We live in a world that’s shrouded by fear. Fear, which in my mind has been created not by the human population but by the media that thrives on it. We are made to believe every single day that bad things happen all around us, to all the good people, and that if we’re not careful, it could happen to us too.
The result? Mounting distrust, fear and bias. You may be subconsciously a victim, and not even know it. Think about it. Are you scared of leaving your child behind with anyone without CCTV cameras? Can you leave your keys behind with security without fear of consequence? Would you think twice about hiring a housekeeper who was Muslim? If you saw a car accident on the road at 3 AM, would you stop your car to help? If you were out on a highway and saw a woman asking for a ride, would you offer one? If you were the woman, would you get into the car if there was a man behind the wheel? How careful is too careful? Where do you draw the line?
When I heard of the concept of Airbnb several years ago, I was hesitant. Could I trust strangers and live in their houses? What if I couldn’t lock my door? Could I leave my belongings behind? Despite my overactive imagination, I gave it a go. 4 years and 10 countries later, I realise it’s probably the best thing that happened on my journey to see the world.
I covered Switzerland, Seychelles, Norway, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and others. It’s not that I couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel, but no hotel would have ever left me with “life experiences”. The more I lived with people, the more I realized that all around the world, we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man, woman, Asian, white, black, Muslim, we all harbor the same insecurities, fear, and bias, all of which can be broken. All it takes is a step in the right direction, two way communication, and empathy.
My first time in an Airbnb, the airline lost my baggage. It was minus 2 in Auckland and I was in a T-shirt. I was showered with warm clothes and hot chocolate by my host for 2 days till I had what I needed. I didn’t expect him to go out of his way for me, but he did, and did it without hesitation.
My second time in an Airbnb was in Africa, and I did hesitate to book Airbnb in Africa, frankly because I was scared! I soon realized there was no reason. A day later I was diving into the waters of Seychelles with my host and his family and his wife cooked the best Kreole food ever. I didn’t eat food like that in Seychelles anywhere else.
My third time in Norway, it was a harrowing minus 20 degrees and the sun had set at 3 PM. It was snowing. My husband and I engaged in a discussion with the host about how Norway is highest on the happiness index. The host had a pertinent question in reply. He said, “If that’s true, why does Norway have such a high suicide rate, and why does no one want to talk about it?” We did. Maybe Norway isn’t all that happy.
I also spent a whole of time dispelling myths about my own country, India. We’re not the uncouth, uncivilized, unhelpful population everyone makes us out to be.
The point is, I could have lived in each of the dozens of cities and countries, gone to hotels, roamed around like a tourist and come back home but what would I have gained? Life isn’t about clicking selfies and checking off the bucket list. I would have returned without really ever having made friends, or having known how people around the world live, or gained any knowledge about their culture, nor would I have ever felt how alike we are. But I did! And now that I have, I don’t see how I could ever give it up.
Today, more than ever, we need to realize that we are more alike than we are different. Dispel the fear. Trust people as a rule and distrust as an exception. When everyone around us would rather divide and rule, it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t happen. When the whole world is telling us it’s a big bad world out there, it’s up to us to restore faith in humanity. It’s up to us to be global citizens.
And that’s why I love Airbnb.