One writer’s experience of AirBnB

Above: Copies of my first non-self-published book in the window of the New York Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal. Probably not possible without AirBnB. Photo © 2014, Reka Komoli.

Squeezed writing time

As everyone knows, it’s tricky to earn a living from any creative activity. The market-place is full of cheap thrills against which genuine art must compete. And creatives are often poor at marketing and business planning, or even just asking for money for what they create. It is therefore a very common practice for arts people to have a day-job that keeps body and soul together, but has little or nothing to do with their calling to express their soul in artistic form. Unfortunately most jobs are full-time or more than full-time, so they restrict creative time to a few tired hours between supper and bed.

In my own case, I was lucky to be able to work in software development. Although I was grateful for it, the job generally meant working late and commuting even later, It left the weekends for an unceasing battle between domestic commitments and trying to squeeze in an hour or two for writing. Eventually, in 1999, I put together my philosophical writings into two self-published books. Over the subsequent years, my sense of being stultified, sitting at my desk in an open-plan office churning out pages of Fortran computer code to pay the mortgage weighed against my yearning to spend all day inquiring into the nature of consciousnes, or following my new passion in the history of maps. To be sure, I was fortunate to be sitting at a desk and not sweating in a fast-food outlet, but the hamster-wheel cycle of working as much as possible to pay the mortgage and domestic bills and looking distantly to retirement when I could begin my real work of writing, became more rebarbative with each year. Anyway, stuff happened, and I found myself in a one-bedroom flat in East London with no work and no prospect of work (in a young industry were fifty-year-olds are dinosaurs), and no real desire to go back to the work-place anyway.

Enter AirBnB

I discovered AirBnB. I cleared out all the junk from my bedroom, and rented it on AirBnB, while I slept on the couch in the living room. Amazingly, it worked. Almost all my income for a few years came from guests, with a few extra quid from teaching English. Where I lived in the desolate margins of the docklands, tourism was unheard-of, so I configured my AirBnB service to be as flexible as possible: minimum stay of one night, free extra air-beds for extra guests, no cleaning or cancellation fee, and I often met people at the station, or sometimes even the airport.

As I said, it worked. I survived, and I published my first book on the history of the New York City subway map at the end of 2012, with an academic press in the States, and this year I will be self-publishing further volumes in the series. Last year, I sold my flat in order to travel, so I am temporarily not hosting. But eventually I shall settle down and host again.

For me, and I think for many people who are in economically marginal situations either permanently or temporarily, AirBnB can be a financial lifeline. Especially for those whose passion is for creative work that is not financially recognised in the marketplace.

I can understand the arguments of critics of AirBnB, who complain about landlords who effectively turn residential properties into hotels and reduce the available stock of rentable homes. But I do not believe that that criticism applies to the writers, artists, and performers in financial straits for whom the extra income from renting out on AirBnB a spare bedroom in the home can make a huge difference to their economic life.

But, beyond the success of keeping creatives alive, it seems to me that there is an untapped potential in connecting guests and hosts with shared interests in the arts. I know that some hosts in this group actively introduce activities – such as art classes – into the hosting service. It may be that that is something that could grow enormously. And just making the connection on the basis of shared passion is an unknown potential in the ‘sharing economy’. All of my guests have been wonderful people, but the few who shared my passion for philosophy have left memories of long and fascinating conversations.

So far, the AirBnB Group system has been a disappointment for technical reasons. But my own experience as a host (and, since then, as a guest) suggests to me that forming intentional communities on the back of AirBnB has real potential.

12 thoughts on “One writer’s experience of AirBnB”

    1. Hello Shai,
      If you Tweet “@StayingWithArt #StayingWithGalleries” where nnnn is your AirBnB number, then everyone can see you. At the moment all countries are in together. With the new web interface, people can search from a map, and hence by country. Coming soon!
      Best wishes

  1. I loved your article. As a painter, and with need to support my low income, I was airbnbing my studio. Just recently, I got bombarded with a bunch of restrictions and fees from the management and the association. That really affected me. My guests were enjoying the experience of staying at an artist studio/gallery and I felt like I was connecting with people who really appreciated what I was doing. There’s always haters out there. It just makes the path a bit rockier.

    1. Hi Melba,

      I’m so sorry about the problems you encountered. I am still shocked and amazed that some people want to wreck something as beneficent as AirBnB. It’s mostly a false argument. They don’t mind friends and relatives staying in you home, but if there’s a financial transaction then it triggers hostility! In some neighbourhoods, there’s a valid argument against using AirBnB as a cover for running multiple properties like a hotel. But having guests stay in your home seems like win-win for the host and the community.

      As you say, it’s another unnecessary hassle on the path!


