Breaking up with Airbnb

It doesn’t always pay to be cheap. For example, when your idea of backpacking is carrying a light jacket, a book, and a bottle of water on a walk around the neighborhood, a hostel is probably not a good choice for a week-long vacation. If you’re afraid of strangers, couchsurfing is also a definite no-no. But mostly when you’re over 40 and carrying a 32″ duffel bag full of clothes, hammocks, snacks, and laptops, choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up is a bad idea. Choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up with bunk beds is an even worse idea. Choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up with bunk beds in a scary neighborhood is decidedly the worst idea ever.

Yes, that’s what we did. And we probably would have stayed except for the floor…and the door…and the smell…and maybe the view. Okay, from the minute we walked in to our Baltimore Airbnb, I knew we weren’t going to stay.

We chose our accommodations very carefully…just like we always do…weighing the pros and cons, along with the price. We knew going in that this particular rental was on the third floor. We also knew it was in an older building and that there were bunk beds (and an airbed). To top that off, we even knew that it was near a bad neighborhood. Given the price, we thought we could deal with those things, plus the reviews were outstanding. More than 100 folks gave it 5 stars and a good majority of the comments talked about how neat and clean the place was. It’s important to note here that CLEAN is a requirement for us.

I’m not sure how other people define clean but if a hotel floor was as stained as the floor in this Airbnb, it wouldn’t even have a 1 star rating! Yes, the linens were clean, the towels were clean, and the host had made an effort to get it ready for us, but when the first things you see are basketball sized stains in the carpet and baseboards so thick with dust that they were outlined in black, nothing else really matters.

In case you’re wondering about the other things I listed above – the front door wouldn’t open. It took us jiggling the key for 10 minutes to get inside. In this neighborhood, I thought a quick entry might be important. The smell – old building, mixed with stale air. The view – a 360 degree panorama of the aforementioned bad neighborhood.

That night we went to dinner at Ruby Tuesday and spent the entire meal online looking for a better place to stay. We ended up at the Holiday Inn, at 50% off the rack rate thanks to Hotwire. It’s a pretty swanky place…with a Keurig in every room and pillows labeled “soft” and “firm”. They even have a full hot breakfast and free cookies in the evening. Most importantly, it’s clean.

Yes, we’ve become one of “those people”.

I used to think my grandparents were old fuddy-duddies because they always traveled with their own pillows, their own coffee, and for a while, even their own toaster. Now I realize, their travels weren’t about trying to escape their home or their routine. They were out to see new things and they didn’t want to detract from the experience by being uncomfortable on someone else’s lumpy pillow, drinking someone else’s bitter coffee while eating someone else’s burnt toast.

This isn’t our first bad experience with cheap accommodations but I can guarantee it will be our last. Not because we’ve suddenly decided price isn’t important but because we’ve learned a more valuable lesson. It’s important that your travels become an extension of your everyday life, otherwise every trip will be miserable. If you don’t tent camp in your own home state, you’re not going to like tent camping in another one. (We learned that lesson last summer.) If you sleep in a queen-sized bed at home so you can snuggle your significant other, bunk beds make for a very long night. And if you can eat off your own floor at home, you’re definitely not going to like spending a week in a place you’re afraid to walk around in with socks on.

What about you? Have you had a bad experience with a hotel or Airbnb? What happened?

Lessons from the Side of the Road

Sunday started out with the usual questions, “What’s for breakfast?” and “What would you like to do today?” The first one, we easily answered with “apple pancakes” but the second question was a much harder one. We’re surrounded by endless opportunities but when it comes down to deciding, we are often stumped. It’s like our brains just go on strike. Do we spend the day at the lake? Should we go check on the garden? What about the pool? Or do we take the hammocks to the park and read? I’m firmly convinced that having too many choices leads to indecisiveness, which then leads to frustration.

After an hour or so of lazing about after breakfast, we decided to grab tacos and go to the park, followed by a few laps in the pool, and DIY haircuts in mom’s backyard, where we could also check on the garden. Mixing a little fun with a few chores sounded like a winner. With our bag of tacos in hand, we set off for the park. But the Universe had different plans.

