Outside AirBnB

On the Flip Side

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Words and photography by Dalene Heck

We have a little secret to share with you. When we boarded that first plane to South America over five years ago, we had a “loose” plan. Not only would we be traveling as a means for adventure and cultural exploration, but we had a specific goal in mind: to eventually settle and open our own business. (Preferably somewhere beachside with palm trees – we’ve since learned that such an environment is not our ultimate desire – but that is another story.) We never expected to want to roam endlessly, and couldn’t imagine a more perfect scenario in which to live out our days. And so, we looked at each stop in South America with a critical eye: to potentially put down some roots and run a bed and breakfast.

Time passed and the idea of stopping never fully took hold – nowhere struck us as perfectly suitable, and our thirst for continuous travel proved too great to be overcome. We returned to Canada for a family wedding after a year in South America and it was clear to us then that we only wanted to keep going. We started our blog, dropped our “loose plan” in favour of a tagline with “no plans”, and here we are, 5 years later.


That business idea is still lurking. We’ve seen the best (and worst!) travel accommodations around the world and think we could design something really cool. We even know the name we would give it. And when Pete unleashes a particularly creative breakfast spread, he often comments about serving it to others.

And so when this house-sit in Ann Arbor came up, we were drawn for two reasons: the artistry of a midwestern fall, and the offer to run the home-owners Airbnb listing while they were gone.

It is nothing extensive, just one room in their apartment, but it comes with the standing offer of a full breakfast and a free local taxi service to shuttle guests around town (to compensate for the fact that their place is a good distance from the center). We knew it would be a great test for us to flip to the side of host and see if we would indeed enjoy this role reversal.

AirBnB Room

Pete excitedly began crafting breakfast menus weeks before we were to arrive (I was his lucky taste-tester). We poked around the back-end of the Airbnb system, familiarizing ourselves with the interface and excitedly watching as a few people booked stays during our time there. And when the time came to welcome people, we did everything we could think of to make a good impression: we bought cupcakes for the guest coming who was celebrating his birthday, we cleaned and cleaned again, and prepared to cook up a morning feast (when the first guest only wanted toast in the morning, Pete was severely disappointed).We’ve had four sets of guests during our stay, and while that is not an overwhelming amount over two months, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons about ourselves and running a guesthouse.

— I like my mornings and they are my most productive time. My usual schedule of having coffee and writing in bed until 10am is not conducive to being an effective host. Good thing Pete is an early-riser to accommodate our guests (and to bring me coffee).

— When we were traipsing around South America, we met so many different travelers from all walks of life during our hostel stays, but now that we regularly rent apartments or housesit wherever we go, this occurs less often. So I really enjoyed meeting and learning about our guests from all over, and it made me miss those early travel days. (We need to get back to doing more of that.)

— That being said, this experience really pushed the introvert in me. In the role of guest, I have no problem excusing myself to create some alone time. As a host, that is much harder to do.

— I like vacuuming. Pete loves cooking. He also doesn’t mind cleaning bathrooms. We both hate making beds. (Some things we would surely outsource if we opened a bigger BnB on our own.)

We’ve had four sets of guests during our stay, and while that is not an overwhelming amount over two months, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons about ourselves and running a guesthouse.

Breakfast Menu
Breakfast Spread
Fresh Fruit

Overall though, it has been really enjoyable, and with only one more set of guests to go, it has proven to be a fun and effective test. We also seem to be performing well, according to our guests:

Both were excellent hosts and fun to meet.

They were two of the best hosts we’ve stayed with in our airbnb travels, very inviting and fascinating to talk with. We felt close in such a short time.

Dalene and Pete were awesome! They were so welcoming and accomodating-taking us around Ann Arbor and picking us up. I have an allergy and they were wonderful about making sure breakfast was something I could have and would enjoy.

If we ever needed a fall-back position from this life of travel and our other business, this could be it (with some tweaks to the system). And until then, Pete had better keep practicing his skills in the kitchen.

Just in case.

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  1. I love to use Air BnB as a guest and I also like to host when I am in home in Hawaii which is a popular destination. The only problem for me is that I’m not as home as I want to be…

  2. We’ve talked before about opening a flashpacker hostel somewhere overseas, maybe Vietnam, or a little bar near a beach. We just can’t sit still long enough in one place. I also chuckled as I read this, in bed, around 8am, using my left hand to scroll, and drinking coffee in my right hand. Eric had just delivered it to me in bed just before. Ha!

  3. Eric also asked me to share that he delivers the coffee in bed with hugs. He asked “Does Pete deliver coffee with a hug?” I think we have been in Ubud too long.

  4. We have just become Air BnB hostsand although we have only had three sets of guests so far, we are loving it. We don’t offer breakfast but I usually cook a batch of muffins for guests to help themselves and it is a great way to meet travellers when you aren’t travelling yourself, and as a way to pay the bills!

  5. You guys sound like good hosts! We’ve been using Airbnb a lot over the last 6 months and on constant is that what you get is inconsistent – experiences can vary from better than advertised to downright ugly at times (usually due to the hygeine factor of a place).
    I have to admit sometimes not having a new project gets to me. Love to travel, but after having worked over 20 years sometimes hard to get it out of your blood. But I don’t know if hosting would be our thing…maybe running a bar or yoga studio (yeah, I know sounds like opposite ends of the spectrum)

    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. We’ve only had one questionable experience in Poland with Airbnb, everything else has been really good! I’m sorry it’s been so inconsistent for you!

      Understand about your need to have a new project, for me, after awhile traveling sans responsibilities, I needed some “purpose”. I think we’ve found it in our new business, but it’s good to keep this hosting idea in our back pocket.

  6. I bet guests had a wonderful time with you two!
    I really enjoyed reading about your experience because I am both a guest and a host myself. In fact, I started renting a room + bathroom at my place 1 1/2 year ago and so far I met a lot of nice and interesting people.
    I just love the experience, from both sides!

  7. Just spent the past 3 1/2 years (4 summer seasons) owning and operating a Bed & Breakfast Inn and a vacation cottage. It is a full time 24/7 lifestyle with very little time to call your own. Lots of realities behind the kitchen door. 😉

    But, hosting an AirBnB apartment would be a very different scenario, if it is meant as a supplement income rather than a main income such as owning a B&B.

    People tell me I should write a book! 😉

    1. You probably should Patti, and it’s interesting to hear your perspective because that would be something I worry about – it being such a consuming experience. I would hope to outsource a lot. 🙂

  8. We love Airbnb and have had great experiences with all of our stays. I can tell you this much with the menu that Pete created I definitely would had more than toast.

  9. What a co-incidence Dalene! I have just signed up with Airbnb last week and I plan to book with them soon! You had a wonderful time as hosts and now I would love to try that bit as well, perhaps some day soon!

    This was a nice little post giving us a peek into your daily lives, loved reading it 🙂

  10. What a great way to test out the whole B&B idea! We love Airbnb, used it all over Europe and are currently staying at one in Vietnam. Some of our most memorable travel experiences happened because of the local connection and people you meet when you use Airbnb. 🙂

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