Never trust anyone who lists “travel” as their hobby—even if it’s just on a resume. For my money, give me the dead-eyed college grad who put their dodgeball team as “organizational experience.” When offered a choice between two liars, I always take the one with the better story.
Nobody likes “traveling”—they’re just happy to be here, in a new place, where everything is novel and any faux pas can be buffed out by self-effacing admission of your origins.
Traveling is a process of disruption and displacement. You left at 3PM. You’ve landed. It’s still 3PM. Did your luggage make the flight too? Will it join you in this strange and horrible place, where a single slice of pizza is $10; isn’t this city in a recession? Make eye contact with the customs man but don’t make small talk; they’ll search your bag. Again.
Only another flying metal tube, a giant box with wheels, and a distracted night porter to go before you can curl up with a $20 bottle of water in a bed with sheets that had all texture or comfort washed out of them many, many weary guests before you.
Those of us who depend on traveling, to sustain relationships or perform job-like duties, must adapt to make our own comfort in the face of constant disruption and degradation.
So: I had rough threesome sex in your basement guest room, did naked yoga along to Tommy Boy on VHS, and drank the whole carton of soy milk—on purpose.
I realize this doesn’t reconcile well with your vision of “retiring for a quiet night post-lecture.” I don’t believe I deceived you. I did come back to your unit after my lecture, and there was a lot of “quiet discussion about social justice and scarves”—the scarves just weren’t for keeping warm. And may have contributed to the quietness.
You seem like good enough people; surely you can take some solace in knowing that we did watch Wreck-It Ralph with the intent of viewing it through a lens of “allusion to the Palestinian struggle.” You’re not monsters.
I suspect you knew all this though. We put our trust in each other, for me not to smash your valuables and you not to barge in while I slept. That trust, and one that yielded reciprocal affections between two people who may never meet again, is profound in a world that at times feels like it’s caving in on its own apathy.
Still: no bond of trust could convince me that you didn’t give in to your curiosity and look through my trash to find out what I’d really been up to. Just as I idly pulled out all the drawers in the room to see if you’d “accidentally” left me any porn or board games.
Airbnb can be amazing. It allows for travelers an alternative from the sterile, oft-overpriced “hospitality industry.” It gives the human touch to what many find a dehumanizing experience.
Airbnb also challenges the livelihoods of an industry’s worth of laborers, doesn’t contribute its fair share of taxes to respective local economies, and affords untrained and inexperienced people (i.e. you) an avenue to be invasive and even harmful to strangers.
Hotel staff are not wholly invested in why you’re staying in their hotel. If I’m not there for the local Event of Interest, and don’t need directions, thus ends their preoccupation. I take it for granted that I’ve been assumed to be a fetishist in town for discrete pursuit—by the time staff have rendered an opinion on me and my motives, I’ve already reserved and paid for my room. I have never been turned away from a hotel, nor have I, more specifically, been turned away because my reasons for being in The City or Town do not check out with their standards.
When I applied to stay in your basement, I was asked to tell you about my trip. About myself. This gives a surface appearance of personability, but in practice it is a method of screening. If three people contact you to rent the room on the same day, you can choose who to rent to based on who you like better.
Airbnb required I provide government ID and my Facebook account; you had a very intimate idea of who I was and what you might/not like about me. I’m gladsome and grateful that you didn’t find my name “too white trash” (per an ex-girlfriend) or my gender identity “too distracting” (per an ex-employer)—but what if you had?
Ignoring, briefly, that screening people effectively requires anyone part of a maligned community/identity to lie to you (out of habit, out of fear for their safety), you and your fellow purveyors want to participate, want to compete, with the hotel industry but don’t want to be held to the same standards.
If a hotel discriminates against me, I may have grounds to sue. If you decide someone is too gay or too black to rent from you, they have no real recourse. The “sharing economy” puts the locus of accountability on the agent (i.e. you) and not on the service which arranges the exchange. Airbnb is not responsible for your actions, so even if I could prove that you screen for “non-desirables,” Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy makes it clear that I’d have to sue you—if where you live even has actionable laws protecting people like me.
And the reviews—it’s a compelling concept, to not let me see your review of me before I finish mine of you, but this puts me in a position where I risk having my status or movements outed to the entire Airbnb community as I unwittingly work myself in a frenzy trying to stretch out “the room was clean and it’s clear you paid your bills and I appreciate that” into 400 words.
You chose not to wield it, but you held disproportionate systemic power over me in a time and place I was vulnerable.
Thus I dismiss any guilt I’d have over the loud sex I had beneath you, or the self-gratification indulged in your bathroom, or pacing around naked, occasionally rubbing the lotion you provided onto my skin, until the very last minute before I had to check out.
If you want to compete with hotels, then you need to offer comparable service, i.e. a space for people to indulge in loud, gross sex followed by excitable film critique.
Several trips ago, my host’s roommate overheard us having sex and called for the police. After we sent them away, convincing them of our consensual relationship, the roommate took to Twitter to tell corporate accounts and coworkers of the scare we had given them.
As long as people like them exist along the roads of our travels, we will have need for hotels. And as your “sharing economy” replaces them, the duty of shutting up and looking the other way as people engage in joyous trysts (sometimes planned a year in advance) shall fall on you, gentle Airbnb host.
If you don’t want to deal with discarded condoms and fuck fumes, there is good news: there exists a whole strata of labor devoted to this very task! I’m sure they could stand some work outside “the industry.”
Or you could let people opt out of the cleaning fee if they bus their own sex-palaces, easing the sting of the inevitable upcoming $12 airport muffin.