Travel in the pandemic: When the inside of your Airbnb becomes the destination.
Paid subscriptions help me keep doing this work. Thank you for subscribing!
This is my umpteenth trip to London since my first, over 40 years ago. My sister has lived here that long and I spent a memorable, coming-of-age summer in my twenties.
However, this trip is different from any other. To begin with, traveling here meant calling up my courage to board a flight while the pandemic grew on both sides of the pond. By the time I arrived, the virus was raging in the UK and infection rates were on a steep upward path—the second wave of coronavirus had reached a “critical stage”.
I travelled dressed to the nines in full PPE and was relieved to be picked up at Heathrow Airport in a car that boasted a plastic divider separating me from Antoni, the driver. For added protection, I opened my windows to allow maximum ventilation, even though the weather was raw. I wouldn’t have engaged in conversation without it. Antoni shared that he’d lost his best friend to coronavirus early in the pandemic—an Uber driver who did regular airport runs. He showed me a picture of his friend. I hadn’t been on the island long and already I felt the heaviness of the crisis.
The pandemic couldn’t dull my excitement though—the reason for this special trip was to accept the title of Grandma from my freshly arrived grandson.
Neighborhood to neighborhood - travel in the pandemic
Airbnb isn’t new to me —I’ve stayed in sixteen of them not counting this trip. Places in the United States (NJ,VT,MA) as well as abroad: Spain, Holland, Ireland. Given the realities of the pandemic including the need to quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival, it felt safer and easier to navigate a series of Airbnb lodgings alone, rather than stay with family.
Why didn’t I just book one place? Airbnb doesn’t always allow long stays and not being able to see them in advance, makes it feel risky to commit. The truth is I’m enjoying this nomadic adventure. Instead of a burden, moving around a small area of London has been a blessing—a surprising treat in a year marked by confinement and monotony. With nowhere to go in this normally bustling city, the inside of each place that I stayed, took on more importance than usual. They not only offered variety for me, but also provided a hangout for our little bubble to share meals and special times together, bringing a little excitement and newness to otherwise routine days.
Airbnb No. 1 - Little Alarms
My first stop was a room with its own entrance, in a family home with children. I chose it because of this note in the listing:
-We have a 5 and a 2 year-old son so would prefer considerate guests. They wake up around 7 am to note for the light sleepers.
- This is a home not a hotel so please respect our house as we would do yours.
I anticipated the sounds of family life wafting into my room, and knew this would help ease me into my stay. I was right. While I quarantined, I eavesdropped on cute conversations, rambunctious play times and sweet read aloud interludes. The children made me muffins and cards. At times they woke up too early, argued and fought with each other and their parents, and when the parents would apologize for disturbing me, I reassured them that this was just what I needed at a time like this. Real. Family. Life. I shared a few samples of my virtual storyplay Village with them and was happy when they invited me to share a little mulled wine outdoors on Boxing Day.
Airbnb No. 2 - Librarian’s Dream
I always check out any books that are made available but I’ve never had a whole library to keep me company. What could be more inviting for a librarian than a home library? That and the Juliet balcony made this listing alluring.
During the weeks I stayed here, I explored the 25 cubbies filled with books. How much fun it was to discover that my host’s interests overlapped with mine, especially in the area of healing arts, practices that promote wellness and personal change. I found old friends and new acquaintances there and read one title because it had been on my “To Read” list for some time: Atul Guwande’s Being Mortal. Reading it inspired me to write a post and to buy a copy for my daughter.
There were a few naughty titles which I won’t share—think of it as an unwritten Airbnb pact between host and guest: “James, your secret is safe with me.”
It is not an understatement to say that communing with this collection was like being on a special retreat with loved ones.
Airbnb No. 3 - Sun Worshipper’s Dream
The sun in London this time of year is as scarce as water in a desert. This bright corner flat with huge glass windows let in whatever sunshine there was to be had for as long as it was available.
I’d begun to expect magic in each tenancy, so when the host, who’s Portuguese, said she was expecting her first grandchild in Portugal soon, I wasn’t surprised. We swapped WhatsApp grand-baby pictures and, before long, she was following me on Instagram and calling me Pammy. I haven’t yet told her that my family is descended from Portuguese, kicked out during the Inquisition and that my one short trip to Portugal was so wonderful that I’ve been itching to return. Maybe we will stay in touch.
Airbnb No. 4 - Animal farm in the park
It’s been great not to have the distraction of being a “visitor” in London, busy restaurant hopping and sight seeing. This trip has been quiet and reflective. My final Airbnb is across from a park with some cool lockdown live entertainment on view: a BMX cycle track right outside my window, a children’s play area and a little city farm which includes a hee-hawing donkey and lots of birds: magpies, robins, chickadees, doves and crows.
My favorite lockdown pastime though, is putting Baby K to sleep. I will cherish this unusual holiday and be forever grateful that I was able to be here.///