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  1. Road trip California! Up the Pacific Coast, down the central state: My dream vacation will become a reality next spring, thanks to Airbnb. I’ve saved $140 a month from my Airbnb earnings since March. By next March, I’ll have $1680, which will cover my California sojourn – as long as I stay at other Airbnbs.

    Traveling my own state will make me a better host. Before I started hosting, I explored my own city a bit, so I could pass on helpful tips to my guests. I’ve continued to do this. But I notice that nearly half of my guests plan to explore California beyond Los Angeles. I’ve lived in Los Angeles all my life, but I haven’t seen as much of the state as I’d like. I want to travel the length of beautiful Highway One. I’ve been to San Francisco, but I’ve never been to Haight-Ashbury. I think I saw the Northern California redwoods from an airplane when I was ten. Joshua Tree? I’ve never been. Morro Bay? I can’t wait to go back.

    Like many travelers, I have my own offbeat destinations, too. I’ll see natural wonders and stone prisons and flower children. I really want to visit the prisons at San Quentin and Folsom, because Johnny Cash recorded albums there. That music is a touchstone of my youth. And, I need to pass through Lebec, a dusty town in central California with nothing to recommend it but a personal memory. In college, some friends and I stopped at a diner in Lebec on our way to a camping weekend. It was in Lebec, dear reader, that I realized I liked Biff better than Artie. Yes, those are their real names, and I need to see if that diner still exists some 25 years later. I do it for Biff.

    I traced the route on a map and looked for Airbnbs at every stop. My first destination? Beautiful Morro Bay, where I’d visited a decade ago. The incredible Morro Rock, which stands guard in the Bay, looks serene and magical. And, nearby Montana de Oro features gorgeous wildflowers and easy hiking right off the sand.

    I had certain criteria when searching out Airbnbs. My price range varied from $35 to $90, INCLUDING cleaning fee and any taxes, but not including Airbnb’s percentage. I wanted to stay close to the low end of the price spectrum but I knew that, for a 2-week road trip, I’d want at least 2 places with better accommodations. Here and there, I thought, I’d want to spring for an entire place, not just a private room, so I could catch my breath and feel like I really was on vacation. Now, should my first stop be a top-dollar Airbnb? No.

    In looking for suitable Airbnbs, I realized I had a lot of specific requirements beyond just price. I wanted hosts with a lot of reviews – at least 60 -- hosts who’d been in the game for a while and had fine-tuned their hosting styles. I can learn from them. And, these hosts had longevity and would still be around next March. I also looked for listings with several House Rules – not an overwhelming list, just enough to show that the host was thoughtful and conscientious, and that she had reasonably high expectations of guests. I didn’t want to choose some place with rules like “Don’t party too hard,” or simply “Enjoy your stay!”

    I looked for listings with moderate cancellation policies, security deposits no higher than $200, and low cleaning fees.

    And I looked for Superhosts.

    There’s a rumor among savvy Airbnb hosts that guests don’t care about that little Superhost badge. Guests mostly look at photos and price, and too many guests don’t read our full listings. Still, there’s value to the Superhost status. I know that many Airbnb hosts deserve that badge and are just short of having it, but I also think it’s an efficient way to help decide between two similar listings. If given a choice, I do prefer to stay with a host who has an excellent commitment rate and a lot of 5-star overall reviews. I’ll be traveling by myself. I don’t want to risk having a reservation cancelled.

    So I decided that my first choice was a private room for $65,with Kim:


    Two nights in Los Osos, just a couple of blocks from Morro Bay. On my first full day, I’ll head up to Hearst Castle. Yay! Never been there! Check it out:


    This magnificent estate is a tourist destination, to be sure, but I'm okay with being a tourist for part of my trip. Hearst Castle is the stuff of Hollywood dreams.

    After two nights in Morro Bay, I want to head up Highway One to Big Sur and the Monterey Bay. However, I can’t find a lot of Airbnbs in my price range, even in the outskirts of Monterey. The average price for an Airbnb in both Big Sur and Monterey is $230, and, although I found a Superhost with a private room for $69, I realized the smartest thing is to go straight to San Francisco. I’ll need the money for pricey Haight Ashbury. I can stop off in Big Sur long enough to soak in the atmosphere.

    Haight Ashbury, San Francisco. Center of gravity for hippies worldwide, and home to the beautiful “Painted Ladies:” the small but stately Victorian homes, with their bright colors and intricate woodwork. In the late 1950s, poets and musicians who couldn’t afford to live elsewhere gravitated to cheap rooms in these lovely homes. Hippies followed suit in the 1960s, and the counterculture movement flourished in the Haight’s craggy streets. Those classic old houses inspired flower-child clothing of granny dresses and paisley shawls. Cool! I want to pose for pictures in front of the house where the Grateful Dead lived. I want to see where the hippies hung out!

    Apparently I’m not alone in that goal. Average Airbnb prices in Haight Ashbury and the adjacent Castro district? $200. (Low-end hotel rooms run about $240.) Searching these neighborhoods, I notice a phenomenon that I’ve seen elsewhere on Airbnb: the Business Host. You've seen this person. It's the type of host who approaches Airbnb with a fundamental economic principle: Make the greatest profit with the smallest investment of money and time. We all keep this principle in mind, because Airbnb is our business, but we don’t hold onto it at the expense of the niceties of hosting. We’re happy to set out some gourmet chocolates, even though M&Ms might provide a better return on our investment. Or, we don’t mind putting off an errand, so that we can be home to greet guests.

    The Business Host, however, typically has several listings and doesn’t give his guests, or his spaces, the personal touch. Looking for something in my price range, I found two such Business Hosts in Haight-Ashbury. One has six private-room listings with over 500 reviews, and there’s not a single 5-star rating for any category, in any listing. That’s hard to accomplish. I avoided this host’s listings. Another Business Host has more than 200 reviews for his one listing, but it’s a small, icky-looking room with shared bath, at $90. So, I felt lucky upon finding Superhost Brenda’s private room, at $69, with more than 200 reviews and five stars across the board. Sweet!


    I have to do three nights in San Francisco, since I want to explore the Haight and the Mission District, see Golden Gate Park, and of course, visit San Quentin Prison. Maybe “visit” isn’t the right word. I don’t happen to know any inmates there. I’m going to drive by, listening to that old Johnny Cash record, and recreate in my mind the feeling of togetherness I felt as a child, singing along with my family to those prison songs. I’ll tell my host, Brenda, about that little visit. I wonder if she’ll be surprised.

    When I leave San Francisco on Friday, I’ll head to Mendocino, four hours along Highway One, on the incredible Pacific Coast. I’m mindful of my budget, and this tiny cabin on a farm looks rustic and charming, but I don’t think I want to take a shower outside:


    I also don’t like the idea that the host’s name is “Pegasus Farm.” (He does give his name as Steve in his profile, though.) The child looks rather sullen, too. I counted out another listing because of its three-day minimum stay, and a third listing because the host himself looked a little sketchy. Here’s a better option: a room in a beachside cottage for $75 a night.


