airbnb and other travel

how did airbnb become

Back in The Day (2011) there was There was also, I don’t know, Kayak and Hotwire and Priceline and friends, where you could book the local Sheraton Inn for $189 + taxes and fees. But hotels are pricey and sterile. So on Couchsurfing, you could stay with a real person, which was nice, and save hundreds of dollars, which was also nice. There was community there; some of my best Seattle friends I met through Couchsurfing.

Then a few years passed, I got older and higher-maintenance, I married someone who’s less enthused about sleeping on a rando’s couch in Munich, and I got more money, and so I stopped Couchsurfing. But along came Airbnb: the best of all worlds! Maybe you pay like $70 but you get a private room and a somewhat-less-connected experience. This was great for me: I started traveling with more of a purpose (conferences, say) and so I didn’t have time or energy to visit the highest hill in Kecskemet or go out partying till 6am in Groningen. But usually I’d at least say hi to someone who lives there and get to talking a little bit. That felt nice.

But now all Airbnbs look the same, they don’t save you any money, and you never even talk to people anymore. The last bunch of times I’ve rented, it’s been about as personal as a Marriott Garden Suites. At least at the Marriott you get a crummy warmed-over croissant in the morning.

So Airbnb just feels like over a different stock of hotel rooms. Why is this? Why doesn’t it feel more like Couchsurfing? I mean, profit, of course. But why is it more profitable to rent condos managed by companies than side rooms in someone’s house? Why is that where the demand is?

My best explanation is that what we think we want is different from what we need. Like, given a choice we’ll pick our own nice separate space - but then we get lonely or irritated. This fits in with Americans' choices about housing: big detached suburban mansions. Bummer that people’s vacation choices go that way too.

(There are optimistic explanations too: 1. renting entire condos is more profitable than renting individual rooms, so Airbnb went that way on purpose; 2. I’ve changed, not the world; the world I want is still on Airbnb and I am just searching differently because I’m higher-maintenance.)

I still like travel, if I can run

Back in The Day (2011), I wanted to travel roughly as much as possible. I spent most of a year bumming around India. I thought I might have a future as some kind of International Computer Guy (details TBD).

Then I thought, maybe conferences and time before/after will get me through (Seoul! Scotland! Köln!); then, long vacations every year or two (6 weeks in SW China!) But since about 5 years ago… I kind of stopped wanting to travel. Or, I stopped wanting to travel for its own sake.

This was kind of surprising, but in retrospect it shouldn’t have been. All different kinds of travel have lost their appeal to me over time: seeing the sights in Paris, going to find the best foods in Tokyo, skiing in Colorado, taking too many buses to remote parts of India, looking for souvenirs in Amsterdam, hiking in Peru. (I don’t necessarily hate these now, but just the excitement has gone down maybe from 10/10 to 5/10, and the cost is probably a constant 8/10, so I’m not trying to go out of my way to do them.

Is this ok? I don’t know; I feel like enjoying travel is kind of like enjoying art. It’s easier/simpler not to enjoy either, but it’s also less alive! I want to be more alive! And my family wants to travel with me. (or at least, Tati does, and I want my kids to want to travel.)

So I’d like to be able to enjoy traveling. But here’s the lucky upside: I’ve enjoyed traveling plenty, recently even. Going to France for Nø School, going to Boston for Mystery Hunt, even conference travel have been great. I guess I’ve just got to build in some mental exercise.

The metaphor I’ve been thinking about is a border collie. If you don’t let a border collie run every day, they get cranky and sad. It’s more work than sitting at home, but they have to do it. I think I do have some physical-activity need, but I also have some mental-activity need and some purpose/connection need. So I guess, for future trips, I need to do some running in those other senses, rather than try to do a sightseeing or beachsitting trip and “just try harder” to enjoy it.

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