I had dinner with one of my clients while visiting the Bay area, and my experience with AirBnB and FlightCar came up. I shared how the travel experience was very different staying in someone's home and using someone's car than staying in a room and using a car owned by a corporation. I described it as the trust economy; he described it as the respect economy.
He had a great point. I looked up the definitions of both words:
- a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.
- a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way
- a particular way of thinking about or looking at something
- belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.
- an arrangement in which someone's property or money is legally held or managed by someone else or by an organization (such as a bank) for usually a set period of time
So how does the anonymous travel experience compare to the more community-based experience?
What you get when you stay at a hotel/corporate room:
- A private room and bath as if you have your own studio apartment - sometimes with a kitchen
- Service to keep the room - and your belongings - neat and tidy
- Anonymity. You may get to know the front desk staff and others, and be friendly with them, but they only work at the hotel. They don't own it. Most times, a corporation owns it, or people who don't live there own it. It's rare that you get to know the owners.
- If something in the room breaks or you spill something in your room, "the hotel" will figure it out and take care of it.
- You try to be quiet in the middle of the night hours, but if you are loud, you don't know your neighbors and you don't really know the people who work at the hotel. And it doesn't really matter because most likely you won't see them again anyway.
- Again - anonymity. You don't know these people and most likely, you won't see them again.
What you get when you stay with AirBnB:
- You rent a separate room outside of the house, almost like an apartment, or you rent a room inside someone's house. Either way, you are a member of their household. Or you are using someone else's household.
- You don't necessarily get daily housekeeping. You need to keep yourself neat and tidy.
- You aren't a stranger. You meet your host and in some cases, are sharing the same space with them.
- You are polite and let your host know if something breaks, you make a spill, or something happens. You are responsible for your actions.
- If you are loud in the middle of the night, you may wake up your hosts. And they probably will speak to you about that. Awkward!
- You know your hosts - you can message them before you arrive, you meet them when you are there, and they are more than happy to assist you with anything at all. And you may see them again.
(I thoroughly enjoyed my experience through AirBnB! My host was awesome and the place was gorgeous. It was a great way to experience living a different life for 3 days.)
If you get a car through a car rental company:
- A corporation owns the car. They own a fleet of cars that get rented and returned each day.
- If something happens, the car company or the insurance will deal with it. And they have people on staff to do that.
- If there is a little scratch, they probably won't notice. The rental company has dozens and hundreds of cars.
- Do I really need to get the best insurance? I'm a decent driver. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? Between the insurance and the corporation that owns it, it's good.
If you rent a car through FlightCar:
- A real person owns and uses the car you rented.
- If something happens, insurance will take care of it - but what a hassle for the owner!
- If there is a little scratch, most likely the owner will see it. If there is one, I should either fix it or tell them to get it fixed.
- I really should get better insurance. I mean, what if something happens? Then I'll feel responsible for that person's car - what they drive every day. Wow - that's horrible!
(Using the car was fun - I felt more connected to San Francisco. I knew that someone owned the car and used this every day. This was theirs. I wasn't using a car that could have been in another state a short time earlier.)
Based on these descriptions, some would say that AirBnB and FlightCar make travel aggravating because you are worrying about someone else's needs. Why do that when you can be anonymous?
Because community can be rewarding.
I have been traveling for business for a long time. At one point, I lived in a hotel for about 6 months for work. Sure, it's fun. Who wouldn't want to be like Eloise of the Plaza? I didn't make a bed or pick up after myself for a year. It sounds like a dream, but at the same time, it's a very lonely, detached existence. You have an insane amount freedom, but no sense of responsibility for being part of your surroundings - no sense that others have a connection with you or depend on you for anything.
You are an entity observing people living their lives. You left your life somewhere else and you are a visiting observer. During that time, when it was the weekend, I had no one to hang out with because everyone was living their lives, running errands, cooking, having family time. When you travel anonymously, in a way, you suspend life for a time period to experience observing how other people live in another place.
By using someone's things when you travel, you are inserting yourself into their life for a few days. You are part of the community in that location - you become a visitor participant. When you go to the museum, visit your friends, go to lunch - you have a home base of sorts, another community, waiting for you when you return for the day. I know for me, this is similar to me coming home to my apartment in a building with a strong community where I know most people on the floor I live on.
At a hotel, there are the people at the front desk who you may or may not know. You are staying there, but are you really living there? This goes back to how you define living. When I travel, I prefer to expand my experience. I'm not escaping. I prefer to live with a senses of community.