    That’s the place! I like Rhoda, even though I’ve yet to meet her. She’s one of those hosts whose personality shines through her listing.

    I’m set for the first week of my trip, and after that? The Redwoods are calling, but I’ll have to stay somewhere other than an Airbnb for my next stop. Am I “cheating” on Airbnb? In my next post, I’ll let you know how I resolve this inner conflict and how I plan to get myself back to Los Angeles.

    Photo: Wikipedia

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c 2015 by author
    Jackson likes this.
  2. I have my house back. My first in-home guest left on Sunday, and today is Tuesday. Today, all the little quirks I’ve been hiding are exposed, and I’m happy. I can walk around half dressed, and I can put back in the guest room all the junk that I had crammed into my bedroom. My cats once again have the run of the place. I can sleep with my bedroom door open and wake up when I please…until my next guest arrives this Saturday.

    Do I have the temperament to host in home? The initial experience rattled me, but perhaps I can learn from it. I’ve identified some problems during this first booking, and I’ll have to find strategies to fix them before welcoming my next guest. First, I need to consider that guideline “Work smarter, not harder.” Lately, I haven’t stopped to reflect on how I can better use my time to improve my experience as well as my guests’. Next, I have to establish a sanctuary for myself. Not just a room, but a retreat. When my guest was here, I felt the loss of privacy more sharply than I had expected. I escaped to my room, or my car, or a friend’s place. Ultimately, however, we can’t escape home. If we’re not lucky enough to leave town, how can we make ourselves feel at home – at home?


    I made a serious mistake while hosting my in-home guest: I paid less attention to the guests in my separate studio. Ignoring one guest because I’m preoccupied with another guest? Not acceptable. I have to streamline my approach to both Airbnbs if I want to stay on top of the details.

    As hosts, most of us analyze the job we do as we go along. We discover what works, and we fix what doesn’t. For example, I added more dish towels when I realized a certain guest had used all three in just two days. And, I know I’m not the first host who started putting out makeup wipes for guests, so that anything white is less likely to be stained. Yet, there are specific issues to each Airbnb, and it's worth the time to consider them.

    I get rave reviews about my gorgeous yard, but I also know that I could keep it cleaner. Case in point: I have a Spanish pear tree – a least, that’s what I’m told it is, although the fruit is round as an apple and mushy as a banana. Spanish pears are plentiful in summer and beloved by squirrels. They’re delicious! And, the fruit is so soft and sticky, when one drops from the tree, SPLAT!! It’s a gooey mess that sticks to my decorative river rocks, not to mention my outdoor furniture or the shoe of any hapless guest who may walk on it.

    To curb the mess, and reduce the presence of fruit flies, I’m going to start picking the fruit when it’s still on the tree, unripe. I can throw them away or add them to my neighbor’s mulch pile. I’ve never picked them, because I theorized that the best, ripest fruits fell before being picked. However, I only eat one or two a week, and when they’re in season they fall off the tree at a rate of ten per day. Every morning, I put on rubber gloves, grab a roll of paper towels, and set to gathering the remnants of Spanish pears. No more! I’m going to get up that step ladder and pick them before they drop and make a mess. I’ll literally nip the problem in the bud.

    I also thought about the guide book that I keep on the table in the studio. I’m proud of it, with its colorful maps and neatly typed descriptions of local spots. Yet, I often need to add to it. I’ve got some pages that I keep in my home, such as a map showing local bus stops, but I only put that in the studio when I have guests without cars. But what if it saves me time just keeping these pages in the studio? And, I don’t have my House Rules printed up in my guide book or any place else in the studio. I ask all guests to confirm that they’ve read the house rules on my listing before they arrive. I don’t like the idea of posting rules everywhere. Yet suppose that, by doing so, I save myself some grief?

    I wanted the guide book to be small, so it would be easy to use and wouldn’t crowd up the table. However, maybe it’s smarter to have a medium-sized binder on the bookshelf, with maps, bus info, and house rules all together? I know hosts who do this, but it seems so cumbersome to have a big book for guests to wrestle with. Yet, it makes sense. I’d have all the information in one place, and it will be up to the guests to go through it. I’ll even put in subject dividers, so that guests can immediately turn to “Local Bus Stops” if they want. The binder will take a lot of work and may turn out pretty bulky, but if it saves me time, it’s worth it. And if it keeps guests aware of my house rules – even better!


    Boy, I wish I could knock out a wall and build a separate entrance for my guests! I really envy hosts whose houses are laid out in a way that’s conducive to hosting. My duplex is small, but that’s not the biggest problem. How I wish the guest room were at the back of the house, with a separate entrance! Really, if the layout were different I’d be more comfortable with a guest in the place.

    For example, when I’m home in the evenings I love to spend time in my living room, to watch TV, read, or play guitar. But my living room takes up half the house, and the only way to get to the bedrooms or kitchen is through the living room. If I’m sitting in the living room, I feel like I’m taking up the whole duplex. And, some guests might feel as though they’re barging in on me, even if I tell them to come and go freely through the living room. I would tell any guest that they are welcome in the living room, that they can change the channel. Yet, guests don't always tell you if a certain situation makes them uncomfortable. If I were the guest I’d be okay, but some people might feel as though they’re walking through my private space just by passing through the living room. Could I build a wall to create a TV room, separate from the living room? Can I remodel? No. I could afford to remodel my home only if it were a Lego set.

    So, how can I re-purpose the space so it works better for hosting? I’ll have to do what I’ve resisted: buy another TV for my bedroom. It’s such a simple solution, but it’s one that I’ve avoided. To me, having multiple televisions means you’re watching too much TV. Yet, I want guests to feel that they, too, can use the living room as they wish. And, I don’t want them to feel like they’re trespassing when they’re there! I’m getting another TV.

    If I spend more time in my little bedroom, I have to make it more appealing. Once again, my first thought involves knocking out walls. I’d like to add some square footage to my bedroom, but if I can’t afford it, I’ve got to work with what I have.

    How about seeing myself as a guest? How would I change my private room if it were offered to guests? I’d invest in bright new bedding, I’d re-paint the dusky rose walls, and I’d add fresh flowers. I can do all these things for myself. Why not? What is stopping me? I’ll probably continue to host on Airbnb for many years to come, so why not make some modest investments in my own private space?

    And, I’ll have to get out more. Hosting in home really makes you look at your own lifestyle. I’m much too complacent, happy to sit around at home rather than go out partying as I did in my distant youth. Yet, why not engage that side of myself again? Why do I turn down dinner invitations before even finding out where we’re eating? I’ll tweak my lifestyle as well as my workstyle – I suspect it will be good for me.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author
  3. The sky is falling, and I don’t think my current guests will rally and help me hold it up. I have an uncooperative couple in my studio and a too-chatty young woman in my front room. I can’t keep my house together. I feel trapped. It’s Airbnb Hell Week.

