It was dark and the streetlights were non-existent. I’d already missed my turning two times, so I pulled into the fuel station to re-read my host’s message. 

“There will be a car dealership”. Yes, I see that. “Then there will be a white church set back off the road”. Yes, I see that. “The next drive is the pastor’s house, and our drive is next”.

I turned onto the deserted street and crawled up the hill. Car dealership. Church. Pastor’s house. Ahah! The next drive! I turned up the steep incline, my bumper scraping on the tarmac as I proceeded with caution towards the fairy-lit home.

Just say no to drugs

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Airbnb. The description made repeated comments that “Alcohol and drugs are forbidden”. I don’t drink and don’t do drugs; however, it seemed an odd statement to be plastered over the Airbnb listing. Had there been lots of problems with previous guests? Was this area notorious for drug usage? There was no point thinking about it anymore, I was here, and it was the only place I could afford in Denver!

I decided to leave my bags in the car. Easier to run away? I walked up the dark path and knocked on the door. Before I’d even finished knocking, it flung open. A bearded man with sparkling mahogany eyes stood beaming at me.

“Bea! You made it”. He shook my hand, never breaking eye contact, and ushered me into the home. As he enthusiastically talked me through everything I needed to know and more, I took in my surroundings. The place was messy. A large conference table strewn with papers and empty energy drink cans greeted us in the first room.

A sink full of dirty pots and pans

We moved through to the kitchen. Cupboard doors unhinged, piles of washing up in the sink, dishwasher out of action. Hastily written paper notes were sellotaped to the walls reminding residents to clean up after themselves. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my years in university lodging. Only those were nicer!

Into the darkness

Once the shared space tour was over, we headed down the narrow stairs to the basement. Dark and very much resembling a warren, we turned left and right and left again down the tight corridors. Peaks through open doors hinted at unfinished construction work. A sofa sat in a dark alleyway, rubble and mess surrounding it. Oh my! What had I signed up for? Meanwhile, my host, Freddy, continued to enthusiastically tell me everything I needed to know, including giving me a demonstration of how to wash and dry my hands!

A dark stairway

Eventually, we made it to my room. It was just like the pictures suggested it would be. A small concrete room with a ceiling window and a metal ladder should I need to escape the basement. Well, at least there would be a story to tell from this one! It just didn’t turn out to be the story I thought it would be.

I messaged my husband to describe the house. “Just think of it as a crack den, only without any addicts,” I said. If I am honest, it wasn’t far off how crack dens are portrayed in the movies. Not wanting to miss the opportunity for a good story on Instagram, I shared my experience there too. The response was unanimous. “Lock your door!” My only problem though, was that my bedroom door had no lock.

Get me out of here!

Messages poured in telling me to find somewhere else to stay. These only intensified when I described my fellow housemates, which I met when I went upstairs for a glass of water. 

First, I met Timothy, a very slight greying man with sunken cheeks and crossed eyes. He had moved 2000 miles across the country. Why? I will never know, but I instantly assumed he must have been running from something or someone.

Then I met dishevelled Morgan. Tall and skinny with crazy wiry grey hair and thick glasses, wearing old tatty and I’ll fitting clothes. He had been homeless a few months earlier when he had been dropped off at Freddy’s door. 

Freddy himself had seen hardship too, having struggled with alcoholism as he chased a life of riches and fame. He’d dabbled in drugs and gambled far too much, until ultimately, he had lost it all.

I knew there were 4 other guests in the house, but I wouldn’t meet them until much later on. 

As I sat on my bed contemplating my choices, I started to judge. What on earth was I doing here?! Travelling on a budget was one thing, but putting myself in danger by staying in an unlocked room with all these “dodgy” individuals was surely insane!? The messages on Instagram were flooding in now. “Please, Bea, don’t take chances. This place isn’t safe”. “Bea, if you need money, say; I’ll pay for you to stay somewhere else”.

I was doing the thing I despise most: I was judging a book by its cover. My gut wasn’t telling me there was anything wrong. In fact, from the moment I walked into the house, I felt an incredible energy of peace and kindness. My brain, on the other hand, was telling me that because of these people’s situations, I was not safe. I was judging them not for who they were but for what they were.

My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. “Bea!”. Freddy’s enthusiastic greeting came through the paper-thin walls. I opened the door to see his grinning face and intense eyes. I couldn’t help but smile, his energy was infectious.

“I’ve got you two water bottles. Make sure you drink them! We are a mile high here”. I thanked Freddy and watched him turn and go. Just as I was closing my door though, he turned around: “Oh, I’m making burgers tomorrow night. Do you want some?”.

I smiled. “That would be lovely, yes please”. 

4 people eating burgers

“There is no better leveller than travel”

There is no better leveller than travel. We all have stories. We have good stories and bad stories. Most people have gone through hardship. Just for some that hardship is more visible than it is for others.

My stay in Denver was the best out of all 9 weeks in the USA. That following night Freddy cooked burgers for everyone in the house. Despite not having a penny to his name, he still ensured we were all fed. And as we sat around the table sharing stories, I realised I could not have been more wrong about my housemates. 

