Guest Post: Austin Graff on Ridding the World of Stranger Danger One Airbnb Stay at a Time

With headlines about police brutality, religious extremism, and police being targeted, it’s easier than ever to stay within your own circle, never branching out. More than ever, kids are growing up with a strong sense of “stranger danger.” Scripture clearly commands, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” in the book of Mark, but how can we live this out today? It was on a recent Airbnb stay that my wife and I started to dig into this topic.

Thanks to Airbnb, the online marketplace that allows people to list and rent vacation homes, you can now stay in a historic castle in England, a houseboat near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, an island villa in Greece, and even a mushroom dome in California, all for an affordable price. Since 2008, Airbnb has revolutionized modern travel. They have 60 million users, 640,000 hosts in 192 countries and the company is now worth $25 billion.

More than all of this, Airbnb brings complete strangers together to connect.

The extroverted Graffs

Being the extroverts we are, my wife and I decided a few years ago to always stay in an Airbnb place when we travel. In most cases, it saves us money, but the reasons we do it are three-fold: 1) It allows us to stay in neighborhoods rather than tourist areas like at “this sea view apartment in Dubrovnik.” 2) It gives us the opportunity to stay in more unique places like this historic loft in Istanbul with a beautiful view of the city, and 3) It grants us the opportunity to meet people we would normally never meet like at this suite with a magically lit screen porch in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It’s connecting with complete strangers that we enjoy the most. On a recent weekend trip to Charlottesville, my wife and I stayed in a private suite owned by a couple we would have never met in our hometown of Washington, DC. We went into this trip knowing the couple would be friendly (You can always tell based on how they communicate with you when you set up your stay), but we didn’t realize their stories would inspire us and their hospitality fill us.

Our Airbnb hosts for the weekend were an eccentric couple named Jen and Matt. Their home is a mere fifteen-minute drive from downtown Charlottesville tucked away in a small neighborhood. One of their neighbors refers to their home as the “Sleeping Beauty Home,” hidden away by large oak trees and an ivy covered fence. Once inside, you find a beautiful wooden home lit by small outside lights giving it a magical feel.

But it’s not the home itself that inspired us. It was the people inside and their stories. After moving around many times growing up, all Jen wanted was to stay put in one place. She moved to Charlottesville and met her husband Matt, who shared her experience of moving around often as a child. They bought their wooden house and made Charlottesville their home. Jen is an author of children’s books with her latest being “The Ninja Librarians” (You can find it in the house library). Matt owns a Yelp-acclaimed donut shop called Carpe Donuts. They both do what they love, allowing them the space and energy to homeschool their children. With the help of renting their suite out on Airbnb, they make a decent living doing what they love most. Jen and Matt’s passion to “follow your dreams” and their mindset to “live every day as an adventure” inspired my wife and me.

However, it was their hospitality that touched us most. From the moment we got there, they were eager to learn our stories and showed a genuine interest in who we were. They wanted to know where we were from and pulled out a map to show their children the places we grew up in. They wanted to know why we are in the jobs we have. Not just what we do for a living, but what motivates us to do what we do. They wanted to know us, they wanted to connect.

The next morning, Jen came to our suite with a tray filled with fresh-brewed fair trade coffee, fruit, and cinnamon donuts right out of the oven. As my wife and I sipped our coffee and nibbled on the best donuts we’ll ever have, we were inspired to follow our dreams like Jen and Matt and connect with people with the same eagerness and joy as them. It only fueled the flame inside of us to always use Airbnb to connect with complete strangers, to learn from them.

Hiking Vietnam