    What changed? Just last week I felt plucky and positive. In my last blog entry, I seemed so upbeat. All that talk of the personal side of hosting, of inspiration for kindness – what’s happened to my attitude after just one week?

    I have my first in-home guest, a sprightly 22-year-old named Dalya, whose youth and enthusiasm endeared her to me when she first arrived a week ago Sunday. After just a day or two, though, Dalya was comfortable enough to work my nerves, telling me the details of her life. I could hardly get a word in. I should have been happy that she was enjoying her summer job in LA, but I felt like a camp counselor. The difference was that I couldn’t possibly try to enforce Quiet Time at 7 pm.

    Dalya’s a nice person and a good guest, who washes her own dishes and keeps quiet when I’m sleeping. Still, couldn’t she keep a bit quieter when I’m awake?

    From the start of this booking, I was a nervous geek, unable to adjust to an in-home guest. I felt responsible for her, more so than my other guests or my long-term tenants. After deciding to host in my house, I had tried to prepare in advance for the impact on my lifestyle, but, as with most situations, I couldn’t foresee every problem. I hadn’t had time to store all the stuff I’d moved out of the guest room. It ended up in my bedroom. The walls closed in. In the bathroom, I hadn’t figured out how to add more towel racks. So, I hung my bath towels on the dresser drawers in my bedroom. I tried to make it work, but I couldn’t calm down.

    A few days after Dalya checked in, my house became infested with fleas. She didn’t bring them, of course: I have a dog and three cats, and lots of squirrels in the yard. I face infestations at least once per summer. The fleas don’t bother me much. This time, however, I had a paying guest, and I was mortified. I doused my pets with flea medication, but the fleas didn’t subside, so I called in the pros to treat the whole interior, and I warned Dalya in advance.

    It felt so strange, letting the pest control guys into what was now Dalya’s room. Oh, I got quite sentimental! Love the window view! Here’s the old table where I used to paint! I couldn’t spend much time there, seeing as how it was now Dalya’s private space and the pest guys were about to spray poison on the floor. I missed having that room, though.

    And, I didn’t feel like myself. I worried about every little thing. Having someone in the house made me so conscious of the coffee cup I left on the kitchen table, or the blouse I tossed on a chair. It was hot that week, and I wondered if I should have installed an air conditioner in the guest room. Dalya had come to LA for a new job, and each morning she was up and gone early, returning around six in the evening. Even in her absence, I couldn’t relax.

    I kept my pets, and the litter box (YUCK!), in my room overnight, so that Dalya wouldn’t have to worry about cats slipping out the front door when she left for the day. That, however, led to other problems. With all the assorted junk in my bedroom, the cats managed to knock things over, usually in the middle of the night. Somehow they knocked down their heavy glass water bowl. Loud bang. Would they wake up my guest? They didn’t, but they left a brownish stain in the shape of Australia on my once-clean carpet. Why does water leave stains?! I decided to place their water bowl on the floor. Clever! The next morning, they knocked my bath towel into it. They also broke a favorite vase, and they knocked down a stack of books.

    Dalya seemed fine. I just couldn’t get used to another person in my home, and I didn’t always feel like hearing about her day. I was a nervous, inadequate host, but she didn’t seem to notice.

    By Monday night I really needed an escape, but my favorite retreat – my best friend’s back yard – was no option, as he was out of town. I huddled in my crowded 10” by 12” bedroom. I binge-watched “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” on my tablet. I blasted the fan.

    How had I managed, decades ago, to live in a house with six other girls? This Airbnb thing was a young person’s game. I hadn’t had a roommate since Ronald Reagan was president, and I wasn’t adjusting well.

    I had no guests in my studio for Tuesday, so I decided to retreat there in the evening. I could crank the air conditioner and get a start on prepping the place for my Wednesday guests.

    Then, at 4 pm, our power went out. Oh no! The heavy heat, no air conditioner or fans, no TV to distract me from my worries. And, did I mention that the fleas had returned?

    Dalya came home, unruffled by the blackout. She made dinner (splattering grease for me to clean later,) and I sat with her. Candles flickered; fleas re-settled on my dog. The night got hotter.

    I herded my pets and went to bed, but I couldn't sleep. The electricity was still out; I had fleas all over the place; I was trapped in my little room with a battery-operated lantern and a couple of cheap candles. And three cats. The lights came back on at 2:30 am, and I thanked the heavens and turned my fan up high.

    My next guests for the studio were due to check in at 3 pm on Wednesday. I had a blackout hangover – the after-effects of ten hours in the dark, disconnected from the world. At least the weather had cooled some. Then, Wednesday at 2:40 pm, the guests were at my front door. Normally I’d have no problem with guests arriving twenty minutes early. This time, however, I felt worn out and frustrated, still waiting for towels to dry and still needing to give the studio a final check. I was irritated, but I tried not to show it. I got myself together, greeted them smilingly, and showed them to their space. But I worried that I had initially come off as annoyed. Michelle, the woman, reminded me of someone…

    “I’ve got it!” I exclaimed. “You look like the actress Rebecca de Mornay!”


    “Rebecca de Mornay! She played the psychotic nanny in that thriller, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle!”

    “Oh, well, don’t worry,” said Michelle. “I’m not a psychotic nanny.”

    I could see the review already: “When we met, Carolyn seemed annoyed, and she compared me to a psychotic nanny.” I remembered that de Mornay had also played the prostitute in Risky Business. Should I have mentioned that instead?? Either way, I don’t think my comment went over well. I resisted the temptation to Google the actress and show Michelle that I was actually complimenting her.

    Michelle and Joe managed to break a few minor house rules: they used my tenants’ private outdoor area, and they left the side gates wide open. They ran the air conditioning late into the night, when it had already cooled down outside. But at least the power had returned before they arrived, and they always seemed content when I checked on them.

    Then late Sunday night, as soon as they got back to the studio, they launched into a screaming fight. It was after midnight – what do I do?

    She: “You’re pig-headed! You won’t even [bleeping] listen to my opinion!!”

    He: “Well, you’re from a small town!” (delivered as a serious insult)

    I’d had problem guests before, but this was the first time I was faced with a screaming match after midnight. How do I handle it? I worried about my tenants, my neighbors, my other guest. Luckily, they quieted down after about five minutes – and then I heard the air conditioner blaring. Temperature outside? 65 degrees.

    Meanwhile, Dalya found a place in time for her check-out date this Sunday. She cuddled with my dog and said, “I’m going to miss you so much!!” She was talking to the dog, I should note. She didn’t seem interested in me or my house or the little things I’d done to make hers a comfortable stay. It’s okay, though. She’s young. She’ll soon have a new roommate to talk to.

