Traveling For Five Months Without Moving

Or how to look after someone’s Bed and Breakfast

Our experience of house sitting a BnB was one of the strangest things we’ve done on our journey round the world. Low on funds, too early to go home yet, we almost jumped at the chance to live for free in the Peruvian capital. And we fully understood, as we were screaming down the PanAmerican Highway from Colombia to reach Lima in good time, that there were some learning curves ahead of us, plenty of unknowns (of the known and unknown variety) and the responsibility of looking after someone’s real life business.

The Deal

The deal was for us to look after the great Peru RoadTrip Bed and Breakfast for a little over four months. The owners had their own challenges in the US to meet and they were keen for us to take over pretty much everything as soon as we got there. We’d have to be pretty much around the house for the whole time, to welcome guests and sort out their breakfasts. We’d have to be online pretty much all the time, to accept reservations, answer queries and track incoming flights that we’d arranged to be met. The thing is that most of the traffic for this place was landing at the airport late in the evening and leaving again early in the morning back to the airport to continue their flights to and from the tourist destinations around Peru. It was a comfortable place for a layover but would it be comfortable for us?

We checked out the BnB’s profiles on the various listings online. It looked posh. We checked their reviews. Sixteenth place on Trip Advisor’s list of 100+. It had the most positive reviews of any establishment on AirBnB’s Lima section. The pressure was rising.

There were three points, though, that gave us comfort: This was a Bed and Breakfast, not a hostel or a hotel. Basically this means that there isn’t a front desk that has to be manned all the time. Sure, we had to be available pretty much 24/7 for 19 weeks but we knew well in advance when guests were arriving or leaving. With the help of a properly updated schedule, most of our time would be our own. We just couldn’t go very far.

Secondly, we would have a supporting cast: a cleaner would come in six days a week; a driver would handle all the pick-ups and drop-offs, city tours and stuff; the corner shop would stay open all day and supply all the things we’d forgotten to get. And there would be a family relative in town who would help if something seriously went wrong.

Thirdly, of course, we would get to live in a posh house with all the posh, modern conveniences, in a great, ready-to-be-explored city, for pretty much nothing at all. That was the thing you see; our situation was perfect. We were skint, a little tired of beaches and historic towns up mountains, and we wanted to sit still and do some serious stuff on the internet. We actually craved an urban and online life for a while.

At the beginning it was a little crazy

Getting started was kind of getting thrown into the deep end as there was a small flurry of guests just as we began our stint. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Fawlty Towers – an ancient BBC comedy set in a guest house – but at least we had that benchmark to rise above. You see, to be honest, we’ve had no real experience in handling people who’ve paid money for you to look after them. Handling the public, sure, or clients and customers in the various jobs we’ve had to do in the past. But tourists who arrive in a strange country after a long flight from their comfortable homes, maybe tired, nervous… That took certain skills.

You see, at first, I was just as nervous and tired as them: Coming down the stairs to greet some latecomers exhausted after being on a delayed flight, I slipped and fell a couple of steps before recovering myself as best I could in front of a suddenly wide-eyed and alarmed family immediately below…  Or I’d go outside to help carry their enormous pieces of luggage in, only to lock myself and the guests out. Once I counted a couple of extra kids in a family of four who actually turned out to be large sports bags partially out of sight, on the beds, behind the puzzled parents.

Dunia took over the meeting and greeting – I was better employed behind the scenes, answering and attracting potential guests, composing messages that gave solace to anxious travelers and making sure our schedule was up to date and that everyone knew what was happening. If the schedule wasn’t right, things would go quickly wrong. Fortunately, most of our guests book through AirBnB, a popular online service that takes care of the listings, the bookings, the payments and the review system. In my limited experience, most of the accommodation websites out there accept a very small deposit from the would-be guest which means (a) half of them don’t even turn up, with no real incentive to alert you if their plans change, and (b) if they do stay, you have to get the money out of them – because they tend to arrive late evening and leave very early, this was no easy task at least, for us.

So with AirBnB and a schedule set up on Google Docs (which meant I could update and check it from any device), things were at least straight forward even if it was all a learning process at first.

And what we thought of it all

As mentioned this was one of the most bizarre experiences we’ve had in the last few years on the road. Crossing Russia by land but quick enough to get jet lag was pretty bizarre. And taking the short ferry ride from the “European” city of Vladivostok to South Korea’s Sokcho, stepping, all of sudden, into deepest Far East Asia, was pretty bizarre. Rehabilitating cucumber seedlings in Canada was a little strange and, of course, Burning Man was very interesting. Building websites parked up on Mexican highways is unusual, to be sure – as is staring down into Nicaraguan volcanoes, nine hours in a Panamanian speedboat and selling photographs to Latvian traders for a week’s wage. But in terms of the fullness, the completeness, the entirety of the experience, suddenly having a guest accommodation business aimed at families with suitcases for nearly five months in a city I never thought I’d visit. In our humble opinion, that’s one kind of very weird.

As travelers, this is pretty much what we hoped for: Walking down to the shops, four months in, saying hello to all the familiar faces, having some lunch with loads of office workers at the best (but no one knows it) restaurant in Lima. You look at the traffic, the random bits of rebar sticking out of the ground, the hastily pasted up adverts on the lampposts, a typical district in a developing city and you think, none of this looks unusual, none of it feels strange – you’ve become accustomed to the place and could well imagine Lima to be your home for ever. And thanks to Peru RoadTrip for giving us the opportunity to feel all this.

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