Our car died in the middle of the street!

It was barely 3 months ago that our entire electrical system went out on the Xterra. Now here we were, dead in the road – halfway between our home and the park.

The spot where we pulled over was about 100 yards from the shop that usually fixes our car. If we weren’t on the wrong side of the hill, we might have just pushed it to the shop but instead, we waited for AAA. And ate our tacos in the car.

The thing that immediately struck me as funny about this whole situation was that neither of us panicked. We didn’t fret over what to do or freak out about being stuck on the side of the road. In fact, deciding what to do with the car was surprisingly easier than deciding what we were going to do with our day in the first place. I think over the years, we’ve learned to take setbacks in stride. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we enjoy the car breaking down but I do think we welcome challenges better than we do routine.

We left the Xterra at the shop on Sunday afternoon and walked home. On Monday evening they called to tell us that it might be the timing belt but they couldn’t be sure without further diagnostics. On Tuesday, we called them at lunch. They were still waiting for a diagnostic tool.

We had been forewarned that a broken timing belt could result in valve and head damage to the motor. We had also been told that if that damage was too extensive, they would not take extraordinary measures to save the life of our car. We basically signed the vehicle version of a DNR when we left our beloved Xterra with them.

As the days passed, we contemplated what to do if the Xterra didn’t make it out alive. Would we get another car? If so, what would we get? Perhaps that van we’d talked about traveling about in. Perhaps something more sensible. Every scenario gave us a headache so we decided just not to worry about it. There was simply no way we weren’t getting our car back!

FoodTrucksOn our calendar for Tuesday night was a big note that said “Night Market” at Hendersonville Produce. We had been planning to go for weeks but without a car (and no public transportation), we were in a bit of a quandary. The market was 13 miles away. I’m not sure which one of us thought up the brilliant idea of walking to my mom’s to fetch her car but that’s what we did. We walked nearly 4 ½ miles in the midday sun, with a brief stopover at Sonic for a half-price limeade. Sure, we could have called my mom to bring the car to us but where’s the adventure in that?? That evening we drove to Hendersonville, enjoyed some free samples from local food producers, and had dinner from a food truck (actually 2 food trucks).

So far, this has been the highlight of my week.

Perhaps I am overthinking this week’s events. A car is just a car after all. But something stirred in me as we sat on the side of the road eating lunch and reminiscing about other times and places where we’d been “stuck” over the years…like the time the battery cable came loose on our way back from a birthday party for a manatee (he turned 65 that day!) or the time we were caught in a tropical storm in a Mexican bazaar. We’ve had a lot of adventures together and I’ve found myself missing those moments a lot here lately. So the car being stalled on the side of the road seemed a metaphor for own life at that moment.

I know that we have an amazing life and I am grateful for every day that I get to spend with my family but there are days when I’m homesick…maybe not so much for our home in Florida but for the life that we lived while we were there…a life that we’re having a tough time replicating here. I think that’s why we struggle so much with the question of what to do with our free time. These days, we’re never really sure if we’ll have a day to ourselves so when we do, I think we try to cram it full of all the things we long to do on the days when we can’t. Our bucket list exceeds the capacity of our bucket right now.

Late yesterday afternoon, the verdict came in on the Xterra. It was indeed the timing belt. But…as luck would have it, there was no damage to the motor! Needless to say, we were overjoyed.

If there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this, it might be one about resilience. If our car can keep on going, surely we can too. Or maybe it’s a lesson in faith. If we believe in ourselves as much as we believed everything was going to be okay with the car, then wouldn’t that indeed be true? Or perhaps the lesson lies in perspective. We never chose to see this as more than what it was – an inconvenient but necessary car repair and in the interim, we turned the challenge of not having a car into an adventure.

We’re going to be in Tennessee for a while. As people who love travel and adventure, we can’t expect that love to disappear simply because we have other obligations. Can we not then find a better way to balance the two?

I’m inclined to think we can.