way, but they are more humorous than problematic.

We had one girl from Russia who had 2 uninvited gentleman callers that security kept away and she ultimately kept from returning. But, there were no scenes or awkward moments, just a couple of late night calls to me from security where I said "sorry, she isn't expecting any visitors."

We had 2 young guys stopping here on the way to go to the Coachella Music Festival. They smoked pot in our guest room, which really wasn't an issue other than not asking us prior to doing so. They wanted to listen to music on our surround sound system and disconnected one speaker which nine months later I've yet to figure out. But, that is as it's a low priority for me as I know such simple things can cause me great anxiety figuring out.

We had a guest from Germany that didn't realize that when the key fob doesn't open the door to the pool it means the pool area is closed, not the door is broken. "I thought people might want a swim before they go to work in the morning and the door was just broken." So he jumped the fence. Luckily, security in our strict building loves us so it wasn't a big deal. I explained to our guest, who had already been here almost 10 days at that point, that he must have noticed the pool was seldom used by anyone and that people usually are showering (unlike himself) and scrambling around with household details in the morning. The pool doesn't open until 8 as a courtesy so that is doesn't interrupt people's sleep. He was just going to sit with his computer and security didn't make much of an issue, other than to call me and ask him not to repeat it.

His wife stayed with us for nearly 2 months while performing here. She was very sweet, but peculiar. She was big on organic foods and not having things that were processed, but ate lots of chips and sausages. I don't care which one's you buy or from where, both are processed food. I dropped her at the Americana, a shopping Center in Glendale, and she spent 6 hours shopping, only going to 2 stores. A couple days later she and a friend spent 9 hours at the Beverly Center. Over her entire time in LA, she spent more time shopping than anything else, besides rehearsals and sunbathing. She joined friends and I for a day at Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. She went to Hollywood with me once. But, she would not explore anywhere on her own. Even once her husband was here, who wanted to do many of the "traditional" attractions: Universal Studios, Disneyland, etc; she limited the amount of activity. Most peculiar: She never once used a washing machine in 2 months. At one point, our housekeeper put the only set of sheets we have that aren't 100% cotton down and she asked for them to be removed because she was getting a rash. We question what might have been giving her a rash...

We have nearly perfect ratings. I think we have had one guest complain about our air conditioning. Sorry to say, I think he has an issue. He was sweating the entire time he was here. We were not nor were any one else before or after him and it wasn't a particularly hot time of year. Recently, a guest suggested we put in bigger light bulbs by the bed so they could see better to read at night. OK? Actually, for some reason, one bulb was missing in one lamp and has since been replaced. But, all in all, people seem to enjoy their stay. Some guests we never see. Some we never met. Some we have had meals or enjoyed a drink. In one case, we took one to Vegas with us for a weekend.

We have hosted almost 90 guests in near 2 years from almost every continent in the world. We have learned a lot about Saudi Arabia from a longer term guest who was here as an older (30s) student at USC. We had a brief stay with a young man and his single Mother, who was the head of a NGO in Kuwait, which was incredibly enlightening contrast as they were shortly after our Saudi guest. We've had a British citizen of Indian decent living in Canada, Chinese Americans, a Chinese living in Singapore, Italian decent living in Germany, Ukrainian decent living in Germany, to people from Canada, Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Columbia, Japan, China, India, Turkey, in addition to those mentioned above. And yes, we get Americans, occasionally even Californians. They all come for different reasons making each of their stays all the more interesting. The experience continues to be rewarding to us on multiple levels.