Are people basically good, evil or a blank slate?
It’s a question that’s befuddled philosophers for ages. Of course, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau never had cool accommodation websites like Airbnb and CouchSurfing.org to settle the debate.
As I write this post, I am in a cozy, quiet room in Lyon, France, which I booked using Airbnb.com. For those that don’t travel much, websites like Airbnb allow normal people with a spare bedroom or empty apartment to rent it out for short stays. Hence, the name Airbnb– a take off on the conventional bed and breakfast (B&B).
Strip away the formality of the Airbnb website, and you have a business model that should be a non-starter for most people. “You show up in another city, possibly a different country, and sleep in someone else’s home. Someone you have never met before.” Tonight, my new temporary roommate is Cyrill, who I met a little more than 5 hours ago. He very well could be an axe murderer, but I’m betting he isn’t.
Why does the business model work? Because people are basically good and decent. You show up somewhere and rely on a perfect stranger to put you up for the night. And they do it for half the price of a hotel. Our parents did the same thing with the conventional bed and breakfast. They even paid extra for the quaintness of it all. Instead of a middle-aged couple cooking you French toast, the modern B & B host shares his wifi password.
Too often people limit their thinking about travel to a simple cost binary. Cheap or expensive? High-priced, five-star hotel or loud, hostel filled with drunken Australians? Technology has helped make it easier to find alternatives in the middle– if you are willing to overcome that initial fear. If you can move past our conditioned “stranger-danger.”
Technology makes it easier to connect, but it isn’t a requirement. Last month, I booked a room at a guesthouse in Korcula, Croatia. Good ole Mr Simoni reduced his normal rate because I was planning on staying the entire month. He lent me a bicycle, snuck me into the moreska sword dance show and invited me to his son’s 11th birthday party. Plus, there was lots and lots of home-distilled grappa.
About a year ago, I gave up a normal living situation in order to travel the globe. People ask me all the time how I can afford to do it. The answer: Airbnb, Mr. Simoni and the fact that people are basically good.