6 non-intuitive lessons I learned from living on Airbnb for 365 days

full body mirror is not common when the host is male.

Every year, I embark on a personal art project:

  • In 2013, it was Coffee Love Project: I visited 300+ coffee shops in every neighborhood of NYC, LA , SF and around the world
  • In 2014, it was display paintings of entrepreneurs all around China.
  • From Sept 2015 to Sept 2016, I lived on Airbnb for 365 days and called over 100 unique houses my home from 1 to 20 days . My goal is to travel within a city and explore different formats of home and hospitality.
explore different formats of home
stories of 50 superhosts

Here are 6interesting observations that only became obvious after experiencing in person:

1. It’s better to be locked outside than inside a building

historic old town Bogota where everything was perfect before I was locked inside a building

Both have happened to me — in Shanghai and Bogota. The void and sinking feeling in the middle of the night and early morning still hunt me from time to time. The hosts were not on property and I had no choice but woke up the neighbors to help me. I ran up and down a dark complex in old town Bogota while hearing my Uber driver calling me outside the heavy metal gate. The clock was ticking to make to my flight.

If I had a choice, I’d rather be locked out — lesser of the two evils.

People will never forgot how you made them feel. This kind of incidence challenges the role of Airbnb in communities with older neighbors.

It comes down to a careless act or not thinking through all scenarios
- The host in Shanghai gave me the wrong key. 
- The superhost in Bogota wrote on check-out brochure “just leave the key on the table” but he forgot that guests could be leaving at 5am (when the frontgate was locked).

Pro tips: 
For guests, at check-in, always try the key yourself to make sure it works ; For hosts, thinking through the check-out procedures

Advanced tips: use digital lock whenever possible.

2. “bed sheet” is not common in Asia

“Chenyu, why do all my guests from China throw out the top sheet below the comforter?” My Superhost Carl asked me.

“Isn’t it common sense to put a sheet between comforter and the bedding? We do not wash comforter as frequently” a lawyer in LA responded.

“Chenyu, how do I sleep in American’ s bed? I am embarrassed to ask. ” This is a common question I get from China travelers.

So I wrote an article to explain to Chinese readers of my travel blog.

3. There are 50 different ways to turn on a TV and a shower (you would think it’s simple)

I work in tech but you’d be surprised that the most troublesome element in settling in a home for me is to turn on the TV. Some homes have 3 remote controls and no instruction. Some TVs come with extensive manual that I find hard to digest.

The moment of joy was when I finally got to a home with 1 remote control & clear + concise message. Coming from China, I grew up with 1 TV remote control. Intuitive things might be difficult for people from different culture.

clear and concise instruction can come a long way

The same applies to showers: simple notes like below can make the experience much better :)

Pro Tips: for hosts, try to label lightly to help the guests settle in.

4. Continental breakfast does NOT include eggs

I pick my hosts carefully and 95% of my experiences are extremely positive. However, there was one that I will never forget.

I try to book breakfast whenever possible and even search for “airbnb breakfast” in google. I purchased a $5 breakfast in San Francisco and tried to confirm the menu items with the host.

“freshly baked goods with fruits from Alemany Farmers Market in Bernal Heights.”

“Hmmm… could i replace the scones with eggs?” I asked.

I was told that the listing has details of breakfast and “Continental breakfast does not include eggs”. I felt like I was an idiot of not knowing this fact.

We all grow up in different cultures and I have lived in the US for 10+ years, but unaware of this fact.

continental breakfast

2 take-aways:

(1) Empathy for international travelers and different cultures

(2) hosts cannot expect guests to read every detail on the listing (esp. when there is language barreirs)

5. full body mirror and hair dryer are not common when the hosts are male

When my host is male, unless he is experienced super host, I often cannot find a hairdryer. It is human nature when you do not have the same need.

Equip the home with hair dryer and full body mirror is a feedback that I often give to hosts.

full body mirror
hairdryer and mirror nicely placed on the bathroom door

6. Access to gym is a key differentiator to decide between Airbnb and hotel in China

mask and throat drops are not nice to have but necesity

When they sky is grey and the water is yellow, when the unbreathable air suffocates you to a point with no appetite to go outside, I had to give in Airbnb and opt for hotel because I can stay indoor and exercise.

While in Los Angeles, I don’t think about access to gym or pool when picking an airbnb, as I can run anywhere. Compared to Beijing, LA has no pollution. It’s all about perspectives.

That being said, I love using Airbnb in less polluted and remote area of China. Airbnb opened up doors to me to meet the most interesting hosts. If the hosts can operate an Airbnb in rural villages, they must speak some English and are quick with technology. In reality, these hosts are often the most interesting human beings on this planet, like:

  • A monk in Mt. Emei who took me on a 7am morning hike
  • An artist who has a 20m high art studio in a 1970s Soviet Union castle
  • A Dutch gentleman who remodeled a 100+ years Qing dynasty house that need a boat to get to

I have 100+ learnings from this year staying on Airbnb, but I have learned from Airbnb design to Simply and less is more.

Happy 2017!

Cc Brian Chesky Joe Gebbia Chip@