7 Lessons from 7 Years of Travel.
Introduction by Chip Conley: The beginning of my 2013 sojourn working with Airbnb was almost simultaneous to when a middle class Baby Boomer couple from Seattle, Debbie and Michael Campbell, chose to go out on the road for what has now been seven years of adventure.
They rented their home, sold their sailboat and cars, and reduced their stuff until it fit in a small storage unit. They waved goodbye to their family and friends and set off to explore the world. Their goal was to live their daily lives in other peoples’ homes just as they would if they'd retired in Seattle.
Sadly, they were supposed to co-lead a 7-day “Wisdom and Wanderlust” workshop with me at MEA starting today, but due to the pandemic we had to cancel it. So, I asked them to share their 7 biggest lessons from 7 years living in Airbnb’s. Their story has been chronicled twice in the New York Times, but this is the first time they’ve gleaned their wisdom from 7 years on the road. It may be even more meaningful now as we start our process of being more nomadic again as a species.
“Travel is not really about leaving our homes, but leaving our habits."
- Author Pico Iyer
1. We Are Closer than Ever
Michael is a rows and columns guy and I am a doodling daydreamer. After some initial adjustments and 41 years of marriage behind us, we acknowledge our strengths and respect each other's unique contributions to our common cause. Or, as Michael likes to say “together, we are rowing the boat in the same direction.”
2. Treasure Experiences over Possessions
We chose to divest ourselves of almost everything we owned, including our house, so we could become Senior Nomads. In the beginning, it was difficult to adjust to living out of our suitcases but over time we realized just how little we need to get by. Now we say “if you can’t eat it, drink it, experience it, or get somewhere on it, you probably don’t need it.”
3. Do the Math
It is important to create a budget and stick to it. We have been able to live our lives as full-time travelers because we track our spending meticulously. By tracking our daily expenses we know when we can splurge on occasion because we saved on something else. We could not have sustained seven years of full-time travel without financial discipline. And it’s more fun than you think.
4. Home is Where We Put our Pillows
We travel with our bed pillows from home. We may have decided to do that on a whim, but we are so glad we did. When we arrive at a new Airbnb we start nesting - and the first thing we do is lay our pillows on the bed. Then we set up the WiFi, check out the kitchen, make some tea, and put our feet up.
5. We Need the Grid!
Because we are not on vacation, we don’t have a desire to drop off the grid. In fact, we couldn’t do what we are doing without it! We need the internet to communicate with family and friends, plan our travels, write our blog, do our banking, and navigate in each new city. So, we put a priority on fast WiFi in our Airbnb searches, use Google Fi for instant international data and phone service, and count on a myriad of apps.
6. We are the Foreigner
We have come to embrace the various ways humans go about getting what they need to survive. And while that may be very different from our way of life, we’ve observed that contentment can be found under conditions we might consider unacceptable. We do our best to be observant and respectful of the culture when we visit a new country. And we have learned that the language of “courtesy” is spoken everywhere. Traveling has made us more tolerant, more accepting, and more appreciative of all the many paths that lead to personal happiness.
7. We are Braver than we Thought!
After seven years of travel, we have self-confidence we didn’t have at the start. Through trial and error, we have learned to meet unexpected challenges with grace and humor. Now we doubt there is a country we wouldn’t visit (unless it was a war zone), a food we wouldn’t try, a bus we wouldn’t take, a metro system we couldn’t decode, or most of all, a building we wouldn’t enter. That comes from finding some wonderful Airbnbs hidden behind some pretty unwelcoming exteriors.
One last thought … We believe that most people are good. We’ve been in situations where we’ve had to trust a complete stranger who helped us use an ATM, use our phone to call a host, return correct change in a confounding currency, watch our bags, and often get us safely on the right train or bus. We’ve also experienced pick-pocketing, phone snatching, overcharging, and Airbnbs that didn’t meet expectations - but that doesn’t change the dedication we wrote in our book, “Your Keys, Our Home” which starts with this: “This book is dedicated to the countless people who helped us along the way, affirming the kindness of strangers everywhere.”
Debbie and Michael Campbell may be the world’s most famous Airbnb guests having used the platform for the past seven years staying in more than 250 homes in 85 countries.