    I don’t know what’s been tougher this week, the big-deal problems like the power outage and the fleas, or the tiny annoyances that poked away at me. I think it’s the little things, the crashing vases and the spattered grease. The little things kept me on high alert for several days. Did my nervousness affect my guests? I don’t think so. But I won’t know for sure until I read everyone’s reviews.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author
    Castle Woman and Matt S like this.
  4. “I’ve learned so many things from guests. I’m loving it.”

    “Airbnb, you made the month of June a precious one….”

    --Host comments from Airbnb groups

    Airbnb hosts love to talk about how much they’ve learned from guests and what magical experiences they’ve had. I never understood this. Of course, like all of us, I’ve had wonderful interactions with guests. I’ve enjoyed finding out about other cultures and people’s hobbies and occupations. But have I really learned anything profound? Has any guest ever made my life “precious?”

    Maybe I think I don’t need to learn anything. After all, I’ve been around for five decades. I speak three languages, I’ve traveled, and I’ve had friends and colleagues from many places, with different viewpoints and lifestyles. Really, what can I learn from travelers who stay at my Airbnb for a few nights? When I hear hosts rave about how Airbnb enriches their lives, I may agree, but inside I’m thinking in practical, even cynical terms. Sure, I love hosting, and I enjoy my guests, but I mainly view Airbnb as a job. It’s a terrific job, but I do it to help pay my mortgage.

    Some hosts speak with religious zeal about hosting. The word “blessed,” or some form of it, appears a lot in Airbnb groups:

    “We’re blessed – four years of hosting and meeting amazing people from all over the world!”​

    “It’s been a very exciting experience hosting. Host blessings to all!”​

    “Thanks Airbnb for teaching me many things … Such a wonderful experience. We so love what we do and I pray to God that it will continue and for other hosts to have the joy we are experiencing. God bless every one!”​

    I guess I should thank that last host for praying for me, but isn’t she going a bit overboard?

    Was I too smug, thinking I couldn’t benefit more from interactions with guests? Was I missing something?

    It only occurred to me recently: yes, I was missing something. I hadn’t ever considered how very personal the host and guest exchange is. The whole reason we’re interacting at all is very intimate. It’s not about meeting amazing people. We can join an online chat room and meet a stranger we like. The lessons of hosting go beyond just, say, discovering that stranger from Lithuania who also loves Frank Sinatra. What really makes hosting unique is that we provide a basic human need: shelter. If we look past the handmade soaps and homemade muffins, what do hosts do? We give people a roof over their heads, a bed, and a bathroom. I enjoy the extras as much as any traveler, but what’s most on my mind when I reach a destination? I get to wash my face and lie down.

    What does it mean to provide a stranger with this elemental need? We all love that feeling when a guest enters our place and immediately says, “Oh, this is great!” The guest is responding to the basics. A comfortable bed, clean towels, perhaps a place to cook. Providing someone with a place to sleep means we’re helping them along on their journey. It’s a tiny contribution. However, think about the little things we all do to ensure that those basic needs are covered. We tiptoe when we know our guest may still be sleeping. We worry whether we’ve left enough coffee. And, as a host, I realized once that I had forgotten to stock extra toilet paper. I panicked in that moment, more than I had at any time in my Airbnb experiences. You know the feeling, and you also know that I ran right out and replenished that TP. I think about the essentials more than I think about a smooth check-in or even a great review. The bed needs to be comfortable, the supplies stocked.

    Everything comes down to the most personal of needs: a place to stay.

    As I thought about this essential fact, I got a text from my guest, who arrived ten minutes ago. My first thought: “Oh, no, she’s going to say that the wi fi is down.” It wasn’t that at all. She wrote: “Thank you so much for the fresh fruit and water bottles! So kind of you!”

    In this note, she called me “kind,” but the real kindness came from my guest, who took the time to thank me for what is just my ordinary procedure. The K word. Kind. Where else had I just seen that?

    I looked back at the quote from the Airbnb host who’s out there praying for me. There’s more to what she says:

    “Just remember an act of kindness is a ripple that can make the world a better place.”

    The Airbnb host who wrote this is Tess, a Superhost in San Antonio, Texas. Her statement is the sort of gushy remark I would normally pass right over. But I think she is on to something. She seems to know that offering a place to sleep brings out the kindness in us all. That is why some of these hosts talk the way they do, about blessings and miracles and precious moments. It’s the satisfaction of providing a place to stay, and knowing that maybe you’ve helped someone as they flow along in life.

    Lead with kindness. That’s the first step. Carry kindness, and pass it on, like the flu. No, that’s not right – I can’t come up with the correct phrase! I would never be any good at writing sentimental greeting cards. I just know that adding the extra dose of kindness makes our small contribution so much bigger. When you answer a basic need in someone, you’re caring for them in a unique way. For good hosts, this brings out the kindness, the sentiment. People are sleeping under our roofs, and we’re like caretakers. We have a simple responsibility – to provide shelter. Yet we go beyond, adding that bit of kindness that smooths out the travel experience.

    When guests arrive, I often find myself saying things I hadn’t necessarily planned to say: “So, you made it!” “Did you find the place okay?” “Can I help you with your bags?” It’s a nice touch, and it comes automatically, before my prepared statements about the wi fi password and the luggage rack. It’s an immediate kindness as we answer our guests’ immediate needs. We want to make sure they feel welcome and comfortable in a strange new place.

    This lesson on kindness – didn’t I know that already? Don’t most of us realize the value of treating each other kindly, no matter where we meet? Of course we do. The problem is that it’s so easy to forget to practice kindness. The other day, I walked into a store as an elderly woman was leaving. Of course, I held the door for her. Anyone would do this; it is instinctive. Yet, I’m glad I recognized that instinct. And, it helped to realize that I can consciously add an additional bit of kindness to my guest interaction. If I instinctively say “So, you made it!” I can consciously add, “I’m so glad you’re here!” Maybe that makes their arrival a tiny bit smoother. We’re all flowing through life, on our little journeys, and a dose of kindness keeps us from stumbling too often.

    So, I may not have guests who change my life, but I can be part of that flow: offering an extra bit of kindness, along with a roof over someone’s head, on another step in the journey.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author
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  5. (Dear Reader: In this entry I take to task a certain photographer, who just seemed rude and not helpful. I know that most Airbnb photographers are great people who do wonderful work. Maybe this one had dealt with too many difficult hosts. And, maybe I'm too sensitive. This story only reflects one experience with one person. Pamela is a pseudonym.)

    I had a bad feeling about Pamela, even before we met. Something in her tone, through our Airbnb email thread, made me feel that she was condescending and snobby. I had that uncomfortable feeling that we sometimes get with prospective guests, when the person seems difficult or demanding from the first email. But she wasn’t an upcoming Airbnb guest; she was the Airbnb professional photographer assigned to my new listing, the guest room.

