Following from my recent posting on how pivotal I find meetings with strangers can be on holiday, I thought that I would write upon the reverse. No not what innocent bystanders feel like when I bumble onto their horizons but rather hosting strangers on their holidays.
A month or so ago we started listing one of our spare bedrooms on the Airbnb website. I cannot pretend that our intentions were solely motivated to help travellers but I can say that this is a big reason why were are doing it. Added income is a welcome bonus but meeting people from distant places was our main objective.
Whilst I would like to be on holiday all the time, sadly this isn’t possible at least not for a decade or two yet. However what could be more interesting than going to work every day and let the visitors come to you; every evening would be like a mini-holiday.
The UK government allows each homeowner to rent out a room to earn over £4,250 tax free (almost $7,000) per year. Plus we have have 3 bedrooms in our home and only 2 married people which by my reckoning leaves us with 2 spare bedrooms just staying empty until friends or family stay over a few nights a year. It seems such a shame especially as like everyone our age lucky enough to own a home, we have a huge London-sized mortgage to support. Equally the U.K. and especially the London area can be a very expensive area to visit and if you do stay in a London hotel, sure you will have every convenience imaginable which for many might be enough, but will you discover the real London, the real England? Probably as much as I would discover the real America if I stayed on-site at Disney World for a few days.
So for £20 odd per night we throw open our door and welcome in the world and hopefully help people with a unique holiday and send them away with happy memories that there are nice folk here who aren’t just out to fleece them for their cash. We don’t generally provide food but they have the use of the kitchen and if they are around when we eat, more often than not they get an invite.
Of course, half the people reading this must be thinking I am crazy. Perhaps I have already been killed by an axe murderer and this blog is being posted using the handy scheduling tools on WordPress. Well guess again. I may be crazy but I’m not dead, yet. We can vet everyone before they make a reservation and the website gives us some general insurance policy. After personal safety most people I have told this to have two reactions, one that we will come home to an empty house and two; don’t you mind people using your beds/bathrooms etc.
To answer the first point, yes I did worry about this but thinking about it logically makes this seem an acceptable risk. Firstly most travellers are from abroad and with no car there is a serious limit on how much they could carry away. I can fit all sorts into my backpack but even I would have trouble fitting a flatscreen tv in one. Besides British electrical items won’t work abroad, DVDs and the like are also country coded. We don’t have anything worth taking anyway, no jewellry, no credit cards or cash. Also the type of person who would visit a house in a foreign country is not likely to be the sort to steal things. Who is going to travel thousands of miles just to run off with my dusty old history books, a framed Steve McQueen film poster or a tin of Heinz baked beans? They might if they just want to pee me off but it would be a seriously bad return on their travel costs.
As for the second point, well we keep a very clean home whether we are here on our own or whether we have company. All the beds and towels are washed regularly and the bathroom is spotless. If they can put up with us then we can put up with them and so far we have a 5* overall average so they can’t be complaining about us too much.
In just a few weeks we have welcomed people from all over the place. Our first guest was David from Arizona in the USA, now living in Mexico. He is 73 and doing amazing journeys for his age. A really nice guy who stayed with us for about 4 nights on his first stage of an overland tour from the U.K to Spain. We didn’t see a lot of him but each evening we would chat and on the Saturday my wife cooked him a steak and ale pie after which we took him on a 5 mile walk around various villages, along an old canal and stopped off at a village pub on the way home. He loved it and we loved him.
Next up was Laura, she is actually from the exact opposite side of London than we are and is working on the new Tom Cruise film but if she didn’t stay with us then her daily commute would be around 2 hours each way on a good day. She was here for 5 nights and would come home and tell us of various stories of who she had met in the past and what Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner had been up to just down the road from us. Even though she left us at before 5am in the morning, she had kindly stripped the bed for us.
Then we had a lovely couple from Italy who had been in the U.K. for 2 weeks and had just spent an amazing 7 hours at the Harry Potter attraction (right next door to the studios). They only spent one night with us as they were flying home the next day but it was great chatting with them and exchanging stories. They had come to us in a hire care and so this was the big test. Would we come home and find the stereo had gone missing? Of course not, the house was just as we left it and they had even tidied their bed and cleaned the shower before they left.
Currently we have Salli from Denmark staying with us for 2 weeks. She too is working on the Tom Cruise film but at the weekend uses us as a base for touring London. She is great and like our other guests, very considerate to us. We too try to be considerate to our guests and generally treat them like one of the family and we know that when Salli leaves then we will miss her lots. They can stay up in their room or they can sit down with us, try some local food and watch the TV or explore the garden.
There are some minus points to sharing your home. There are more bed-sheets to wash and you should really be dressed for the 2am dash to the toilet. However these are more than off-set by meeting new people and building new friendships, we already have an invite to stay in Italy.
It’s easy to be cynical especially in a big city about the slack morality of other people but I’d like to think if I stayed in a strangers home wherever that would be I would look after it like it were my own and from my limited experience that is what our guests are doing too.
Once the guests leave, each side leaves a review and feedback on the other and so a good guest will receive praise and make it easier for them to be accepted on their next vacation and we as hosts can show we offer a genuinely good and budget conscious alternative to an expensive and impersonal hotel suite. These reviews also encourage both parties to keep to their agreement and offer a moral safeguard to us as hosts as well.
As for the money, well if we rent out the room for 2 nights, then that just about covers my petrol costs for the car for a week. Two or three weeks out of a month covers the expensive train fares for my wife’s commute to London for a month and all that helps us pay off that mortgage and prepare ourselves more for the life we want to live not the life we are living whether that being living in the country, running our own business or just travelling.
If you only want to see Big Ben and eat at McDonalds then there are thousands of hotels on the internet for you with one in London pretty much the same as one in New York, Berlin or Cairo . Of course you can do that with us too but I’d like to see the receptionist at the Hilton tell you where the best pub or fish and chip shop is or more importantly settle down on a cold dark evening with you watching Downton Abbey and munching on some Cadburys chocolate. Hopefully everyone leaves us with happy memories of their stay with us and we remember them fondly too and how much we learn about them and their jobs and their home country. In a way for us, it’s kind of like being on holiday without ever leaving home.