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Why We Decided to Rent an Airbnb During Coronavirus

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 6/5/2020 Lindsay Tigar
a close up of a man and a woman smiling for the camera © Courtesy Lindsay Tigar

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Two weeks before the pandemic truly started to brew in the United States, my boyfriend and I moved in together. After a year and a half of dating, we were ready for the next step in our relationship, but we couldn't have predicted how fast our crash course in cohabitation would be.

In our pre-COVID-19 life, my boyfriend traveled for his management consulting job Monday morning through Thursday afternoon. As a freelance journalist, working from home is my standard practice. In fact, we selected our Boston apartment because it had space for me to have a bona fide office. We didn't anticipate we'd have to turn our dining room into his workspace—complete with two monitors from Best Buy. And I didn't expect to keep my office door closed 24/7 since his days are full of Zoom meetings and mine are mostly spent perched in front of a computer screen, writing.

Our Internet started to slow down—likely because we were both at home—and we found ourselves constantly on top of each other. I'd randomly walk into his meeting by accident. He'd come to say, "Hi" right when I was in the middle of finishing an article and I'd lose my train of thought. We weren't bickering really, but we were starting to feel like hamsters, spinning our wheels and losing steam. In general, here are some good ground rules if both you and your partner work from home.

Why we thought about renting a place

First things first: I know we are both lucky to have income streams, especially when one in four Americans has filed for unemployment, CNN reports. We feel for our local community, with so many of our beloved neighborhood restaurants, small grocers, watering holes, and boutique shops closed. It's hard to know how to stimulate the economy and help, but every purchase counts. So, with that in mind, we started discussing taking a long weekend in nearby Cape Cod.

We were craving the ability to sit outside on a private beach or in a backyard, away from the anxiety of the close-quarter city living. While we can go for walks in Boston, of course, it feels a bit like playing a video game: keeping a watchful eye out for any passersby and figuring out how to dodge them, while maintaining six feet of distance at all times. The mere thought of waking up, grabbing a cup of coffee, and enjoying it outside, sans mask, sounded like bliss to us. After looking at our joint work calendars, we pinpointed a date and started browsing for a place to stay.

Dreaming of getting away? These are 13 of the safest vacations you can take this summer.

What searching on Airbnb was like

Right now, every state has its own rules regarding rental properties. You can easily find this information by visiting your government's .gov website. For Massachusetts in early May, when we "vacationed," Airbnb hosts could only rent to people who were residents maintaining quarantine guidelines, essential workers, or health care workers. We are not essential and we do not work in health care, but we are residents who were eight weeks into isolation at that point, making us eligible. These requirements existed, in part, to help stop the spread between states. Today, if you visit Massachusetts from another state, you're encouraged to quarantine for two weeks to be on the safe side.

We went through many listings, but only a few were still operating as hosts. This is to be expected since the hospitality industry has taken a significant hit. And Airbnb, specifically, faces a new unknown as it thinks about its future post-pandemic. Though the company does require hosts to clean their properties (and permits them to charge a fee to guests to help cover the cost), there is no universal standard for Airbnb's thousands of listings. This meant it was up to our host to set her standards.

What our host did to keep us safe

a room filled with furniture and a fireplace © Courtesy Lindsay Tigar We ended up finding a small cottage with a backyard a few miles from the heart of Cape Cod. Though it wasn't on the water, we would be able to have drinks outside, and I could complete my daily workouts under the sun and bright blue skies. After we expressed interest and proved our eligibility, our host explained her safety precautions: She waits four full days until after one guest has left before allowing the cleaning crew into the home. Then, she waits another four days until another guest can arrive. This means there were at least eight days between the last checkout and our check-in.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the "transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented," we felt comfortable with these measures. And when we arrived at the cottage, we found it stocked with toilet paper, hand soap, and some disinfectant, even though we did pack our own. By the way, these are 11 of the best hospital-grade cleaning supplies for your home—or vacation rental.

How we prepared

This was not like a "normal" getaway, where you pack a light weekender bag and head out for an adventure. We knew we didn't want to put ourselves at a higher risk by shopping unnecessarily, so before we left for our trip, we wore our masks, went to the grocery store, and stocked up on enough food for our four-day stay. My boyfriend is also quite the at-home chef, so he packed his cooking essentials—like knives, measuring cups, an immersion blender, etc.—just in case our rental didn't have these items. We intended to spend as much time there as possible, rather than sightseeing.

Our only "excursion" was to go on a nature hike along the water. While we were surprised by how many people were assembled in the park, most were wearing masks and keeping their distance. The longer we were on the trail, the fewer people we saw. We also went for a few long drives to take in the scenery and rolled down the windows for fresh air. In case you were wondering, these are the 6 times you have to wear a face mask—and the 3 times you don't.

What we wish we had known

While our host was incredibly gracious and responsive, we didn't realize how close the place was to the highway. This meant that, yes, we could be outside in the backyard, but it was very noisy. The home itself also wasn't equipped for two people working. (And notably, my loud boyfriend spent so much time on calls that I eventually requested he take a few calls outside so I could have some quiet!) Plus, because many traditional summer rental properties are only used as a crash pad after a day of fun in the sun, the kitchen barely had anything we needed to cook three meals a day at home. We hope Airbnb hosts will shift their spaces to be more functional for long-term, social-distancing stays.

In general, whether in the middle of a worldwide crisis or not, reading reviews is essential. And though we did do our due diligence, the lack of breathing room inside and peace outside made the trip a bit more stressful than we would have liked. We actually missed our duplex apartment, and it's made us more thankful for having two floors. As we think about July 4, we're considering creating a "quarantine pod" with some friends and renting a house for a week. If we do, though, we'll make sure it has all of the bells and whistles we need for a pandemic getaway.

For more on this developing situation, including how people are staying safe and sane, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.


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