Do you know about Airbnb? I had barely heard of them until a few months ago. Then suddenly they were all over the press like a bad rash. The company that lets anyone rent out their apartment or spare room was in some slightly hot water. Apparently a San Francisco blogger had her apartment demolished by a guest who had rented it for a week. Not only had she come home to a nightmare but the owners of Airbnb were doing precious little to help, commiserate or compensate her for the substantial damages. The trust they had built their company on had been eroded a wee bit.
Finally they helped the poor woman out, apologized for their less than gallant behavior and created a comprehensive insurance policy for their renters.
In the wake of the publicity, anyone who had heard of Airbnb was divided into two camps. On the one hand there were those who saw it as a teething problem, a glitch in an otherwise brilliant business. On the other hand, there were those who tutted and shock their head sagely. Wasn’t she being very irresponsible and courting disaster by trusting these strangers? Wasn’t she practically asking for something to happen?
Five years ago I imagine that I would have sided with the latter. I would have ranted about personal privacy (the only child in me rearing its ugly head), and what happens when trust merges into blatant stupidity. However, I suspect even then I might have doubted what was coming out of my mouth. This was coming from a girl who thought nothing of staying with friends of friends of friends abroad, whose home was always welcome to anyone growing up and who had stayed in numerous hostel dorms alongside teeming masses of backpack-clad strangers.
So what changed? When did I become an Airbnb convert? When did I become the sort of person who rents out my home to a total stranger? I blame my new liaise-faire attitude on two things: the cost of living in New York and my short but sweet experience of couch surfing.
So New York is expensive. We all know that. We all have a few hustles going and we try to earn whatever extra money we can. Renting your apartment in this city is as good a gig as any.
What about couch surfing? In essence it is the dreadlocked, touchy-feely sister of Airbnb. With couch surfing no money changes hands. You are simply welcomed into someone else’s house. You are offered a couch or maybe a bed, some potentially good conversations, a taster of a different culture and an insight into neighborhood secrets.
Jeremy and I couch surfed for 6 weeks across the American South West. We stayed in communes, in ranches and in one-bed room studios. The experience was revelatory. We were essentially total strangers but we were trusted with a spare key, welcomed to family dinners and taken on tours of wherever we ended up.
There was a little bit of faith but we also did our homework. We checked out our couch surfing hosts online, we chatted to them on the phone before we arrived. We made ourselves experts in judging what sort of person they were before we turned up on their doorstop. It became a habit and it turns out that Airbnb is no different.
So I may be fool hardy renting out my flat and if my place is trashed I’m sure there will be someone ready to tell me I had it coming. But, for the moment, I’ll use my judgment, make my rent payment and choose to trust people a little more.