I Stayed in Airbnbs for a Year and This Is What I Learned

published Apr 4, 2017
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Two year ago I was in a state of constant travel, on a trip that took me from my home in Seattle throughout the United States and Europe. Along the way, I learned a variety of lessons: I learned how to pack really, really well; I learned how to let go of attachments to most of my possessions, especially when I couldn’t fit them in my bag; and I learned a handful of useful (and not-so-useful) expressions in German, Greek, and French.

I also learned a lot about vacation rentals, as over 95 percent of the nights I traveled in 2016, I stayed in an Airbnb. A seaside studio on the coast of Dubrovnik, a Pinterest-worthy loft in Prague, a top-story flat overlooking Parliament in the heart of edgy Bucharest — these are just a small sample of the Airbnb apartments that I’ve called home.

No matter the city or country I explored, there’s one thing I found to be true about every Airbnb I stayed in.

The kitchen is the heart of the home — even when it’s not your permanent home.

There were a lot of things I missed while staying in other peoples’ homes. I missed my own bed, the comfort of my favorite pillow, and a full-sized wardrobe. I lamented when we arrived at a new Airbnb and there was no art on the walls, or no bookshelf of beloved titles to re-read.

But I consistently found that there was comfort in the kitchen. After each orientation to a new apartment, when I finally had the place to myself, the first thing I would do is check the kitchen to see what I had to work with.

(Image credit: Sophie Timothy)

I’d acquaint myself with the consistently strange assortment of utensils, pots, pans, and heating elements, and then my first “sightseeing” trip was to the nearest grocery store. There, I would stock up on familiar favorites or interesting new ingredients. Rather than a first meal out on the town, I would prepare a home-cooked meal and enjoy it in my new — albeit temporary — home.

It became a travel ritual I have never had in a hotel room, staying with friends or family, or on a cruise. It was unique to staying in Airbnbs, and reminded me time and again that food — and the process of making it — is central to our lives, whether at home or abroad.

The soft gurgle of boiling water at the start of making soup in Colmar, or the warmth emitting from a small stovetop on a cold Croatian night were the same as those I knew from before traveling. Even the nightly practice of washing dishes was consistently soothing in each new Airbnb.

Travel is inherently disorienting — that’s part of what I love so much about it — but cooking in a kitchen, even one that lacks familiar amenities, can help ease that disorientation and make it feel like home.

Vacation Rental Kitchens We Love

Do you agree? Is the kitchen the heart of any home, even if it’s a vacation rental?