    I requested photography two weeks before I’d have my house ready, so that I could set a deadline for myself. The impetus of a set time would at least put me to work preparing the space. So, I submitted my request and soon heard from Pamela. She explained that she couldn’t schedule a session two weeks in advance.

    >>>So sorry Carolyn but I can't keep a job open for two weeks as it blocks up my schedule & prevents me from doing work which is ready to go. See Airbnb notes on Photography Help. I will cancel the request. Please re-request when you're ready to commit to date/time. Thank you.

    Okay, it’s true that I should not have tried to schedule something so far in advance. But the email really bothered me. After my two successful years of hosting, who was she to point me to the Help Section? And is she questioning my commitment overall? I know that I overreacted. After all, Pamela’s note was really just informative, but I had the sense that I wasn’t going to like her much. It turns out I was right.

    As it happens, Pamela is also an Airbnb host. I was able to find out a bit about her through her profile: she worked for high-end magazines and had a lot of arty interests. And her listing! Hers was the type of Airbnb listing I’ve often envied: a deluxe, upscale offering with perks like a Jacuzzi and designer furniture. The title even mentioned “90210.” Like a high school girl with hand-me-down clothes, I compared my planned listing to hers. She had the designer home in the popular neighborhood, and she was coming to the poor side of town to photograph my lowly room.

    By the time I got my home ready for pictures, I no longer had the “request photography” link, so I called Airbnb. Airbnb sent me Pamela’s email and told me to contact her directly. I received this reply from her:

    >>>Sorry, but I'm not allowed to accept a job from you directly. The information that you were given is incorrect.

    Did she think I was trying to bypass Airbnb policy? We straightened it out and set a time, but I still felt compelled to email her a warning: my place, while clean, had a lived in-look, with lots of books and too many pets. Her response:

    >>>It really is best to make it a tidy as possible. Think of the pictures as your shop window. And I always think less is more....

    With these messages, I’m not sure if she thought I had sinned against Airbnb protocol or had offended her as a professional artiste. Either way, she wasn’t happy. I thought back to her listing, which included a sort of “price menu” for cleaning fees: the longer you stayed, the more you paid. Even for short stays, her cleaning fee seemed high. Now, I really do like to have an open mind before meeting people, but with Pamela, I already had her pegged as finicky and condescending.

    Our scheduled time came around. I had spent the preceding two weeks cleaning, organizing, hanging pictures, and storing all manner of stuff in my basement. Pamela arrived five minutes late, which didn’t bother me, as I had left myself plenty of time for the session. She had told me it would take 30 to 45 minutes.

    In she came, like a princess, wearing blue suede stilettos and holding a tripod for a scepter. Her attitude in person was as I suspected it would be: superior, unfriendly. She frowned slightly as she surveyed my tiny living room. Her first comment: “You should move that dog bed.” I told her I wanted the dog bed in the picture, because I wanted an accurate representation of what I offered. That seemed to touch a nerve for Pamela. She said, “When I first started taking photos for Airbnb, I used to help tidy up. Not anymore!” Was she issuing a warning? Of course I didn’t expect her to clean anything before snapping pictures! Did Pamela think I was going to ask her to vacuum and dust? As it was, I had the house in excellent order, but she looked around as though she was afraid to touch anything.

    Pamela set to work, snapping photos of the living room and kitchen. She worked quickly, and she took no notice of me. Then: “Where’s the bedroom?” I showed her to the guest room, and she closed the door behind her.

    I thought the photo session would be a cooperative effort, but Pamela didn’t include me. She didn’t ask which areas or items I wished to highlight. In fact, she didn’t even speak as she worked. She ignored me. Why should she chat with me? I was as superfluous as the cute but broken table lamp, sitting there trying to blend in.

    She came out of the guest room after perhaps five minutes. What had gone on in there? I had especially wanted to be present for the photos of that room, but I didn’t ask to join her. When she came out, she asked, “Any other areas you want me to photograph?” I led her to the back patio. She frowned at the crooked old brick steps, and she stepped carefully. What photographer wears 5-inch heels to work? The profession requires a lot of movement. I think Pamela was relieved when she finished outside. I opened the back door for her and she sort of swept in. I wondered if I should curtsy.

    Then Pamela left. She had been at my house exactly fifteen minutes.

    I went into the guest room to see if it still looked as great as I thought. Yes, the room was lovely – except for my slippers, forgotten on the floor. Oh no! Evidently Pamela hadn’t bothered to move them for photos. Or had she moved them, then put them right back? Then I peeked into the bathroom. What?! I had forgotten to remove the litter box! Why hadn’t Pamela mentioned it? I would have moved it immediately. Yes, people know I have cats from my listing description, but I intended to keep litter boxes outside, in the screened porch. Would I have to crop the litter box out of the bathroom photos? We’re probably not even allowed to crop an Airbnb Verified Photo.

    Shouldn’t Pamela have taken nine seconds of her time to tell me that my slippers were on the floor and that the cat box was in the frame? Yes, she should have, but I also should have taken the initiative and accompanied her as she worked. I had decided she was a mean girl, so I stayed away. In truth, she was unfriendly and brusque, but because I let that get to me, I’ll end up with some unusable photos.

    The incident made me long for a gentler time. Specifically, this time: May, 2013. That’s when a young fella named Corbin came out to photograph my first Airbnb listing. He was the first Airbnb employee I ever met, and he charmed me. From its start in 2008, Airbnb had laid claim to that ethos of "nice," a hallmark of the 21st century. Proponents of the Sharing Economy spoke of it as a grass-roots, hug-a-stranger movement, and Airbnb was at the forefront of the movement. Case in point: my first photography session, with the engaging, kindly, helpful Corbin.

    As soon as Corbin arrived, he offered suggestions and inspiration. We chatted; we moved vases; we arranged coffee cups and throw pillows. He admired the fact that I was home-sharing, and he loved using Airbnb when he traveled. A true beacon of the warm and welcoming new Sharing Economy—that was Corbin.

    I suppose I could have complained to Airbnb about Pamela. Even better, I could have spoken up when she was in my house, so that I could participate in the photo session. Really, though, I was just glad when Pamela left my house. I’ll use some of her photos, and I’ll take some more of my own if I need to. Airbnb offers photography only once every three years, per listing. That means that in another year, my studio will qualify for new photos! I’ll be sure to request Corbin.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author
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  6. Wow! I finally got a reservation request for my new listing! My second bedroom, with its beat-up old furniture and its closet the size of a coffin, generated a booking at last.

    When I saw the email informing me I had a request, I read the guest’s name: Dalya. Perfect! She must be from Russia! I was elated. I wasn’t happy only because I love Russian culture and it’s fascinating to meet guests from countries outside the United States. Yes, that part was true. But more than anything, my initial thought was that Cultural Immunity would kick in and hide all my idiosyncrasies.