Morgan, who had found himself homeless, was in fact a teacher. He was a teacher in full-time work when he became homeless. Yet, despite his personal plight, he continued to go to work every day to teach his class of special education children. It was evident in the way he talked about his work just how much those kids meant to him, and how much he had sacrificed to provide them with the best possible education he could. 

He was also well-traveled and had no end of happy memories of his trips through the USA, South Africa, and the UK. I adopted Morgan as my new grandad. We laughed and cried together as we shared our life experiences. I sensed in him a kindness I have rarely felt before. 

I still don’t know why Timothy moved so far from home, but who was I to judge? I left Spain at 17 and headed to Ireland before settling in Wales and then England. Did anybody avoid me because of it? No! So why should I instantly think he had been hiding something? 

As it happens, he was a really kind soul who gave up way too much of his time sharing with me his knowledge of the area. What to see, where to go, what hikes to do, and where to eat. He always had time for me.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

But the one who I was definitely wrong to judge was Freddy. Freddy, with the intense eyes and easy smile. Every time one of us passed by his desk, he’d look up and say: “How youuuuu doing?”. Freddy, who had the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet still had time for every one of his guests. Freddy, who is about to be made bankrupt yet still buys food every week for his tenants. Freddy, who spent two years giving away every last bit of money to charitable causes as he left behind everything that tied him to his years of alcoholism. Freddy, who reminded me of the power of kindness. 

Why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover

46 Comments

  1. No matter what we might think, it’s impossible not to bring along our internal luggage of expectations and judgements. I don’t think it’s bad because that’s what keeps us safe. As long as we are always open minded and open hearted and able to alter our initial state then it’s no problem at all. This is a lovely story and post, Bea. I really enjoyed it. This just confirms my world view and experience that people are just people. Despite what the news or movies might tell us, there are very few bad people in the world. Most people are just trying to get along and find their way. We all want the same things and have similar universal problems. Most are just decent humans. I’m glad you got the chance to meet many great people on your travels and have plenty of free food haha

  2. Wow! What an experience. You hooked me with the read. It truly is hard, and probably human, to not make some judgements from first impressions. It’s probably our “safety barometer”. But you are correct that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. So happy to hear of the great time you had and the new friendships you made.

    1. You are completely right, it is a safety barometer, and I think it is still important to listen to what our gut is telling us. But I think if we take a moment to really think about it we can then really understand whether we need to run or we are OK to stay!

  3. Love this, I have similar tales like this from my travels.And they always make the best travel stories – sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct. If only more people were open minded.

  4. An enlightening read and I enjoyed it, too often have I judged a book by its cover literally and figuratively. I’ve learned to try to step back and look at the bigger picture before making a judgment or to check my judgment.
    I love that you enjoyed it there and honestly it reminds me of a time when I stayed in Athens. While not as drastic it was an enlightening moment and I hope I see those host again because they were so welcoming and made us food the last day of our trip 🥹❤️

    1. I’m so glad you had a wonderful experience in Athens. I feel that so often if we can be open minded it opens up the opportunity for us to have a truly enlightening experience, like you said. Thank you for taking the time to read the story.

  5. Such a good reminder to be open minded and not make judgements before we’ve truly seem the bigger picture! Thanks for sharing your experience and this reminder with us.

  6. Bea I love this! I think this blog post is a good reminder that we all have biases need to be aware of them, check them when we see them coming out, and get to know others stories.

  7. Interesting tale. It’s always important to avoid making judgment before seeing the bigger picture. I have to say that I been surprise (in a good way) by places I thought weren’t good.

  8. I so appreciate your vulnerability here. I would probably have thought all the same things you were thinking, and I’m so glad this turned out as a good and memorable experience. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I must admit I would have been out of there really quick. Especially if I was staying on my own. I am glad this stay worked out much better for you. And that it reinforced the power of kindness.

  10. wow, what an experience! It really is eye-opening, and yes we do have to be cautious because there are those individuals who do and will rob and hurt you. We hear way too many stories of things going wrong. I’m glad this was a good experience full of good people.

  11. Interesting story. Travel is kind of unpredictable thing. You never know what will be around the corner! Thanks for sharing your story!

  12. Ah that was a lovely read, thank you for sharing. 🙂 I’m a big believer in trusting what your gut tells you. This has allowed me to go on journeys (figuratively and for real) that I wouldn’t have dared to otherwise. Glad you had such a wonderful experience!

  13. Oh my goodness, you had me hooked from the start! I was totally invested – and I can’t agree enough – there is no better leveller than travel. It’s amazing the types of people we encounter who bring us back down to earth. Great life lessons here, Bea!

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the read! I was trying a very different format to the normal “blog” so wasn’t sure how it would land! Travel is such a great of eradicating misconceptions!

  14. What a story! My Hubby had been guilty of making snap judgements about a couple of places we have visited, and ended up loving them. Just goes to show, you can’t really make snap jugdements.

  15. Bea this is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your experience with such great detail, I felt like I was there with you when I was reading. I’m glad you’re ok, and it ended up being a wonderful ending.

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