There is nothing I like more than shattering misconceptions, especially my own! And America allowed me to do just that! I never expected American hospitality to blow me away the way it did! I was somewhat misguided about what I expected to find here, some of it based on short encounters with a small number of Americans. The rest based on how the British media portrays this nation. Of course, Trump didn’t help this ideology. After all, he did recommend we use bleach to cure COVID! But he just heightened the notion I already had that many Americans were stupid.
Why did I think that?
Several reasons really. Here are some examples that exacerbated those thoughts, though.
– The hotel receptionist that told me he had been to England and loved it. When I asked where in England, he replied with “Paris”.
– The person who asked me if I had driven to the US from the UK.
– The tens of people that asked me why I wasn’t at the Royal wedding.
– The man who argued with me that Europe was a country
– The person who couldn’t guess where South Africa was
The list is long. Then add to that the fact I find the attitude towards guns and the number of school shootings completely baffling, their obsession with preparing for a zombie apocalypse hilarious, and well, I did the thing I hate people doing. I formed an opinion without ever understanding the other side.
So when I was given the opportunity to spend 17 weeks in the US this year, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to understand what made this huge nation tick; to talk about guns, abortion, politics, and religion. I wanted to understand why their views were so divisive. But more than anything, I wanted to challenge my own perception of Americans.
What's in this post:
Is American hospitality a myth?
What I found surprised me. I came here looking for gun-yielding madmen, and instead found myself in the most hospitable nation I have ever visited. The hospitality I found in America was mind-blowing. I’m talking about family after family opening their doors and inviting me into their homes. Free food, free lodging, and a level of generosity I have never experienced before.
This generosity started as soon as I landed, with a lovely old lady called Fifi insisting she drive me an hour out of her way so I didn’t have to get in a “dangerous” Uber. You can read all about that story here: why you should never accept a lift from a stranger!
As well as sharing some of the best moments of my US travels, I also want to tell you what I believe the secret is to finding this amazing American hospitality. After all, I wasn’t on some mass adventure where people felt sorry for me and decided to take me in. Instead, I spent those 17 weeks in the US with work, so my accommodation was all pre-booked. So what is my secret, you ask? $50 Airbnbs!
Why $50 Airbnbs are the secret to American hospitality?
This might sound somewhat contradictory, but I genuinely believe that $50 a night with Airbnb gets you more than $100. Why? Because it seems to be the magic number for finding the most hospitable hosts.
I’ve just returned from my latest stint travelling around the USA. A 6-week solo work trip ticking off another eight states, making that a total of 21 states this year! My company would have happily covered the cost of me staying in any faceless chain hotel. But how boring would that be? Lacklustre receptionists only being polite because their job depends on it. The same tired carpet, uninspiring art, and tightly tucked in sheets wherever you are in the country (why do they always resemble straight jackets?!). And only the TV for company. No thanks! I might have been in the US for work, but I sure wanted to have some fun too, and what better way to do that than by immersing yourself in someone else’s way of life, even if just for a couple of days?
Is Airbnb the Western worlds solution to a homestay?
That is precisely what Airbnb provided me with: the perfect balance of adventure and work. The thrill of stepping into someone’s home and getting to know them over the course of a few days. The ability to indulge in delicious home-cooked meals with people who were merely strangers hours before. The opportunity to share, but more importantly, listen to people’s life stories. And best of all, making friends along the way.
Over those six weeks, I was fed by so many strangers that I lost count. However, I do remember how many meals I ate on my own: 3! Yes, that’s right! In 6 weeks, I only had to fend for myself three times! It’s crazy! Some people think I have some kind of superpower. Well, believe me, my only talent is finding wonderful stays on Airbnb, and I will be sharing exactly how I do it in this article. But before I do, I want to share with you the most memorable experience from my most recent trip: my stay with Deb and Norb in Minnesota.
There is one risk when you take my approach to Airbnbs – and that is that you will end up with newly adopted grandparents!
Deb and Norb’s place didn’t particularly stand out on the listing. It just happened to be within my budget, as well as in the area I wanted. The photos looked pleasant enough, but it was the 150 fabulous reviews that caught my eye. They hinted at the kind of American hospitality I might expect. That’s all that matters to me, so I went ahead and booked it.
As I drove up the dark tree-lined lane to their home, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Nice big houses sat back from the road, all tastefully decorated with pumpkins and other Halloween paraphernalia. I managed to overshoot their entrance, but sure enough, they had been keeping an eye out for me, and by the time I had turned around at the end of the cul de sac, they were waiting for me in the drive.
Before I had even stepped through the front door, they asked the magic question. “It’s so late. You must be hungry. Can we get you something to eat?”. Before I knew it, they had taken my bag to my room and we were all sitting down discussing my thoughts on the Royal Family while I enjoyed a caringly prepared sandwich. To top it off, three freshly baked cookies were waiting by my bedside table.