    I came up with my theory of Cultural Immunity two decades ago. It’s the idea that, when we interact with someone from a different culture, our little quirks may be dismissed as something common to our culture. If someone from another country catches me singing along to someone else’s car radio, hopefully they’ll think it’s commonplace in the United States. For many years, I taught English as a Second Language to students from across the globe. Like any person who stands up in front of a group, I sometimes said the wrong thing or mispronounced a word, due to nervousness, or fatigue, or perhaps lack of preparation. I also had the unfortunate habit of giggling when I made mistakes. It occurred to me once: Maybe, when I say the wrong thing or giggle at the wrong moment, no one will notice. If I’m speaking to non-native English people, they won’t notice my mispronunciations. And, if I giggle for no reason, perhaps people will think it’s an American habit.

    Now that I have opened my home to guests from people from all over the world, I wonder: Will “Cultural Immunity” protect me?

    For example, how will my guests react to my habit of hanging clothes to dry in the living room window? Must I stop that when I am hosting someone? What about the fact that I sometimes eat cereal for dinner? Can I pass that off as an American thing? Suppose I put the cat food on the floor when I can’t find the bowl? And, is it considered rude in some cultures to channel surf constantly? Do I have to wash my dishes right away?

    Cultural Immunity works both ways. We can't be offended when a person from another country does something that Americans might think is odd. Once, a student from Afghanistan gave me antiperspirant for my birthday. Of course I smiled and thanked her. More recently, when I hosted a Norwegian couple in my studio, I gave them a tour of the lodgings and said, “I am here if you need anything at all! And, I…” “Good night!” said the man. What? Were they anxious to get rid of me? I’d only spent about five minutes with them. I wasn’t offended, though. I figured that they misunderstood whatever social cues I might have given. Yes, I was in the middle of a sentence, but their English wasn’t perfect. And, I was standing near the door. Perhaps they didn’t want to take up more of my time? If an American had cut me off in this way, I would have found it rude. A clear message: “Leave us alone!” Coming from my Norwegian guests, however, I granted them Cultural Immunity and didn’t let it bother me.

    So, the notion of Cultural Immunity can help smooth out the rough edges of personal interaction. We know that our feelings and practices differ from those of other cultures, so we can cut them some slack, and hopefully they will do the same for us.

    How far should we go in learning others’ cultural habits? We can’t possibly know everything; even if we’re well traveled and sophisticated, we may make a misstep. If we want, though, there are plenty of resources to draw on, including our own experiences. My favorite book on the subject is Multicultural Manners: Essential Rules of Etiquette for the 21st Century, by Norine Dresser (Wiley & Sons, 2005.) Ms. Dresser shares great knowledge on interpersonal behavior across cultural lines. Her tips are valuable to us as Airbnb hosts. And you probably know some of them.


    My guests arrive on time and find a great parking space. Thumbs up! No, not so much. That oh-so-American gesture of approval is considered rude in parts of the Middle East and in Australia. I think it’s safest not to go raising any fingers or thumbs if you’re not familiar with your guests’ culture. Not even a peace sign. If you don’t know the culture, don’t do it.


    A Korean couple seems to avert their eyes as I chat with them about my studio. They’re not looking at me, but they’re not looking around at the studio either. In the United States, we’re so accustomed to making eye contact when we talk. So, why aren’t these people looking at me? Well, it’s not an affront. In Korean culture, and in some Latin American countries, it’s a sign of respect not to look someone directly in the eyes. No reason to be offended. Should we avoid making eye contact with certain travelers? I’d say no. Do what comes naturally.


    I sometimes leave bright yellow sunflowers in my guests’ studio. What about my upcoming guest, a woman from Peru? No yellow flowers! Yellow flowers have negative meanings for people from Peru, Mexico, and Iran.

    Surely the white roses are a nice touch, then? Not if you’re welcoming a guest from China or another Asian country. White flowers may signify death.

    If I’m hosting someone from another country, I think I’d just stay away from yellow and white flowers.


    As I get ready to greet my Japanese guests, I choose four ripe oranges from my backyard tree to arrange in a bowl. A lovely gesture, right?

    No. Remove one orange! The number four is associated with bad luck and even death among many Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.


    As I greet my guests, two young women from Japan, they smile broadly and incline their heads. It’s just a slight gesture, a short bow from the shoulders. I do the same, and I lead them to the studio to show them around. Later, I wonder: Was it okay to return the nod? Sure.

    Most people know that it’s the custom of Japanese people to bow when they greet each other. I think it’s appropriate to return the bow, if you’re greeted that way. However, I don’t think we should bow first! Some of you may disagree here, but I think it’s safest to see how a Japanese guest greets us and follow their lead. I do NOT want to seem patronizing by copying their cultural habits. Besides, bows are complex. According to Ms. Dresser:
    *When bowing to people from Japan, the hands should slide down toward the knees or remain at the side.

    *The back and neck should be held in a rigid position, while the eyes look downward.

    *The person in the inferior position always bows longer and lower.
    I’d probably get it wrong.

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to know all these guidelines when hosting Japanese guests. And, bowing is less common among some younger, urban Japanese people.

    Some intercultural manners are pretty obvious. For example, we all know enough not to hug or kiss guests from other countries, unless they initiate it. For me, as an American, I think it's valuable -- and respectful -- to learn as much as I can about other cultures and traditions if I'm planning to visit other countries. However, as hosts, we can't possibly know everything about our guests' cultures. We all treat our guests with kindness and respect. I think it's okay if we make the occasional blunder.

    Meanwhile, I’ll be welcoming guests into my home now, so it’s a whole new level of intimacy – or distance. If I offer guests a snack, they may refuse it, and I can’t be offended because they may come from a country where accepting food from someone you just met is discourteous. On the other hand, what about cultures where houseguests always receive food? Will my little snack bowl and coffee suffice? What if a guest expects dinner on her first night at my home? Do I break out the corn flakes? Hopefully, my listing description is clear enough that guests won’t expect meals. Yet, we often improvise as hosts. I’d probably invite her to join me if I were preparing something more elaborate than a bowl of flakes.

    Having cereal for dinner isn’t my only idiosyncrasy. I’ve been known to blow-dry my hair on the back patio, with an extension cord. I sometimes wear my bedroom slippers on trips to the market. Hopefully, my in-home guests from other countries will understand. I’m fine if they assume I’m just a crazy American.

    Oh, and my first guest, Dalya? It turns out she’s from Boston. She’ll see right through me.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author
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  7. My new Airbnb listing is a flop.

    I’ve had my studio on Airbnb for two years, and it’s been a successful run. I’m booked at least 20 days a month, I have 5 star ratings in all areas, and I’ve got wonderful reviews.

    Recently, I had to reduce my work schedule for health reasons, but making up the lost income seemed easy. I could list my second bedroom on Airbnb! Now, mine is not a grand house. It’s a modest duplex, but it’s in a great area and features a lovely yard. I love hosting, and I’m generally great with people. Still, I knew my room would be a tough sell, for several reasons.