      1. I am one of the maligned multi-property Airbnb hosts.

        I am not running a hotel of any kind whatsoever. Hotels offer a range of services that I do not.

        There is really no virtue in blaming the hosts for taking their properties from the long-term rental market, and going Airbnb. I have worked AND saved all my life to be able to purchase my investment property. Like every investor, I am trying to receive maximum return on my investment.

        I do admire people who would wish to work hard and save all of their lives for the benefit of providing some sort of subsidized housing for the tenants by choosing the less lucrative options for their investments. But I am neither in the position to be one of them nor do I frankly wish to join them.


        1. Hi Danny,

          Thanks for your input.

          I did preface my remark by saying “In some neighbourhoods, …” It seems to me that there are a number of factors that would affect whether any given multiple-property AirBnB enterprise would be beneficial or damaging to a neighbourhood. As an example, there is a building development I know in Malta, comprising ten blocks of flats, most of which are either holiday homes that are empty most of the year, or owned by absentee landlords. And one AirBnB host, who lives in the block, owns three flats and rents them out with almost full capacity throughout the year. It seems to me that in this kind of situation, AirBnB offers a win-win for everyone. And there are many other kinds of situation where AirBnB is good for the neighbourhood. But there are also some neighbourhoods where it doesn’t work. Like the area next to the Radcliffe Infirmary where I used to work. There were a lot of cheap rooms available for long-term rent that were essential for nurses, who had low wages but needed to live near the hospital because of their shift work. But this neighbourhood was also close to the very attractive tourist area of central Oxford. In this specific case, buying up multiple homes and renting them on AirBnB would make perfect economic sense for the investor but ruins the provision of cheap accommodation for nurses that had been in place for a century.

          Do you see what I mean? One has to decided the merits of these developments on a case-by-case basis, with a knowledge of the local situation.

          And your point is also valid that your hard-earned money is yours to invest in any legal way you see fit. We each have to make our own personal judgements on how to balance self-interest and philanthropy. I spent twelve years working for a low salary on socially beneficial projects in universities; then I left and spent twelve years working for a high salary in the computing industry; then I left and I’m trying to do creative stuff. Other people run their lives differently. I don’t think anyone should judge people for working hard and making profitable investments.

          Anyway, this is off-topic. The point of the ‘Staying With Art’ project is to facilitate guests connecting with hosts who are working creatively, such as artists and musicians. If the host ones thirty properties and never meets the AirBnB guests then that’s not relevant to this project. If the host is like Kurt (see below) who is building AirBnB spaces adjacent to his galleries and performance spaces, then that fits perfectly with the ‘Staying With Art’ theme!

          So .. that’s why my general rule is not to include AirBnB hosts with multiple properties, but I’m delighted to make exceptions whenever this is fitting. I know very little about your particular situation, Danny, but looking at your AirBnB profile it might seem that your contact with guests is normally limited to meet & greet. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but it’s not what ‘Staying With Art’ is about.

          Anyway, I hope this reasoning makes sense and I really hope you don’t feel maligned!


  2. I’m so appreciative of what you’re doing Peter. Sent a tweet although not sure I did it correctly….will keep tweeting and using your hashtag. Subscribed to the blog as well. I do abstract contemplative drawing painting and collage. To make ends barely meet I Airbnb a studio apartment in East Hampton,NY year-round and my bedroom in the summer months. I sleep in my studio…a lot like camping out. But it’s summer so it’s fun! Thanks so much, Hildy

    1. Thanks Hildy! Camping in the studio is very dedicated, I am glad you can view it as fun! I see from your biography that you are making a fascinating connection with Buddhist art. Profundity and fun in one art practice! :-)

  3. Hi Peter, thank you so much for creating this, your effort is so appreciated.
    I am fortunate that I am currently in a well paid teaching job, but I rally want to reduce that and spend to spend more time on my art work. So I started with airbnb last year to try it out as I make the transition to unpaid work. Both my husband and I have taught art and we are thinking of offering art packages in the future. For now we are pleased if the guests want to discuss art or just wish to play and use our facilities. Bright blessings to all.
    Katie Ferry, Alice Springs.

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thanks for your encouraging comment! I think it’s a great idea to offer art packages as a kind of ‘homestay art tuition’. Homestay tuition has been phenomenally successful in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), and I can see a huge potential for this in the arts too. In the past, I have both hosted students who were attending English schools, and taught English at home. The idea of ‘immersion in everyday English’ works really well, so why not immersion in an arts environment? But unfortunately AirBnB is not going in that direction, which would be such a natural extension of the basic ‘homestay’ concept. So we have to try to do it ourselves! Let us know when you start offering your art package!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *