When a Revisit Provides New Insights
The perfect time to plan that next trip is when we’re not traveling. I am very into Immersion Travel and actually think of myself as an Immersion Traveler. My motto is: Don’t just visit, get involved. I like meeting the locals and becoming part of wherever I go. One way I connect is to contact schools or libraries along my route to read my children’s books to appropriate age groups and then donate them into their collection. I think that was a big part of my motivation to try out Airbnb.
Traveling to my hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia from Connecticut to research a book I am working on, I began planning my trip looking online for an AirBNB in a familiar neighborhood. Initially I was also checking out prices but then realized I didn’t have to. Looking for housing for one or two people on Airbnb tends to be about one-quarter the cost of a hotel room. Because I grew up there, I knew I wanted to be within walking distance of the historic district, near one of my old neighborhoods.
Within minutes I found a Georgian style, two-story brick home, with a screened in, side porch and a very distinctive Southern flair. The symmetrical windows and brick chimney reminded me of friends’ homes, along with the porch overhang, and gabled dormers. It looked like a beautiful, stately southern home from the photographs. I reserved a downstairs bedroom with a private bath for $75 on Sunken Road, very close to the historic district and the University of Mary Washington which began as the Fredericksburg Teachers College in 1908. The name was changed to Mary Washington College in 1938 for Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother.
Everything about it seemed so inviting, but when my travel plans changed by one day at the last minute, that first room was no longer available. Instead, I said I was fine with an upstairs bedroom with the bathroom in the hallway for $60. I ended up arriving much later than originally planned and it was quite dark outside. My hostess, Danielle was very understanding and accommodating. After unloading my bag and excess stuff, she asked me to please move my car from the front of the house to the side street and come back in through that outside door. As I parked and stepped on the porch, I knew I’d been there before. “This house seems so familiar to me. Have you ever heard of the Waite family? I think they lived near hear and their daughter was one of my closest friends growing up.”
Danielle looked very surprised. “I bought this house from the Waite family.” I was thrilled. It felt so good to be there, particularly when she led me upstairs to my room and I could barely whisper out, “This was my friend’s.” Funny that I’d had to change my reservation and it put me into a room I often slept in before, along with the bathroom four of crammed into to fix our hair and makeup.
Unfortunately my next Airbnb experience wasn’t so great in Charlottesville, Virginia. I found a listing for a private room and bath on the first floor of a multi-level condominium for $50 and corresponded with the person I thought was the owner. I specified that I needed to be very accessible to Thomas Jefferson’s home up on the mountain, Monticello.
That was my first clue I’d made a mistake. The location was way off the beaten path, much more complicated than my map indicated. When I arrived, no one was there and I could not get the lock box to work. I sent emails and texts to no avail. It was late. I was tired. A neighbor walking by said that to his knowledge, no one lived there. After waiting two hours, I checked into a hotel which was only $10 more a night. I lodged a complaint with Airbnb and they quickly refunded all payments and fees.
Luckily that experience did not keep me from trying them out again on my last trip into Fredericksburg. This time, traveling on my own, I searched for price, $30 a night for a room and private bath, and location. I researched everything I could about it online and had numerous conversations with the owner who lived on the second and third floors with her children. It was a wonderful experience.
Again, I had trouble using the key box; however, with only one text, a family member ran downstairs to let me in and taught me how to do it. Everything about it was terrific. I had my children’s books with me to gift to the family and they were selling Girl Scout cookies that I actually did not eat. I knew if I opened either of the two boxes I bought, Thin Mints and Samoas, not one cookie would ever make it back to Connecticut. A friend had a big birthday right after I returned home. I called to let her know, before leaving Fredericksburg, that I bought two boxes of her favorite Girl Scout cookies. That was the only way to keep me from eating them all up.
We live in Fredericksburg! I’m so glad you got to come here for a visit. It is such a charming little town. I enjoy your columns–thank you! I tried to launch an architecture column, wrote a few, then couldn’t keep it up. Too much at my day job. But good for you and drop me a note next time you’re in town.
Hi Wendy, Thank you so much for your lovely note. I am thrilled you enjoy my Immersion Travel columns. I was born and raised in Fredericksburg and absolutely love being there. My father’s Jason Jewelers was on Caroline Street next door to Washington Woolen Mills. I will be back as soon as we can all safely travel around again. It was upsetting to cancel out my April trip since I am working on a book set there in my hometown. I look forward to returning as soon as possible and will be in touch.