THECITYSTORYXAIRBNB: TRIBE OF THE URBAN TRAVELLER
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES
You’ve probably met someone like Rishi before. He epitomizes the no-borders, all-culture-compliant traveler you encounter in your city or abroad. There is nothing of the tourist about this tribe. No scurrying for sightseeing tick marks, no mobs pouring in and out of buses or following tour guides with their hopped-up, robot monologues. “And no racing downstairs to the hotel buffet for the free breakfast,” Rishi says with a chuckle.
Like so many of us, Rishi travels to get a feel of a place. “I’ve never ever been on a package tour,” he says. “And I just don’t get the samey miserable hotel-spaces: here’s the bed, there’s the bedside table...this lamp, that generic painting...” His first experience with Airbnb was an epiphany. “Some friends of mine, we all travelled to Prague and rented an 1100 sq ft apartment,” he says. “It was beautiful! Now it is the only way I travel.” The routine is familiar. “The first thing you do is look for a supermarket in the area. Then you figure out the streets, hire a bicycle, look at the houses, live in the city...”
Born and raised in Bandra, Rishi realised his own ’hood offered resonant experiences to the urban traveller, and, when he moved out of it, he put his “bachelor pad” up on the site and became an Airbnb host. His studio flat, described as “Moroccan themed” is proof he’s been enamoured with Islamic architecture and interior design – “in fact all aspects of Islamic, Arabic culture,” he says – post a heady trip to Istanbul. After bringing in design accents from all over, creating the illusion of arches and fitting the windows with stained glass, he posted the place and has been booked practically 100 per cent of the time since.
Rishi has been an Airbnb ambassador for a year now. “Atithi devo bhava, (the guest is equivalent to God),” he says with a grin, but then he’s serious. “I think I’m a good host by nature. Non-travellers may be nervous letting their homes out to people, but having been an Airbnb guest so many times, it reduces the stress because you’re familiar with the tribe.”
Still, Airbnb’s review process also helps weed out a potentially bad guest. “My home is well taken care of and everything in it is of extremely high quality,” he says. “If you accidentally break a mug, I’m not going to freak out, but there was this one guy who left the apartment dirty. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I did make the effort to give him a bad review.”
While his home crew handles the daily nitty-gritty of the place, Rishi makes sure he’s accessible if a guest needs anything, even if it’s an emergency in the wee hours. “I get all sorts of guests,” he says. “Single folks on a short visit, groups of young girls travelling across India, older couples here for medical reasons...” He shares the SMS he sends out with me. It starts with a warm “Hi! Welcome home...” Television channels are listed, and then comes his list: a Bandra must-do featuring local lounges with great music, vibe and food, an excellent place for salads (reassuring guests of the cleanliness), a few trendy bars and some of the best restaurants at BKC.
The list varies, he says. “My local suggestions about what to do changes depending on the profile of the guest. Sometimes, if they’re folk here to see doctors, I just talk medicine with them.” Amongst Rishi's recommendations to his guests is Bombay Salad Co., which he says has "the best salads".
It’s par for the course that with meeting like-minded folk from around the world he’s actually made a few friends and keeps in touch with former guests. “I’m super righteous about these things,” he says. His focus is to take the spirit of the urban traveller community and pass-it-forward, enable that cultural-connect and always keep in mind that, “‘Chill’ is a tourist tick-mark for people like us!”
The news is loud with scuffling over economic boundaries, immigration deterrents and nationalist identities, so you may not have noticed that a growing tribe of humans across the planet are opening their doors to each other’s homes, ’hoods and hangouts. Yet, around the world, you can turn the key to someone’s front door, walk in, compare bookshelves and Bialettis...and, for as long as your budget allows you, you can mark your own personal story on a map in a home far from home.
Photos courtesy Neale Castelino
Bombay Salad Co., 340, Near Mini Punjab Hotel, 16th Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2600 0270