Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman? Well, they’ve all slept in my bed.
Not all at the same time – and not with me in it either, I hasten to add! But I sometimes wonder if the neighbours think I’m running some kind of brothel.
I don’t really care, as I’ve been coining it in – and having a great time to boot – as an Airbnb host. Friends were wary at the start. “Oh, I couldn’t have strangers in my home.” “What does your insurance company have to say?” “Do you lock your bedroom door?” But they’ve definitely changed their tune now.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Airbnb until my eldest – travelling – daughter asked me to fly out to Malaysia to visit her and got me to book an apartment in Kuala Lumpur via Airbnb three years ago. It was surprisingly cheap, surprisingly easy, and we had a great time. The fact I cleaned up afterwards earned me a great review and I came away feeling well chuffed – with both the review and the price.
There was a yawning hole in my life. One night, after a glass of wine too many, I decided to list the room on Airbnb
When my younger daughter also left home, this time for university, there was a yawning hole in my life: the spare bedroom. I missed the buzz of youth in the house, the daily washing, tidying and general hubbub.
One night, after a glass of wine too many, I decided to list the room on Airbnb. That was more than two years ago since which time I’ve had a succession of fascinating people passing through my home.
Not long after I started, I watched a C4 documentary about Airbnb entitled ‘Dream or Nightmare’, which gave me some pause for concern. I won’t go into details, but seriously, if you are going to rent out an empty £1m pad in central London to a 25-year old on New Year’s Eve, what do you expect?!
It did make me careful though. The site makes it clear that I live at home and will be on the premises. Also, my home is much more humble. A 17th century Grade 2 listed terraced cottage, close to my village green, the railway station and a couple of really good pubs who do fabulous food.
I never really expected the business to take off the way it has. I’ve had singles and couples from all over Europe, the USA, Scandinavia, China…
The village church is popular for weddings and many of my guests are visiting friends or relatives, who don’t have sufficient space to put them up.
I bitterly regret not starting a visitors’ book at the outset – but I never really expected the business to take off the way it has. I’ve had singles and couples from all over Europe, the USA, Scandinavia, China and, naturally, the UK.
Some are exploring ‘the Garden of England’; others are coming for family celebrations and weddings, some needing a stop-off between Dover and the North, or attending music festivals, trade shows and events in Kent’s county town of Maidstone.
When I started hosting via Airbnb, I was seriously depressed. I’d lost my job, my daughter and my mojo and didn’t see much purpose in getting up each day. Airbnb means I have to leap out of bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to set the table for breakfast and be ready to make sparkling conversation over the cereal and croissants.
The funniest experience I had was when two guys from Northern Ireland turned up for a music festival, thinking they were in a twin room, only to find they had a share a double bed. It was an experience for them also – but something which gave us all many a laugh over the weekend.
One of them has been back since, just to visit me. Having been on my own for the past 12 years, I wasn’t expecting THAT!
They enjoyed their time here so much that they instantly booked to come back next year – and one of them has even been back since, just to visit me. Having been divorced and on my own for the past 12 years, I wasn’t expecting Airbnb to provide THAT!
The only moment of concern I’ve had so far is when I couldn’t find the two sets of towels I’d put out for a couple of guests from overseas. Having lived near Blackpool in the past, I’d heard landladies’ tales of towels and bedding going missing… but my couple brought only two small rucksacks. I was baffled!
When I came to make up the bed, the solution was thankfully revealed. They’d put all the towels – and a scatter cushion – tidily away in the chest of drawers.
I started renting out my spare room in a bid to overcome my empty nest syndrome. Since then, it’s grown into a very nice little earner which will supplement my pension nicely when I start to draw it. Encouraged by the fun I am having – not to mention the spare cash – three of my previously-sceptical friends are now about to launch their own Airbnb enterprises!
Many people – especially we more ‘senior’ ones – are anxious about allowing strangers into their homes; but the more people I have met, the more relaxed I have become. More than half my guests are retired or over 50, proof that this cheaper option to classic hotels is not just something favoured by cash-strapped young travellers!
I’m also humbled at how many people are prepared to open their hearts to a stranger. I’ve been privileged to share stories of births, marriages and deaths, terminal illnesses, photographs and memories. It’s made me thankful for my lot and my half-empty glass is now very much a full one.
It’s probably not something for the shrinking violets among us – but I’m finding there aren’t many of those amongst my generation – the ones which would once have been called ‘the older generation.’
I always say you’re as old as you feel – or the man you feel. And in my case, that’s currently seven years younger!
Jane’s Airbnb can be seen here
THINKING OF GOING FOR IT?
• Much to my surprise, I quickly amassed a clutch of 5* reviews – which always helps when people are looking to book. For the past year I’ve been a ‘superhost’ – another boon for bookings.
• If you’re unfamiliar with Airbnb, visitors and hosts are asked to complete a survey post-visit, with questions about cleanliness, hospitality, communication etc – which gives both sides the chance to come clean on the other’s strengths – or failings.
• Communication is the key, I have found. Indeed, as a journalist I’ve even picked up a few good news stories from my guests – such as the vicar who ‘fines’ brides £100 if they are more than 10 minutes late to the church.
• It’s the little extras that make all the difference – like taking the time to chat to them if they want to, or offering them tea / coffee / beer on arrival – and maybe a lift to wherever they might be going.
• Airbnb allows you to set fair parameters for check in and out – but the more flexible you can be, the better. There’s nothing worse than landing at Gatwick on the 9.30am from New York to find you can’t dump your bags and have a shower before 5pm.
• If I’m working from home, I don’t mind what time people turn up. I’ve had those arrive soon after breakfast who have had to leave to organise a surprise party – and others who have turned up at 10pm, ready to crash before an early morning breakfast meeting.