    My duplex is small, and it’s 90 years old. The front stairs are sturdy but uneven, and inside, the stucco walls have cracks. The ceiling shows the effects of water damage. All this is what realtors politely refer to as “cosmetic” damage. My house won’t fall down on me, but it shows its age.

    Also, I only have one bathroom, so the setup lacks that jewel in the Airbnb crown: the private bath. With just the one bathroom, I’d only feel comfortable accepting female guests. That cuts my booking opportunities in half. And, I’ve got three cats and a dog. They’re all very friendly, but how far does friendly go if you’re allergic?

    Now, I’ve saved the worst for last, because I can hardly confess it, but here goes: I’m a smoker.

    Any guest staying in my home would be a smoker, or at least someone who doesn’t mind cigarette smoke. My “good fit” guest is female, has no pet allergies, and probably smokes. I’d say I’ve got a potential guest in about eight percent of the human race.

    I realized that the biggest hurdle was the cigarette smoke. I hope to quit the habit, but I couldn't promise I would soon. Yet, I also figured that I could tap into a niche market. I know there are travelers who smoke! I prohibit smoking in my studio, but I have hosted many smokers; they just have to smoke in the upper yard. The Smoking Guest exists. Many countries have higher tobacco use than the United States. Don’t we always hear how common smoking is in Europe and Asia? And, as a smoker, you appreciate the convenience of being able to light up in your room.

    I knew I could make it work. I had the confidence of two years’ hosting and the strength of more than 200 stays behind me. I would succeed - as long as I planned carefully and found that niche.

    I also knew that, aside from the smoking, I had a lot of company on Airbnb. Many hosts list small, humble rooms in older houses. A great host with a so-so room can succeed. Great hosts are warm, welcoming people, and they can make even modest rooms appeal to budget travelers who like living in a casual, friendly environment.

    I set to work on my house. I did small repairs, patched up some wall cracks, bought new flatware, and got a TV for the guest room. It took weeks to organize the guest room well enough to photograph, since I’ve mostly used that space for storage. You may have a room like this too: it’s where scraps of gift wrapping go to die. I plowed through boxes of baseball cards, stacks of photos waiting to be put in albums, shoes I never wear.

    I wanted to list in time for the summer season. So, I cleared out rooms and added fresh touches to photograph them. Professional Airbnb photos yield the best results, but you wait three weeks to get them. If I wanted bookings for July and August, I needed to get the listing up!

    Like any good host, I looked through the eyes of a guest as I walked around my house. I reviewed my listing as if I were a traveler looking for a place.

    To me, my home is comfortable and cute. I’ve got some nice mid-century furnishings and lots of decorative touches, items I’ve picked up at vintage stores as well as the local Goodwill. When I bought the place in 2000, I hung 50s style flowered wallpaper in the kitchen to go with my classic O’Keeffe and Merritt stove. I didn’t realize just how sad that wallpaper looked until I saw the photographs for my new listing. Once a lovely cream and blue, the wallpaper now had a brownish cast that I could attribute to tobacco and occasional cooking.


    Not lovely. Yet, accuracy is key in your Airbnb listing. We receive star ratings for accuracy, and we want our guests to know what they’re getting. We need to meet their expectations. I would keep the wallpaper photo.

    I knew I had to list the room at a low price, so, toward the end of May, I posted it at $48. Two days passed. Nothing, nada, zip. No interest. I de-listed the room and re-worded some of my captions. That sad looking wallpaper? I called it “vintage.” Not a lie. I posted the listing again, this time at $44.

    I left it up at that price for a week, and again I got nothing, not so much as an inquiry. I changed the rate to $39 – and I’m in an area where, on Airbnb, the private room rate averages $80 per night. Boy, I expected a lot of interest at $39! Days passed, and once again – nothing. I needed a new plan.

    I realized I had to go further to counteract the negative qualities in my home. Instead of studying similar listings, I decided to see what the high-end rooms were up to. With so many shortcomings, perhaps my little room needed the luxuries and special touches usually found only in $120 per night en-suite master bedrooms. Could I keep the price low, but do more to offset the negatives? Maybe the secret lay in those complimentary bright white terrycloth robes that some hosts provide. I couldn’t afford that. They would cost more than a two-night stay. Nor was it cost effective to provide spa-quality shampoo and hand-made soaps. I couldn’t manage daily luxuries, but could I invest in some permanent improvements? Could I find a meeting place between dingy and brilliant?

    I examined some of those pricey room listings, focusing on successful ones. Besides a private bath, I found these common attributes:

    *Swimming pool

    *Seating area in the guest room

    *An array of spices in the kitchen

    *Original artwork

    *Two-story house

    I couldn’t build a swimming pool, much less add a second floor to my house, just to capture that $39-per-night guest. I certainly couldn’t knock out a wall for more seating space –that would extend the room into my neighbor’s driveway. That left the spices and the artwork.

    I’m not one to believe that if I wish upon a star, my room will be booked. Yet, I think there’s some truth to the idea of putting positive energy out into the universe. That positive energy, in my case, would come from my wallet. I decided to upgrade my kitchen spices and to invest in some good quality cookware. I really liked the idea of photographing a prepared meal, but I knew I couldn’t cook well enough to offer meals, and I didn’t want my listing to be misleading.

    I’ve done some painting over the years, and my first thought was to do an abstract painting for the guest room, something simple but with colors that picked up the cheery yellow and green walls and the wildly patterned quilt. Here’s the abomination I came up with:


    It's even uglier in person.

    No. I had to invest in some nice wall art, a good quality reproduction of something by an actual artist.

    So, today I ordered a great wall hanging for the guest room. I found a cute spice carousel at a great price. Tomorrow I plan to buy some new cookware. And, I made an appointment with an Airbnb photographer. I’m going to take down my listing until the professional photos can go up. I wonder how that old wallpaper will look? I won’t have the listing back up until mid- summer, but it’s been made clear to me that I’m not missing out. My new little touches will turn this listing around!

    I hope.

    Perhaps I can cut down on cigarettes, and by this time next year I’ll be hosting in a smoke-free home!


    I’ll keep you posted.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author

  8. I had lost them.

    The lovely older German couple, ensconced in my Airbnb studio since Wednesday, hadn’t returned all Sunday night. Now it was Monday morning, and I wondered how I could have let them out of my sight.

    I began hosting on Airbnb in June, 2013, offering the little studio behind my Los Angeles house as a cozy alternative to a motel. Hundreds of guests have settled in here, and the added income has actually allowed me to keep my home. What a wonderful way to meet people! Visitors from around the globe have been so kind and appreciative. Certainly that was true of my German guests, Hanna and Georg.

