I believe that an ongoing focus on life-long learning is an important quality for those of us who want to live a happy, healthy and rewarding life. And what I’ve noticed is that if we pay attention, we can learn something from just about every experience (and yes, every person) we encounter. With that in mind, as some of you know Thom and I just spent over a month in an Airbnb in Ajijic, Mexico. Not only was it a very enjoyable experience, but it also got me thinking about a few life lessons I learned along the way and things I want to remember in the years ahead.
Of course, I’m guessing that some of these lessons could be learned during any form of travel. And I’ve definitely written about that before. But this time I was thinking specifically about how an Airbnb can feel different than staying in a hotel or with friends or family. I’m guessing that’s because if you stay long enough in a place that resembles a home, it offers more than just a quick visit. By staying over a month, it was an opportunity to see how living in that location would be. In addition, it was a chance to remember five different lessons that apply to life everywhere. They are:
1) Everything is a leasehold. When you think about it we don’t really own anything—we just have a right to use it for a while. While most people who buy a home tend to believe they own their property, in most cases the bank and the local municipalities and government owns it too. Sure, we get the privilege of living there (usually) until we sell it, but those other entities have a big claim to it as well. And let’s face it, at some point when our lives are over, our property will belong to someone else.
When staying in an Airbnb you are reminded that the property belongs to someone else and you are merely a visitor. In some cases, that’s great news because if something breaks or bill comes in, it belongs to the owner on record. On the other hand, you agreed when you rented it to take care of it and not change it substantially. And when you leave, you hand back the keys and move on.
We considered ourselves very fortunate to find a great property in Ajijic this visit. The house was in a perfect location for walking everywhere, the bed was comfortable, plenty of hot water in the shower and a spectacular back yard. But it wasn’t ours. Knowing that we had to leave at the end of our time there was a great reminder to make the most of every day and appreciate what we had during our time there. Shouldn’t all life be that way? It’s said that when we remember that there is an “end” to any experience that can enhance the days leading up to the end. Let’s keep that in mind.
2) Change happens—go with the flow. Okay this “lesson” isn’t unique to renting an Airbnb. It clearly applies to all travel and as recent history shows it helps to be flexible in all things. As some of you know, a few days after our arrival I had a rather challenging health experience. I plan to write about the experience of dealing with it in Mexico in the near future, so I won’t go into details. But yes, it changed our plans in many ways.
The good news was that we were in a beautiful and comfortable place to be recovering from an illness. And rather than fight with the experience or blame myself or others for it happening in the first place, it was far better to remind myself that things change. Stuff happens. Learning to let it flow was not only the best thing mentally I could do for myself, but probably the most healing as well.
3) We don’t need as much as we think we do. I am reminded of this every single time I travel. For our trip we packed two normal size suitcases and two carry ons. And while I was getting a little tired of wearing the same outfits repeatedly, the truth is I could have done with less. All the clothes in our closets at home and all the gadgets we think we need are usually just excess things that we surround ourselves with to make life a little more convenient. But I’m guessing most of us could easily do without.
In many cases I also think that we can do without many of the extras we get when we rent an Airbnb. We were excited to have a place with a solar heated pool. But it was too cold (for me at least!) to use it. We also had a dishwasher and several other benefits that we never or seldom used. Again, it was a reminder that while it is nice to have extras at home, most of time we don’t really need them to have a happy experience or a good life.
4) Making comfort a priority is usually overrated. One thing I find as I get older is that it is tempting to make sure I have the amenities that I “think” I need to be comfortable in a rental. However, in some cases I end up paying for things I never use at all or never needed in the first place. While a few things are worth ensuring (like a king size bed for the two of us), other things like an air-conditioner in the bedroom didn’t matter at all. Far more important was the lovely patio and sitting area we had with a large green-space.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from others who travel is the many travelers that arrive in a foreign country and then expect it to be just like back home. It isn’t home and that is exactly why it is so beneficial to travel. Sure, there were a few things I missed while I was gone. And some things in another culture are annoying. But the overwhelming amount of new and interesting experiences more than makes up for it. Overall, I think we travel to learn and discover more about the world and ourselves and we usually do that best when we are in new surroundings and situations.
5) Take the time to connect to the people around you. Again, one of the biggest benefits to an Airbnb is that you are in a neighborhood among people who live in your travel location. If you stay in a hotel, it is far too easy just to see the sights and hang with other tourists. Staying in a home requires you to walk the streets, shop, cook and travel around the town in the same way locals do. Having a great place to stay was wonderful but getting together with old and new friends, and feeling how it felt to live there, offered some of the best memories. I think choosing a location where you know the people are friendly and welcoming can be some of the best advice I can offer.
There are likely many more benefits to staying in an Airbnb (or Homestay, VRBO, etc.) but these are the ones that I believe apply anywhere at any time. And chances are staying in a vacation rental (rather than a hotel) is safer as long as COVID is a concern. Ultimately, I think it is SMART to remember that those of us who love to travel and have the resources to do so are fortunate to have the option. So why not learn and enjoy what we can while we do it?