Actress, director and all-round creative type Sarah Louise Davies has been welcoming guests into her west Hull home for more than a year. She’s an established Airbnb host and a keen independent traveller, so who better to ask for a bit of insider Homestay knowledge?
Q: What made you decide to become a host?
A: I couldn’t ever imagine a having a home where the doors weren’t open. It feels natural. I get joy from it. We’re born and made for community and I love having people coming and going. Airbnb has brought me short-term guests to occupy a spare room. It has confirmed my love of connecting people with brilliant things and giving people an extraordinary, restful experience while they’re here. I always want my home to be a place where people can rest, share, work, be curious, play and create if they want. I can imagine I’ll be hosting a few creatives, performers and theatre people throughout 2017, too.
Q: How do you become a host?
A: Decide if it’s going to suit your lifestyle and your tribe first. Own a home, hoover your spare room, take some photos of your house on a sunny day and jump online. The [Airbnb] website is easy to navigate. Make your space visible and have a conversation – you only offer what you want and what suits you, so guests know what to expect. Honesty’s a good game to play.
Q: Is it an easy process?
A: As easy as you want to make it. Just ensure the person can get in the house. Homestay is a way to be paid for the privilege of being a human and meeting other humans and worlds. The website is on your side. It just takes a little bit of time, good communication and preparation, you can choose the how, the when and the who. I find it easy and it suits my life at different times, but it’s not for everyone.
Q: Is it safe?
A: Yes. It comes with a simplicity that massively overrides any imagined or real risk. Reviews, ID checks and conversation are there to give you confidence in your visitors. If you don’t want someone, you can say no. I’ve had experiences where it’s not worked out. But overall, it’s been brilliant and curious and easy and lovely.
Q: Is there a social aspect to hosting?
A: My guests have all been good people. They’ve sewn up holes in my gloves, cooked for me, taken bins out and left me gifts. So it’s working so far. I’m still in touch with several of the people who have stayed at mine and have made great friends. We have exchanged and shared stories, food, work, practical help, music and culture. I even gave someone a job through it, met new collaborators and have been offered places to stay and work abroad. Or, sometimes, I don’t even see them.
Q: Who comes to stay?
A: My guests over the past year have included: A Sea of Hull participant on a last-minute whim to strip and paint herself blue; a pilot from new Zealand on training; a famous children’s author on tour; a postgraduate from the European Capital of Culture 2017, Aarhus, Denmark, who was finishing a thesis at the University of Hull; a few actors; a musician; a photographer; and a journalist who was purely curious about the fish and chips here.
Q: Do you also visit other people’s homes?
A: Yes. My last one was Nottingham and my next is looking like Berlin. I love staying in real places with real people when I travel.
Q: What’s the best thing about welcoming people into your home?
A: The new people. It’s an exchange. I find it fascinating and energising. There are no ties, you make your own rules and choose when you need the rooms. It’s great to occasionally come home to different, interesting, adventurous, positive and real people. I know Hull inside out. So it’s a pleasure to help people experience something new and extraordinary here. That might be as simple as recommendations for things to do and places to go, or local knowledge about where to get secret scrambled eggs or catch a rooftop gig.
Q: And the worst?
A: I’ve really not had any bad experiences. I was once woken up super early. But I got over it. I once locked someone out by leaving my keys in the door. They got over it, too. People might be anxious about strangers or simply the imagined impractical peril of popping a weekend’s comfort bubble. But the benefits really do blow those frets out of the Humber.
Q: Do you think there’s a benefit to the wider community?
A: On so many levels. Living in more expansive, open, cooperative ways, including sharing space with new people at home, benefits everyone. I’d recommend everyone to try it at some stage in life. It’s a really humbling and life-enriching thing to do. It’s a thing that grants people freedom and independence while doing it in a community. Those things should be encouraged, supported and nurtured well. Not sharing our stuff, lives and space is expensive, unhealthy, damaging, boring and settling for less. All visitors take their experiences and new knowledge and stories home with them. They might even come back! They might tell the world. The potential to embrace that opportunity for Hull is huge.
Q: And finally … any top tips for others thinking of welcoming guests into their homes in 2017?
A: Be practical.
Always have good proper coffee in.
Your fridge can never be too big.
Stock up on coathangers and blankets
Consider what you like and need when you arrive in a new place. What would you like to walk into?
Throw a party.
Tell your neighbours.
Invest in a good cooking pot.
If you rent, you need to check and ask permission from your agent or landlord.
Remember that anyone’s experience in your home is unique to you and them – you make it what it is.
Find out more about our Homestay campaign here.