It’s like going home to my grandparents
But Deb’s true generosity shone through the next day. Not only did she make me a deliciously healthy muffin for breakfast, but after realising I was in back-to-back meetings all day, she texted me to offer to make me lunch. And even after I said “no thanks,” she showed the kind of concern my grandmother would. “You should eat something. You’ve been in meetings all day. Please let me make you another sandwich. It really is no bother”. And so just like that, I found myself having a midday snack.
This generosity continued throughout my stay and included an offer to join them for dinner, yet more home-baked cookies and another muffin! I left their home fully loaded with kindness and feeling like I’d picked up a new set of grandparents along the way.
But the crazy thing is that Deb and Norb are not the exceptions to the norm. That is what my experience is like everywhere I go, and I really don’t think it has anything to do with me. It is just my ability to pick brilliant hosts. And that is what I want to share with you. How you too, can experience extraordinary and affordable hospitality everywhere you go. My theory has been extensively tested in America but I genuinely believe it will work everywhere!
Tips and tricks for eating your way around America
1. A higher budget tends to equal fewer stories!
I set myself the challenge of exploring the USA by spending no more than $50 a night on my accommodation. Of course, you can travel for less than that by choosing hostels or even couch surfing. But you have to remember, this was a work trip, so I needed to guarantee myself a good night’s sleep, Wi-Fi, and a decent working space. $50 a night has always managed to tick all of those boxes.
2. Stay in someone’s home
Generally speaking, when your budget is only $50 a night, you will stay in someone’s home instead of having your own apartment. It is worth checking though. Although it is nice to have your own space sometimes, you can only experience their hospitality if you are with people. Yes, they might leave a fridge full of food for you (this happened to us in Scotland), but that is not the same as sitting down around a table and breaking bread with them.
3. Don’t judge a book by its cover: hospitality doesn’t look a certain way!
Whereas $50 might get you something lovely in certain areas, in others, that budget won’t stretch far. You also need to adjust your expectations for what a place will actually look like. If you want to create the next viral reel of you eating breakfast in your bathtub looking out over some grand vista, then it is unlikely you will find it on Airbnb for just $50. However, if you are prepared to ignore the scuffed skirting boards, terrible décor, and creaky floorboards, you might just have yourself a hidden gem. There is no more extreme example of this than when I stayed in my “crack den” Airbnb. To date, this is still the best stay I have had, even if I was prepared to run when I first arrived.
4. Do read the reviews
The photos only tell you so much. It is the reviews that give you a better picture of what it is really like. But by “read the reviews,” I don’t mean check out what score they have. No, I mean, actually read them! Unfortunately, a lot of people feel compelled to leave 5* reviews. However, you get hints of what they really thought if you read them carefully. For example, if someone has lots of reviews, but they are all very short, it tells me that the host isn’t creating a bond with the guest. Or the stay was pleasant enough (I have no reason to think they are lying) but likely was unremarkable.
However, reviews like this one catch my attention and make me think: “This is the kind of place I want to stay.”
“It’s a pity I can’t use extra stars because it certainly deserves it. In fact, I’d say the home is much nicer than the pictures do it justice. Candice and her husband were wonderful hosts. The room was spacious and comfortable, with the most amazing views. Although within their home, it feels private as you have your passageway to get there. Since I was working from home, they let me use their spare room with a desk (thank you!). They also fed me dinner one night and invited me to join their bible study group. Again, thank you so much for your generosity and for such a lovely stay”.
That particular Airbnb had loads of reviews similar to the one I have shared above, which is why I chose to stay there. And I was not disappointed. Breakfast, snacks, and two dinners over a 3-night stay!
5. Start engaging early
I always think that what you experience is a reflection of the vibe you put out. So before I arrive at any of my Airbnb stays, especially those where I am sharing their home, they already have a pretty good idea of what I am like, making engaging much easier.
I will message them to say I am on a long work trip, and that I am looking forward to staying within a home for some company. I am, in essence, setting the expectation that I am OK with them engaging with me. In addition, I will read their profile and comment on something important to them too. For example, if they have dogs, I would write something like: “I can’t wait to stay with you and meet your dog Daisy. I’m on a 6-week work trip and I’m missing my dog, Suki, like crazy!”. Chances are I will get extra cuddles with Daisy once they know that.
Are you ready for an immersive experience?
If you want a truly immersive cultural experience, I urge you to try Airbnb’s version of a homestay. I guarantee you will end up with a newfound family spread around the world once you do! I have so many stories to tell, from haunted houses to gun ranges, dinner in to lunch out, and bedtime stories to doggy cuddles. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! Keep an eye out for my Great American Hospitality short stories launching soon!
*This post was in no way sponsored by Airbnb. In fact, they don’t even know I’ve written it!*