    And now I didn’t know where they were. I panicked. I thought back to our last interaction, on Sunday morning. They had asked me about some exotic places on their California map: Joshua Tree, Sequoia National Park, Big Bear Lake. Hanna and Georg may have been well over 60, but they loved hiking in nature. Georg described activities to me in his halting English; I picked up “rock climbing” as a favorite sport. They pointed out the Amtrak train lines that crossed the state, and Hanna asked about Santa Barbara, where they hoped to go with their daughter.

    Omigosh! Their daughter was here in Los Angeles! But could I call her? What would I say? “Your parents are missing. They didn’t come home.” Hanna and Georg were healthy; they were smart; they could take care of themselves. Couldn’t they?

    Hanna and Georg had arrived late the previous Wednesday, taking public transit from Los Angeles International Airport to my Los Feliz neighborhood, but their arrival had been rocky. Georg had copied out my careful directions, but somehow they got on the wrong bus from Union Station downtown. They’d asked for help, but I guess they had trouble understanding the strangers they approached. When they finally arrived that Wednesday evening, they seemed frail and a bit bewildered by the cityscape around them.

    Right away, this kindly older couple struck a sympathetic chord in me and I felt protective of them. I wondered, had I made a mistake in my directions? Initially they hadn’t even found the bus stop and walked in a complete circle at Union Station. “We end where we start!” they told me. Should I have picked them up at Union Station? I felt guilty, thinking of the two of them in such unfamiliar surroundings. Downtown Los Angeles can intimidate even locals. As a host, I don’t offer pick-up service for my guests. Should I have made an exception for this couple?

    Anyway, they were here now. Once they relaxed a bit, they laughed about their difficulties, and they exclaimed that they loved my little studio. I, however, couldn’t get my bearings. My guilt evolved into anger at their daughter: she should have picked them up! Never mind the fact that, as a busy professional with two young children, she couldn’t get away to meet them. Hanna and Georg had assured her they’d be fine. I wasn’t fine. I was emotionally entangled with two people I’d known for ten minutes. And, I knew, even as I felt sympathy for them, that I had crossed a line. Who was I to feel angry at their daughter? And, wasn’t it presumptuous of me to feel sorry for them?

    Often, we hosts feel protective of our guests. Our sensitivity and helpfulness make us great at what we do. And sometimes we really do need to step in and help. In reality, however, most Airbnb travelers are hardy and resourceful. They don’t actually need us as much as we think they do. Yet I’ve felt that protective instinct so often! When two young Japanese women, just out of college, stayed with me on their first overseas trip, I worried that they’d get lost in Hollywood. Would it make sense to follow them discreetly, to insure that they’d be safe? And when my guests from Ottawa, Canada, set out for a day in Malibu, I had to restrain myself from running after them with a can of sunscreen. You can’t spray down your guests with sunscreen, no matter how high the SPF, if they don’t ask you to. They’re grownups, right? They know about things like sunburns.

    After hearing of Hanna and Georg’s adventures downtown, I felt relief that they had family close by. During their visit, though, they mostly relied on public transportation. Each morning, they would head off to explore the city. They gazed at the Hollywood Sign, and they spent an afternoon at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And I worried about them, making themselves understood in a strange city, navigating a transit system which had let them down when they first arrived.

    I could breathe more easily in the evenings, when they spent time at their daughter’s home nearby. She’d drive them back to my place at night, stopping in once to meet me. By their second evening, I found myself checking the front window every few minutes, hoping they’d make it safely up the front steps when they arrived. Yes, I had allowed my emotions to overtake common sense. Hanna and Georg spoke limited English and didn’t know Los Angeles, but that didn’t mean I had to worry. They managed the bus lines and found the tourist spots without complaint. They got along fine.

    Until they simply disappeared, that is.

    I was in my home when they set out around noon Sunday, and I acted on an impulse I’d felt before: I went to my door to watch as they walked down the block. Too late, I thought; they were already out of sight. I left a note and a little gift bag on their doorknob, with a book about Sequoia that I’d promised to lend them. I went on with my day. That evening, tempted as I was to watch for them, I distracted myself and watched television with a friend.

    Early Monday morning, I glanced out my window at their studio door. What?! The little note and gift bag still hung on their doorknob.

    They had never come back the previous night!

    I thought hard: no, I hadn’t heard them arrive the night before, but I’d had the TV on.

    Of course, they might not have seen the little bag I had left, but that wasn’t likely. Maybe they had simply stayed with their daughter. Perhaps she had picked them up on Sunday, and that’s why I hadn’t seen them walking down the block. Still, why hadn’t they let me know? They had told me details of their plans, although I’m afraid I didn’t fully understand them. Wanting to be polite, I would nod and smile as they talked, rather than simply asking them to clarify.

    What if they had decided to go off on their own to Joshua Tree? They could get lost in that lonely terrain, with the scary trails and winding, unpaved roads. Had they hopped on the Amtrak? Were they en route to Sequoia? How could they know what to pack for a trip like that? Had they rented a car? They’d never driven in California. It wasn’t safe.

    Certainly, I needed to call their daughter, but what was I to say without worrying her? And, wouldn’t she wonder what I was doing calling her in the middle of her work day to report two missing adults? I had no proof anything was amiss, and more important, it wasn’t my business, but I called their daughter and left a message.

    How do you sound casual when you leave a message to a stranger about their parents’ safety? Here’s how I managed it: “Hi Lisa, how are you? Call me!”

    Lisa got back to me within an hour; she wasn’t at work. She had taken Hanna and Georg to Santa Barbara the night before! “Didn’t they tell you?” Sure enough, she’d picked them up on Sunday, and together they’d driven up the coast. Those were their plans! Their reservation with me had included Sunday night, because they didn’t want to leave me with an unbooked night in the middle of their stay.

    Hanna and Georg hadn’t swerved off a winding road. They had visited sleepy Santa Barbara. Apparently, only my imagination had flown off a cliff. My guests were perfectly safe.

    And I put together what had happened. The day before, looking at Hanna and Georg’s California map, I had nodded and smiled as they explained some dates to me. I now realized: they had told me about going to Santa Barbara for a night, and I hadn’t understood. Worse, I hadn’t shown them enough respect to try to understand. I had wanted to be polite, as though they were too delicate to interrupt. Unconsciously, I had treated them as helpless foreigners who needed my protection. How wrong I was to project my perceptions onto them!

    Monday evening, when I finally heard Hanna and Georg come in by the side gate, I tried to assume a casual air, but I knew I stammered as I said hello, and I could feel that I was smiling just a little too much. There they were, unharmed, just tired from their side excursion.

    The truth is that, on seeing them, I wanted to kiss them. I’m glad I didn’t. I wasn’t their daughter; in reality, I didn’t even know them very well. I had to retain the friendly, calm attitude of an Airbnb host. So I kept my greeting to a hello and a smile, and I went inside quickly, before they could notice my tears of relief.

    Carolyn is a teacher & host.
    c. 2015 by author