Every month I travel to another city for work and book a place to stay on Airbnb. Staying in someone’s apartment is a much more pleasant experience than beginning and ending the day at a soulless hotel and yet is also strange to be inhabiting someone else’s personal space.
An apartment can tell you a lot about a person; what their tastes are, whether they are well organised, what sort of food they like to eat, what their social life is like, whether they pay their bills on time…
By luck, I managed to find an Airbnb host who also travelled once a month for work and so I became a regular guest. Dates were booked through the platform, short messages exchanged, and a key was left under the mat.
It was a nice apartment, fashionably decorated with a thick shag carpet, and a strong smell of eau de cologne. It had a well-stocked kitchen where I was able to cook properly and a strange little balcony with an oversized water-feature.
As per instruction, I made sure to feed the goldfish and water the plants every other day. Once the host asked me to dig out his health insurance details which he needed while away. Despite this level of trust, we never met. I stayed there a dozen times.
At the end of every trip, I made sure to leave the place as clean or cleaner than I found it, taking my rubbish with me. I was a well-behaved ghost who only haunts when the proprietor is away.
Then one month a message arrived: “The flat’s been sold. Truly thankful for all the times you stayed.” And so it was.
I don’t have any grand insight here, just a weird feeling of loss for a place that was never really mine. Airbnb’s tagline is “Belong Anywhere” which is an alluring idea for anyone who travels a lot but how far that concept really extends feels questionable.